Style
Where the runway meets the street

The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.

The latest edition of London Fashion Week Men’s that took place over the weekend could well be the last. The dramatic absence of flagship designers such as Craig Green, J.W. Anderson, and Grace Wales Bonner, as well as a marquee brand with serious financial clout, has meant the spotlight has fallen on smaller labels. Although that’s good news for the likes of Charles Jeffrey Loverboy and Martine Rose, it’s bad news for British fashion and menswear as a whole.

When LFWM first started, Savile Row tailoring firms tended to dominate the schedule, eager to break away from the single day that had been attached to the end of the women’s shows. At the time, there was a lot of buzz about how quickly menswear was growing, how much it contributed to the British economy, and the promise it offered future generations. Now, it appears designers can’t run away quickly enough from the three-day event.

A sign of just how far menswear has come, however, is that today there are countless young menswear designers catering to a generation of style-savvy men who don’t wear suits. These are the designers who benefit most from LFWM and their attitude is to fight for the future.

What does that mean for London this year? Well, there was an impressive emphasis on clothes — actual, real clothes to desire, buy, and wear. We’re not talking boring double-breasted blazers and boiler suits. We’re talking high-concept sportswear, colorful prints, graphic knitwear, unexpected tailoring, and texture-focused clothes that are genuinely worth your time and money. But in order to find them, you need to cut through the noise and flagrant theatrics and focus on what matters.

Bulgarian designer Kiko Kostadinov was always something of a wunderkind, but he’s developed his label over time, taking it from fairly muted techno-uniforms with great pattern cutting to a fully fledged catwalk label with an unexpected sense of narrative. Clothes — actual clothes — are what he does best, thanks to his technical eye and innovative approach to making garments. His latest made full use of this skill for narrative, placing the clothes in an imaginary Bengal town on the River Ganges in homage to Satyajit Ray’s “The Apu Trilogy,” a trio of seminal Indian films, and German artist Martin Kippenberger’s installation piece The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s ‘Amerika.’

The result was a texture-clash collection with a cast of characters that symbolized men at different stages of their life. There were uniformed figures of authority, but most were navigating the urban rat race and the dress codes that come with it. It was a coming-of-age story that reflected how a generation of young men feel about suits, ties, and modern workwear. Instead of traditionalism, there were unusually loose ribbed knits, which appeared as tunic suits with undulating river-like stripes and flared trousers.

Kostadinov’s signature trousers, cut with roadmap seams and complex volume, returned with a relaxed air, draped construction, and pockets concealed within seams that are twisted around the garments. One double-faced workwear wool coat was tailored perfectly and cut with keyhole pockets and secret passages with swaths of Bulgarian carpet scarves pulled through. It was a collection that made everyone sit up and pay attention. Not least because of Katsuya Kamo’s incredible fishing-weight headpieces.

A-COLD-WALL*’s Samuel Ross put on a show fresh from Paris, where he was a finalist in the 2018 LVMH Prize. Ross trained under Virgil Abloh, fashion’s arch charlatan, so he knows how to talk the talk and can often over-explain his work. But whereas Abloh is juggling an enormous array of projects, products, and points of view, Ross is determinedly focused and has distinctly a British perspective. His label is about the concrete brutalism and culture of social housing and his own experiences navigating the class-clad world of the UK and its social codes.

This season, however, his view was softer and more discreet — subtle logo graphics, spliced Italian-made knitwear, all kinds of detachable panels, and standout outerwear. That said, the show finished with a phalanx of clay-covered troopers breaking down a polystyrene box to reveal a naked, blood-covered dancer. So not too soft, then. It could be read as Ross quite literally breaking out of the box labeled “streetwear,” a term that has been derided in light of changing attitudes to sportswear and casual clothes. Or maybe that’s too literal a reading — in this case, the clothes can speak for themselves.

Theatrics also ruled elsewhere. At Fashion East’s MAN show, Art School staged a performance. Beautifully bias-cut dresses covered in sequins, feathers, and other adornments from the canon of camp came down the catwalk crawling, spinning, and collapsing. It was the epitome of extra — the fashion equivalent of a dramatic lip-sync battle. It was certainly thought-provoking: Oh, the tragedy of glamor! How exhausting it is to perform one’s queerness! The challenge of being a young designer!

But what does “queer fashion” mean in 2018? If you’re to believe many young designers, it’s a glitter-speckled rainbow hue of shiny, pretty things. If those designers wish to continue exploring this world, they probably need to look closer at reality and create more nuanced work that moves the needle forward, and not just hold up a mirror to London’s bubble of fashion students and club kids.

Even Charles Jeffrey Loverboy, London’s czar of glittering hedonism, put forward more sophisticated propositions this season, dialing back the theatrics in favor of Henry Moore-inspired tailoring, illustrative prints, and sci-fi sportswear that was a parody of puritanism.

Boys throwing around glitter @_charlesjeffrey SS19

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Jeffrey said his collection was inspired by taking up running — which he likens to raving — and playing video games in which otherworldly characters and species coexist harmoniously. Hence prosthetics inspired by Planningtorock and that subversive sportswear. But there were also proportion-play accessories — big duffel bags and satchels in the shape of boxer shorts — as well as highly desirable graphic knitwear and chalkboard denim, a development of the paint-splattered styles that have become Jeffrey’s signature.

The best show of the weekend by far, though, was simple in comparison. On Sunday evening, Martine Rose staged a low-key show in St. Leonard’s Square, a cul-de-sac in Kentish Town, North London, where residents were invited, reggae was playing, and the audience was smoking. There was even food: mini burgers, fried okra, sardines, and macaroni & cheese. The show was a love letter to London, Rose said, acknowledging that the city had been through a rough time. It also felt like real London — a jolly, organic antidote to the contrived theatrics seen elsewhere. Community over individualism.

Rose said the clothes came from the music and rave clubs she enjoyed while growing up in South London, specifically drum and bass, reggae, and UK garage venues that have long since disappeared. There was washed denim and leather, python-effect transparents, leopard-print tracksuits, melange knitwear — all given the designer’s Midas touch and styled with utter effortlessness.

Rose is London through and through, not only in her aesthetic but in her attitude. She skipped last season because she was on maternity leave — from both her own label and Balenciaga, where she consults Demna Gvasalia on menswear. But the season before that, she got the fashion pack to come out to a rock-climbing center in Tottenham, a distinctly unfashionable part of North London. This weekend, watching her creations walked down that terraced street one after the other, it all felt so London that it’s difficult to imagine her doing a show anywhere else.

Words by Osman Ahmed

Osman Ahmed is a fashion writer and critic. He writes for The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Vogue and GQ, and was previously Senior Fashion Writer at The Business of Fashion. He lives in London, where he studied at Central Saint Martins.

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