The recent menswear shows in London featured a stark contrast in styles between the classic and cutting edge.
One of the standout shows of “London Collections: Men”, the city’s three-day men’s fashion “week,” was by a 27-year-old novice named Craig Green. It was all the more astonishing because it was, technically, his first.
Few fashion capitals are as nurturing to its emerging talent as London. Its success is all the more evident now that fashion’s reigning conglomerates have taken note and invested in its rising stars: LVMH in Jonathan Anderson of J. W. Anderson and the shoemaker Nicholas Kirkwood; Kering in Christopher Kane.
But the success stories here are not limited to the headliners who have won corporate backing and plum jobs. (Anderson’s first collection as the creative director of the LVMH-owned Spanish label Loewe will debut in Paris on June 27.) The city is already offering new case studies of innocence quickly evolving into experience, like that of Green (who, despite the foregoing statement, still lives at home with his mum).
He is the product of the city’s exemplary designer training: first as a protege of Louise Wilson, the head of the Central Saint Martins master’s program in fashion design until her death in May, who midwifed nearly a generation’s worth of English fashion talent; and then as the beneficiary of what passes for postgraduate studies in London fashion (sponsorship, support and a platform at young-designer showcases, like the MAN show, where for three seasons he took his first tentative steps on the runway).
The previous Tuesday, at his first independent show, Green presented a collection for spring 2015 that was startlingly mature and eerily beautiful. His barefoot men in robelike jackets and side-tied pants resembled penitents and crusaders at once.
Padded jackets suggested armor, but trailing undone laces behind them like kite strings, even those laden with flaglike standards conveyed fragility as much as aggression. Their garments, in cotton and denim, had grown out of identifiable basics (tailored shirts, straight-leg jeans) into something rich and strange.
It was transporting. Several members of the audience were in tears.
And the way of “London Collections: Men” is such that they dried them and hurried along to Burberry, six km and the full width of the aesthetic spectrum away.
If Green’s show was a highlight – one, it should be said, of several, with strong collections from Anderson, Jonathan Saunders and Christopher Shannon, who recently took the inaugural B.F.C./GQ Designer Menswear Fund prize – it was by no means representative. That is because for London, even more than for most other fashion capitals, there is no single representative example.
And yet there in London was Jeremy Scott, who chose to stage his first men’s show for Moschino here. Scott, who has already incorporated the McDonald’s logo into his idiom, presented a collection that unabashedly celebrated consumption.
It was a smorgasbord of tweaked trademarks and logos: both Moschino and “Fauxschino,” plus rehashed versions of the Louis Vuitton monogram and the totems of Hermes. They were shown alongside the flags of the world: the United Colours of Branding. Though obvious, it was fizzy and often funny.
Those two points of view were in stark opposition, but London can accommodate both and, indeed, many more. Somewhere in between lies the approachable sportswear of entrenching designers like Lou Dalton, Christopher Raeburn, Richard Nicoll and the father-son duo Casely-Hayford.
The London week is distinguished among its fellows on the international men’s-wear schedule – namely Florence, Milan and Paris, where the industry leads editors and buyers next – by its extremes. At one end, it showcases daring experimentation, much of it originating from the still-scrubby East End. At the other, sartorial traditionalism, much of it growing out of the traditions of Savile Row.
”I think London is unique in that you have this real juxtaposition of East London – very ‘fashion’ and cool – with incredible Savile Row tradition,” said Jason Basmajian, the creative director of Gieves & Hawkes, of No. 1 Savile Row, which has now joined the Fashion Week fray. “It’s that push and pull that makes London very dynamic.”
In two short years, London Collections: Men has established itself as an important stop on the men’s-wear circuit, drawing not only an increasing number of editors and buyers (some, admittedly, goosed into attendance by sponsorship from its governing body), but also repatriating English designers and labels that had long shown their wares elsewhere, and even luring foreign nationals off their native soils.
Burberry returned to London from Milan one year ago; Alexander McQueen, now under the direction of Sarah Burton, came back six months before that. This season, they were joined by Dunhill, lately treading water off the runway, which is now adventuring back into the fashion world with a new designer, John Ray, who was last seen designing men’s wear at Gucci eight years ago.
”I was never going to go back to the industry,” he said.
The difference was Dunhill.
”I felt the heart of the brand,” said Ray, a Scot.
But it would be a false dichotomy to set the energy and experimentation of the up-and-coming against the stateliness of the well established. Yes, the young guns are gleeful trouncers of tradition, who trick out tracksuits with shaved mink (the Danish-born Londoner Astrid Andersen) and splice crotchet with punk regalia (the knitwear trio Sibling).
”The show last season was too much about the clothes and not enough about the spirit,” said Joe Bates of Sibling, who righted the balance with a presentation that included sweaters woven with hand-cut raffia to resemble man-size, blood-red dandelions or one of the artist Nick Cave’s sound suits.
Saunders, whose collection was handsome even in its off-kilter colour scheme (he called one taupe-ish shade “yucky caramel”), happily confessed to having “a perverse sense of colour. A perverse sense of everything, really.”
But there was forward thinking at Burberry, as well, where Christopher Bailey channeled the late English explorer and travel writer Bruce Chatwin, with prints taken from travel-book covers and a collection that was sensual and suggestive both in palette and texture, long on jewel-toned velvet, linen and gabardine. At a house built on sturdy wartime trench coats, Bailey is a restless agitator for sartorial adventure, even if he occasionally ventures in too decadent a direction.
That’s the risk and the reward of travel, a theme that engaged some of his fellow designers as well. At Dunhill, Ray showed a collection more solidly grounded on traditional, military-influenced tailoring, like longer jackets with kicked-out vents, but cut it in lighter fabrics for customers in farther reaches and warmer climes.
It was the spirit of Alfred Dunhill himself, like Chatwin a more questing character, which influenced him more than the house’s long history. For labels with long histories to draw on, evolving the traditions is as crucial as paying homage to them.
“I really hate when you put things together and it looks like Downton Abbey,” he said with a sigh.
Nevertheless, brands like Dunhill, Gieves & Hawkes and the newly revived Kent & Curwen, represent the allure that English heritage, even in its jazzed-up new iteration, still holds for the global fashion business, and the lengths that international companies are willing to go to in order to harness it. (Dunhill is owned by Richemont, the Swiss group, which has enriched it with a new management team poached from Italian designer labels, in addition to its new designer; Gieves &Hawkes and Kent & Curwen, by Trinity Limited, a men’s-wear retailing company.
So London has become a legitimate home of the large-scale and the global, as well as the fledgling and the small.
“We wanted to be in London as soon as we could,” said Bailey, Burberry’s designer and chief executive, “because it’s our hometown. Particularly when you think about the history and heritage of men’s wear, it just felt right for us.”
He observed the new weight and legitimacy that “London Collections: Men” has developed over the short course of four seasons, one that Burberry’s re-entrance further enlarged. For a label with worldwide reach, the homecoming is significant. — International New York Times