The latest in men's flannels go beyond the slouchy looks of the '90s
Up until last month, in Barbara Gladstone’s Chelsea gallery, a sculpture of a cherubic boy stood on a plywood box, dressed in traditional attire of the American West.
This was Richard Prince’s return to reimagining the cowboy, a fascination of his since the 1980s, and it came with all the signifiers of an American wrangler (hat, boots, pistol, chaps).
Coincidentally, Prince’s sartorial choices for the boy are attuned to the trends of the autumn and winter seasons: The child’s blue plaid shirt, worn with baggy blue jeans, is very much in keeping with the flannel shirt now offered by Polo Ralph Lauren.
Other designers, including Junichi Abe of Kolor and Virgil Abloh of Off-White, have also reinterpreted flannel in their Western-flavored collections. Alternatively, the French brand A.P.C. and the luxury Italian house Brioni are making plaid flannels with a bit more polish, in sharply tailored cuts.
Whether cowboy-inspired or European, the new offerings have little in common with the flannel shirts out of the Northwest in the early 1990s.
“I find this more interesting to talk about than Nirvana and Marc Jacobs’s infamous grunge collection for Perry Ellis,” said Bob Melet during an interview at his SoHo showroom, Melet Mercantile, a resource for fashions buyers, designers and stylists.
Gesturing toward stacks of flannels from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, he challenged the idea that men’s fashion is returning to the grunge look.
“I’m selling these to artists, confident men who have creativity in their bones,” he said. “And that’s what I see in flannel shirts in the coming year, not the redundancy of the 1990s. I feel that has been so played out.”
The universal appeal of something as familiar as a flannel shirt boils down to the quality of its fabric, commonly made of woven wool. Like a pair of favorite jeans, a plaid flannel can withstand years of wear and tear.
“People gravitate toward flannel for the authenticity, for the comfort and for the creative spirit behind it,” said Melet as he folded a tattered flannel shirt from the 1950s. “These real ones show that, and the ones created today by brands are trying to convey a similar feeling.”