Where the runway meets the street

Every major fashion week has its battles. Milan is fighting to prove it’s not the land of the suited dinosaurs. New York is fighting to prove its relevance – people are already opining on best of the season well ahead of NYFW. While LC:M has gradually proven it’s worthy of being taken seriously many of the involved brands are still finding their stride or toning things down, and some are still fighting their way out of limbo.

First off, designers are in an awkward place; the ‘70s are in, but not in menswear. While you’ll find womenswear embracing flares and suede, the likelihood of seeing a man wearing a similar look is slim to none. Menswear makers compensated by introducing forward-facing textures, trouser shapes, and silhouettes.

The Show-Defining Brands

Lou Dalton is often referred to as ‘the quiet designer,’ which is something writers say when they’ve been ignoring someone. This season people took notice of Dalton’s use of leather on coats, trousers and overcoats. We personally enjoyed the fact that she managed to use fleece without making it grandad-esque (kudos). All in all, the show felt like a very clear definition of the Dalton man.

Another standout show was Matthew Miller. In the past many have knocked Miller’s collections for their “student-like” air of protest. If that has indeed been the case, then this show could be called a graduation ceremony. While the obviously memorable piece was the “Caravaggio” painted coat, Miller’s loose fit velvet trousers were something we could see a lot of people wearing come next autumn.

Next up is Casely-Hayford. Now, if there’s any issue with the brand it actually may be that it’s almost too consistent. From technical know-how to skillfull production, the concise offerings seemingly know no bounds. This season designers looked to military inspiration but didn’t become complacent with the reference. They also drew from skinhead culture as well as a bit of Sgt Pepper for good measure. For us, the standout piece was a sweatshirt with a poplin-cotton back, stitched perfectly together as a single piece. It’s the kind of product that doesn’t garner too many eyes while on the runway but shows perfectly what the brand can do.

1205’s menswear runway debut proved to be a runaway success. The heart of the collection was its clever use of fabrics that have traditionally been shunned. The truly impressive part? Those fabrics suddenly felt very desirable.

Elsewhere, the likes of Ed Crutchley, Grace Wales Bonner, Cottweiler, CMMN SWDN, Berthold, E. Tautz and Margaret Howell also impressed.

Crutchley presented a dreamlike vision that made a day’s worth of fashion scouting worthwhile. And Wales Bonner’s success can be measured by her appearance in several en vogue stores; proof that her pieces work well as separates or as part of a larger story.

For it’s part, Cottweiler has consistently dealt with the unfairly relegated streetwear title. However the latest collection seemed to veer away from that label, showing more of a technician’s obsession as opposed to a fascination with Reebok Classics.

CMMN SWDN and Berthold also proved to be sleeper success stories. We’ve always felt as if both brands are almost taken for granted, but this season both proved why they’re worth keeping tabs on. Rounding out the winners circle are E. Taut and Margaret Howell; both  have consistently produced well-executed collections for several seasons now.


The Big Brand Conundrum

While we understand the presence of mega brands, they always tend to feel contrived and cumbersome next to younger, and at times, more interesting competitors. Burberry, Alexander McQueen and Moschino all showed face, but made little splash in circles outside of longtime converts.

Christopher Shannon downgraded to presentation this season, and by doing so, lost something. The question for Shannon has always been, do the people who can afford his wares want to dress like the Shannon man? We’re not sure of that answer, but we can’t help but notice that Shannon has lost several UK stockists in the last few seasons.

The same question plagued the likes of Nasir Mazhar and Astrid Andersen, with the latter trying out new styling for a change of pace. Mazhar should perhaps worry slightly less than Andersen; his pieces have always been easier to wear as separates.

Still, the question for these designers remains: What happens when their guy grows up? Do they subtly move the brand forward or do they keep it niche?

We’d always questioned why brands such as YMC and Oliver Spencer bothered showing at LC:M – they both had pre-established customer bases before taking up catwalk shows. After awhile, it begins to feel as though they’re merely showing for showing’s sake. For instance, YMC’s latest presentation was perfectly nice, although the styling seemed very similar to Number (N)ine and The Soloist. That is to say, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t exactly memorable, either.

Oliver Spencer on the other hand, makes very little sense, despite being equally “perfect nice.” We’ve long maintained that a suiting brand showing at LC:M is fundamentally pointless – their core customer is put off by fashion shows, and a brand just isn’t going to convert a fashion fan to navy suiting exclusively, no matter how nicely the suit is cut.

The Brands That Didn’t Deliver

We also feel obliged to mention J.W. Anderson, as it’s hard to ignore the reigning menswear designer of the year. One Anderson quote that’s always stood out to us is his statement on ‘experimenting with menswear.’ Perhaps we’re reading entirely too far into it, but it’s always seemed like an admission that his Loewe role and womenswear sales mean his menswear doesn’t need to make money. If that is indeed true, then the line serves as more of a showcase for ideas.

Ideas are great, but it’s also been several seasons and the only piece we’ve seen infiltrate anywhere is his gradient overcoat. We can all agree that gender fluidity isn’t happening on a mass scale in menswear, so we can’t help but feel that Anderson’s collections may not be as influential as people would like you to believe.

Another slightly disappointing show was Agi & Sam – for odd reasons. Looking over the collection, there’s more than a few pieces we liked and could see people buying, but there seemed to be no connective theme.

Add in the last two seasons – both of which we enjoyed at the time – and there’s not much of a connecting thread between any of them. To us, this spells trouble. Presenting such dramatically different collections from season to season could potentially mean the brand has yet to secure an identifiable customer base.

On top of that, we’ve noticed that Agi & Sam is worryingly difficult to find in stores. A quick check of the company site reveals no UK stockists, four stockists across the whole of Europe, and thirteen stockists worldwide. It seems bizarre that designers as loved as Agi & Sam have zero stockists in the country where they’ve won so many awards and grants.

The Big Picture

Overall, this season’s LC:M felt businesslike. In the last few seasons there’s been calls for UK stores to support UK brands, and this year, stores did just that. As a result, certain brands stepped up to the challenge in terms of production and delivery. The ones that didn’t found themselves in the unfortunate position of being without stockists.

The downside of this approach is that it’ll be harder for brands like Edward Crutchley to exist in this environment, which will end up dampening new ideas before they’ve had time to form. But, that aside, London Collections: Men continues to edge closer to being a viable rival to Paris while dodging the soulless number counting feel of Milan.

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