When you heard womenswear editors and journalists at London Collections: Men, saying “Oh, menswear is so much more fun and jolly!” it seemed to imply that it’s not as serious as womenswear and that the designers involved are slogging away at collections for shits and giggles. I’m all too guilty. I’ve always been a part time menswear aficionado, dipping in and out of LC:M, covering it with less zeal and graft than I would do with the womenswear counterpart. I’ve never attended menswear weeks in Paris or Milan either, which makes it slightly harder to see that overarching seasonal context that you do in womenswear. However, this edition of LC:M felt different. Serious isn’t the word. It’s still fun and people are still far less uptight than they are at the womenswear shows (none of this “This is MY seat!” malarky at menswear – everyone just squeezes up on the benches to fit more bums). But it’s the breadth of designers that I saw and how they had progressed that really impressed. Within the “young designer” raft, exclusing the biggie brands like Tom Ford, Burberry, Paul Smith etc, you had discernible levels – your super newbie fledglings, not so newbie fledglings and the new establishment designers (crediting British Fashion Awards for that one). This season, I reviewed a slew of shows for Opening Ceremony and in addition, saw a few more, to convince me that LC:M, despite being only four seasons old, has really come of age.
Take Agi & Sam. Once upon a time they were playing around with prints peppered with ducks, chickens and Will Smith’s face. This season, they took on the weightier subject of Agi’s roots in Masai land but also a more refined aesthetic where nuanced layers of xxx were deftly mixed in with a comparatively pared down Masai check and a sparing use of fake graphics of African oil companies. Yeah ok, it’s not like me to commend the less-is-more approach but in Agi & Sam’s case, it works a treat because thought provoking clothing hasn’t been sacrificed in favour of finesse.
Astrid Andersen, another recent MAN graduate is sticking to what she knows but what she knows is a sensuality in menswear that feels fresh. She admits she’s a straight woman dressing hot guyz, or so the Missy Elliot soundtrack goes and she’s doing it with lovely lace, unexpected astrakhan and shiny satin. “If TLC dressed their boyfriends” was how I summed it up on Instagram and I mean that in the best way possible.
Backstage photography of Astrid Andersen by Piczo for i-D Magazine
I loved Kit Neale‘s Peckham collection last season and this season’s ode Elephant and Castle is no less charming. Print designers in womenswear might be common fare but Neale’s quirk and sense of humour is much appreciated in menswear. His prints this season cheerfully protest Elephant and Castle’s impending redevelopment and they’re mixed with British Museum florals for a cheeky detour. It’s difficult to resist a collection that salutes London’s postcode shifts and the little critters that scuttle around the city’s underbelly.
I didn’t make it to MAN but the second time round with Alan Taylor, Bobby Abley and Craig Green showing made for once again, another diverse and strong line-up. Matisse meets Talking Heads in Taylor’s sweeping tailoring with accents of neon to contrast his lovely use of Irish tweeds (still cosying up in his AW 13 coat and feeling the nubbly goodness of his preferred use of Donegal tweed). Abley turned his Disney fixation towards darker territory by mixing Mickey with Maleficent. His type of kitsch grew up this season and it worked. Green’s collection was undoubtedly the more mature of the trio and he showed why he’s ready to graduate from MAN. Heavily painterly tapestries, all created by hand, made for striking layered ensembles, promoting longer length in shirts, sheaths and tunics in menswear as a reality, rather than just a catwalk illusion.
Backstage photography of MAN show by Piczo for i-D Magazine
The more senior “new establishment” designers such as Christopher Shannon showed why they really “own” their genre. Shannon dissects nuances of nuances of British sportswear like no other. Call it chav. Call it scally. Call it what you will. It’s something that feels immediately recognisable and intrinsically personal. Shannon explored the roots of the tracksuit in its early late 70s, early 80s, Thatcherite period genesis. Pervy P.E. teachers and fag packets have positive ramifications in his collection of brightly-hued leathers, intarsia knitwear and peeling retro floral wallpaper prints. That Shannon can mine something so cheerful out of bleak references is to his credit.
Backstage photography of Christopher Shannon by Piczo for i-D Magazine
James Long is someone else, who is assured of his schtick. Even when dealing with a theme like cos-play that could easily have gone wayward, Long kept a steer of things with his incredible technique of patch working different textures together and introducing bubbled up quilting to create visually impactful jackets and sweatshirts (not a single shirt in the collection) of the highest order.
