SCREAM IF YOU WANNA GO FASTER — London Menswear Shifts Gear

If clothes reflect the times we live in, then London’s winter 2019 shows should come steeped in uncertainty. With Brexit less than three months away, and a make-or-break Parliament vote due in the next seven days, the nation feels gripped by a strange collective mood; fearful, angry, paralysed, pessimistic. But instead, the first day of the new menswear season – shown on a bleakly cold day, in the event’s new East End home – came packed with colour, flying the flag for a fashion dynamic that appears (on the surface) to be in the rudest of health.

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

Yushan Li and Jun Zhou of Pronounce, for example, used their fourth season on the London schedule to send out a collection bristling with energy. The trenchcoats and tailoring that dominated the show neatly converged British and Chinese influences, and shook off heritage with stripped back, streamlined silhouettes and fluorescent rave stripes. Oversized accents – giant toggle fixings, swirling rope prints, supersized fastenings, abstracted collages – added to the bracingly dissonant effect. And underneath all the surface excitement, there was an impressive baseline of covetable pieces, from fluidly-cut plaid greatcoats to belted cardigans in glistening tweed. 

Bobby Abley Fall/Winter 2019 show in London. Photo by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION.

One hour later, and three blocks to the north, Bobby Abley’s show notes talked up an eclectic clutch of reference points, from Christina Aguilera to Pokémon. And on the runway, those influences were all on full frontal display even before a giant Pikachu waddled into view. Abley’s trademark slouchy athleticwear, boiler suits, and denim separates came in sunny yellows and bubblegum pinks, splashed with animated characters and flame silhouettes. Balaclavas and vast scarves knitted from stripes of orange, lemon, and mint cocooned several models, whilst others came wrapped in flowing pyjamas, draped in ponchos and trailing patchworked security blankets. Was it escapist? Undoubtedly. But there’s nothing wrong with indulging in a little nostalgia from time to time.

Band of Outsiders Fall/Winter 2019 presentation in London. Photos by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.

Just ask Daniel Hettmann and Angelo Van Mol, whose reinvention of Band of Outsiders continues to steer the label away from its American roots towards a new, increasingly Europeanised backstory. This time, the focus was on 1971’s NASA moon landing, as watched by a fictional group of friends. Hazily warm colours and soft retro fabrics like corduroy and boiled wool dominated, whilst collaborations with Kickers and Sergio Tacchini brought a sporting edge to the collection’s fitted tailoring and lanky flares.

John Lawrence Sullivam Fall/Winter 2019 show in London. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.

There was nostalgia of a very different kind on show later in the afternoon, in the jam-packed Hoxton archway where Arashi Yanagawa showed his latest John Lawrence Sullivan collection. Scene legend James Jeanette, resplendent in leather briefs and thigh boots, set the tone for a sweat-slickened show where piled-up layers of wet-look latex, wild animal print, glossy snakeskin and mohair knits ticked off every glam-rock/punk reference in the book. But Yanagawa has a knack for revitalising familiar touchpoints, and his colour palette – emerald green, cinnamon, flame red, jade – gave proceedings a contemporary kick. And, as ever, his compelling way with tailoring generated outerwear that grabbed attention in its own right.

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

There was only ever going to be nostalgia on offer at James Long’s exuberant Iceberg outing; since he arrived at the label, the designer’s work there has focused on celebrating its Eighties heyday. So those familiar primary colours, brash logos and Mickey Mouse silhouettes were foregrounded, and filtered through Long’s current fascination with the Italian skiwear aesthetic. The collection blended violently patterned knits, slouchy hoodies, slashed tartan kilts, and shearling outerwear, whilst bucket hats and logo-stamped tracksuits gave a nod to the New Lad era, and to the time when football fans ignited fashion’s enduring fascination with performancewear. (Whilst in its more subtle moments, the show left room for its audience to feel nostalgia for Long’s own menswear label.)

DANIEL w. FLETCHER Fall/Winter 2019 show in London. Photo by Regis Colin Berthelier for NOWFASHION.

Till now, Daniel W Fletcher has been more driven by tomorrow than yesterday; he first came to attention in the summer of 2016, in the days before Britain’s fateful vote, staging a protest/presentation outside the BFC’s Strand venue. Then, it was all about the message – the word ‘STAY’ stamped across every garment in boldface letters. But five seasons later, Fletcher’s become a name to be reckoned with on the London schedule. And his salon presentation may have been slogan-free, but there was little doubt about the subtext. Inspired by the once-rich manufacturing traditions of Northern England, the show focused on British-made wools, merinos, and silks. It also steered away from straight sportswear into slimline trousers, rugby shirt stripes, and sleek leather tailoring. High-contrast stitching, sharp colour blocking, tightly belted waistlines, and slim silhouettes all contributed to Fletcher’s concise, efficient spin on the Mod era – an era highlighted by his incorporation of Sixties imagery by photojournalist John Bulmer. 

Whether by design or coincidence, the same tropes repeated over and over again across the day. Streamlined construction, go-faster stripes. Violent pattern, vivid colour. And, of course, nostalgia for a perfect yesterday, whether it was Iceberg’s football-terrace leisurewear or the homegrown knits drawn from Bobby Abley’s childhood memories, John Lawrence Sullivan’s slitheringly sexy rockstar wear or Fletcher’s tribute to British fashion’s proud manufacturing heritage. The past is a foreign country – but clothes have a unique capacity to allow us to cross its borders, at least in our minds.