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Suit Brands Scream, Are You Not Entertained?

Calm down.

Elliot Tebele (FuckJerry) walking in Ermenegildo Zegna's fall/winter 2017 collection
Elliot Tebele (FuckJerry) walking in Ermenegildo Zegna's fall/winter 2017 collection.
Photo: Estrop/Getty Images

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Do you know anyone who wears a suit every day? Unless they’re a banker in Manhattan, they probably don’t need to. The work place, and pretty much everywhere else, has turned increasingly casual over the last couple of decades.

Most people only need a suit for a special occasion — wedding, job interview — and pretty much no one needs a $3,000 suit. So luxury suit brands are getting desperate in 2017. Like, so desperate they’ll hire the dude behind Instagram’s meme account @FuckJerry to walk in a runway show. FuckJerry, who we’ll refer to by his real name, Elliot Tebele, from here on out, walked in Ermenegildo Zegna's fall/winter 2017 collection.

Naturally, followers were dubious that there was an overlap between Zegna and FuckJerry fans. “Blown away brands don't know their audiences anymore,” wrote one outraged guy. And there certainly does seem to be a disconnect between the mighty world of Italian suiting that Zegna inhabits and Tebele’s followers.

But is Zegna to blame for participating in what’s become an industry-wide trend? Brands are more willing than ever to trade integrity for the eyeballs that social media-famous models bring. Creative directorships are tacked on because of a hot name without giving much thought to what kind of new audience they’ll attract.

The best-case, and most likely, scenario is that people spending $3,000 on suits don’t follow a meme account and therefore don’t even know what to get mad about. No harm, no foul. The worst case is that the brand looks out of touch and willing to do anything for some publicity — a true all press is good press mentality — and is putting time and effort in the wrong places.

Instead of courting Tebele — who conspicuously didn’t even share the Zegna news to his main Instagram — the brand should be staking its claim in the super high luxury world it’s already in, pull an Hermès, and become the suit brand for really, really, really rich guys. Or, attempt to disrupt the market in another way — innovate, basically. Adding FuckJerry to something that isn’t working is not a winning recipe.

Zegna's swing at internet relevance isn't as high-risk as Brioni’s hiring of Instagram street style star Justin O'Shea. O'Shea, a buyer by trade, was appointed creative director in early 2016 and just six months later was relieved of his duties. O'Shea talked about being “pimp,” got Metallica to star in Brioni's campaign, and updated the logo by writing the name out in the Old English font used on Kanye's merch. All of which is cringe-worthy.

Brioni Metallica Ad Photo: Metallica

Like pretty much any brand trying to sell something these days, suit labels have to experiment to remain relevant. Berluti hired design star Haider Ackermann, while brands like Prada continue to iterate on the entire idea of a suit: The Italian label’s most recent collection suggested wearing brown corduroy — a trend predicted by trend forecasters we spoke with — to make the suit “more human, more simple, more real,” designer Miuccia Prada told Vogue.

Others are jumping onto current trends, working themselves into more comfortable wardrobes. Mr Porter’s senior buying manager Sam Lobban sees the suit changing “by making [it] more casual,” he says. “Brands like Prada have done this well by having a tailored aesthetic with sportswear influences when it comes to their suiting. There is a Prada blazer, for instance, that can be worn with track pants — it’s tailored, but very modern and interesting.”

Mr Porter is also working to address customers’ new buying preferences on the retail side. "Our business is growing very quickly when it comes to suit separates," Lobban says. “Men aren’t buying it as a pair, but buying them as separates, which has more flexibility in sizing.” Of course, this way, customers can buy just a jacket and pair it with those aforementioned trackpants. Through this model, customers can have their cake and eat it, too.

And then there’s Vetements’ Demna Gvasalia, who’s experimenting with boxy suits that make you look like a villainous henchman over at Balenciaga. “I don’t see th[is] suiting trickling down in the extreme sense, but it might create an effect to play with proportion and fit for the fashion customer,” Lobban says. This is the way many trends in the suit world have started: Lobban compares Balenciaga’s suits to the shrunken ones shown by Raf Simons and Hedi Slimane in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Mainstream tastes never got that skinny, but the suit definitely got tighter. Maybe the future isn’t Balenciaga-bulky, but proportions are certainly due for a change.

The answer, as always, is keeping up with the customer's clothing needs, not who they follow on Instagram.