Shakespeare said there were seven ages of man. But we live in a faster world now, and there’s only space for two: young, and old. And across four days of London menswear shows, as always, a rift has emerged. For once, though, it hasn’t split along the usual Savile Row/streetwear lines (indeed, as an entity, Savile Row – and the buttoned-up elegance it stands for – was almost entirely absent this season). Instead, the rift sliced neatly along the generational divide. Young enough to rock Astrid Andersen, or J.W. Anderson, or Edward Crutchley; old enough to be able to afford it. Old enough to have lived through David Beckham’s glory days; young enough to know him as Brooklyn Beckham’s dad.
Oliver Spencer Fashion Show Menswear Collection Fall Winter 2017 in London (by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION)
As you look through the London schedule, most brands fell neatly into one of the two camps. On the grown-up side, names like E. Tautz, Oliver Spencer, Christopher Raeburn – brands whose work isn’t necessarily traditional by any means, but whose innovations come couched in comfortingly accessible terms. At Tautz, Patrick Grant’s boxy, misfitted shapes were as strongly expressed as Martine Rose’s – but separated out into timeless Crombie coats, anoraks, and crew necks, their unexpected proportions softened by mistily familiar shades of grey. It was a similar story at Oliver Spencer, where grown-up models wore grown-up bomber jackets and colourful chevron knits (though there were oversized parkas that could be turned into rucksacks, and the show partnered with social media channel Vero to sell straight from the runway). And YMC, where despite the energetic setting, in a thronged Covent Garden shop space, and the industrial Berlin inspiration points, the sheepskin flight jackets and Breton tops spoke a familiar menswear language.
On the other side, the kids. The sudden, sporadic crowds that appeared at intervals outside 180 Strand over four days of shows singled out the schedule’s burgeoning new cults – each group dressed in the robes of their chosen gods. Ximon Lee, a graduate of Parsons who won the H&M Design Award in 2015, may have been sponsored by GQ – but his sensual brocades, leather halters, and pearl-dappled sheer layers, in swirls of burnished metallics, dark monochromes, and flame reds, were a million miles from the conventional masculinity usually presented in the magazine’s pages. At John Lawrence Sullivan, in the minutes before the show, PRs raced up and down the front row begging people to tuck their feet in. They were right to – Arashi Yanagawa’s models stormed through the long tunnel space, with whipcord lacings and long belts flailing viciously in their wake. The clothes remained uncompromising throughout, with high, yanked-up shoulders playing off against broad, swirling trouser proportions; there were floor-skimming leather trenches, high-gloss raincoats, front-zippered biker trousers, and crushed velvet suits in a queasy cocktail of yellow, olive green, purple, cherry, and crimson. And at K-T-Z, for so long an outlier in a city whose linear menswear narrative had little space for tribal eclecticism, the stark black-and-white lacings which anchored the show (part sports-jock-fetish, part medieval corset drag), adding drama to drab military fatigues and patchwork camouflage sweatshirts, felt for the first time as though they were linking into a wider story.
KTZ Fashion Show Collection Fall Winter 2017 in London (by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION)
Of course, there’s never going to be a vital youth culture if there isn’t an establishment to rail against (and vice versa); each camps needs the other to survive. But at Kent & Curwen’s debut presentation, which anchored Sunday’s schedule, there was something for both generations. Founded almost a century ago, the brand was once celebrated for its sporty knitwear; now, with the arrival of David Beckham and Daniel Kearns (former menswear designer at Alexander McQueen), it’s been reborn as a 21st-century lifestyle label, offering nostalgia-dressing with a particularly British flavour. Launched at the tail end of last year on Mr. Porter, it’s already making its presence felt; this time out, in a sombre South Bank warehouse, it served up hot toddies and roasted chestnuts, alongside relaxed greatcoats, Fair Isle knits, and rugby shirts tattooed with rose and lion motifs. The archive building blocks may have been British, but the attitude is filtered through with All-American Ivy League sentiment. It wasn’t innovative, by any stretch – especially compared to Casely-Hayford, the other father-son act on the schedule, who rifled through their own back catalogue to measure the distance menswear has travelled in the last 30 years. But then, it wasn’t intended to be. And both generations of Brand Beckham showed up on the day, a neat reminder that "broad appeal," when done well, needn’t be a dirty word.
Of course, it’s all still tribalism, albeit of a very different kind than what you see on the runways (and in the audiences) of London’s more avant garde designers. But it stems from the same bedrock: nostalgia. That’s the common thread that ran right the way through these four days of shows, whether it was Beckham’s nostalgia for a sepia-tinted football field or Millennial kids obsessing over the Nineties on Tumblr. Right now, British menswear is sliced into neat halves. But you can already see where the blend is coming, and where – season by season – the two sides could come together; the grown-ups embracing an increasingly forceful aesthetic, and the youngsters riffing greedily on one of fashion’s greatest back-catalogues. Maybe someday they’ll merge – like a story that’s passed on, from one generation to the next.