It was a coincidence that MAN's show fell on designer Bobby Abley's twenty-fifth birthday. But it played up one of the salient points of London's young-talent showcase, which this season featured Abley, Alan Taylor, and Craig Green—namely, they're young.
In Abley's case, the point barely needed making. His kitsch shtick has always had a warm place in its heart for Disney, but this season he made the homage overt. The Mickey Mouse Club theme played as an opening. The Disney font was repurposed to spell out BRAINS, DREAM ON, and BYE. Caps, made in collaboration with the milliner Piers Atkinson, sprouted Mickey ears or Maleficent horns. Sweaters were appliquéd with a graphic of Mickey's eyes. The effect was ghoulish—at least it was as paired with the motifs of barbed wire and the cages (shades of McQueen and Hannibal Lecter) that held the models' mouths open in tooth-baring snarls. (All the better to see their grills.) "Naive and a bit dark" is how Abley characterizes his work. His printed sweats and tees have earned editorial credits and buzz. But the thrill of his antic aggression is liable to fade if he doesn't push it forward.
Taylor, too, shows promise but needs further developing. For his collection, he took the oversize tailoring epitomized by David Byrne in Stop Making Sense and overlaid a whiff of Matisse. Abstract figures inspired by Matisse's jazzy, late-career cutouts were literally collaged onto floor-sweeping overcoats and elongated jackets. Taylor made good use of custom tweeds (a nod to his Irish heritage), but the exaggeration of his cutting doesn't always amount to flattery on the body.
Green was the senior designer by a season (MAN supports its designers for a three-season run, and this was his farewell performance), and it showed. His eerie, monastic collection—set incongruously but fabulously to a soundtrack of Roxette and True Blue-era Madonna—was in some respects similar to earlier outings, with the long, fraying pieces layered on one another in tonal palimpsests. But Green teased out the nuances of the dense looks, and his insistence on working by hand on the packed, Mandala-like prints gave the show heft. The cloth is hand-screened in the studio into "rugs" (inspired, and originally intended to be made from, Persian carpets), then cut and sewn. "They're like tapestries," Green said; his show notes proclaimed him "anti-digital." The romance of the project infused the show. In a sense, Green demonstrates the best of what MAN can do. He graduates as one of the most exciting discoveries not only of the program, but perhaps of London menswear overall.