Know thy customer: isn’t that the first rule of retail? On the second day of London Collections Men for Spring/Summer 16, the US brand Coach skewed young. I mean really young: skateboard ramps decorated the catwalk, animal prints appeared all over, including fake tiger trims. Understatement was absent.
What was going on? It’s clear that Coach is transitioning towards luxury fashion, away from its previous mid-market ground. Great that it wants to be more exciting, fuelled by the vivacity and skills of relatively new creative director Stuart Vevers. Its menswear is an under-developed business, ready to be fully realised. But this collection served only to limit its scope: if you’re not an extravagant skate kid, forget it.
An acid-coloured psychedelic print had an unfortunate similarity to an uncoiled intestine. It dominated the first 10 looks — blousons, T-shirts, jeans, shorts: enough already. This was eventually replaced for tiger prints, either all over garments or as trims. What about those who just want clothing to be confidently quiet, like the great shearlings from autumn/winter 15 soon to appear in stores?
It was all so confusing. I sat opposite US retailers, who looked nonplussed. Afterwards, I checked Coach’s own website, to see what’s on offer for men right now. “Celebrate Dad” read its headline. Click the link and it takes you to Father's day gifts like saddle brown wallets, belts and soft briefcases. The model showing that bag off is wearing a navy crewneck, white shirt and navy pants. How refreshing! A much more appropriate idea of an actual Coach customer. Maybe next time the catwalk show should steer here.
“It’s always been at the back of my mind,” said Marc Hare of Mr Hare, at the launch of his first collection of clothing. Hare has built a reputation as a footwear designer of individual flair, and said he was tired of magazines always styling his shoes with suits. “I wanted it to be for a man who does more than just pull out a blazer,” he said
A room was lined with models wearing a selection of Mr Hare looks, both shoes and clothes. Zip-up blousons, oversized nylon coats, roomy but cropped trousers were all desirable. On their feet were loafers, buckle boots, lightweight sneakers. Crucially, there was nothing matchy-matchy, neither between shoe and garment or in any of the looks themselves — a wise move. “Most guys just buy separates,” he said. “It’s the way I get dressed.” It helps when a designer is his own customer. Hare will wholesale the looks, and if it works, next year he’ll open a fresh store to carry his whole range. Good luck to him.
Astrid Andersen has built her young brand on knowing the buttons she can push with her loyal global following. That means a basketball vest with a bottom section of black lace; metallic slouchy trackpants in pastel purple. An inspiration was China, and though Andersen has recently travelled to Shanghai to show her bespoke fur collection, here she was looking at something more naive — the 1980s box office flop Big Trouble in Little China. No, me neither.
Much of her work here was gorgeous, especially a billowing oversized T-shirt and matching wide pants made from a striped silk printed with blossoms. Andersen never wants her customer to buy another logo T-shirt — for her, one is enough. Her desire is to educate them to graduate on to more challenging pieces. She could rinse her brand by flogging endless cheap T’s, but her ambition is for something more. With this work, she is building a new strand of luxury.
Fashion shows follow their own algebra. Introduce an idea with one look, consolidate with the next, balance the pieces properly and the resolution is good. Such was the case with Lou Dalton, who sent out one of her best ever shows with a tightly edited mix of zip-up Harrington jackets, feather-light parkas, throw-on knits and utilitarian shorts. Her background is in functionality — she learnt the ropes from a tailor who made hunting jackets — and here bellow pockets were a clever detail that repeated throughout (a bellow pocket being one that bags out). Prince of Wales technical fabrics played with formality, an oversized and distorted Madras check in blue or orange added an air of the hallucinogenic. It was intentional: models wore baggy striped sweaters and bucket hats like they were kids just emerging from a rave in 1992. The teenagers of then are the consumers of now: canny to hit them with something so emotive.
More zip-ups: Oliver Spencer had them run throughout his collection, the kind of piece that his customer will buy in droves — great in red plaid, or the pigment blue blouson with a double-ended zip. There were also great zip-ups on the catwalk of Agi & Sam, who came back on track after a couple of wayward collections — they’re young, they can recover. “It was scary because it was so normal,” said Sam Cotton, half of the duo, backstage after the show. The normality of the collection was why it worked so well, particularly the jackets in a hand-drawn stripe of blues and greys. Also lovely were greengrocer coats and sweatshirts in a thinner version of the stripe. These were clothes they themselves would wear and a direction they should continue to follow.
Remember that thing called tailoring? It turns up in the strangest places. Sibling started their show with two suits tailored for them by Edward Sexton. It was a beginning of sobriety from which to unravel. Knits came out in opticals, like an imagined pattern from a South American Olympics. Fine knit long sleeve hoodies had a drawing of the brand’s dog Mycroft at the chest. Knit T-shirts had swirls of acid paisleys. Anyone following any Instagram feeds from LCM will know some models came out with pom-poms, and others in leggings with their butts sticking out. A hoot.
Guess what was worn over suits at Hardy Amies? Zip-up blousons in matching cloth. It was a good effort in making the label appear more modern, though in reality its customer would probably prefer either tailoring or casual, not the two combined. The suits themselves mostly looked well made, but with the final looks there was a problem. Look close, and these jacquard suits were woeful around the crotch. This isn’t being prurient, honest. The cut of the trouser matters. It wasn’t just one suit, but a repeated stream. This is tailoring’s big challenge, since traditionally the crotch has been covered by the suit jacket. Cut jackets shorter, and a revealed crotch needs to be cut more like that of a chino or jean.
Actually, some of the most successful tailoring of the day came from young designer Matthew Miller. Buyers love his brand, since it provides the sort of stuff men love to buy at a decent price — his leather jackets come in under a grand (those by Saint Laurent are over £3000). Suits are such a rarity, it was a shock for his opening look to be a tailored suit worn with a white shirt and dusty pink tie. On the back though was a line of sprayed paint. And so it evolved, from a white shirt with a red slash at the rear, to suiting that was permanently crinkled. Also good were navy crinkled knits, as if they’d been left at the bottom of the laundry pile — great for gentlemen such as me who don’t own an iron.
Ah, for some calm. Earlier in the day, Berthold showed beautifully restrained and softly structured jackets, some inspired by hospital gowns, with colours taken from artist Klara Lidén (Berthold and his partner are big collectors, and have a Liden in their apartment). And later on, in his store of granite floating islands, Carlo Brandelli showed off his latest reductions in tailoring at Kilgour. A shawl collar evening jacket was in a navy basket weave, unlined so that held up light shone through. A jacket in water-resistant nylon was devoid of any fuss. A tailored tracksuit came in cotton jersey with a slightly raised collar. All was clean and clear. After a long day of shows, such clarity in tailoring was a relief.