We’ve long sung the praises of London as the most interesting menswear city in the world. With designers such as Craig Green, Palace representing streetwear in a distinctly British fashion, quality shoemakers in abundance and Savile Row tailoring, there’s truly something for everyone here. But this season just gone has us questioning our previous words.
We've already rounded up day 1, day 2, day 3 and day 4 of the English capital's fashion extravaganza, so now we take a step back and give more thought to whether or not London is still the most interesting city in the world for menswear.
The ambassadors continue to be completely out of touch
LCM is helmed by GQ’s Dylan Jones and, because of this, the opening retains a GQ-esque touch. And while this vibe works for other events, it always feels out of touch with an event that counts J.W.Anderson and Craig Green amongst its biggest names. The ambassadors included Hu Bing, Nick Grimshaw and David Gandy alongside people you haven’t heard of such as Oliver Cheshire and other people we can’t be bothered to give a cursory Google search.
The opening was finished off with a speech by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, who made a bunch of jokes about how rich Dylan Jones was (apparently he never carries any cash) and ended on a painfully forced Yeezy reference. It was like watching your dad Dab. But moreso than just being embarrassing, it was emblematic of how pale and stale fashion is the higher up you go. For all the talk of how forward thinking fashion is, this was still a LCM event where the only person of color in the ambassador picture taken at the opening (above) was Chinese actor Hu Bing.
We’re not asking for tokenism (the most common argument whenever you bring this up), just that the ambassadors of London reflect what London actually looks like.
Consistency is the trend of the season
In a slightly slow season, the best brands were the ones that were consistent and built upon their growth. Grace Wales Bonner, Craig Green, Matthew Miller, E. Tautz, CMMN SWDN, Casely-Hayford and Cottweiler were the best of the bunch this season and all of them built upon what they were known for. There was gradual growth, with new techniques and designs used alongside similar silhouettes. But consistency is the sign of a successfully growing brand which actually has a customer base to focus on.
Grace Wales Bonner is the (rightful) new darling of fashion, with her focus on a lesser seen type of black masculinity drawing all the right plaudits. This season was her first solo show and it built on her usual themes, which is all you can ask of a designer who, despite all the hype, has essentially just started. Matthew Miller and E. Tautz both have growing businesses and a relatively large amount of stockists, so their aim is to both grow the brand while still delivering the kind of pieces people know them for.
They both delivered that with subtle updates rather than broad changes. The only knock against Matthew Miller is that his womenswear still doesn’t feel as developed as his menswear. If LCM is usually full of menswear designers who are in actuality frustrated womenswear designers, Miller’s womenswear feels like the work of someone who’s definitely a menswear designer.
Cottweiler’s clothing is always interesting, and this collection includes fabrics such as bonded breathable linen, which they created in collaboration with an Italian fabric mill. Their singular focus means it won’t be a hugely scalable brand of the kind fashion funds love, but we’re not sure all brands need to focus on becoming global powerhouses.
After all, fashion critics tend to love brands such as Palace and Supreme for their focus and eccentricity, but then they push catwalk brands in a direction that ensures they’ll never be able to emulate that kind of success.
The return of Aitor Throup can’t go unmentioned and his show attracted the most eclectic crowd seen at LCM. It’s easy to forget that Throup was originally touted to be the next golden boy of fashion back when his BA collection showed. The theatrics of his return made it a show in the original sense of the word, although the actual clothes were still very similar to what he was originally known for.
This season saw Christopher Shannon return to the catwalk and it was a disappointing showing. As other designers move away from slogans, Christopher Shannon seems to lean more heavily into them. This time it was a play on the Sports Direct logo with "lovers direct" and "haters direct" in the Sports Direct logo design. It all seemed extremely similar to the logo riffing he did with the Savers logo in AW15. This shouldn’t be surprising, as he said he was inspired by his own MA collection. For better or worse, this self influence showed.
This season Agi & Sam came across as a brand being pulled in several different directions and the resulting collection was something of a mish-mash. J.W Anderson stuck to his guns but, while he snuck some perfectly wearable garments in his collection, there’s still a distinct air of over experimentation. That’s all well and good, but now he’s a back-to-back menswear designer of the year award winner, we can’t help but think that it should be more than just an expensive moodboard for his womenswear.
But moreso than out and out disappointments were the large number of collections that were just forgettable. Collections from the likes of Ximon Lee, Katie Eary and Bobby Abley all continued the work of previous seasons, often to the point of repetition, but none of them did quite enough to catch our attention. Despite all the talk of London’s growth, there’s brands such as Katie Eary, which often feel like they’re hanging by a thread at times. After all, no one does a KFC collaboration unless they need the money.
Sportswear isn’t a dirty word
Brands such as Astrid Andersen, Nasir Mazhar, Cottweiler and Christopher Shannon are often slapped with the sportswear label and it’s something pretty much all of these labels reject. But, in the case of Astrid Andersen, it’s quite difficult to reject the sportswear term when you have basketball shorts and Karate Gi-inspired clothing feature prominently throughout.
There is a connotation that taking inspiration from sports is somehow less valid than taking inspiration from Wes Anderson films - which, let's be frank, empty snobbery. We’ve long suspected that the reason these designers reject the sportswear term is because certain fashion folks use that to imply that their clothing is lesser than, say, a three piece suit. But to deny that it’s sportswear inspired when you’re pulling inspiration from multiple sports is absurd.
The London conundrum
Right now, menswear is a free for all. Everything is happening at once, which means that there’s almost too much to choose from. But this free-for-all also means that there’s nothing for certain designers to react against either, so you end up with collections that try and include everything in case one thing sticks.
London has always been known for its creativity but now it’s in a position where it needs to learn how to include just enough interesting newness to intrigue while not alienating anyone. It’s a position designers in Paris have long been dealing with, but it remains relatively new in the world of London menswear. How it deals with this situation will define how it will be seen in the future.
It’s not all bad
Brands such as Qasimi Homme, Edward Crutchley, Kiko Kostadinov and Phoebe English all impressed and intrigued with clothing that straddled the line between perfectly wearable and street style star-worthy. It was a sign that, despite the so-so-ness of it all, there was still plenty to look forward to.
There’s likely to be several brands that fall by the wayside in the next few seasons. Catwalk shows can be deceiving spectacles, but you can guess which ones are struggling because they’re likely to have few stockists and overload on collaborations with brands that they have no obvious link with. The brands that are growing are making tentative moves forward, which doesn’t make for the best fashion shows but does keep a business afloat.
London is still interesting, but this somewhat lethargic season shows that it still has a way to go before it catches up with the polished slickness of Paris.