London has long been adept at scratching its own back. The city is still congratulating itself over last year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, months after the flames went out. Many people still have the bunting up from last summer’s Diamond Jubilee. And adding to the noise this week was London Collections: Men, an initiative to hold menswear shows in the UK capital.
Such was the scale of the posturing, attendees were even invited to 10 Downing Street to hear Prime Minister David Cameron’s thoughts on British menswear. During his speech, he listed the UK brands he was wearing: suit by Richard James; shirt from Charles Tyrwhitt; underpants from Marks and Spencer. Too bad all three often manufacture their goods abroad.
No matter; better to look past the bluster, and study the clothes on the catwalk. Alexander McQueen brought its menswear show to London from Milan, its previous runway home, and the move had a sharpening effect. Creative director Sarah Burton showed pinstripe suits, many patchworked, with a peaked pagoda shoulder and cut longer than usual. A suit in an all-over stained-glass window print was eye-popping, but the graphic will become a cash magnet when translated to T-shirts and the like.
Another big signing for the city was Tom Ford, who had also previously presented menswear in Milan – though this was an expected shift, since he’s been showing his womenswear in London for a couple of seasons now. Ford was keen to point out his chosen suit block was a slimmer version of the one worn by Daniel Craig as 007 in the recent Skyfall.
Ford is at his strongest when he exploits scale, this season using oversized plaids on shortened peacoats to make the wearer seem statuesque. For those of challenged physical presence, Ford revealed his bestselling shoe is one with a slight lift in its heel.
Meanwhile, two London-based designers better known for their womenswear – Richard Nicoll and Jonathan Saunders – had standout seasons with their latest men’s collections. Nicoll’s show had a calm, confident air about it, and featured pieces that men would want to wear, from a peacoat with a contrast lapel to a beautifully judged diagonal stripe knit, and for the more flamboyant a reversible metallic parka. Saunders continued what he called “the conversation” he’s having with menswear (one worth having, since he won Men’s Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards). Talking points were textured knit sweaters that looked like bubble-wrap gone wrong; coats graded black at the shoulder and hem to red in the middle; and the neat soft tailoring that has become a Saunders signature.
Christopher Kane, another of their womenswear contemporaries, showed the latest of his big-selling men’s printed T-shirts as part of his women’s pre-collection showroom, modest considering the current rumours of a buyout by PPR.
As well as presentations from the traditional tailors of Savile Row, a few denizens of the street also staged shows. E. Tautz is the ready-to-wear wing of Norton & Sons, and designer Patrick Grant showed vivid plaid suits, as well as a coat in a dotted tweed that looked like a tessellation of Space Invader games about to begin. More establishment was the aforementioned Richard James, who sent out some covetable patchwork country jackets, but there was a sense that James isn’t convinced the catwalk format is for him. It’s the big conundrum for brands that don’t engage in fleeting fashion. Sometimes, as with Tom Ford, who presents the clothes himself to small groups of people, a different approach can pay dividends.
Topman bankrolls much of the London Collections, providing long-term sponsorship programmes for young designers as well as the major show venue. So it’s fair enough it gets to show its Topman Design collection too, which this season focused on oversized padded jackets, with one choice ensemble of a bright orange number worn over a yellow sweater. Rendered in everyday colours and shapes, these padded jackets are likely to sell bucketloads on the high street next winter.
And though there were so many young designers on show at London Collections, it’s still worth taking it all in (and celebrating), because, apart from London, there’s no other major fashion capital producing any new menswear talents.
A brief précis: Lou Dalton continued to make desirable, wearable clothes, like a utilitarian blouson, or a nubbly green sweater; Christopher Shannon cut and spliced different knits together, to great effect; JW Anderson showed bandeau tops and frilly shorts for men, when he should have been concentrating on the cut of his most basic garments; Agi & Sam’s printed padded jackets showed breakout potential; and debuting young designer Craig Green sent out the show of the week, an uncompromising collection of black-on-black printing, with effort going into every raw detail.
But, despite all the above, there were no buyers present from any of the big international stores apart from the London ones. And thus, in a fortnight’s time and having paid for the privilege, these designers will take their collections to the showrooms of Paris where they hope to cover the costs of staging a show in London. According to most involved, they did see sales growth after last June’s first London Collections: Men. Now all eyes will be on the figures for this season, to see if the upward tick continues.
For daily reviews from the Italian menswear collections, see www.ft.com/luxury360