Menswear needs some new terms. “Casual: I hate that word,” said Tom Ford, at his menswear show for spring/summer 2015 as part of London Collections: Men. He was trying to describe his collection, which centred on denim and technical pieces. “Casual’s wrong. Sporty’s wrong. If anyone comes up with the word, please tell me.”
Menswear’s focus has shifted so far from traditional tailoring, there was barely a single sober suit in these shows. Sweatshirts and tracksuits have been the domain of young London designers for a while now, but the words “streetwear” or “sportswear” are demeaning to them: what they are creating is pure fashion.
And what about “workwear”? Simple cotton workers’ jackets were at the heart of Craig Green’s extraordinary show. This was a new form of luxury, one that turns current fashion thinking on its head. Most presume luxury is about excess and expense. Here, Green showed that luxury comes from a thorough consideration of cut, how cloth acts around the body, and colour that brings pleasure to the eye. All this from a 27-year-old who, after just three seasons at the Topman/Fashion East group show MAN, was making his solo catwalk debut.
Maybe there’s no need for new words, just the acceptance that menswear should be about more than suits. Ford said that everyone knew they did tailoring, so why show it? He wanted to concentrate instead on pieces “that captured a different part of men’s lives”: jeans that were cut to “improve the form” (a polite way of saying they flatter the butt), and outerwear such as a checked raincoat with inner heat-sealed seams.
Sartorial brands were similarly seeking redefinition. “If it’s only heritage, it’s boring,” said Dunhill’s new chief executive Fabrizio Cardinali. True, the work of its designer John Ray was still classical, but an unlined silk blazer was super-light and practical, able to be washed overnight and still retain its shape. Meanwhile at Gieves & Hawkes, suiting in greys and pale blues was worn with knits and T-shirts to make it more modern.
It is London’s younger designers who are agitating for this change. At Nasir Mazhar’s show, I was particularly taken by the cloths: a jacquard of golden swirls, or a herringbone of shimmering blue. If similar work were presented by a luxury brand, its complexity would be admired. Mazhar uses such fabrics to make tautly elaborate tracksuits. This should not mean his work is any less respected.
After years of not knowing how to define his work, Christopher Shannon has realised that his is a modern British brand. Fashion is a filter, and Shannon is expert at taking the clothing worn by young British men, and creating something new. This season it was logo-print T-shirts, striped polo shirts, zip-up bombers and performance parkas, all important to the young British male psyche, interpreted with intelligence, subversion and humour.
James Long is another designer who has created a whole identity for himself from mesh tops woven with ribbon to create what he calls a “new kind of knit.” Here they came as kaftans, while ribbon was also used as decorative trim on distressed jeans with a boxer waistband. His was a show of conviction, commerciality and a drive to push himself further.
This interest in what could be mistakenly called sportswear is clearly more than a trend. Many young designers are beginning to build major businesses, most notably Astrid Andersen, whose recent Topman collaboration sold out online in a day. Her latest provocations: fur kimonos, sheer lace tops, a cropped cagoule. Hardly what you’d call sportswear.
Not that the whole language of menswear needs to be reinvented. Many brands, however, excelled by just showing great clothes. Burberry had one of its most successful seasons yet with a parade of desirable denim jackets worn under belted field coats, along with scarves and bags decorated with lettering from vintage book covers. Lou Dalton evolved her brand pleasingly with tech bombers and hoodies alongside some bold colour knits; JW Anderson showed he could make wearable clothes with some sweet woven jackets; and young label Pieter presented some crisp tailoring and gorgeous jersey T-shirts. E Tautz sent out a collection I wanted to wear immediately – wide khakis, pale denim shorts and some great technical parkas. Alexander McQueen moved away from the historical references that have previously defined its menswear. The result was contemporary clothing spliced with swooshes of traditional fabric, which recalled the late-1990s work of McQueen himself.
In London, great clothes can also be playful. Moschino was here for new creative director Jeremy Scott’s first show in the city, a riotous riff on fake fashion logos, both the house’s own and its rivals. And at this season’s MAN show, while new designers Nicomede Talavera and Liam Hodges impressed with their singularity, it was Bobby Abley who got the most attention on Instagram for sweatshirts printed with characters from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Don’t scoff about Instagram: big brands are finding it the fastest way to build hype and shift product.
Three days of shows, many new highs reached, and yet no new words. But this is what makes menswear so fascinating right now – it is morphing at such a pace that it defies overt categorisation. This pace is not just on the catwalk, but in the undercurrents that are changing the way men themselves are dressing. That all this is happening in London is a great compliment to the city.