January 9, 2013 12:49 pm

London Menswear: day two

Location brings out the best in McQueen and Saunders

Most Britons pretend not to be obsessed with a television property show called Location Location Location, which is all about – well, location. Still, we know location matters, and not just for private property but for fashion shows, too.

Until Tuesday, Alexander McQueen had been part of the Milan menswear scene, Italian shows full of bravado and blinkered grandeur. The location didn’t always bring out the best side of the brand. How to say it? There, the McQueen clothes sometimes seemed prissy.

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Thankfully, the brand has moved its menswear back to its home town of London, and the shift has snapped it back into shape. The theme for autumn/winter 2013 was the subversion of the suit, something that had obsessed founder Lee McQueen since his days as a Savile Row apprentice. In creative director Sarah Burton’s hands, traditional three-piece pinstripe suits gave way to pinstripes patchworked from articulated shapes found more often in sportswear. Some were exceptional.

The McQueen signature pagoda was the shoulder, which rose to a point (there were other softer, and therefore more commercial styles), while a longer jacket length was an effective argument that tailoring move on from its cropped Mad Men moment. There was one dramatic print – a graphic repeat of a stained-glass window – but it was strong enough to hold its own. It all felt very McQueen, from the models in see-through face masks misting up from their breath right down to the (yes) location: an old building that it seemed could collapse at any minute.

Menswear can be an awfully embarrassing thing to talk about, like a father trying to say “hip” and “hop” to his children. This is particularly the case when anyone tries to describe “streetwear”. Still, streetwear-plus is what Christopher Shannon does, with terrific results. His milieu may be sweat tops and track pants, but Shannon sets himself a template, then plays with it to his own amusement: see sweaters cut and spliced together, at their most wicked when a sweater piece with a half or quarter of a comic book face was part of the equation.

Shannon is a designer who has long shown promise, to which traditionally cautious menswear stores are just waking up. Another such brand is Sibling, whose knitwear is of obvious sellability. It can also be crazy, and the brand cleverly showed both side by side: bonkers monster knits next to bankable pieces (albeit for a certain customer), such as leopard print knit polos, and a sweater emblazoned with a tattoo of a swallow with the word “HELL” in its beak.

Although there’s much new noise around London, some of its “young” designers have actually been showing for years, and have evolved their own particular niche. James Long has built a reputation for knit, leather and embellishment. The end result can be prohibitively pricey, not good when trying to build a sustainable contemporary business. This season, however, he replaced the leather of his jackets with padded nylon, which looked particularly fine with dirty-look knit sleeves. (Is there any other industry where that can be a compliment?)

Finally – location again – some designers chose to show their work off the runway. Such was the case with Jonathan Saunders, and it was a canny decision: his vignettes of models and clothes on rails proved he knows how to build and develop a range. Though he is better known as a women’s designer, his four-season-old menswear range has already got its own language: each season there is a new knit novelty, usually involving some sort of mottled stitch (again, another unlikely compliment), bomber or baseball jackets, and casual coloured tailoring.

Saunders said he wanted the presentation to feel like “a conversation”, and indeed the talk among most men present was who would get what piece. They’d work almost anywhere.

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