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Fashion is often about novelty: the new shape; the unexpected gimmick. But should it always be this way? On the first day of London Collections Men — the first stop on the European menswear tour for spring/summer 2016 — novelty was the question. When should a designer stick, and when should they twist?
For the young designer Craig Green, it was a matter of bold continuation. Green is currently one of fashion’s most watched: a finalist in the recent LVMH Prize, his work is currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York at the exhibition China: Through The Looking Glass. It’s an extraordinary achievement for a designer only three years out of an MA course at Central Saint Martins.
His is a look of wrapped and draped utility, compounded, consolidated and celebrated by this show. Newness came from colour, a bold progression of quilted and strapped workwear jackets in vivid orange, yellow, red, blue and green. Green had said that he wanted the collection to be about naive positivity, and these were the sort of colours that vibrate. Some would say they had energy.
It was work of force, power and familiarity. It was also excellent. Green was further defining his world, a statement that seasonal shows shouldn’t be a gun to the head to make constant change. Great here were the jackets, tied at true waist, sometimes quilted like fencing gear, but also strong in denim. Trousers were wide and loose. Straps were often left trailing. The identity he has created in just a few short seasons — he only graduated in 2012 — is remarkable.
Let’s talk. What was going on with those sweaters? Chunkier knits were laced under the sleeve, and open with two round holes at the chest. From them sometimes came two trailing lengths from the cotton top below. Tighter sweaters like surgical bandages came to two tight knots at the nipple, like the top of dim sum. They were a glance away from that word “wearability”. What they were about was humour. Green was once an intern at Walter Van Bierendonck, an important designer of cartoon-like sexuality, and it was that mood in evidence here. What’s the point of being a designer if you can’t do something daft once in a while?
Many of the looks were worn by female models. The clothes were no different from those worn by the men, and indeed Green already has a loyal band of women customers drawn to his flattering utilitarian cut. From this season, Green will be offering clothes in women’s sizes, which in menswear terms means down to XXS, to allow more women into his clan. This isn’t about androgyny but egalitarianism, something that feels both rare and fresh in fashion right now.
Christopher Shannon sent out a pumped-up collection that used novelty as a tool to both champion and subvert the street and sportswear which is now fashion. Extra long T-shirts had tails that were like a sweatshirt tied at the waist; western jackets came in vivid mesh; tailored shirts were disrupted by zips that exposed the body. As a designer, he is entertainingly sly, like the sweatshirts that were horizontally slashed, then held together by strips of sports taping. If it were held in place by stitching, it would be called “faggoting”, an old embroidery technique. So many still see trackpants and the like as lesser to tailoring. Shannon was poking mud in their eye — this is work of research, knowledge and context.
Energetic was the work of Nasir Mazhar, a designer who has mastered the art of tension and control. He has established a trimmed and detailed signature for his trackpants and zip-up tops that give them purpose and attitude. His fabric development was particularly strong: a matching T-shirt and pant came out in what looked like a miniaturised and distorted Bridget Riley black-and-white eye-popper. Backstage, Mazhar said it was a rubberised pleat, something I had never heard of before. Such are the things you learn on day one in London.
Each of the above share one thing in common: connection in some way to Lulu Kennedy, who runs the not-for-profit support body Fashion East. Ten years ago, Kennedy decided to stage a menswear show for new designers, at a time when a men’s fashion schedule in the city was thought impossible. It was her actions which have led to London Collections Men, and this season her MAN show continued to push forward for the new voices in men’s fashion. Of particular note was Liam Hodges, whose collection featuring wavelength prints had the pleasingly purposeful chaos of 90s pirate radio.
MAN is a collaboration with Topman, who from the beginning have provided not just funds, but an equal desire to make something happen for men’s fashion in the city. Earlier in the day, their Topman Design show was full of track tops and Northern Soul wide pants, playing on a silhouette that was both tight and loose.
It’s time for that first day guessing game: which words will I write most over the next 16 days of shows? Maybe put a wager on “zip”, or more accurately “zip-up”: blousons, bombers, Harringtons and track tops feel very prevalent in menswear right now. At the Topman show, the zip-up track-tops were particularly sharp.
Zips were not just on my mind. At the presentation by Cottweiler, held in carpeted squash courts at a nearby leisure centre, a friend told me about the importance of metal zips, as opposed to those of plastic. According to him, a metal zip elevates tracksuits beyond the norm. The zips at Cottweiler were metal, and the collection was indeed elevated, particularly a zip-up in a cotton linen stripe. These were their signature tracksuits, but actually all the cloth was from Italy. The fabrics were fine. It was a day weighted heavily towards designers of youth, but this was not empty novelty. It may be unpalatable to some, but these are the new traditions of menswear.