February 24, 2012 9:53 pm

A country for bold men

Traditional elegance meets edgy escapism in London, where men’s wear designers are seeing increasing interest

A year ago, London men’s wear was the also-ran of catwalk events: interest was slight and shows were shoehorned into one day. But on Wednesday, at a series of presentations that saw the classicism of Savile Row and tailors such as E Tautz and Mr Start competing with the avant-garde escapism of JW Anderson and psychedelic wool specialist James Long, the British Fashion Council announced that Prince Charles will host a reception at St James’s Palace in June, to launch a three-day men’s wear showcase that month. Judging by the quality on show, it’s about time.

Savile Row tailoring and James Bond imagery still dominate the concept of masculine elegance in many countries, even if the turnover of brands such as Gucci, Prada and Armani dwarfs those of London’s celebrated tailors. That may be about to change, however, as consumers in the emerging markets favour heritage brands. Gieves & Hawkes, whose address is 1 Savile Row, already boasts 100 stores in China, and for autumn focused on David Hicks’ bold ties and revivalist Tommy Nutter cuts, with a deconstructed cashmere jacket sporting patch pockets and a curvy cuff featuring its signature art deco buttons.

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“We are all going Chinese,” smiled fellow Savile Row tailor Ozwald Boateng, whose collection, shown on Asian models, was notable for kimono-inspired cobalts and purples, and Japanese materials used in natty two-tone chesterfields.

By contrast, said designer JW Anderson, “it’s about glorifying the vulgar.” He showed optical print leisure suits, quilted bomber jackets and cook’s aprons, anchored by snowboarder boots with shaggy wool inserts. Models wore quilted fisherman hats that echoed rugby skull caps (Anderson’s father, Willie, once captained the Ireland team). Christopher Shannon plastered his clubbing jackets and fatigue trousers with bold lettering and bandana prints, and Kit Neale’s over-the-top butterfly, diamond or picnic print blousons, jeans and mittens were, said the designer, “all great gear for footie.”

James Long offered pullovers so degraded they looked as though they been zapped by radioactivity, and elongated wool cardigans. The latter also featured in a finely tailored show by Topman that referenced Patti Smith and Berlin’s mean streets, but Topman’s best looks were urban dandy double-breasted redingotes in mohair or wool bouclé.

There were mega-plaid pod coats from E Tautz, faded Yves Klein blue raglan shoulder top coats from Baartmans and Siegel, and a boiled wool duffel coat with waxed cotton pockets from William Richard Green.

“Two years ago we showed in a garage for a couple of hundred people. This is a lot more serious,” said Oliver Spencer, whose Lucian Freud-inspired collection of tape-seamed herringbone suits and cap-toed Oxfords drew a cheer from the 1,000 plus audience in the courtyard of Somerset House, the London’s season’s nerve centre.

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