Backstage photography of James Long by Piczo for i-D Magazine
For the designers who began in womenswear first, it was evident that they were relaxing and growing into their menswear niche. Jonathan Saunders‘ had a more playful streak running through his collection. The signature knits, bombers and ease of wear were still present but a bleached out a William Morris-esque floral print, bands of lurex running through a crombie and a shot of silver leather showed signs of Saunders loosening the reins and finding his man.
The same could be said for Richard Nicoll. Apparently he stopped worrying about everything and it showed. It ran the gamut from citron sweatshirts which said “Brutal” and “Discreet” to 70s frilly prom shirts in shades of powder blue and mauve. All that fun made for a buoyant collection, filled with options and choices to be dissected by the buyers and customer. It had everything and yet, Nicoll didn’t let it run amok.
Backstage photography of Jonathan Saunders and Richard Nicoll by Lea Columbo for Dazed Digital
Christopher Raeburn also looked to be having a bit of fun. Polar bears on sweatshirts and hulking shearlings looked like instances of whimsy in Raeburn’s trajectory of conscientious materials repurposing and upcycling. But Raeburn is showing that as a designer, he doesn’t have to play the sustainability or green card all the time. He’s got breadth and depth and it showed in this collection.
Backstage photography of Christopher Raeburn by Joe Ridout for Dazed Digital
Lou Dalton does sensible clothes and legions of men are super grateful for that. Sensible doesn’t mean boring though. In fact, there was something downright sexy about this season as she sent out a collection inspired by an imaginary farmhand boy, shagging girls through the summer, whilst working the fields in bleached out denims, roughed-up cords and soft knits. The fantasy will make for a delicious reality when it lands in stores.
Casely-Hayford also does clothes rooted in “conventional” reality but the reference points make for interesting dissection. It’s the generational thing perhaps – a dialogue between father Joe Casely-Hayford and son Charlie Casely-Hayford and their individual interpretation of punk culture. Sportswear and tailoring collide as their “new age punk” collections different aspects of cultural identity and locality along the way to create the best mish-mashes in menswear, you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere.
Hurrah! Nasir Mazhar will finally be getting a womenswear show! Whilst Nasir Mazhar has been presenting his collections on the on-schedule fringes, his growing brand of logo-ed up ready to wear has been gaining momentum. Check out the crew of Japanese buyers from the store Gr8 donned head to toe in Mazhar’s wares. His work is speaking to a new legion of fans that were out in their droves at his menswear show. We got more of the same – casual wear given a Nasir Mazhar spin – but with an added sheen in the shiny lenticulars and plastic-y nylons and metallic shimmering organzas. The wardrobe also broadened out to include more fitted trousers, shirts and a twist on formalwear with the typographic cumberbands. You could hear people saying this collection was going to bankrupt them and see that fervour for Mazhar comes not from, the establishment, but from kids who are engaging with fashion in their own way.
Backstage photography of Nasir Mazhar show by Piczo for i-D Magazine
For a super new-new newbie, look no further than Nicomede Talavera. Precise lines and geometric panels inspired by the artist Robert Morris were visually impacting accents to his 1980s sportswear silhouettes. There was something scarily assured about the uniformly unzipped elongated flares and the in-tandem backpack collaboration with Eastpak. Collaborations seem to be coming to designers at an increasingly young stage of their career and it makes for interesting product that is immediately consumable.
Three cheers for Sibling for a once-again heart-warming collection. Joe Bates, one third of knitwear trio Sibling alongside Sid Bryan and Cozette McCreery, spoke of his dad and other working class dads out there who “worked like bastards to provide a happy home”. Nothing bleak or Lowry-esque here. They put smiles on their models and on their audience for sending out crocheted blankets, hand darned denim and textures evoking coal and tarmac. It was a joyful and personal collection and only endears you to Sibling’s knit wit antics even more
Not that it’s an accurate indication but when even the Daily Mail has tired of laying into London menswear designers (this year’s summary was positively mild, no?), you know that LC:M is becoming an affair to be taken seriously. J.W. Anderson normally bears the brunt of this sort of ire but this time round, eyebrows weren’t raised. Instead you had nods of approval at Anderson’s assured way with provocative menswear. People lazily call it gender-bending but to him, it’s just about a fluid dialogue between menswear and womenswear. There is no reason why his menswear can’t be a concrete proposition for real life other than that old chestnut of convention getting in the way. His interpretation of grandiose portraiture and Louis XIV pomp gave way to a slick outing of cropped trousers worn uniformly with stacked platform shoes (I’m yearning for womenswear sizes – please say it is so), exciting trios of knitwear and flora-flage jacquards. In a menswear context, it makes for a more-is-more food for thought but when it undoubtedly leaks into womenswear, the ideas will be fed upon with rabid desire. That’s why Anderson has the last laugh.