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Imagine menswear as a sort of conceptual staircase that we’re all watching get built — on a livestream, Endless-style. One step would be the industry getting its own fashion week, another stair would be retailers taking men’s wallets seriously. And today, the news that Haider Ackermann has been appointed to Berluti gets own painstakingly constructed step, bringing the whole structure one step closer to womenswear-level relevancy.
Many people say menswear will always be the Robin to womenswear’s Batman. In fact, Four Pins (R.I.P.) wrote an article bluntly titled: “Why Menswear Is And Always Will Be Womenswear's Little Brother.” So forgive me for getting a bunch of dust in my eye when I read this quote from Berluti’s new creative director in the New York Times: “Everyone was expecting me to do women’s wear, so I wanted to do something else,” he told Vanessa Friedman over phone. “I have another story to tell.”
This is a man who was rumored to be next-in-line for houses like Dior, Maison Margiela, and Chanel. In fact, Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld once said he’d like to see Ackermann succeed him when/if he retires. Ackermann told Fashionista all the way back in 2011 that he had already turned down a total of nine houses, adding that one day he would join a house but that he’s only interested in a select few. The fact that a designer who could have potentially been the next Lagerfeld or Raf Simons turned down nine houses and felt that menswear was where he wanted put all his efforts is a BFD.
“It just felt right,” Ackermann said. And the subtext says: menswear matters. The appointment at Berluti is particularly interesting for Ackermann, who is probably best known among men for dressing celebrities like Kanye West. In fact, when West first turned up to the 2015 VMAs in one of Ackermann’s velvet sweatsuits, many wondered if the rapper was wearing items from his Adidas collab — that speaks to how grounded in streetwear some of Ackermann’s designs are.
He’ll bring this could-be-Yeezy look to a label that only started doing RTW in 2011 and leather goods in 2005. Up until then, Berluti built its business literally from the ground up, creating a financial foundation on its $1,000+ dress shoes. The label’s previous designer, Alessandro Sartori, went back to Zegna, so that should tell you a lot about his predilection for tailoring. Ackermann insists that he’ll be able to separate the visions for his namesake label and Berluti, but it’s hard to imagine his more experimental aesthetic won’t seep into his new job.
Ackermann brings up several good reasons to the Times for choosing Berluti over places like Chanel, Margiela, and Dior. For starters, he plans on continuing his namesake label — which does men’s and women’s — and menswear only requires two shows a year, as opposed to the four to six womenswear wants to wring out of a designer. The other is that Ackermann has been at work on his womenswear line since 2001 and only properly launched menswear for Spring 2014 (he showed a single menswear collection at Pitti Uomo in 2010), so it’s still new to him. He compares menswear to a “new lover.”
While there are rational reasons behind Ackermann’s decision, it’s this last line that has me thinking big. Ackermann feels as if there’s an opportunity to tell more stories in menswear when it’s often the other way around. Men’s designers, like Simons for instance, are often going into the womenswear world with this sort of wide-eyed excitement Ackermann has for menswear. If we go back to that Four Pins article quickly, there’s a line from Skylar Bergl that reads, “Maybe we can hold out for the day when the giants of womenswear cross over into our world for a change.” That day has arrived.