In London right now, there’s a show that’s so hot, you can’t get in. Yet it wasn’t part of London Collections: Men, autumn/winter 2014, which finished on Wednesday; it’s the premiere run of American Psycho (the musical) at the Almeida Theatre. In this show, the characters are immediately placed in the cash-rich Wall Street of the 1980s by the slick precision of their suits. Seeing it just before the menswear shows began (as one of the lucky few to snag a ticket), I was reminded of just how accurately clothing can define a precise time. Which sparks the question: what did last week say about men today?
Tom Ford thinks he has an answer: “It’s for the person who doesn’t have to wear a suit, shirt and tie to the office,” he said of his autumn/winter collection, which, unusually for him, was indeed suit-light. There were a couple, based on the bestselling one he designed for Daniel Craig as James Bond, but here they were rendered in more casual cloths, such as pinwheel cord. Instead of tailoring, Ford focused on neat outerwear pieces such as black waterproof macs and double-faced wool coats with a looser fit and, in his words, “more swagger”.
It set the tone for the London schedule, which was marked by brands’ reluctance to risk their profits by banking on the return of city smarts. In its place were two conflicting definitions of sportswear: the smart casual pieces found at Ford and others, and the radical tracksuits and sweat-tops that obsess the city’s young creatives.
Burberry’s soft take on smart casual was derived from the romance of the Cornish town of St Ives – both its fishing and artistic heritage – and this was most successful when done with nuance. Fisherman string vests were a styling trick too far, and though the hand painting on leather jackets and bags was admirable, I hankered for the real work of the artists cited as inspiration (Ben Nicholson, Christopher Wood). Much more appealing were the drop shoulder coats, of a light enough wool to be worn in a warm autumn, and a high-necked navy cable-knit sweater – all will work far away from Cornwall.
At Alexander McQueen the romance had more menace. Artists were again cited, with a photo of Lucian Freud by John Deakin glaring out from shirts and woven silk coats, all based on the hard life of creative men in London’s Soho in the 1950s. Aside from a long, lean silhouette and kilts worn over matching trousers, the theme was most interesting when it referenced military pieces that entered civilian life as remnants of the second world war, such as MA1 flying jackets decorated with an excess of zips.
The focus on smart casual wear predominated, often bringing the country into the city. This was also true at two Savile Row tailors that offer seasonal ready-to-wear: at Gieves & Hawkes, the key look was a slim-fit suit in a Donegal tweed; and Richard James was at his best with a short herringbone coat with raglan sleeves. It was something that interested the young, too, especially Lou Dalton and her excellent bleached-out denim and oversized coats, inspired by the farmhands from her childhood.
There were vivid colours, too, most notably at Jonathan Saunders, who has moved on from textured knits to patterned fine-gauge sweaters. Christopher Kane presented strongly coloured looks that feature molecules, either as repetitive prints, or raised dots on a bright blue knit. Richard Nicoll sent out smart grey sweatshirts printed with a square of bright yellow or green on the front, featuring words such as “discreet” and “brutal”. All three designers know the sort of piece that will look desirable on the shop floor and on an online store’s homepage.
Given the polish, it’s surprising to think that this was only the fourth edition of London Collections: Men – three days of menswear that grew in response to the city’s burgeoning young talent, which has been building since Fashion East’s Lulu Kennedy debuted her MAN show in 2005. Supported by Topman, the latter gives a platform to three young designers each season, and it has launched many of London’s finest talents, such as Craig Green, who made his final appearance at MAN. This season his work was exceptional, with full looks from cloth meticulously painted with intense, layered swirls. Green called it “anti-digital”, showing his genuine feel for the gesture of the hand.
Indeed, MAN alumni are the pride of LC:M. Christopher Shannon is a designer whose work is inclusive and wearable. His big push for autumn/ winter was a play on early 1980s tracksuits, some spliced and restitched, others sleek and straightforward. James Long matched his trackpants with panelled bomber jackets, each with a variety of quilted density; Astrid Andersen combined her logo tracksuits with printed furs of wild colour; and Nasir Mazhar embellished his tracksuits with strange, alluring patches such as photos and lenticular logos. Agi & Sam created excellent hand-painted prints for their loose tailoring and oversized coats, while JW Anderson upped his game with gender-questioning pieces, showing the benefit of the injection of cash since LVMH took a stake in his brand.
Still, you’ll have trouble buying pieces from many of these young designers in London. Most have booming businesses selling wholesale to international stockists in places such as Japan, South Korea and Dubai. It’s a shame for Londoners but, for the designer, excelling at export is a hint of business longevity.
So what does it all say about the men of London today? Caution abounds, but for the brave, there are riches.
For more coverage of the men’s shows, visit ft.com/luxury360