August 27 2014

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Jo-Ann Furniss On London’s Man Day


“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.” So said Gore Vidal, yet this statement could easily be applied to the best of the designers at London fashion week’s Man Day.

There was something peculiarly British and personal about much that was on offer this season. Our particular genre of sportswear was mined mercilessly. It is something that many of the young designers showing here were weaned on from school age, and it was always much more about style in its appropriation rather than fashion. Christopher Shannon, Martine Rose, Matthew Miller, and New Power Studio were all treading on this territory. Yet at its best, this initial inspiration took flight into something much less nostalgic and into something much more personal and fashion focused—these are fashion shows and collections, after all—spliced together in a hybridized way to become much more theatrical.

This was true of the best elements in Christopher Shannon’s collection (above), which lifted them away from just going through the sportswear motions of “scally drag.” His tasseled pieces had that decorative and tribal element that was also emerging in many of the shows (he explained he had been looking at the African photography of Pieter Hugo), and his “comb crowns” reinforced this peculiar point.

But it is Thom Murphy’s New Power Studio that really excels at combining fashion fantasy with British street-style reality. His loopy set-piece presentation about birth, marriage, and death was both hilarious and quite serious in its advanced fashion intent. His cast of close-cropped boy models crawled out of a large paper vagina to play a game of Connect Four in garments such as a pleated onesie made from overdyed sweat-shirting. His two grooms and a pregnant bride (with a bag on her head, no less) were joined by roller-skating child-bridesmaids, and had something of the tribal-ceremonial about them. The grooms wore clothes featuring a dusty toy print and necklaces of knickknacks that again had the element of tribal fetish about them. Finally, in a double coffin-cum-hospital bed on wheels, were two boys in what can perhaps be termed “casual eveningwear” for Murphy. It was the ease of British streetwear mixed with more formal pleat-front shirting. “I wanted to do something theatrical,” said Murphy. ‘I think this has been missing from a lot of fashion here lately. I wanted to do something about ceremony, and when I found out that this part of Somerset House had been the registry of births, marriages, and deaths, it seemed the, er, site-specific thing to do!” He laughed, knowing full well the contrast between the presentation and this grand London edifice.

That contrast between this London edifice and the outside world was also evident in Shaun Samson’s collection in the Man showcase presentation. The Man show this season was revitalized and all of the designers raised their game—Martine Rose and Matthew Miller included—but it was Shaun Samson who really felt like the star. Maybe it was this Southern Californian’s contrasting perspective from the rest of the London crowd that raised him above many of them on Man Day. But this recent M.A. graduate from Central Saint Martins really felt like he had something new to say with his American streetwear-inflected collection mixed predominantly with Mexican blankets. “It really stems from all the influences I had around me when I was growing up,” said Samson. His clothes also betrayed a bewildering technique of his own invention that sees one fabric bonded into another, making them look like they are hallucinogenically melting into the next and becoming print.

Another hallucinatory splicing together of influences came, surprisingly, from Lou Dalton this season. While this was not always true in the surface pattern, it was certainly in the intent. The 1984 miner’s strike was melded with Matthew Bourne’s famous all-male production of Swan Lake to produce glittering crystals contrasted against utilitarian garb. This was one of the best collections for the designer, and perhaps she should mine the exotic and improbable far more often.

Far more in love with the surface pattern of it all was Topman Design this season (middle). There was paisley, paisley, and more paisley as well as other pajamarama elements worn as conventional clothing—appropriately, the soundtrack was largely Roxy Music. The silk slink of such garments was contrasted with conventional linen tailoring and other outerwear at times. And yet Topman seems to have lost some of its punch in the silhouettes of the garments themselves. But for a high street line it still steals a march on any of the others.

Perhaps we should end then on the third of the British streets—that of Savile Row—and the second collection to come from Claire Malcolm at Hardy Amies (bottom). This was again a collection based on the figure of Amies himself and again proved what Malcolm did as a standout first offering for the line was no fluke. Taking the idea of the stylish man who really knows what he wants to say and doesn’t give a damn was Hardy Amies all over and Malcolm runs with it in this collection. The predominant silhouette of the tailored shorts suit, crossed with the delicate, almost psychedelic “mosaic” patterning of shirting and silk pieces, and the use of a summer color palette could have appeared vulgar in anybody else’s hands but appeared effortless here. “It is partly based on photographs of Hardy in Venice and my own time there,” said Malcolm. “It’s that style, those quirks, the chicness of bringing decorative elements of interiors into the clothing that I was interested in. I also love the fact that Hardy Amies was a bit of a bitch! Just like the tailors on Savile Row are now. It was inspired by men like them.”

Photos: Getty Images

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