TEAM BRITAIN ALL THE WAY. As it embraces quirkiness and pragmatism with equal zeal, LC:M showcases once again how London is a city of stark contrasts
Glancing at all of the world’s foremost fashion capitals, sometimes you can’t help but picture London as the sanest of them all. Paris has “artsy” written all over it, as does Milan. New York, being The City That Never Sleeps and all that, is bursting at the seams with unbridled creativity spurred by its cultural (and financial) riches. But London, well, London has always existed in the collective consciousness of humanity as that great city of gray skies and gray suits; of grim weather and an even grimmer sensibility permeating everything from its politics to the way a gentleman dresses in public.
Time and again, however, the London Collections: Men events (aka Men’s Fashion Week London) have shown that, while the average (or perhaps the stereotypical) Londoner might be a tad stuffy when it comes to picking what to wear, the city’s fashion designers that cater to them can be just as quirky, novel and exuberant as their counterparts in Paris, Milan, New York and beyond.
There has always been a sense of unpredictability in every London Collections: Men show. Some, justifiably, see this as a lack of consistency. At the same time, others feel that it adds the thrill of discovery to the simple act of watching the show unfold, season after season. Unsurprisingly, the latter group will not be disappointed by the fall/winter ’16/’17 edition of London Collections: Men, while the former will undoubtedly find quite a few stylish treats to feast their eyes on.
One of the early thrills of the week came from MAN, the menswear talent incubator initiated by Lulu Kennedy’s Fashion East and high-street chain Topman, that has produced success stories with the likes of Craig Green and Jonathan Anderson. Three up-and-coming designers represented the initiative with three shocking lineups.
Models showcasing the works of Charles Jeffrey looked, in a word, messy, with glaring make-up and paint-splattered jeans. But it was primarily a show of contrasts, as the jubilant mess was nicely balanced by superb tailoring, particularly when it comes to the knitwear. Then there’s Grace Wales Bonner, who—quite fittingly—showcased elegance and calmness with a collection centered around “black spirituality.” Her designs were streamlined yet extravagant, from sleek high-buttoned double-breasted suits to streamlined sportswear pieces that wouldn’t be out of place at an upscale reception.
The third MAN, Rory Parnell-Mooney, found his own contrast in the tension between the church (he is Irish, after all) and the anarchy of youth. This theme manifested itself in long-sleeved shirts tucked under jackets that invoked the image of brooding students in a Catholic school as well as loose hoodies clearly modeled after monastic robes.
New directions are also the order of the day (or the week, in this case) for London’s more established fashion houses. Burberry—which, in case you missed the news, has now merged all of its lines under a single banner—was all about outerwear. Greatcoats, topcoats, parkas, bombers—you name it, Christopher Bailey has it on the runway. While it’s obviously natural to see plenty of outerwear at a fall fashion show, the ever-present track top and sneakers gave the whole affair a completely unique feel. This is definitely a far cry from Burberry’s last LC:M outing, which everybody probably remembered for its abundance of lace in all its feminine glory.
If anybody’s going to remember this Burberry show, however, it’s probably thanks in a large part to its tribute to David Bowie. It was, after all, one of the first major runway shows after news broke out of the musician’s passing. Bowie’s songs were played before and after the show, and the models walking that day all carried a sprinkling of stardust.
Still, other designers managed to stand out on more common themes. Sibling, for instance, came out strong with exuberant boxing-inspired offerings. This collection, however, proved a bit too exuberant for many. In the end, it was KTZ who really hit it out of the park with sportswear. Now, while using baseball slang in a piece about London might be a bit of a travesty; KTZ’s show was most definitely American. Collegiate jackets and baseball pants dominated throughout, with caps and bulky protective headgear (the kind used by catchers in baseball) thrown in liberally across many looks with a hint of ’80s retro. Still, some of the last few looks had models draped in the Union Jack (albeit with black instead of blue), so you can probably say that it’s still quite British.
Amid all the excitement of themed collections and exuberant creations, having something more down to earth can come as a breath of fresh air. And that’s exactly what Oliver Spencer’s show brought to LC:M fall/winter ’16/’17. If anything, this is a designer known for immaculate proportioning; and he showcased this mastery by selecting a very diverse group of models, representing a broad range of ethnicities, age groups and—perhaps most importantly—body shapes.
The end result is a runway show that was surprisingly relatable to even the most casual observer. And in hindsight, this is also a very smart move as attention is diverted from the models to the clothes. The latter was comprised mainly of knitted and suede tops in a palette dominated by navy and gray then brightened with burnt orange and paprika hues. It was all very pragmatic, very masculine in a day-to-day sense and very much the kind of clothing that most men would actually go out and buy.
Compared to its older siblings in Paris and Milan, along with the newcomer in New York, London’s bi-annual fashion week for men is perhaps like a quirky teen finally finding his own tune. Perhaps Christopher Bailey said it best: “It’s about standing for something and being proud of who you are, saying that this is your personality, with everything working together in a world that’s changing quite dramatically.” Sure, he was talking about his work for Burberry at the time, but it’s definitely not too much of a stretch to say that this goes for the entire LC:M experience this season.
This article first appeared in DA MAN Style Fall/Winter 2016. Get your copy here.