Opinions vary on how long it takes youth to grow into MAN, but according to Lulu Kennedy's Fashion East incubator and the MAN shows it co-sponsors with Topshop, the magic number is three seasons. This is the length of time that the MAN supports the three designers or design teams in its care before scooting them out of the nest into the big, bad world. The MAN shows epitomize the kind of support London is now famous for giving its young brood. Their upshot is that a fledgling designer can have the full industry seated front-row within months of fashion-college graduation (or not). The downside is that these designers meet their public in various states of maturity.
The buzzer's about to sound on Astrid Andersen and the duo Agi & Sam, both of whom took their final lap on the MAN runway today. "This season, I really wanted it to be as bold as it could but still be a commercial brand," Andersen said backstage after the show, echoing a concern voiced by her fellow designers. "It's taken me three seasons to balance it out." Her muscular sportswear takes the most commercial of shapes—the tracksuit bottoms and sweatshirts that sell by the million in every mass-market retailer on earth—and remakes them in Japanese cotton, silk jersey, and Danish mink, this season in gold and lavender. The effect can deliver a charge, though it felt like familiar territory for the designer. Agi & Sam traveled a farther distance from their previous season's offering with a collection inspired by the eccentric Marquess of Bath, which paved the way for a satire of sorts on traditional British country-house garb. "This is the most we've ever pushed the tailoring," said Agi (né Agape Mdumulla), and all in all, with Fall's quilted gilets, cropped country trousers, and cheeky prints, like paisleys that upon inspection revealed themselves to be pheasants, you could trace a line from earlier Brit wit revisionists like Paul Smith and E. Tautz's Patrick Grant. In fact, look closely at the casting, and there was Grant himself, two days before his own show, tromping gamely in the line. How's that for intergenerational support?
But the day's standout was newbie Craig Green, in his first season with MAN. "The concept is shadows," said the Central Saint Martins grad, who offered a series of tonal looks in cream, navy, and black. The scene-stealers were the face-obscuring plywood headpieces, a sort of haberdashery by way of flotsam. But up close, the pieces had real depth, thanks to the mixing and piling on of materials and techniques, especially in the raw-edged, Frankensteined knitwear made in collaboration with Green's former classmate Helen Lawrence. Throughout the entire range, waxed cotton was overpainted with gloss, crinkle-pleated satin was heat-bonded with vinyl stripes, each piece built up "almost ritually," opined the show notes, "in a manner approaching the concept of vestments." Hosanna! Green added this benediction for any wary retailers in the audience: "Everything," he promised, "comes in black."