Somehow, in London, menswear can veer from traditional to radical with the speed of the showers flashing over the city this washout summer – and everyone just smiles.
On the first day of the London men’s shows, thus, tradition was upheld and then advanced by Gieves & Hawkes, the venerable Savile Row bespoke house that has had trouble finding its purpose in the 21st century. New owners – the Fung Group’s Hong Kong-based Trinity – and new creative director Jason Basmajian’s tactic is to turn the focus of this venerable English bespoke house towards the international.
“It’s breaking down the codes,” said Basmajian, “using lightweight fabrics and lighter construction. It’s a brand elevation and evolution, not a revolution.” Translate this as lightweight but appropriate tailoring that’ll sell across its 100 stores in Asia. The selection was comprehensive: linen blazers, silk/linen herringbone suits, checks from windowpane to plaid. Luxury sportswear was a focus, particularly the bomber, which is shaping up to be the new blazer. Nothing to shock or surprise, which is exactly how they want it.
By contrast, the most radical show, and most exceptional, was by Craig Green, only in his second season, who is part of the MAN showcase for young designers. Green has already achieved notoriety for the constructions his models wear or carry – last season’s planks of wood were even parodied in the opening monologues of UK primetime chat shows. Let them mock: the conviction of his work can easily stand the knocks.
Ultimately, good fashion is about the unsaid, whether it be the unspoken message of professionalism sent out by a suit, or a loafer worn without a sock saying you live the good life. Green’s work is an explosion of the unsaid turmoil of male youth, a boil of emotion that is hard felt and hard to express. This season he used tie-dye to give a sense of release, on layered looks of shirts, shorts, trousers and the rest. Often the models carried in front of them a mass of splattered cardboard boxes. Other pieces, like black deconstructed cropped blazers, or patchwork and laminated knits, showed a quieter side. It’s only day one of the international men’s schedule, and in Craig Green we’ve already seen one of the best shows of the season.
Of course, there are other young radicals bringing the men’s catwalks to life. Agi & Sam used prints and jacquards of the upholstery and floor patterns used on British public transport, which sounds dotty (and sometimes literally is, like a raised dot pattern taken from the vinyl floor of a train) but exemplifies a consumer desire for innovative and humorous pattern as seen in their recent Topman collaboration – the store says they sold in its first day what they expected to make in a week.
Meanwhile, between tradition and radicalism lies commerce. Jonathan Saunders presented another selection of pieces that nicely married neat fashion ideas with inclusive wearability via the early digital era – hence the set recreating Manchester’s legendary Haçienda nightclub – and city boys at their most chipper. Think shirts, ties and trousers of much colour and zip, with a riff on dots running throughout. Then there’s Richard Nicoll, another designer creating a language based around clothes he’d wear himself.
Some of his collection was quietly dark, like the sleeveless leather jackets or bombers in a jacquard pattern of python, but the winning pieces were on the lighter side: tailored blazers and trousers in little gingham checks and a lovely blue hooded mac. Also winning were the first pieces from a new long-term unisex collaboration with the artist Linder, with collages of suggestive men and snakes on T-shirts, bombers, the works. Another fine display came from Nicholas Kirkwood, presenting his second ever men’s shoe collection, full of ultralight lace-ups that looked supersubstantial thanks to their exaggerated sole. The secret? UVA soles. Kirkwood said from his first season, stores went straight for the showier pieces. It proves that in menswear, being bold can pay off.
Joining their ranks of these commerce-minded clever designers is Lou Dalton, who is growing with considerable pace. It was clear why in her elegantly patterned brocade bombers – brocade and jacquard being a canny ways to provide men with just enough decoration – and desirable inside-out tailored blazers in beautifully faded linen mixes.
Still, the most commerce-minded brand in London is Topman, which showed its Topman Design label and revealed a very singular fondness for rodeo shirts, best when the pattern of swirls was used on a sweater. Not that the audience cared – they were too desperate to get to the pub next door, which Topman have helpfully commandeered for the duration of the shows. Which just about sums up London’s men shows: a place where tradition, radicalism, and business can all sit down together and raise a glass.