The atmosphere was tense as the first shows of London Fashion Week Men’s began last Friday, the day after the country headed to the polls for the latest general election. The Conservative party clung to power (barely), but the results were decisively shaped by the power of the youth vote, a surprise outcome that sent shock waves across the British capital and beyond.
It seemed fitting therefore that many of the spring 2018 collections were a fierce celebration of the next generation.
Big-league brands were all but absent from the five-season-old schedule: Burberry now holds its combined men’s and women’s show during womenswear in September, while this season J.W. Anderson decamped to the Pitti Uomo men’s trade fair in Florence, Italy.
As a result, there was a conspicuous absence of foreign fashion editors and buyers, and it was up to a chorus of emerging names to fly the flag for British menswear and its future on the international scene.
Many seemed were up to the task. Here are some of the best things we saw during the four days of shows.
A look from Charles Jeffrey Loverboy at London Fashion Week Men’s.
1. Charles Jeffrey held his first, jaw-dropping stand-alone show
The Scottish-born designer, illustrator and radical creative Charles Jeffrey graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2015 after paying his way through school by hosting Loverboy, a wild monthly club night at the Vogue Fabrics nightclub in London’s Dalston neighbourhood.
The party didn’t just make Jeffrey the talk of the town (at least in East London’s nocturnal underbelly). It also spawned his avant-garde gender-bending menswear label of the same name, which had its debut stand-alone catwalk show on Saturday afternoon after three seasons under the umbrella of Fashion East’s MAN.
The runway was a bizarre and joyous riot of colourful energy featuring dancers, pink cardboard dragons and lashings of gay couture; the show notes described it as “a euphoric unity of debauchery.”
Jeffrey, who considers his label to be the product of a collective of fellow art school creatives, be they seamstresses, dancers or choreographers, has been nominated for the 2017 LVMH Young Designers Prize. And the garments spoke volumes about the ambition of his vision: a mishmash of tailored, peplum-waisted gowns or baby doll dresses, accessorised with Tudor wimples, top hats and sunglasses; denim pantsuits; bondage pants, and T-shirts bedecked with slogans mocking tabloid headline hysteria (“Children High On Drink and Drugs” was one example).
But beneath the pantomime and theatre, serious ideas were at work, including musings on self-expression, hedonism and the right to freedom. “We need to dance in the face of threats,” Jeffrey said. “It’s not enough to stay woke. We also need to be alive.”
A look from Wales Bonner at London Fashion Week Men’s.
2. Grace Wales Bonner stripped things back
Winner of the 2016 LVMH prize and currently making waves in the industry with collections that ask boundary-pushing questions about black male culture and identity, Grace Wales Bonner is a rising star of the London menswear scene.
“I was thinking more in terms of minimalism this time,” Wales Bonner, 26, said after offering a procession of monochromatic suits and shorts-and-jacket combos, all with a lean and tailored silhouette that revolved around neat shoulders and flared trouser hems. “I wanted to push ideas of tailoring.”
This being Wales Bonner, there was also more to consider than first met the eye. In past seasons, she has woven together historical and cultural narratives to give a rich and dense subplot to her clothes. But the inspirations this season were stripped back to an essay about the gay African-American activist and author James Baldwin, which was handed out to the audience, alongside pictures from “The Homoerotic Photography of Carl Van Vechten” (some of which were reprinted on singlets).
The designer said she had meditated on different states of being and “sexuality, more than sensuality. It is more severe that way.” That clarification of vision, and its rigorous execution on the catwalk, brought a fresh power to her work.
A look from Craig Green at London Fashion Week Men’s.
3. Craig Green delivered his best show to date
On Monday, the final day of the London season, Craig Green presented a superb show that demonstrated why he was named British menswear designer of the year at the British Fashion Council’s awards in December.
Shown deep in the dank belly of an unused Victorian railway station, the collection explored the idea of garments as tools for a journey — maps of self-exploration, where paths can be discovered through distinctive patterns and codes. So there were kite-like constructions fixed atop black sportswear looks in highly technical fabrics, and billowing denim pants paired with ribbed windbreakers and tops scored with lines that appeared to dissect the wearer.
Then came an eruption of colours: vivid patterns of palm trees and sunbeams printed on stiffened, corrugated fabrics that Green said were inspired by the thought of venturing toward paradise. Next, hemlines became longer and hoods became larger, until a final triumphant procession of robed jackets underscored both the designer’s continuing obsession with uniform and communal forms of dress — and drew spontaneous applause from some in the audience.
When Green’s offerings are at their most theatrical, it’s easy to see why Ridley Scott tapped the 30-year-old to create costumes for his latest movie, “Alien: Covenant.” At their most understated — think jeans, T-shirts and perfectly cut workwear jackets — it’s also easy to see why the Craig Green brand continues to expand and grow. (His retailers include Dover Street Market, Barneys and Selfridges.)
A look from Vivienne Westwood at London Fashion Week Men’s.
4. Dame Vivienne scored one for the old guard
Trust Vivienne Westwood to take a runway bow in scribbles covering her body and clothing (including a T-shirt with an obscene slogan), chanting about politics and riding high on the sculpted shoulders of a dashing young acrobat.
The show began with rappers shouting out about the state of British politics from a colourful children’s playpen at the bottom of the runway. Then out spurted male and female performers, cavorting and cartwheeling in clothes mirroring Westwood’s favourite social causes: Trash was encased in bright fishnets or tumbled out of satin bodices; plastic-bottle slippers were on models’ feet.
It was outlandish, outrageous and a clear inspiration for many of the younger designers showing on the schedule. London’s best-known punk queen still packs serious punch.
Belstaff Presentation during the London Fashion Week Men's.
5. Sportswear is still the name of the game
The dominant force on the London menswear scene continued to be sportswear. There was techno-fabric outerwear in sun-baked hues on display Monday at Belstaff, speeding through different cultures, climates and terrains. (The creative director, Delphine Ninous, had been inspired by the famous Paris-to-Dakar motocross rally.) Zip-up jackets, tight shorts and tracksuit silhouettes were offered by Cottweiler, spawned from ideas around off-grid Californian desert communities. And the Momentum collection from Hussein Chalayan was packed with slick, futuristic clothes designed to be in constant motion.
A look from E. Tautz at London Fashion Week Men’s.
Function, it would appear, remains as important as form for those designing for the modern man. Patrick Grant of E. Tautz, the impeccably stylish tailoring label celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, offered refined classics with a twist, like a dual-pocketed taupe bomber in nylon with matching shorts.
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