It's not just their seasonal collections that inspire. Here, we decode the personal style of five of the industry's most prolific talents, from Alessandro Michele to Phoebe Philo
It's all too easy to blame the Internet’s insatiable appetite for access-all-areas content, or the elevation of fashion designers to near rock-star status for making what they wear themselves almost as fascinating as the collections they create. When in fact, the truth is this: clothes are a powerful form of expression, and it’s not hollow to be curious about what those in charge of creating and crafting the industry's most extraordinary collections are wearing. Be it Karl Lagerfeld, Alessandro Michele or Rei Kawakubo, considering whether a designer's personal aesthetic directly informs the sensibility of their designs – or alternatively, provides the freedom to conjure up something else altogether is perennially fascinating. Below, we examine five designers with a distinctive style repertoire.
Michele's exuberant, more-is-more ethos extends far beyond the confines of his creative directorship of Gucci. In fact, where his personal style starts and Gucci's ends is near impossible to distinguish. On first glance, the foundations of his day-to-day garb are fairly ordinary – stonewashed jeans (Levi's 501s) in light blue or dove grey, a plain white T-shirt and a dark brown leather belt (well-worn, verging on derelict). Then comes the opulent toppings: dense layers of pendant necklaces, bracelets and memento mori rings, so layered, in fact, that they're jostling for space. Lest we forget about the personalised floral-printed silk bombers and embellished Mary Jane flats worn with striped sport socks (all GG, natch). All in all, it's an outré melting pot of Renaissance and Baroque-inspired details underscored by classic American sportswear. As he affirms, “I love to work with the past to translate the future.”
It was the look that launched a collective sigh of relief amongst those with an affinity for second-skin leather trousers and toe-pinching stilettos: Philo's very own brand of lo-fi luxe. Comprising loosely tailored wool trousers, an oversized white shirt and/or 100% cashmere jumper in a neutral palette of mushroom, putty or sand, topped off with a pair of box-fresh Adidas Stan Smiths (though sometimes Nike Air Max 1s, or, as of late, block heel ballet slippers) – it says, 'I'm comfortable with who I am and what I stand for'.
For where Philo goes (in Céline, minus the trainers), the rest of us follow (wishing it were Céline), from 2011 when she was first sighted in this comfortably chic combo to now. Philo’s penchant for menswear and effortlessness resonated – and still does – as does her belief that women should "feel proud, satisfied, and powerful in [a piece of clothing], wear them and get on with their lives,” as she once told The Independent.
Given that she has avoided publicity for most of her career and hasn’t been professionally photographed since 2004, it’s perhaps only natural that a specific image of Rei Kawakubo persists in our collective minds (and Instagram): black motorcycle jacket, black or white shirt, black long skirt or dhoti trousers, flat lace-up shoes (all Comme des Garçons), and, of course, that blunt bob. But this is the exact look she wears IRL, as anyone who’s been to the Paris showroom during fashion week can attest. Unsurprisingly, Ms Kawakubo nailed both uniform and androgynous dressing before they even became a thing in fashion, but they ultimately speak of a rebellious attitude, and a self-discipline and selflessness in her avant-garde designs.
Avert your eyes from those mile-deep dimples, and you’ll notice that Olivier Rousteing has a thing for low-slung black vests with seemingly large armholes. The loose vest is a must, apparently, because he's “always warm”, as he once confessed to Harper’s Bazaar. More often than not, the aforementioned tops are accompanied by black skinny jeans or leather jogging bottoms, boots and strong-shouldered double-breasted jackets from Balmain’s menswear line and a big, bold and gold Rolex Submariner – an outfit that can take him from 10am meetings to 10pm party-going (preferably with Bey, a K or Ri) with ease. Never one to stray too far from the label’s signature black and gold colour palette, Olivier’s go-to outfit means he’s always flying the flag for his 3.6 million-strong #Balmainarmy.
Apparently, once you’ve had a taste of custom-made, you can’t go back. This would explain Karl Lagerfeld’s fervent – and high maintenance – devotion to custom-made shirts by Hilditch & Key (anything else “is like wearing some torture stuff,” he told M magazine), cut-off gloves by Causse (for drawing and making his fingers appear longer) and boots by Massaro, plus his own-label jeans, when it comes to his signature look. The “Kaiser” does allow himself tailoring by Hedi Slimane (from the Saint Laurent or Dior Homme eras), but they, too, can be custom jobs. Being able to pick and choose, yet extremely selective like this also sums up Lagerfeld’s life of manning several different labels and side hustles at once. And at the end of the day, somehow Karl remains Karl.