The third season of London Collections: Men, which has just concluded, was really my first proper foray of going to the menswear shows in London. There’s been the buzzy build-up and flag-waving in the media in the run up of the event. Bigger and glossier shows were introduced to the schedule with the likes of Burberry, Alexander McQueen and Tom Ford headlining the jam-packed three days. Underneath all the gloss and celeb-papping dos (seriously there could have been a separate schedule just for cocktails during LC:M) we saw some seriously brilliant collections. Clothes that made this menswear-stealer sweat, as I considered how many personal orders I could get away with and whether these menswear designers minded that a mere woman wanted to wear their togs. It’s a long rollcall of names but basically for the selfish purpose of wearing stuff, I’d like to get my mitts on pieces from Shaun Samson, James Long, Christopher Shannon, Sibling, Kit Neale, Joseph Turvey, Marques Almeida and on and on it goes. For critical plaudits, Agi & Sam, Alan Taylor and Craig Green deserve praise for their deft handling of the various stages of debuting, developing and graduating from the Fashion East MAN showcase. For those that straddle both womenswear and menswear, Richard Nicoll, Christopher Raeburn, Jonathan Saunders and J.W. Anderson all really elevated proceedings and in the case of the latter, continued to stir up the usual fodder for tabloids to run headlines such as “What man would wear this?”
There lies the beginning of the hidden sour side to LC:M. Delve deeper and there were unspoken tensions amongst the ranks – a latent tussle between the new generation of menswear designers that for me keep LC:M’s bloodline pumping with jolts of excitement and then growing fixation on the bigger brands or celeb-focused glossiness, which doesn’t necessarily correlate with what London fashion is about. There was a rebellious mood hanging in the air with the desire to restake creative claim of LC:M, especially in the wake of the thoughtless, crass and irresponsible comments made by David “lifeless manbot” Gandy on the TV chat show Alan Carr: Chatty Man a month ago. Supposedly Gandy is an ambassador for LC:M but he still thought nothing of slagging off collections by Craig Green and Sibling, goaded by Carr, who was just doing his job. As yet, there’s been no public apology from Gandy and he retains his role as “ambassador” probably because he is a primary representative of men’s generally conservative attitude towards fashion, as pointed out by Alex Fury in this blog for the Independent. Suffice to say, he wasn’t invited to the MAN show or Sibling’s show.
The underlying repercussions of making light jokes at the expense of hardworking designers is that it further stokes the ire of the gen pub alpha male who agree with Gandy and express thoughts such as, “Who would ACTUALLY wear that?” or “OMG…that’s so gay/faggy…”. See the peeps commenting on this Guardian menswear round-up. It’s all apparently harmless and anyone is entitled to their personal opinions of course but they’re not congenial or helpful when you’re a young designer, trying to do something new and contribute to what is a vibrant and fresh energy in London’s menswear scene. You step into dodgy territory when you start saying things like “REAL men wouldn’t wear that…”, a comment almost as annoying as this intangible notion of the “real woman” and furthermore, imposes stereotypes of masculinity and sexuality. By “harmlessly” antagonising and challenging designers’ creativity, it can be construed as bullying or sorts with a loud and clear message – real men wear serious and sensible suits, fairies and weirdos wear all of this young designer stuff. Charlie Porter expresses similar sentiment on this brilliant blog post on his site.
With all these thoughts swirling around, I sat down for Meadham Kirchhoff’s menswear presentation yesterday, held in what was seemingly a deliberately claustrophic attic. Footage sourced from YouTube depicting displaced Soviet Union/Eastern Block scenes from the past played to a dramatic swell of a booming orchestral soundtrack. Then five boys walked in, layered up in a mix of protective latex, nostalgic broderie anglaise and Breton stripes, carrying latex gym bags embroidered with childish motifs and wearing deliberately folksy shoes painted with bumble bees or matryoshka doll faces. One by one, they would strip down their beautifully constructed layers and then handed them over to their more “masculine” counterpart trussed up in checked suit jackets, sombre Mao-esque wool coats and even one ensemble that vaugely conjured up Hitler Youth uniforms. It was a highly charged presentation, accentuating that sour taste that I already had in my mouth, not because the collection wasn’t brilliant, as it was, but because the meaning behind it all was overwhelmingly nihilistic.
After the presentation, Ben Kirchhoff (who is primarily responsible fo the menswear collection as he originally started out in menswear) said “We love making beautiful clothes but we hate the system that surrounds that.” Love the clothes, hate the system. I couldn’t agree more. I may not have explicitly expressed here the specifics of what gets me down about the industry. That would be indulgent moaning with no reformative action to back it up. Therefore I’m grateful to Meadham Kirchhoff for expressing so eloquently through their clothes, what I can’t really say in words without sounding like an ungrateful cow. As the boys were shedding each layer, they were laying themselves bare to the world, for both praise and ridicule. Their more masculine gatekeepers are telling them what to do like the drone-like beings, which pervade the industry. Read what you will into that and its parallels with what is going on in London’s menswear scene and in fashion in general. I saw a wider comment on the fact that fashion is increasingly more about product than anything else, and that if you don’t conform to a certain mould, you might lose out despite having something original and brilliant to contribute, and that values of human decency, respect and patience are generally going amiss. It left me angry and in turmoil as to whether what I do as a living and the “digital” age that I’m supposed a part of is damaging the very designers that fuel my passion.
Ultimately to reduce everything in fashion to what the market sells and what it demands is just depressing. I’d sooner pack it all in and go back to advertising. At least there’s no confusion there about the fact that you’re shilling a product.