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What’s emerging at the London menswear shows for autumn/winter 2017 isn’t a trend but a mood, especially among the young. It is one of despair, anger, stupefaction and dread over Brexit. “How can it not affect me?” said Christopher Shannon, after his powerful show where many of his streetwise models had their faces draped in shredded European flags.
“I go to work and have to deal with it,” he said. “I see the Euro go up and suddenly I’m charged another £800 a day for production. I went to art school because I wanted to meet people from all over the world. It’s been my life. I don’t not know how to live like that.”
Shannon got his message across by bootlegging and rewriting logos: the “ck” of Calvin Klein became “cs” on a grey T-shirt, also printed with the words “constant stress” and “I’m done”. Boss of Hugo Boss became “Loss International” on sweatshirt and pants, the model’s face veiled by a shredded European flag. What a clever mix of themes in one garment: the globality of fashion’s logos that cross all borders; the everyman suggested by the look of sportswear; and yet the shredded flag showing the looming isolationism of Britain’s imminent withdrawal.
Beforehand, Shannon said he’d felt great anxiety. “It’s frightening to be aware of the rightwing,” he said, “to be aware of the change, of whatever the right now is. But I couldn’t just bottle it. I couldn’t not say it.” The collection itself needed no other concept or theory. “It was a look that you could see on the street,” he said. “It was enough to just walk around with my own thoughts.” he said. That look was big nylon padded jackets worn with running tights, fleece jackets, hoodies. “I wanted it to be commercial. I wanted to make clothes that the stores that stock us will like.”
I cannot think of another cultural form in the UK that has yet responded to Brexit with the clarity and passion of these menswear shows. It helps that fashion can be so reactive, and that designers don’t need the approval of others to be able to say what they want. What impresses is the maturity of the designers thought processes, and the force of their argument. It is convictions deeply felt, based on the impact on their own lives, and of those others around them.
The shredded flags were created in collaboration with James Theseus Buck and Luke Brooks of Rottingdean Bazaar, a young couple who showed their own wares a couple of hours later as part of the Fashion East Installations. Theirs is work of gleeful oddity. They offered six different themes, including eight T-shirts heatprinted with a fragment of Coptic textile from 5th-7th century AD. Yes, you read that right.
“I bought them at auction,” said Brooks. How much for? “£800.” Brooks said the Coptic era was one of Christianity in Egypt. Among their other suggestions: jewellery made from Roman coins set in fake Blu-Tack; iron filings shaped by magnetic pull then sealed on to T-shirts.
Then there were their fake care labels. They looked like regular washing instructions, but look closer, and they suggested such things as “fill in the while stripes of a Breton top with a permanent marker”, “use a lawnmower on a fur coat”, or “batter and fry a loosely knit mohair jumper”. It was total brilliance from designers of enlightened subversion.
Earlier in the day, there was that rare sight on the London menswear catwalk: tailoring. E Tautz cut a pleasingly long line with its suit jackets, dropping the hem low and cutting a straight roomy shape through the body. “We just lengthened everything,” said Patrick Grant, the brand’s designer. “We wanted to make the point that tailored clothes don’t need to feel like formal clothes.” The tailoring was loose yet sharp, and mostly worn as separates, often mixed with casual pieces. Natural indigo denim jeans were nicely roomy, anoraks cut in wool for a smarter feeling of street.
Can we talk about the soundtrack? Halfway through the show, “Tonight Tonight Tonight” by Genesis was played. It came out in 1986, when I was 13. I despised both record, and that band. I hated everything about them, especially their look. Those casual, loose 80s suits! And yet now it sounded like the best record ever made. “I used to hate them too,” said Grant. “But now it sounds really good. It’s not nostalgia, because I never liked them the first time round. It seems to have aged really well.”
As the song played, it clicked: there’s a link between that band’s tailoring, and what was being shown on the catwalk. And it looked great. How things change.