Out with The New: Starting Over at London's Menswear Shows

In older times, the 6th of January marked Twelfth Night: the traditional end of the Christmas season, and a night of mischief and riotous misrule. This year, though, it also marks the start of London’s menswear shows. And while it still felt like the end of Christmas in the West End – the rotting trees, the workmen dismantling street lights, the stores full of sale signs – there was little about the first day’s shows that spoke of a city embracing risk or danger. Instead, after a rash of high-profile departures or defections to the womenswear schedule (Christopher Shannon, JW Anderson, Margaret Howell, Burberry, Paul Smith), there was a sense of cautious recalibration; of a menswear scene settling into itself again, feeling about for its next incarnation. Designers were showing in scattered, secretively-positioned locations; some, like E. Tautz, simply circulated lookbook images, whilst Nasir Mazhar posted his latest work on Instagram. On the schedule itself there were fewer proudly homegrown heritage names, and more untested international ones; fewer familiar anchors, and more disruptive arrivals.

John Lawrence Sullivan FW18 fashion show in London. Picture by Regis Colin Berthelier.

That mood made for a pragmatic opening day, albeit one enlivened by collections that blended commercialism with a bracing dose of menace. You saw it in full force at the John Lawrence Sullivan show, where Arashi Yanagawa’s spliced garments – split-personality collisions of leather and denim, patent and leopard – felt like a wardrobe merged from the imaginations of Mapplethorpe, Burroughs, and Karlheinz Weinberger. Starkly high-waisted trousers, cropped jackets, and oversized topcoats came weighted with chains and belt-buckles, with trails of loose lacings swishing behind the models as they walked. There was an indulgence in the collection’s softer touches, from Western-style embroidered shirts to velvet suits and dishevelled knits in plush grapes and greens. As an opening statement for London’s winter 2018 shows, it had an uncompromising confidence; these were clothes designed to evoke a response, not to be ignored. Tinie Tempah’s What We Wear show was similarly to the point. After years spent sitting on the front row sidelines, the rapper and singer founded his own label three seasons ago, and this time out focused on uniform archetypes – the anchor to much of menswear’s evolution over the past decade, particularly in London. The concisely-presented collection focused on straightforward, subtly athletic separates, accented with graphic metalwork and scaled up logos. Glossy synthetics and shaggy knits came in a palette of deep olives, tangerine, and navy. 

What We Wear FW18 fashion show in London. Picture by Regis Colin Berthelier.

Across the Thames, after night fell, Xander Zhou embraced the Twelfth Night spirit with a show that revelled in clashing cultures and boundaries. Staged in a bare-bones warehouse with shadows flickering across rough concrete walls and keyboards plinking in the background, his garments veered away from the futuristic shapes of his early shows and embraced a far more eclectic language. His models swaggered through the space in coats and suits that came with details flipped inside out, layered with plush furred scarves and stamped with workwear labelling. Knot-fastened tunics, veiled coolie hats, and Chinese brocades jostled for space with greyscale pinstripes and sober separates. “I think after five years of showing in London, I’ve kind of re-graduated!” Zhou laughed afterwards. “I want to make my own culture. What’s happening right now, I want to make my own vision of it. I call it techno-orientalism. It’s like, if I was going to make an Asian superhero movie, I’d create characters like this. I’ve done suits and coats from my very first season, and I think they’re back. But I’m trying to mix them with workwear, to make something more streetwise. We want to do something that goes to the next step.” 

Xander Zhou FW18 fashion show in London. Picture by Guillaume Roujas.

From there, it was a leap (both geographically, and aesthetically), to Khalid Al Qasimi’s showspace – another bare industrial space, this time deep in Chelsea. Against a tilted mirror backdrop, the collection marked a return to the catwalk for a designer who sat out much of London menswear’s glory years. “I took some time out to refocus the business,” he explained backstage. “We just wanted to take it step by step – building the collection up again, starting with presentations. This season, I just felt really ready for a show.” 

Qasimi FW18 fashion show in London. Picture by Regis Colin Berthelier.

The same lanky, exaggerated proportions that had begun the day at John Lawrence Sullivan returned here, albeit as part of a language that was markedly more relaxed. “And also quite commercial, quite product driven,” Qasimi agreed, “focusing on what we need right now, and what the stores want. I think we’ve had that message; we have the political themes, the conceptual themes – but make sure you’ve got the right products for a modern man’s wardrobe.” For Winter 2018, this meant flapping overcoats and loose-cut trousers, shown in laid-back layers of colour and proportion. Soft stripes and washed-out prints came in a gentle sweep of rusts, caramels, and mauves, with occasional jolts of pumpkin and lemon. “I don’t know what’s going to happen next season, or where London’s going to go,” Qasimi acknowledged. “But this just feels like what we want to do now.”

See all runway pictures and live-streamings of the London Men's Fall/Winter 2018 collections on NOWFASHION.COM