The London menswear shows ended by posing some big, existential questions. What’s a modern CEO-in-waiting to do on a Wednesday afternoon, for example? Board meeting? Conference call? If you’re Christopher Bailey, the soon-to-be chief executive of Burberry, the anchor brand of London Collections: Men and the global powerhouse that provides the main argument for the commercial relevance of the city, you spend it dressing a load of boys in fisherman’s vests and shearling coats from the company’s autumn/winter 2014 collection. Such is the hands-on life of the modern executive.
This new collection continued the welcome softness of his spring/summer collection that’s just being delivered to stores, this time inspired by the fishing and artistic communities of St Ives – think Ben Nicholson, Christopher Wood. Coats were often oversized, with a slight drop shoulder. Cashmere sweaters were cable-knit, leather coats hand-painted. Shearling was prominent, either of consistent pile in bottle green as if a fur coat, or as a mix of piles to create pattern. Generally, apart from some string vests, it was a convincing mix.
Some themes are beginning to emerge for menswear autumn/winter ’14: oversized coats that are unlined and supple; fine knitwear, seen at Burberry with a large rib at the waist for decoration; and an anti-digital move towards the hand-drawn. Will it play outside the catwalk?
The show was live-streamed, with pieces available to order as they appeared, so everyone, not just the critics in the audience, could judge. At 2pm, when the first model came out, the share price was 1,475. Fifteen minutes later, and after the models had taken their final turn draped in colourblock Burberry check blankets, it had dropped to 1,470, and by the end of the day was down 2.03 per cent at 1,450. The jury is still out.
Meanwhile: “Is it weird to walk into a silent room of people staring at you?” asked Tom Ford of one of his models. Nothing like some metaphysics to go with double-faced cashmere and sweaters of handspun Peruvian thread. There was a new spirit at the label for autumn/winter, with a focus on what the American garment industry calls “sportswear”: casual, off-duty pieces. A double-faced coat had a slightly dropped shoulder and oversized feel, with one visible button at the neck and the rest concealed; outside navy, the inside plaid. Down-filled blazers were clever city solutions, and casual shirts were washed for a softer feel.
Mr Ford was particularly proud of his tennis shoes, which are hand-waxed three times in the same process used for his made-to-measure shoes. There were also sneakers in white velvet. Yes, sneakers in white velvet. And then evening wear.
“People come to us for extravagant evening wear, and it’s hard not to move into that world of Candelabra or whatever that film is,” said Mr Ford, referring to the Liberace biopic Behind The Candelabra. The solution? Tuxedos of ikat patterns that had been printed on to wet velvet, meaning the colours smudged nicely.
The day began with Agi & Sam’s first show since winning the Emerging Talent – Menswear title at the 2013 British Fashion Awards. They were dumbfounded when their name was announced that night, and have since displayed renewed confidence. The inspiration was conglomerate exploitation in Africa, a weighty subject that they handled with a note-perfect touch. Masai checks were rendered in black and white, while stripes were hand-drawn and printed on to jackets, some with strips of reflective material. Oversized coats had lining hanging below the hem to mimic traditional African wrapped workwear. The pair even created their own corporate oil logos, here printed on showpieces, but soon to be available on T-shirts. At the end of the show, buyers looked particularly happy.
As they did on seeing the deep jewel shades at E. Tautz, which felt rich and involved, counterbalanced by more sober pieces such as a black biker worn with black roomy trousers. The trio behind Sibling provided entertainment – tight crotchet shorts anyone? – alongside a fine collection of knits, including a sweater with an image of their dog Mycroft, as well as some lovely worn denim pieces, such as a hooded top. Oliver Spencer showed how tracksuit bottoms could work for slightly older men when rendered in a traditional cloth, and at Kent & Curwen new designer Simon Spurr showed how to move beyond the label’s signature cricket tops via a city-smart collection of menswear staples cut with a lean line: a duffel, a biker jacket, a padded gilet over a tailored suit.
Finishing it all off were two of the capitals most-loved new talents: Christopher Shannon, a designer who makes decisive choices about his patterns and themes, then evolves them with humour and aplomb, and Nasir Mazhar, who has evolved his accessories label into a clothing range of startling complexity.
At Mr Shannon’s show, the opening looks were sweaters featuring images of imaginary cigarette packets, one given the brand name “Monday Nights”. Tracksuits were particularly strong, and best in a vivid orange. A vivid floral print was placed on shirts and padded jackets. And yes, there were on-trend sweater dresses for men. Special jewellery pieces were created by Judy Blame, a linchpin of London subcultures for the past three decades.
It all felt alive with ideas, as did Mr Mazhar’s show, which featured lenticular patches sewn on to sweatshirts flashing the designer’s logo, black and white photo portraits sewn under a griddled mesh, and metallic cloth was patchworked on to tracksuits. By the end, the crowd was euphoric.
Mr Shannon and Mr Mazhar had delivered what could be the shows of the season so far.
Now on to Milan, where the big brands traditionally focus rather less on philosophy, and rather more on profit margin.
This article has been amended since publication. The original version included an incorrect share price for Burberry