OTHER VOICES - OTHER ROOMS: LONDON MENSWEAR'S MELTING POT
These are difficult times, in many parts of Britain, for those who’ve come here from other countries. Not that you’d know it from the menswear schedule, which kicked off with Bulgaria-born Kiko Kostadinov and ended with a show by Chinese designer Feng Chen Wang. LFWM may well have started life under a banner of enthusiastic patriotism – but these days, as the country at large veers towards isolationism, fashion finds itself a flag bearer for diversity. And its calendar, once dominated by homegrown heroes, is increasingly populated by international guest stars from Iceberg to John Lawrence Sullivan, using the city as a platform to reach a broader audience. And gradually, these new voices are making their presence felt, shifting London’s traditional menswear aesthetic perceptibly off its axis.
8ON8 Spring/Summer 2020 menswear show in London. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.
Take Li Gong, whose Shanghai-based 8on8 label anchored Sunday morning’s schedule (in between Germany’s T/Sehne and 1x1 Studio, a label founded by Taiwanese designer Yi-Ling Kuo). Showing under the GQ China platform – an initiative which in previous seasons has seen names like Sankuanz, Sean Suen, and Ximon Lee make their European debuts – Gong paid homage to ‘San Junipero’, one of the most iconic episodes from Netflix’s Black Mirror with a collection of softly-cut, afterlife-ready tailoring and pyjama shirts in misty shades of rose, lilac, and grey. Rainbow-striped tunics, tiered trains, chainmail, and fluid, robe-like coats underscored the show’s quiet romantic mood.
C2H4 Spring/Summer 2020 menswear show in London. Photos by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.
If Gong’s dreamy pastels were designed for a utopian afterlife, then C2H4 (the LA label now showing here for its second season) deployed the same shades to very different ends. Designer Yixi Chen has a darker, more pragmatic take on the world, and stayed true to her formula of bluntly detailed, boldly utilitarian performancewear. And where Gong’s garments veered towards weightlessness, Chen’s were padded cocoons, streaked with frayed seams and splashed with metallic and iridescent fabric coatings.
Xander Zhou Spring/Summer 2020 menswear show in London. Photos: Courtesy of PR.
Chen’s collection was tagged ‘POST HUMAN ERA’ – a label that could have been applied just as smoothly to Xander Zhou’s latest outing. Staged away from the schedule’s Brick Lane hub in a vaulted Docklands space, the designer opted to dispense with a physical catwalk entirely – replacing it instead with a vast screen on which an array of models (some human, some computer-generated) paraded Zhou’s collection. Freed from the physical world, the clothes took on a more abstract, ceremonial quality, with the seventy-odd looks ranging from crisp t-shirts to floor-skimming skirts to sweeping, swirling robes.
Studio ALCH Spring/Summer 2020 menswear show in London. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.
In 2015, Alexandra Hackett was living and working in Melbourne, and making waves with garments made with everything from banana peel to bubble wrap to Astroturf. Four years and several Nike collars later, her Studio ALCH label made its London catwalk debut at the Truman Brewery with a collection that was far sleeker in approach – but still came infused with startlingly unconventional detail, from backpacks repurposed as gilets and vests to jackets coated in heat-pressed plastic bags.
Feng Chen Wang Spring/Summer 2020 menswear show in London. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.
Back in the West End, Feng Chen Wang filled a towering, sheer-curtained gallery space with bamboo scaffolding and piles of chalky powder – and rounded out London’s Summer 2020 season with a collection that impressed with the sheer simplicity of its conviction. The light, breezy layering that’s dominated this week’s menswear was pushed to the extreme with gauzy anoraks and ballooning shirts, played off against raw-edge neon-orange separates and acid-washed denim jackets. At a closer level, there were nods to Wang’s Fujian roots in her use of woven bamboo armour, and of lanyin huabu (a centuries-old technique which tie-dyes blue calico fabric with soybean and lime chalk). But many of her audience will have their attention firmly focused on the model’s sleek footwear, as the comments on her Instagram page showed: ‘When the Converse drop?’