Manning up in fashion's mainstream

Since 2012, the British Fashion Council has extended London Fashion Week’s menswear event into a three-day affair – a far cry from the previous single day tacked onto the women’s calendar and a catalyst that has entirely shifted the scope of the industry in Britain and its global exposure.

The ‘London Collections: Men’ schedule was positively packed, with more than 60 designers showing their Spring/Summer 2015 collections, attracting international press and buyers from more than 30 countries to watch the burgeoning selection of sartorial brands, avant-garde emerging labels and streetwear start-ups that are all carving their own niche in the new identity of “London fashion”.

London to the world

The strategy, however London-centric it may seem, remains undoubtedly global, with recent additions to the schedule including Donna Karan’s DKNY line and the debut of Jeremy Scott’s menswear designs for Moschino garnering considerable attention – as Burberry Prorsum continues to do with Christopher Bailey’s monumental shows played out in Kensington Gardens every season.

A Burberry show could well be fashion’s answer to a rock concert these days, with Bailey tipping new and established talents to soundtrack his collections live (and live-streamed, of course). The show’s performer was Benjamin Clementine, a British Ghanaian singer-songwriter who crooned an ode to London while barefoot at a grand piano, as Bailey’s collection of jewel-coloured nubuck leather trenches, denim jackets and slim suits filed past on boys in sunhats and technical sneakers.

The designer underscored his gradient texture and colour study with printed tees and hand-painted bags inspired by novelist and travel writer Bruce Chatwin, ticking all the boxes in the label’s message of romantic English escapism.

At Alexander McQueen, creative director Sarah Burton’s take on her homeland was rather more sinister, riffing as she has in recent seasons on the punk culture of London’s music scene with gothic-tinged tailoring shown in cathedrals and railway underpasses.

Graphic and sporty

Her latest outing was a graphic and sporty departure from all that, with the swirls of giant kabuki masks printed and beaded across coats and short suits worn with leggings and wedge trainers. The positively clinical cutting of slashed blazers and wipe-clean PVC panelling felt right at home in the grand hall of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, more so than the hip-hop tracks that complemented the season’s overt sportswear edge.

Other international players used the London stage in a rather different context, with DKNY choosing a nightclub on the Strand to show black-and-white films of New York youth with an updated (albeit safe) collection of sporty tailoring. It was a far cry from Moschino’s eye-watering rave, which is well on its way to seducing a new generation, thanks to Jeremy Scott’s pop-cultural brand revival. Mixing men’s and women’s looks in a thumping ode to the ’80s, the designer showed a rehash of hyper colour, club kid tracksuits, bleached denim and clownish tailoring emblazoned with smiley faces, flags and logomania prints that riffed on Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Armani’s classic branding.

Accessories powerhouse Jimmy Choo also chose to mount a runway show (for shoes, you say?), enlisting LOVE magazine’s super-stylist Katie Grand to lend a hand at their County Hall extravaganza. Grand assembled a cruisy, all-white silhouette with rolled-up trousers and shorts to allow the brand’s metallic or croc-effect trainers and graffiti-sprayed lace-ups to take centre stage.

Later, Game of Thrones star Kit Harrington was on hand to unveil Jimmy Choo’s first male perfume with artistic director Sandra Choi – a clear demonstration of how both the celebrity factor and fragrance industries are beginning to recognise and monetise London Collections: Men.

Although the Spring/Summer 2015 schedule lacked a drawcard Savile Row event, which in past seasons has seen London’s top tailors show as a group (locations have included the Lord’s Cricket Ground and the Churchill War Rooms), the sartorial wheels keep turning.

Everything old is new again

With some Savile Row tailors boasting centuries of experience, any questions of relevance in 2014 are carefully being swept aside, with communication strategies and brand development guaranteeing a solid future for these relics of the industry. Developing their own ready-to-wear collections to rival the Milanese stronghold of gentlemen’s tailoring, English tailors such as Hardy Amies and Gieves & Hawkes are making a strong case for their hometown – modernising their dusty image while revelling in their histories.

As notions of luxury are being repeatedly questioned across the globe, these houses are capitalising on their exclusivity; bringing out textiles from their archives, blending new and ancient techniques, and updating the silhouette of their product (from board shorts to tuxedos) to carefully touch the edges of fashion trends.

London must not, however, be taken purely as a new playground for the establishment: it rather toys with a joyous dichotomy of young energy and the old guard. That spectrum is vast and attempting to give credence to new players are initiatives such as Fashion East’s MAN platform, which has supported a bevy of prestigious alumni, such as J.W. Anderson, with its rotating program of engaging three designers over a three-season cycle.

Last year LVMH invested a minority stake in J.W. Anderson’s East London-based brand and appointed him creative director at Spanish leathergoods house Loewe, where his first men’s designs will debut in Paris this week. His own show was one of the season’s avant-garde triumphs, opening with a trio of agrarian tapestry tops cut from the textile designs of Royal College of Art fellow John Allen.

Known for his aesthetic exploration of garments that blur gender lines, Anderson’s creations have courted controversy (he’s dressed men in frilled shorts and halter-neck florals). Yet his latest offerings showed a soft and realistic wardrobe proposition for his high-fashion customer. Alongside a solid outing of raw-edged, cut-out tailoring and twinset knit ensembles, Anderson’s most challenging looks were tops wrapped and knotted at the shoulders or cropped at the midriff – “inspired by the personality of the bourgeois woman” said the designer.

With a soundtrack of improvised jazz mixed by Paris sound stylist Michel Gaubert, the show was a meeting of minds; tantamount to the new international flavour of London menswear.

It’s a rich melting pot of innate British talent, where innovation meets institution, occasionally to spectacular effect.

This story originally appeared in the Australian Financial Review's Luxury magazine.

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