John Cooper Clarke, the performing poet with the cat-strangling Lancashire vowel sound and the mid-period Dylan hair, was a support act stalwart during punk's glory days in the seventies. Then he spent the eighties doing heroin with Nico. So it was shocking to see him front-row at the Topman show today, looking more or less the same, not withered by age. That's the kind of survivor status that could earn a guy his fashion-icon stripes. And maybe that's what was on Topman design director Gordon Richardson's mind as he spun a collection around the downbeat vibe of an incantatory Clarke diatribe. He pictured Northern lads in dead-end dockyard jobs, rusting ships, and fisherman's knits, all under a sky leaden with the never-ending threat of rain. Cheers!
The weather has been so indescribably foul in London for the past few weeks that we scarcely batted an eye as it began to bucket down on the catwalk at show's end. A well-executed dramatic moment, for sure, but the news coverage of people being swept to their deaths off seawalls kind of undercut it. More to the immediate point was how the grim reality that inspired Richardson and his team would be transmogrified by the alchemy of fashion. An infusion of baby blue and Chinese red was perhaps intended to evoke visions of a better life for these boys. So, maybe, were the aspirational tailored suits. But they paled in comparison with the heaviness of the dark duffels paneled in PVC, the huge overcoats, overpowering knitwear, and baggy pleated wool pants paired with chunky footwear. You couldn't deny these clothes the courage of their gloomy convictions. Richardson's own conviction was that they would resonate with Topman's audience. Their weight was real, as "real" as John Cooper Clarke's gutter gripes. At last summer's Bestival, Richardson watched a young guy going wild to Clarke's performance. He was wearing a fringed jacket. It showed up on the Topman catwalk today in checked wool, on another young man beaten but unbowed as the rain poured down on him. A grace note.
Topman struck another grace note today with the dedication of its show to Bryan McMahon. The stylist, a much-loved member of the London fashion family, died on New Year's Eve.