In London, you expect newness. The menswear shows in the city, titled London Collections: Men, are centred on new brands who have used the platform to build an international profile. These young designers made much noise, but on the opening day of London Collections: Men for spring/summer 2015, the tailoring brands were also bringing the fresh ideas.
For the first time in years, there’s ebullience at Dunhill. A new chief executive (Fabrizio Cardinali, previously at Dolce & Gabbana and Lancel) has cleared the slate of a brand that has suffered from skittishness and self-doubt, allowing newish designer John Ray (once of Gucci, who joined Dunhill in early 2013) to create a confident classical menswear mood.
For spring/summer 2015, Mr Ray has focused on two suits – a British cut with a natural shoulder and a kick in the vent, and an unstructured silk suit from an archive piece for a Grand Tour, which translates as perfect for the Asian market.
“I’m Scottish,” said Mr Ray, “and I wear flannel all year round. But it’s important if you’re an international brand that you respect all climates.”
Mr Cardinali sees this as a beginning. “We’re doing a turnround,” he said. “We’re waking a sleeping giant, that’s been sleeping for a while.”
To come: aggressive store openings, especially in Europe, where its presence is negligible. Then, he hopes, the US.
Mr Ray’s next task: focus on outerwear. The brand is known to be a particular favourite of its owner Richemont’s chief Johann Rupert, meaning the finances are there to push it forward. “After nine months I didn’t expect to get where we are today,” said Mr Cardinali.
The two are clearly enjoying their working relationship. They should be pleased with the results.
There was also newness in bespoke. “I don’t know why for the past 100 years there’s only been a peak, notch and shawl collar in men’s tailoring,” said Carlo Brandelli in the new Savile Row store-cum-workshop for Kilgour, the label to which he has returned after an absence of four years. He presented a series of suggestions for bespoke, and was himself wearing a soft tailored navy jacket with a collar that was a cross between a peak and shawl, its unassuming asymmetric cut at the front giving the piece an open air.
Mr Brandelli has recently made bespoke suits for Chris Ofili, David Adjaye and Nick Knight. From Tuesday, other bespoke clients will be able to visit this new space to order his refined experiments in sleek tailoring – incision pockets, asymmetric back vents, no breast pocket for a square because, as Mr Brandelli said, “who wants to be a dandy?”.
Mr Brandelli’s course is set for flair in tailoring found from less fuss, not more.
At Gieves & Hawkes, the newness came from embracing contemporary techniques, especially heat-sealed seams used on waxed-cotton outerwear. During these menswear shows, there are always certain words that end up being endlessly repeated. Last season it was “double-faced vicuna”. Spring/Summer 2015 already feels very tech – I bet there will be many mentions of “heat-sealed seams” in the days to come.
Elsewhere at Gieves was sleek tailoring using twisted yarns, and a take on evening wear using linen, another idea perfect for markets in warmer climes.
It is always pleasing when young brands become part of the new establishment. That was what has happened to Christopher Shannon, who has recently won the first BFC/GQ Designer Menswear Fund prize of £150,000, immediately elevating him in stature. Not that Mr Shannon compromised following his victory. His collection was punchy and aggressive in the sweetest way, with sweatshirts and T’s that cut-up his own logo with funny takes on conglomerate branding.
Mr Shannon is a designer who knows how to make deft play with menswear codes, and he did excellent work with nylon zip-ups (you see? tech stuff rules), and sweet sweatshirts patterned with a clash of pockets attached with, wait for it, heat-sealed tape. It was a canny collection from a worthy prizewinner.
Often in London, it is the designers who make clothes to wear every day that impress. At his presentation, Jonathan Saunders was trying to describe his influences to me – I think I heard about a book on design from 1979-81, and how this led him to think about furniture. To be honest, we were both distracted by the baby he was holding, the recently born daughter of Fashion East founder Lulu Kennedy.
“Oh it’s just nice clothes,” he eventually said, which was actually description enough.
Best were ribbed sweaters that were horizontally striped, creating a pleasingly complex colour mix. Zip-up blousons were either pale, or in a curved diamond pattern (I am guessing that is the furniture fabric influence), while suits were in a baby blue or a splatter print.
Meanwhile Lou Dalton evolved her own-name label with some very pleasing pieces, such as the inside-out blazers, the fine sweaters with red-on-white abstract of a floral, and hooded tech blousons. Birdseye cloth, coats with removable sleeves and a great tech shoe collaboration with Grenson shows the growing breadth of her work.
Over at Topman Design, there were flares. Yes, flares, the kind of the shape of trouser worn by Shaggy on Scooby-Doo. Here is a secret about fashion: sometimes all we want is something a little different. It is what makes things feel fresh, and that was the effect of Topman’s flared jeans and cords, worn with naive floral knits and shirts.
Of course there is still radicalness on the London catwalk. Let us list some of the garments at Astrid Andersen: a printed fur kimono; sheer paisley lace tops; cagoules cropped at around nipple height. Easy fodder for mockery. Yet Ms Andersen is building one of the cleverest brands in London, selling to a new breed of international extravagant men who flock to her subversive, controlled take on logo culture.
Her clothes for spring/summer 2015, influenced by a trip to Japan, were at once funny, challenging, exciting and, yes, desirable. Because obviously, among all those flesh-baring pieces, there were also straightforward sweatshirts for all.
The generator for much of this new talent is the MAN talent platform for young designers, organised by Fashion East and Topman.
This season, it offered two who were new to the catwalk: Nicomede Talavera, with his crisp and slick play with ginghams and pleats, and Liam Hodges, who channelled modern paganism with his take on scout patches, plastered on everything from sweatpants to ponchos. MAN’s third designer, Bobby Abley, sent out some clear bankers, especially his Little Mermaid sweatshirts.
There may be newness in tailoring, but once again London has a fresh crop of young menswear brands ready to show their worth.