There was a time, not too long ago, when it would have seemed unimaginable that London could support a standalone menswear week. For decades, the city’s menswear designers showed everywhere BUT in London. And it wasn’t till 2009 that London Fashion Week tacked on a half-day of men’s fashion to the tail-end of its schedule, in an attempt to give emerging names like JW Anderson, Tim Soar and Carolyn Massey a proper platform. But five years ago today London Collections: Men was launched, with a reception hosted by Prince Charles at St. James’s Palace. And in the seasons that followed the showcase blossomed, bolstered by the support of linchpin names like Burberry, Pringle and McQueen, retail giants like Mr. Porter (not to mention occasional guest stars like Coach and Moschino). Against the odds, the city became a must-see destination on an already-crowded international schedule, adding critical plaudits to its commercial clout thanks to the emergence of new names like Martine Rose, Craig Green and Grace Wales Bonner.
Rehearsal at the Christopher Raeburn Fashion Show (Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION)
LFWM’s trajectory has been blunted of late, though, by forces which are largely beyond fashion’s control. The blurring of menswear and womenswear, and the emergence of the See Now Buy Now phenomenon, have seen brands become scattered across the seasons like skittles. Names like Sibling, James Long, Richard Nicoll and Jonathan Saunders have either fallen by the wayside or gone on hiatus, whilst others have returned to showing in Paris and Milan. Increasingly, brands are striking out independently of the traditional schedule to talk directly to their customer. A case in point, Stella McCartney, whose latest menswear collection was released online over the weekend as a short film, and which felt as though it had arrived almost incidentally into the LFWM conversation. And what remains of the original schedule — slimmed down, stretched out — is scarcely recognisable.
In a way, that seems only right. After all, the menswear landscape itself is almost unrecognisable when you compare 2012 and 2017 — not just in London, but around the world. The four days are still energetically paced, crowded with presentations and store events hosted by the likes of Hogan, Norwegian Rain and Rag & Bone. But large-scale parties have been traded in for intimate dinners, and gleaming brogues and sharp suits swapped for rucksacks, track pants and Yeezys. Savile Row’s tailoring houses (once a major part of the schedule) are now largely absent. Bloggers are out; vloggers, Instagrammers and influencers are in. And increasingly, the whole event is becoming more and more international in intent.
This season, global names returning included Japan’s Maison Mihara Yasuhiro, alongside newer arrivals like Bodybound and Korea’s D.GNAK (both of whom first showed here as new graduates some years ago.) Appropriately enough, the D.GNAK show was based round a Chinese word that translates as ‘inevitable interaction’. A logical approach for a show that neatly fused European and Asian dress codes with classic tailoring and workwear separates, contrast stripes, slivers of skin, and splashes of furious colour. Pronounce, another new addition (showing with the support of GQ China) echoed that blended sensibility with poised, elongated forms whose austere, almost monastic aesthetic drew on classic tailoring silhouettes. “We always wanted to have our debut show in London,” Pronounce’s British-trained designers Yushan Li and Jun Zhou explained. “London feels like our second home.”
Bodybound echoed that sentiment, explaining their return to London after several seasons showing internationally: “The political energy in London has been electric. We're living through one of the most disruptive phases in history, but finally we saw political movements capturing the energy and excitement of this city fighting back against conservatism and insularity - it's the right time to be back, and speak up.”
Nicholas Daley Presentation (Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION)
These new voices offered an intriguing counterpoint to British menswear’s familiar homegrown narrative, exemplified by the likes of JW Anderson (showing at Pitti this week), Christopher Shannon (who swapped a runway show for a presentation this season, to launch his first fragrance), and Christopher Raeburn. Raeburn is the label who, out of all the names that emerged during British menswear’s recent renaissance, wouldn’t necessarily have been expected to have thrived to quite the extent that he has. However, the designer has now become an exemplar of what a British brand in the 21st century can be. His work is consistent (and yet always interesting), intelligent, and relevant, and his label’s success is testament both to the quality of his design process and to the engaging authenticity of his sustainability principles. This season, repurposed kites and Forties denim jackets formed the linchpins of a collection that played with bold colours and sheer textures to energetic graphic effect. A wardrobe of function-first separates that will appeal to consumers and buyers alike. Collaborations with minimalist watchmakers Instrmnt and footwear label Palladium, meanwhile, showcased Raeburn’s survival skills in a more subtle way. Stretching back through the seasons, regular collaborations with the likes of Woolmark, MCM, Victorinox and Avery Dennison have extended his reach into an array of new markets, and connected him to a global industry whose boundaries seem to dissolve more and more with each passing season.
That level of success may yet lie in the future for the schedule’s newest names. Take Nicholas Daley, who showed straight after Craig Green on LFWM’s last day. Much like John Alexander Skelton (another up-and-coming menswear name, who shows out-of-sync from LFWM), Daley is interested in the diverse threads that make up the modern British cultural landscape. This time, his focus was on checked Madras cottons, once one of the Empire’s most distinctive cloths, imported from India to become a mainstay of the British wardrobe. Earthy shades and slouchy, softly layered shapes kept the collection understatedly elegant, allowing Daley’s narrative to shine. It was a quiet, reflective moment, at the end of a week that’s been turbulent for all sorts of reasons. It was an interestingly timeless, softly-softly proposition, when you considered it next to the Andersons and Greens of this world. It’s easy to become obsessed with moving forward in this industry, but fashion is inevitably cyclical in nature. Looking at Daley’s work, it was hard not to wonder whether British menswear’s best shot at a future might actually lie somewhere in its (not-so-distant) past.
Pronounce presented by GQ China Fashion Show (Photo by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION)