Surprise! It’s a secret Tom Ford fashion show. Such was the way of the third day of London Collections Men, where wilful personalities ruled. Ford is on the schedule on Monday, but on Sunday night held a cocktail which turned into an impromptu show in his Sloane Street store, a catwalk chalk marked in the carpet. OK it wasn’t officially a show, more a walking presentation, but it was the first time that Ford had shown menswear in a runway context for 11 years, since he quit Gucci.
The clothes looked great. He opened with three-piece suits, the waistcoat decorated with a watch fob. He had made them to attach to an Apple Watch. “I wouldn’t wear an Apple Watch on my wrist,” he said — his watch is Cartier. “But I wear it on a fob.”
Ford was super specific in his references. “Thomas Crown Affair,” he said. “But actually Steve McQueen mixed with Paul Newman.” That was the sharp tailoring. For the denim jacket worn under a mac, or the leather jackets worn with striped sweaters beneath? “It’s very Warhol’s Factory 1963. Like, a lot.” It was also very Tom Ford, such is the signature of sharp and sexualised luxury he has carved out for himself since he launched his own-name label in 2006. I don’t think he gets enough credit for what he has achieved in his post-conglomerate life. He has done much for the idea of elevated male dressing in the 21st century. In a season that’s so far slanted casual, there was much suiting. “You have to be careful,” he said. “You have to stick to your identity. Men come to us for suits and tailoring. We didn’t want people to forget that.”
Number one on the single item list of things I was meant to do before I next saw Tom Ford: read Tony And Susan, the book by Austin Wright he’s adapting for his second movie, Nocturnal Animals. “Don’t read it! The screenplay is totally different.” He said the film was Hitchcockian. And when asked what he’d wear when directing, he pointed to what he had on: a black suit.
Of all of London’s young designers, JW Anderson is the most wilful. At his own label, he has created for himself a forum for ideas. His isn’t a world of obvious narrative flow, but of suggestions that contribute to a greater whole. For spring/summer 16, that meant white funnel collar jackets with a refracted floral print in calm green; zip up navy track tops with a semaphore dash trim of red on black; naive oatmeal sweaters with an extreme drop shoulder with a pulled-forward back; wide denim pants with a high turn-up. And so it continued.
The effect of investment from LVMH is obvious, both in the quality of the make and the freedom to explore multiple trains of thought: if there were this many different strands on the catwalk, imagine how many got cut. A graphic of exploded letters and numbers on a fine knit looked like Russian propaganda even if none were in Cyrillic; a cropped and quilted white top had a plastic panel on the front featuring the image of some old rocket with the word “orbital”; another graphic had a grid of numbers, and an arrowed red line going between the words “start” and “finish”, above it all it read “news”. Is it meant to be unpicked? Unlikely. The overall effect is the point, and here it was powerful.
I wonder which way this label will go? A long and lean black leather jacket was zipped in red: great for editorial, a no-go at retail. Later on, a zip-up leather jacket came out in basketball orange, with black trim at the collar and zips, its neatness and symmetry pleasing and sellable. Maybe a little less of the former and more of the latter?
Personalities abounded. At his presentation, Tommy Hilfiger was showing me a mannequin dressed in a navy double-breasted suit. “It’s very sartorial,” he said, “made in Europe.” When someone says something like that, it makes me want to look at the construction. But I’m a grade A klutz — there was no way I was attempting to undress the mannequin. “Leave me to knock it over,” said Hilfiger, unbuttoning the jacket and opening it up. “Unlined,” he said. What a pro.
It was all how you’d imagine Hilfiger’s work: preppy tailoring, simple and strong colour. That isn’t an insult, since the brand has sometimes veered off the path on which it should always remain. It was good to see work that was clear and concise. Hilfiger walked over to another mannequin. “This is my favourite,” he said. It was a suit of bold horizontal stripe. He was prowling the rails like a proud store manager. I said to him it was great to see him handling product. “I love it,” he said.
The personality of Lee Alexander McQueen is on defiant show to the thousands of visitors currently ramming Savage Beauty, the McQueen show now at the V&A. His menacing subversion was there at the Alexander McQueen menswear show for spring/summer 16, designed by creative director Sarah Burton, particularly the tattoo prints that will find a happy home with the legions of men worldwide who ink their skin. There were lots of great ideas, like the sea monster print, or the dazzle camouflage suiting, but peacoats with extreme extra buttoning at the sternum and wrist seemed a push too far: who’s going to wear them, either editorial or in commerce?
The evolving personality of traditional tailoring brands continues to fascinate. At Dunhill, John Ray started with a stream of morning jackets, complete with top hats and the like. Great they exist, but the most interesting thing about them was the peony blooms in the button holes, bursting to the point where the petals were about to fall. Things got more interesting with the suiting, where Prince of Wales shirts looked great with a blazer and striped tie. Out came a neat hunting jacket, some really strong pleat chinos, then eventually shorts and a long relaxed shirt. It was menswear backwards, from formal to slouch.
The knitwear was super strong at Gieves and Hawkes, especially the silk cotton waffle T-shirts, or the knit T’s in what creative director Jason Basmajian called a “caviar stitch” — a bit bobbly. “Guys wear T-shirts with suits, outerwear with shorts. You can’t fight that this is how men dress today.”
London’s fresh personalities continued to deliver. There was grandeur and dirt at James Long, with cotton dinner jackets printed with paisley chinoiserie and ruffle shirts worn with beach shorts. Long said he wanted the models to appear still going from the night before, and from this came the chaos and freedom of vivid scribble prints on sweatshirts drawn by James Davison, or the excellent clashes of broken lines on knits. Meanwhile nascent label Pieter, designed by Sebastiaan Groenen, has an interest in perverse normality. His tailoring skills are excellent, as shown on a fully reversible cotton jacket. But look close at a taupe fine knit and tattoo patterns are just visible in a reverse stitch while a slashed jacket was pierced with metal rings. Remember another wilful designer who mixed tailoring with subversion? Helmut Lang. Watch this boy.
For more reports from the London shows, go to our fashion weeks page on the FT web app, or visit our London Collections Men SS16 fashion weeks hub on FT.com