DCSIMG

Big Black Book: A new chapter for men’s fashion

Esquire editor Alex Bilmes says the Big Black Book is aimed at successful, smart men on the go who like to look sharp

Esquire editor Alex Bilmes says the Big Black Book is aimed at successful, smart men on the go who like to look sharp

  • by DANI GARAVELLI
 

LISTEN up sartorially challenged British men: if you fancy yourself as a bit of a dandy, but can’t tell your ­Armani from your Etro then help is finally at hand.

The UK may not be known for male elegance – there are many more Simon Cowells out there than Bill Nighys – but this week Esquire is launching the first UK version of its biannual style bible the Big Black Book aimed at helping aspirational (and financially solvent) men look effortlessly suave and ­sophisticated.

First published in the US in 2006, the hardback quickly became a must-read for every style-conscious American metrosexual, selling three times as many copies as the average issue of ­Esquire. A revelation to those whose weekend wardrobe consists of jeans, trainers and a hoody from Gap, the UK version will feature not just high-end designer wear, but luxury accessories such as cufflinks and watches, and a range of grooming products.

Experience may suggest the average British male is about as natty as Mr Bean and as dapper as Dappy, but for every man who still thinks it’s acceptable to wear socks with Jesus sandals or trousers slung so low their boxer shorts are on display, there are now many more who understand the value of good tailoring. Indeed, far from swimming against the tide, the Big Black Book is riding a wave of enthusiasm for men’s designer wear evident in the success of Mr Porter, the male version of online fashion house Net-a-Porter, which is attracting 4,000 new customers a month, and the reinvention of Burberry, which opened its first dedicated menswear store in London’s Knightsbridge last year.

The company, which has just announced it is to move its menswear collection from Milan to London men’s fashion week, said the 13 per cent growth in retail revenues it experienced in the three months to December was due to a spike in the sale of suits, a trend showcased by a succession of male role models – Damian Lewis, Hugh Dancy and Ryan Seacrest – at the Golden Globes in January.

Every fashion capital except New York has now introduced a men’s fashion week, with London’s featuring Scots designers Christopher Kane, Jonathan Saunders and Patrick Grant. And this year’s Scottish Style Awards will feature a men’s designer wear category for the first time.

As its founder Mary McGowne points out, the current Scottish Style Awards Designer of the Year is Cathal McAteer, founder of Folk, an independent menswear label whose clothes are worn by achingly hip ­scenesters such as Radio 1 DJ Rob da Bank and Ewan McGregor. Another finalist was Scot ­Gianni Colarossi who designs for menswear label Duchamp. While other creative industries have suffered in the economic downturn, it seems the market for high-end fashion, particularly high-end male fashion, has never been healthier.

“I’ve been in the men’s fashion business more than 20 years and I think guys are fashion addicts now – they’ve got the blogs and information about brands at their fingertips,” says Ayrshire-born Marc Psarolis, owner and managing director of Duchamp, which has stores worldwide.

“Guys love dressing up now, they love going shopping, we’ve moved away from dress-down Friday – men want great suits, great shoes,” he says. “We sell to guys who like an artisan product with a twist and a lot of colour – colour is so important for guys now. We are purveyors of cufflinks, and double cuff shirts and pocket squares – the ­really dandy aspect of it.”

Aimed at affluent but ordinary men, the Big Black Book will showcase high-end brands, including Louis Vuitton, Giorgio Armani, Prada, Dior and Dolce & Gabbana; but it will also include articles by Booker-prize winning writers John Banville and Howard Jacobson as well as images by international fashion and portrait photographers Tom Craig, Finlay Mackay and Chris Brooks.

“When I took over a couple of years ago, it seemed to me there were ­already quite a number of biannual men’s fashion magazines, but they all tended to be incredibly edgy,” says ­Esquire editor Alex Bilmes. “Some of the fashion in them is ridiculous – they’re fine for what they do, they’re sort of industry magazines, where stylists can look at other stylists’ work and photographers get to try things they wouldn’t be able to do in the commercial world.

“But everything is either aimed at bleeding-edge Shoreditch trendies or it’s aimed at a real mass market – the gap I could see was for the kind of discerning, sophisticated, educated, smart, successful man who wanted to buy nice things but didn’t necessarily have a lot of time.”

Bilmes that says though the number of men who have a pronounced interest in style and can afford to buy luxury products may be small, there are many more who just like reading about it. And he doesn’t believe they are confined to the capital.

“Many of the cities outside London, like Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds have an incredible tradition particularly of street style,” he says. “That idea of looking sharp is ­engrained in the culture of many of those cities. It does reflect a very British sensibility which is combining very traditional men’s wear with the kind of irreverence of street style.”

Of course there will be sceptics. Scots comedian Phil Differ, whose personal style consists of jeans, a checked shirt and cowboy boots, sees himself as anti-fashion and is unlikely to check out the Big Black Book before deciding what to wear to perform at Òran Mór during the Glasgow Comedy Festival this month. “I know people who if you say you like their suit will tell you it’s Hugo Boss or Tommy Hilfiger or whatever, but I’ve never been interested in labels,” he says.

“But keeping up with trends is nothing new. Everybody always seems to copy each other – at the moment men seem to be wearing suits that are too wee for them, with trouser legs at half mast and short bum-freezer jackets.

“When I was young I didn’t like Levi stay press but everyone was wearing them so you thought you had to.”

The difference now is that, rather than relying on their friends, aspirational men can turn to the 164-page Big Black Book to tell them what’s hot and what’s not. To Bilmes, this is a real step forward. “Men’s fashion has often been sneered at because it’s seen as fey and self-regarding to talk about an interest in clothes, but we think that’s silly,” he says. “There’s no reason why we should be ashamed of our interest in beautiful things. The Big Black Book is an opportunity for intelligent men to talk about these things in a grown-up and unapologetic way.” «

Twitter: @DaniGaravelli1

 

Comments

 
 

Back to the top of the page