If anyone is still sceptical about the need for a third menswear city, aka the year-old London men’s shows, I have two words to say in response: Alexander McQueen. Actually, I have more, but let’s start with those.
Put bluntly, McQueen menswear would never have created the pandemonium caused by the women’s McQueen show at the Met in NYC in 2011, but since they moved their menswear from Milan to London in January, there has been a real resurgence in creativity and self belief at the brand, spring/summer 14 being a case in point.
“I just wanted to breathe air into the collection,” said creative director Sarah Burton. To this end, lace was woven into the McQueen skull on a long jacket, the lace sitting over what looked like lining. The pattern reappeared later in the collection as a repeated and reflected print on tailoring and shirts, echoing the stained-glass window print pieces about to go in stores. The lace is the catwalk idea, the print is the banker, but throughout both was an eloquent summer story of faded whites and creams in washed silk blazers and wide board shorts.
Often seams seemed left unfinished, an increasingly acceptable trick in menswear (on the catwalk at least). Florals were woven into a purposefully unfinished jacquard that was tailored into a suit, a knit made from a rose macramé. You get the picture: lots of neat ideas that will translate into very sellable product.
Coincidentally, another big triumph belonged to knitwear trio Sibling, a trio of designers one of whom, Sid Bryan, was responsible for the extraordinary knitwear creations at the beginning of Alexander McQueen’s career. This time the group worked with artist Richard Woods to create sweaters with popping colour images of – well, planks of wood. The pieces will sell, as will the fine colourblock lurex polo shirts and their signature leopard print knit cardigans.
More so, anyway, than what was on view at Richard James, who also went for lightness in his tailoring – pastel shades, fine fabrics and models wearing diamanté-embellished espadrilles – but who ultimately did not have the courage of his convictions, as evinced by his reluctance to cede the shoulder-pad. Hanging from such a rigid shoulder, many of the cloths were left seeming confused: should they stay in place? Should they waft? As the models walked, the jackets crinkled at the waist like a concertina. Relax! Go lighter!
Or go somewhere, A la Rag & Bone, a fresh transplant from New York to London. Their first menswear show in the city felt like a sample menu of possible new dishes put forward in a restaurant. Buyers, they seemed to be saying, how do you feel about our cargo pants? Here’s a load of them. Do you like them? Or do you want to stick to our chinos and jeans? They’ll still be there to buy, no matter what’s on the catwalk.
Up top, designers David Neville and Marcus Wainwright provided further evidence of the move in menswear towards sportiness, with taped seams on zip-up hooded blousons. There was also a lovely indigo and white patterned blazer and summer duffel in a Japanese stitched cloth the notes called “sashiko”. (According to Google this means “little stabs”. Er … )
For their part, the third London newbie, Jimmy Choo, late of Milan, brought to their collection a mishmash of styles of scattergun appeal, neither excelling in one area or convincing across all. The problem is a concentration on surface decoration – imprints of aces and hearts making up the broguing on a leather slip-on, colour flash trims to the tassels and seams – rather than on signature shoe shapes of which they could be proud, and on which men could come to rely.
I mean this as a positive. What is a men’s shoe by Jimmy Choo? Sure, it’s a shoe that’d be glossy, probably overdecorated (see, for example, a stonewashed denim slipper embellished with a pin badge that read, “NAFF OFF”), but what are its defining details? The shape of its last? The thickness of its sole? The size of its heel? It’s general girth and heft? These are questions that need to be urgently addressed if the brand is to have real longevity. In this city, or any other.