Two days after the 50th anniversary show for CERRUTI 1881, the atmosphere in the showroom is light and cheerful. Buyers and managers gather to discuss numbers and targets. Journalists walk through the most recent collection. CERRUTI 1881 design chief Jason Basmajian stands in front of the look board, gazing up at the first few looks. “I’m passionate about what we did,” he whispers.
Basmajian explains the name of the fashion house established by Nino Cerruti. “The year 1881 was when the Cerruti mill factory was founded,” Basmajian says. “1967 was the year he created his first collection.” The designer says the CERRUTI 1881 autumn/winter collection is a way to acknowledge Cerruti and his philosophy, rather than just going into the archive and creating costumes.
“It was about taking his philosophy and elegant approach to style, and to dance around it instead of trying to be fashionable,” Basmajian says. The designer created a series of looks, ranging from classic to modern.
An oversize brown bouclé coat and sleek, masculine silhouettes make us feel we are in a time machine taking a tour of the recent evolution of menswear.
Aged 87, Cerruti turns up for work at his mill every day. “He’s super-sharp,” Basmajian says. “He sees everything that’s happening.”
While putting the collection together, Basmajian received a telephone call which at first he thought was a prank. It was not. It was Cerruti on the phone. “He seemed pleased with what we did and wanted to express that to me directly,” the designer says. “I mean, we’ve known each other for a while but I just didn’t expect him to specifically call to talk about the fabrics on, say, look seven.”
Basmajian used to work for Gieves & Hawkes in Savile Row. He says the rules about the way men should dress have changed considerably. “A silhouette has to be modern, to me,” he says. “The way we styled the bouclé brown coat, which is just over a sweater, makes the look incredibly strong.”
He’s right. The house is known for tailoring three-piece suits, but Basmajian contrived looks such as a sweater on top of a pair of tone-on-tone trousers, and they looked chic. He even uses denim in the collection to reach the younger, less dressy man. “Nino didn’t do denim,” he says. “This denim is what we’ve decided to integrate back into the collection, indicating what a guy would also want to wear today; a more relaxed, loosened-up and sportier elegance.”
More and more women are wearing tailored men’s outfits these days. Many big brands even combine their men’s and women’s collections, taking their inspiration for both from the same source and sending them both down the runway at the same time. Basmajian has no objections to the idea of women wearing his designs. “To be honest, one of the base feedbacks we’ve had after the show is to create extra-extra-small sizes for some of the silhouettes.”
At dinner after the 50th anniversary show, two or three close friends of the designer asked him to reproduce some of the looks especially for them. And why not? CERRUTI 1881 has supplied Hollywood with clothing for women in films such as Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Woman, Basic Instinct and American Psycho. Basmajian likes the idea that his designs are so modern that women want to wear them. “There’s a certain attractiveness to that,” he says.
As a master of men’s tailoring, Basmajian advises men to obey only a few cardinal rules. “Buy the best quality you can afford,” he says. “Buy less, but spend more on cut and fabric.” He says a properly tailored garment can go a long way if you invest time and money in it. He says that when he worked for Calvin Klein, he would always wear his signature blue blazer, a crisp white shirt, a pair of dark jeans, white socks and black brogues. The combination never changed.
“When you find what works for you, stick to it,” Basmajian says. He says it’s great for a man to experiment with different styles and silhouettes but if the wearer feels silly or uncomfortable, then it’s probably not the right style. “Style is about the extension of personal expression,” he adds. “If you’re already feeling self-conscious or odd, then that’s probably not the right look for you.”
The designer says that every man eventually finds his comfort zone in matters of style but finding it takes time, trial and error. CERRUTI 1881 has held the key to the comfort zones of many men in the past 50 years and Basmajian promises to unlock the secrets of style for many more men in the years to come.