Single-breasted suits, polo shirts and black leather flying- jackets: do this season's menswear trends give you a sense of deja vu? Male fashion might have a higher profile than ever before, but in terms of design, it still plays safe. Take those three aforementioned looks of the season. They're hardly new, and certainly not progressive. In fact, they're already worn everywhere in the Western world. Nor are we only talking about a stylish few: the US presidential wardrobe, for example, already comprises suits, polo shirts and leather flying- jackets. In the slow and steady world of menswear, each passing season provides not revolution but subtle variation on conventional themes, and any transgression (skirts, leotards and assorted fancy-dress costumes) is left to the rock rebels of the day.
Now consider the unconventional outfit photographed opposite. Designed by Rei Kawakubo for her Comme des Garcons Homme Plus collection, it breaks a number of the widely held rules governing proportion and cut. The crotch of her woollen trousers hangs to a low-slung level not seen since the days of the harem pants-wearing rapper MC Hammer, while a notably cropped length exposes the ankles - no odd socks allowed here. Her severely cutaway jacket with tuxedo- style revers is part-schoolboy blazer, part- morning coat, and, it should go without saying, is entirely different from anything you'll see either within the Square Mile or at the hustings this autumn.
Kawakubo is known for having a fiercely independent spirit. So, not for her the masculine cliches (cowboys/businessmen/playboys) that still dominate menswear. At the time of her autumn/winter catwalk show, the Japanese designer stated that her curious new look was based on the idea of "a lost Englishman". Actually, this isn't as cryptic as it sounds. Even among fashion's rebels and outsiders - of which Kawakubo is foremost - Savile Row and English country clothes still exert influence. "I have always liked traditional English menswear," she continues. "I enjoy taking history and making it new. It's certainly true that one cannot be as creative with menswear as with womenswear, but I try. Two hundred years ago, it may have been the opposite."
Shortly before Anglomania hit the European upper classes at the end of the 18th century, men wore powdered wigs, brightly coloured breeches and embroidered waistcoats. The preferred cut of a coat or shape of a hat changed as regularly as any feminine fashion. Ever since le style Anglais became the order of the day, subtlety and sobriety have ruled, challenged only by …