Power in fashion is often just a display of budget. On the last day of London Collections: Men, there were shows from big brands that know how to wield this power well. But it’s to London Collections: Men’s great credit that the most powerful show came from a designer who only graduated two years ago, with so little money he made his first collection out of his bedroom.
That designer is Craig Green, and in him fashion has found a major new talent. I say “fashion” and not “menswear”, because his work is of an importance that goes beyond the male audience for which it is made. Green is only 27 years old, and made his solo catwalk debut after three seasons as part of Topman and Fashion East’s MAN show. It was a sensation, the kind of moment that reminds you how fashion can be not just commercial, but of vital creative importance.
Mr Green has been known for his grand gestures with clothing, like the wooden face masks that become such a viral meme in 2013 they were used for a visual gag on prime time TV. A couple of months ago, he told me he wanted to concentrate on the construction of the garments themselves, rather than surface pattern. At the time he was wearing one of his own simple workwear jacket, the pockets beautifully finished. It was this sort of garment which dominated his spring/summer 2015 show, though here each piece was tied at the sides, what he called a flat-pack concept.
Each layered look of a single colour was topped with jackets that sometimes looked like straight-jackets, other times one for martial arts. The trousers had a similar loose karate feel. Previously his knitwear has been a chaos of construction. Here the sweaters were of well-considered simplicity: crewneck with raised seams, the knit sitting just the right amount away from the body.
Is it OK to talk about emotions? Halfway through, I welled up. Sitting front row was Timmi Aggrey, the partner of the late Louise Wilson OBE, who died suddenly just one month ago. She had taught Mr Green on the MA course at Central Saint Martins. Mr Green is now proving himself to be one of her greatest successes. The show was a fitting tribute to her, as well as the latest triumph for a young designer of intelligence, skill and conviction.
Burberry’s strong show found its power through the personal. Backstage, Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s chief executive and chief creative officer, said he was a big admirer of the late travel writer and novelist Bruce Chatwin, who famously quit his job at the Sunday Times in 1974 with a telegram that read “have gone to Patagonia”. Mr Bailey said he had found a first edition of a Chatwin book with a particularly beautiful pink cover. This led him to research book design, and so the collection developed. Sometimes all that is needed is something that simple.
Mr Bailey showed his great skill as a designer, namely giving covetable resonance to wearable clothes. One of the most interesting stories here was denim, a cloth neglected in the industry’s recent rush to luxury (unless it was denim covered in crystals). For spring/summer 2015, Mr Bailey sent out denim jackets buttoned up with a collar of leather or velvet, worn as a shirt layer under nubuck coats or velvet blazers. On their feet were luxury sneakers of leather and mesh that were pricked with vivid colour, a sign that this chief executive/chief creative officer knows where the lucrative footwear market is right now.
The book jacket designs came on lettered scarves and hand painted bags, the idea of a traveller from cotton twill field jackets, while a double-cashmere orange duffel and a mint green cardigan brought softness. Mr Bailey always does best when he allows himself to be sensitive. He clearly felt a connection with Chatwin. “I don’t think many people have read him,” he said, presumably talking about the fashion audience. Anyone looking for a book to read this summer should start with Chatwin’s collection of letters, titled Under The Sun.
Do powerful men wear jeans? Of course. “I wore jeans to the office the other month and people were like, what?” said Tom Ford at his presentation for spring/summer 2015. In his mind, he always wore jeans, then realised he only did so at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was clear to him that a new city-appropriate jeans needed to be designed. The result is three new cuts which Ford says all pretty much look the same – the point being that, “if you have a bigger butt, you wear this style and it’ll make you go like that.” The cuts secretly hold the body in certain places if necessary: clever design, something rarely found in contemporary denim.
The mood at Ford was one of pleasing function all round: cute navy raincoats had heat-sealed seams inside, while a checked mac had glued pocket bags to make them sit completely flat. Notice how these words “heat-sealed” and “glued” are becoming the language of luxury, and rightfully so: luxury is at its best when it is also functional. There was also frivolity – Mr Ford said that indigo washed sweatshirts will fade like jeans, while a new cowboy boot has been cut wide from the ankle up so that it holds any jean that covers it firm.
It made you realise that sometimes all you want is convincing, desirable clothes. These were provided by E Tautz, which sent out one of the shows of London Collections: Men with its technical parkas and wise leg trousers. These came in many forms, from a distressed denim knit to a wide khaki based on an old pair of army trousers its designer Patrick Grant has been wearing for months. It felt like a label finding its feet, the work of a quality and sophistication you would find in Milan. It is a path the brand would do well to follow in the future.
Then there was the powerful optimism of Sibling. “We really enjoyed doing this show,” said Joe Bates, one-third of the Sibling triumvirate backstage. It showed. The three specialise in vivaciously complex knits, here seen with a red motorbike jacket of engineered crochet, a sweater of viscose yarn looking like trapped hair. The cleverness of this brand is both in the wildness of their ideas – and all of these pieces can be produced should stores want them – combined with an eye to commerciality. Here it was in tracksuits printed with skulls by artist Mike Egan, or printed knits with sweet polka dots.
With so many great clothes at London Collections: Men, it is easy to miss the accessories. But at Paul Smith’s footwear presentation, the coloured footwear was a pleasure at Hauser & Wirth surrounded by the drawings of Phyllida Barlow.
Meanwhile new British bag brand Campbell Cole presented a great new rucksack perfect for cycling – reinforced back, roll-top closing with a clip fastener. They currently sell their pieces on their own website. Hopefully stores will take a look at their strong work, and help make them wider known.
The day ended with another show of power from young designer Nasir Mazhar. His is a world of great complexity in garments usually seen as simplistic – tracksuits, sweatshirts. Do not underestimate what can be done with them: Mr Mazhar develops exceptional cloth (metallic blue herringbone; a golden weave pattern that appears like TV static) then cuts his garments with taut control. His was a show of both professionalism and subversiveness, which might just be the power of London menswear.