Jigsaw Menswear’s Second Coming

by Katie on April 10, 2012

In the mid-Nineties Jigsaw Menswear was a game-changer in men’s fashion, an on-trend mid-market brand that was the stepping stone from Topman to your actual designer schmutter. Not only that, the stores were a piece of proper third space design genius, and I’d think nothing of spending a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon browsing and trying things on, and there was always something that I needed to buy. The mostly male staff in the Manchester King Street store were all part-time models (this was a good decade before the exacting eugenics of Abercrombie’s human resources policy started to filter down to other retailers) and DJ’s – women wanted to sleep with them, men wanted to be them, but I just wanted to dress like them.

The brilliance of Jigsaw Menswear was that it imbued classic-with-an-edge pieces with quality and cross-generational charm. The clothing was unthreateningly fashionable, yet there were still nods to designers such as Dries Van Noten, Helmut Lang, and Tom Ford at Gucci.

In 1996 Jigsaw Menswear provided Tom Cruise’s wardrobe for the first film in the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise, and I was lucky to grab the exact same chocolate brown single-breasted suit that Cruise wore to the premiere. I loved that suit, which attracted compliments whenever it was given an airing, and I eventually, and sadly, wore it into the ground. I’m sure there is still an original Jigsaw Menswear overcoat, with its understated yet instantly recognisable red label, in an ex’s loft somewhere.

Then, a few years after Jigsaw Menswear had arrived, a re-branding following a management buy-out. Uth (pronounced “youth”) was a younger, wilfully edgy proposition with less of the timeless appeal of its predecessor. I still shopped there, but purchases became less frequent. A few years later the retail chain had vanished from our high streets entirely.

Imagine my reaction then to the news that Jigsaw Menswear was back, BACK, BACK!!!  I had been bordering on ecstatic since the announcement towards the end of last year. Former Head of Menswear at Nicole Farhi, Frances Walker, had been hired to oversee Jigsaw Menswear’s 21stcentury revival but, with contemporary competitors like Aubin & Wills, and the all-conquering Reiss, dominating the high street, is there still room for the resurrected brand in today’s menswear market?
I popped along to the opening of Manchester’s Jigsaw Menswear department, located in the existing Jigsaw store at the corner of the Triangle. Held in support of Genesis UK, a charity involved in the research and prevention of male breast cancer, this was a mostly young crowd, some of whom would have probably still been at school when Jigsaw Menswear was last available.

A catwalk presentation, featuring street cast models and former cancer patients, and an official ribbon cutting, provided a light-hearted distraction, but the main event for me was to finally see the collection up close. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Fashion has moved on, or rather back, so the formerly restrained aesthetic from the brand’s heyday has been replaced with a modish, crumpled Englishness which put me in mind of the rakish Dickie Greenleaf, Jude Law’s character in ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’. These are clothes for weekends rather than boardrooms. There is still that recognisable Jigsaw Menswear focus on quality fabrics and ingenious details; quarter lining and taped seams in jackets provided a looser structure, whilst touches lifted from bespoke tailoring, such as contrasting collar linings and working cuffs, have an aspirational appeal. My favourite piece from the whole collection is a slim cotton melange cable knit, which seemed to catch the eyes of other attendees, but it was difficult to resist crushing on the canvas bags, produced in collaboration with Cumbrian heritage luggage manufacturer Chapmans.

Jigsaw is committed to manufacturing in this country where possible, and I was told that there would be more pieces to follow over the coming weeks.

With so many retailers chasing the youth market this well thought through, mature collection is a welcome respite, and one which should find quite a few younger fans, whilst those of us who remember Jigsaw Menswear’s previous incarnation should be pleasantly surprised.

Frances Walker has done us proud.
Review written by Lee Clatworthy (@TeamChutzpah) for Katie Chutzpah blog.

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