June 15, 2014 London
The lines-obsessed Nicomede Talavera brought together the minimalist art of Sol LeWitt and the colors and patterns of Louise Bourgeois' textile works for his MAN debut, creating what essentially amounted to dresses (that is what he calls his long, sleeveless tops) worn over trousers, and sometimes paired with boxy jackets or T-shirts. The reference was obvious: the traditional Muslim garb so often seen on the streets of London. "I remember seeing these cool guys outside the mosque," Talavera said, reminiscing about growing up in a British-Pakistani neighborhood. He added that those guys looked masculine, despite wearing what would've been seen as a kind of dress by many of his peers.
While some of Talavera's previous work has seemed a bit too derivative of designers such as Raf Simons, this collection showed a clearer identity and vision. The way Talavera used plissé pinstripes was a stroke of genius, creating an optical effect as the fabric moved. A collarless black ponyskin jacket looked amazingly luxurious. Going forward, he should trust in ideas like these and refrain from slightly gimmicky additions such as leather tabards.
Liam Hodges built his collection around a peaceful scout-like movement from the first half of the 20th century called Kibbo Kift. It reminded one of those images of pagan-looking rituals promising to "haunt your dreams" that are regularly posted on Facebook walls. Sending out a fresh-faced model in a baseball shirt and khaki shorts, Hodges soon let his boys become wilder and darker: They were weighed down by jewelry made from 3-D-printed black feathers and paracord; their sweaters, shorts, and ponchos were adorned with patches. "It's about manhood and what it is to be a man," Hodges said backstage after the show. Because these young men were not about the loss of civility Lord of the Flies-style, but rather about finding community, surviving, and becoming knowledgeable, albeit in a wilderness that felt more urban than rural.
There was an interesting mind at work here, but one had the sneaking suspicion that, when taken out of the show context, the collection would be boiled down to an oversize baseball shirt. A jacquard weave with a pattern of patches seen on shirts and shorts hinted at a different ending.
The last outing under the MAN umbrella for Bobby Abley was an almost subdued affair. Gone were the aggressive mouthpieces of last season and the romantic crowns of Spring 2014. Instead, the show opened with a horizontally frayed denim tracksuit in gray. It soon picked up speed, weaving in the story of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid by way of the Disney adaptation from 1989—only in Abley's version it was about a cool skater guy and the girl who gives up everything to get him. With Christina Aguilera's "Elastic Love" on the soundtrack, Abley's boys showed off figure-hugging bordeaux Lurex tops with tiny matching briefs, a Hawaiian print in black and white with the designer's signature bear hidden in the stem (you had to look closely), and the obvious hit garment: neoprene tops with Ursula and Sebastian the crab. These will surely be coveted by young club kids everywhere. "I didn't want it to look like something you could buy in the Disney store," said Abley. While he might have succeeded in this, one had to ask if that really was enough of an ambition.