Men’s Style: The suit gets a smart reboot at Brown Thomas
‘Smart Luxury’ is the new mood at Brown Thomas stores, says head of menswear Stephen Burnett in conversation with Elaine Prendeville
It’s the suit, but not as you’ve known it. Sharp dressers are wearing slim fit suits in light and luxurious fabrics, with inspiration taken from the dapper style seen on the streets of Milan. This is the hybrid working look 2.0, where boxy shapes have been replaced by elegantly tailored jackets and trousers, and where swapping out a standard shirt for a well-cut t-shirt or Cuban collar shirt makes for an altogether more contemporary look. At Brown Thomas, head of menswear Stephen Burnett is embracing the shift in mood. “At Brown Thomas we are calling this trend ‘smart luxury’,” he tells Irish Tatler. “Which translates to relaxed suiting using really great fabrics in refreshing colours like the pale blues we see here. The overall vibe is relaxed, but put-together.” He cites the Jacquemus suit (above) as the sweet spot. “This suit is a perfect example of what smart luxury is all about,” he says, “and looks great worn with a linen blend polo shirt. This look would take you from an industry event in Ireland, to dinner while abroad. It’s confident, less stuffy, and modern in essence.”
How men shop has changed in recent years, says Burnett. “Menswear at Brown Thomas is well known for two categories: high end suiting and designer street style,” he explains. “And these categories perform extremely well for us. But I’m excited about the third space that sits between those two offerings. This is where we’re buying for the guy in his forties, perhaps in a creative career or working in tech, who wants to look smart and has an appreciation for interesting, independent labels. He wants fashion that’s directional without feeling over-stated,” Burnett says.
Burnett is responsible for the menswear stocked at Brown Thomas stores in Dublin’s Grafton Street, Dundrum, and in Cork, Limerick and Galway, plus the thriving online offering at brownthomas.com. This buying power means he can secure the cream of international labels. “Tom Ford, Zegna and Canali offer the finest tailoring, while brands such as Eleventy, Corneliani and Boglioli offer smart luxury.” The Eleventy label is a particular favourite of Burnett’s. “Eleventy is a Milan-based label that absolutely nails smart casual,” he says. “It has resonated very well with the Irish customer. Eleventy’s light, relaxed blazers and macintosh coats are perfect for informal business meetings, and we’ve had huge success with their drawstring trousers that work so well with trainers.”
As to recent additions to Brown Thomas, Burnett makes special mention of the French label A.P.C. “A.P.C are famous for their relaxed chinos, utility jackets and tote bags,” he says. Again, it’s that fortysomething creative type that springs to mind. “A.P.C fits into that group of brands we stock like Edwin, Acne, Nudie, Stussy and Levi’s Made & Crafted,” Burnett says “each catering to that discerning customer who knows what he wants.”
Brown Thomas Dundrum opened in February, taking over an incredible, immersive 62,000 square foot space at Dundrum Town Centre. “At Dundrum we’ve been given a blank canvas for modern menswear,” says Burnett. “It’s our opening edit and we’ll learn more about the Dundrum customer as we go along. What we can say is that it’s a full lifestyle offering, so you can buy everything from the North Face or Moncler jacket to gym wear by lululemon, and labels-wise you can go anywhere from A.P.C., Carhartt, Stussy and Nudie, right across to Givenchy and Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry….there’s a vast spread there.” Coming soon, meanwhile, is a label Burnett spotted on screen. “Daniel Craig as James Bond wore a corduroy suit by Massimo Alba in No Time to Die,” Burnett says, “so we made a call!” Massimo Alba arrives to Brown Thomas in autumn.
There’s summer to attend to first, however, and Brown Thomas has strong resort collections in stores now. Shorts are either “short-short”, says Burnett, or, for the less flamboyant, “the tailored short is the way to go.” He suggests Ralph Lauren for shorts, and cautions against the ’tucked-in’ look. “Think of the guy on the golf course with the polo shirt tucked right into his shorts. That’s not the vibe. The way to go is with relaxed shirt, untucked, worn with smart, mid-length shorts.” For denim, Burnett suggests that the more mature gent gives skinny jeans a wide berth. “Go for a straight leg but relaxed-look pair of jeans,” he says, “avoiding the skinny, or the oversized silhouette.”
Still unsure? Consider a virtual shopping appointment with the Brown Thomas menswear team from the comfort of your home, a service that has endured beyond lockdown. “Our personal shoppers are all about knowledge, experience and honesty,” says Burnett. “They really know the stock and they won’t sell you something for the sake of selling it. They understand lifestyles, professions and body types, so it’s all about finding what is going to work for you individually.” Call 01 617 1108 or email email@example.com to request an appointment.
In store, meanwhile, increasing numbers of Irish men are making special orders, says Burnett, or having clothing tweaked to measure. “We get a lot of special orders, largely repeat, where a guy finds something he loves and orders it in another colour, for example.” The Brown Thomas Made to Measure events see expert tailors from labels like Ermenegildo Zegna fly in to meet customers directly, while year-round customers can ask for tweaks to be made on everything from jeans, to casual shirts and even raincoats. Ask about this service in store.
The concepts of buying well and making to measure each speak to the sustainability imperative that is now fully established in the fashion world, not least with thanks to Brown Thomas parent group Selfridges, for whom sustainability has been baked into the company DNA. Where does menswear stocked by Brown Thomas sit in the sustainability conversation?
“I think our shopper understands that sustainability must be credible, and is conscious of greenwashing,” Burnett says. “That’s why I especially gravitate towards those brands that have been thinking about sustainability from the start; brands like Nudie and CDLP, a swimwear brand we stock that makes clothing from recycled fishing nets. Every buying trip I make involves questions around sustainability in the showrooms, and then we’ve got a dedicated Sustainability team back here at Brown Thomas that verifies the sustainability claims and credentials of the brands we work with. It’s part of the process now.”
Before Stephen Burnett makes his next move, a final question: what is he wearing this season? “I’ve got a nice pair of Prada relaxed black trousers with pocket detail, straight leg, and I’m wearing those with a pair of open back shoes from Gucci,” he says, “with a Stussy tote bag; my go-to.” He also loves the fun, super-colourful silk shirts by new label Casablanca, and is ramping up his own ‘smart luxury’ quotient. “I do need to invest in some more tailoring as we return to the office,” he says, “So I had better get to work on my hitlist.”
All clothing at Brown Thomas, in stores and online at brownthomas.com
Photographer: Conor Clinch; Assisted by: Ben Morrison. Stylist: Darren Feeney; Assistant stylist: Marlon Hiraldo. Grooming: Leonard Daly. Model: Sam Way @ Models 1