The Wilder, The Better At London Menswear’s MAN Day
London, like most of the great global cities, is one divided. The same is true of its fashion, especially its menswear. On the one hand there is the Dickensian decrepitude of the East End, the home to much of the young design talent, who use it as a playground for experimentation. The recently graduated Saint Martin’s and Royal College students rule that particular roost. Up West is seemingly a different story. This is the site of Savile Row, Jermyn Street and Saint James’, with all their sonorous, distinctly English, gentlemanly connotations and the tailoring traditions that are the finest in the world.
On London Fashion Week’s annual MAN Day, devoted exclusively to menswear shows, the surface contrast between East and West is never starker, and this season it was starkest of all. But what emerged in the best fashion was at times a strange shared ethos of extremes. Often, the more extreme the approach, the better.
Topman Design (top left) offered its most accomplished collection to date, with very little high street about it. Inspired by Brassaï’s Paris street photography and the style of gypsy and traveler men, the heavy Harris tweed suiting, paisley silks and a section of naval-braided evening wear harked back to a different era. “Romany princes” creative consultant Alister Mackie called his well-cast boys. “There was an idea of thirties and fifties clothing being worn in the eighties, passed down through successive generations and classes,” he said.”It was a statement of elegance, that made the grimy feel glamorous.”
For JW Anderson (bottom left), another culture clash was also apparent. He spoke of the “cubing of subcultures and trying to bridge those gaps.” In this slice and dice mix of hard schoolwear tailoring with the softness of fluffy angora and Shetland wool, silk paisley pajamas layered at times with flesh-pink rubber and elaborate quilting, the designer’s take on boy/girl, man/boy, chic/vulgar was purposely confusing, yet expertly handled. It felt sick with an agenda.
Sick with an agenda was also the order of the day for Thom Murphy’s New Power Studio (top right). On the surface this could have appeared the most out-there of London’s offerings. Inspired by binge drinking and hen nights in Britain, alongside Roman Catholicism and carnival in Haiti, the designer had commissioned the artist Rein Vollenga to cast phallic headpieces and breast ornaments—”dickheads and titheads!” laughed Murphy—as well as rubber doll faces and mouth pieces. This Bacchanalian rite of a show still featured easy to wear sportswear, with mimicking touches of priestly vestments—one particular green velvet tracksuit stood out as well as the rubber-doll-pink puffer.
For Sibling there was more unashamed reveling in drunken East End roots this season. “It’s basically a knitted pub crawl,” said Cozette McCreery, one third of the design team (alongside Joe Bates and Sid Bryan). “It was all about drunks and our background in Shoreditch,” piped in Sid. And for anybody who is familiar with that landscape of The Golden Heart, The Red Lion, and The George and Dragon, each piece is instantly recognizable. For a sense of fun, there’s little to touch Sibling—though with the sensible flip side that, when many of the grander design houses in Europe need an expert knitter for statement pieces, Bryan is the man they call.
To go from drunken pub crawls to Hardy Amies is not as far as one might at first think. The iconoclast tailor and ruthless style maven (his ABC of Men’s Fashion is legendary) was both sharp-tongued and groundbreaking himself. It was Amies who introduced the idea of men’s ready-to-wear shows in the first place, and in that sense, is a sort of spiritual godfather of MAN Day. How appropriate, then, that the Hardy Amies salon show was one of the finest of the day. The House that once held the royal warrant to dress HM the Queen, is undergoing something of a revitalization at the moment. Its menswear designer, Claire Malcolm, presented a pitch perfect first show, rigorously tailored and based on the clothing the great man himself once wore. These “leisure clothes” as he liked to call them, were peppered with Prince of Wales and windowpane checked blazers, sinuous shawl collared cardigans, sharp double breasted suits and peak lapel coats in blues, grays and even a startling magenta in the knitwear. What is interesting about Malcolm is that she has all the hallmarks and background of the proto East End designer: she was once assistant designer to Kim Jones and previously worked with Kanye West. “The thing is,” explains Malcolm “the favorite part of my job when I was working with Kim, was coming to see the pattern cutters on Savile Row. I was fascinated by it.” So Claire Malcolm at first crossed the floor to E. Tautz and now finds herself in one of the all-time great British houses. East and West are not that far away after all.