BACK TO THE FUTURE — Menswear Looks Ahead

If Day 1 of London’s menswear shows looked for refuge in the ghosts of decades past, then Day 2 had its eye equally firmly on the future. Nothing shocking about that, in itself – except that British fashion has always been so steeped in its own heritage that it feels doubly shocking when someone pushes the fast forward button.  

C2H4 Fall/Winter 2019 show in London. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.

Take C2H4, for example – a label which made its debut on London’s schedule yesterday with a blanched-out, obstinately bleak spin on utilitarian sportswear. There’s little need for historicism, after all, when you’ve arrived from Los Angeles via New York, and when your brand name is taken from the formula for a chemical compound. Yixi Chen’s clothing, executed in washed tones of black, blue, and grey, was familiar enough on one level; oversized anoraks, tracksuit bottoms, shirts and ties. But it was the way they came layered over each other, bustling with pile-ups of pockets, buckles, and logo tags, and articulated with sharp piping details, that gave her collection a quietly compelling edge.

Private Policy Fall/Winter 2019 show in London. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.

Parsons alumni Siying Qu and Haoran Li also kept the focus on slouchy sportswear with their Private Policy collection – albeit with an approach that was far simpler in silhouette, and more vibrant in colour. With one eye on the world’s precarious financial state, their garments were presented on models who hit the runway in shackles, adorned with handfuls of crumpled dollar bills. But it was in the latter half of the show, where the theatrics came tempered with quilted workwear and cropped tailoring in sleek bronze, platinum, and chartreuse tones, that the label’s inventive way with surfaces and contrasts fully came to life.

Per Götesson Fall/Winter 2019 show in London. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.

Both Private Policy and C2H4 were largely unknown quantities to London audiences. But the same can’t be said for Per Götesson, whose RCA graduation show in 2016 – a hymn to the sensuality of slouched, oversized denim – gained him an instant following. What was interesting about his latest outing, though, was how willing Götesson was to push away from his own heritage. Yes, there was still plenty of denim (flipped inside out, unzipped, slashed to the thigh) and exposed skin. But there were some unexpectedly new elements in the mix – from twisted-and-draped bomber jackets to Prince of Wales-check tailoring and animal print-lined greatcoats – indicating a designer eager to explore new territories.

Xander Zhou Fall/Winter 2019 show in London. Photo by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.

When it comes to new territories, Xander Zhou has always been in a universe of his own. Set in a Hackney event space, his Winter 2019 show came peopled with monsters, space creatures, amphibians, wearing surgical-slick uniforms and second-skin surfsuits. In amongst the madness, there were plenty of wearable pieces – fuzzy bomber jackets, striped knits, PUV shirting, and sober separates in camel, white, and dove grey. Half-a-decade ago, when he started showing in London, Zhou’s uber-futuristic menswear aesthetic felt anomalously alien. But in the intervening years, as the city’s fashion scene has morphed, his vision has gained traction – and with it the idea that his clothes have a relevance for today as well as tomorrow. 

Christopher Raeburn Fall/Winter 2019 show in London. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.

At the other end of the seesaw, Christopher Raeburn’s work may not look as obviously futuristic as Zhou’s. But the designer is celebrating 10 years in the business – 10 years in which many of his contemporaries have fallen by the wayside. In large part, that’s doubtlessly due to the bracing reality of the clothes he creates: functional, intelligible, simple, desirable. But his ethos – of making fashion in a responsible, open, and transparent way – has gone from being a fringe concern to becoming a core part of the industry’s conversations with itself, and with the wider world. His anniversary show majored in Raeburn’s greatest hits – utility-focused outerwear, 

no-nonsense knits, streamlined joggers. But there was a new, heightened transparency on show – quite literally, in the case of clear nylon puffer jackets, filled with multicoloured fabric offcuts, in taped-seam outerwear and cashmere sweaters patchworked with recycled knits. There might have been other, more visually futuristic collections on show yesterday, but Raeburn was perhaps offering the most radical vision of all: a fashion label with a real future, in every sense of the word.