At London’s MAN Day, A Dance With Decadence And Repentance
Jo-Ann Furniss reports on the highs and lows of London fashion week’s dedicated menswear day.
Fat Tuesday swiftly followed by Ash Wednesday, excess followed by penance. London fashion week’s MAN Day had the luck to fall on the latter this season. After the heady womenswear week closing on Tuesday, was it the turn of the sackcloth and ashes of menswear for Wednesday? Not quite; there were still some traces of carnival in the first day of Lent, even if at times they looked like the discarded remnants.
Earlier in the week, knit line Sibling’s carnival-referencing women’s collection, Sister, had been presented, alongside a few looks from the men’s—it made their best outing yet. But for the full men’s presentation on MAN Day, the party was over: Designers Joe Bates, Sid Bryan, and Cozette McCreery created an installation (pictured, above) in the form of a prison visiting room with a clever film by Sam Renwick and Thomas Bryant. It was in the shape of a triptych echoing the visiting booths, complete with telephone connections to the sound. “It’s where a matriarch might visit a son. Or vice versa,” Bates said. Yet the clothes were still their bright, excessive selves even behind bars. Called Marked Man, with designs based partly on prison tattoos, there was as much of the matriarch in the collection as there was the jailbird. An institutional bright orange was combined with pink ocelot spots in a men’s twinset. Their signature Fair Isle knits were further warped with the seamless addition of a skull with pompom ears blended into the traditional patterns. (It reflected the pompom-decorated full face masks and beanies also on view.) At once sinister and sweet, carnivalesque and penitential, there was something quite Leigh Bowery and Trojan in these proceedings that felt very true to the spirit of London. At the same time, Sibling’s output is so accomplished as to hold a global audience with ease.
Christopher Shannon’s catwalk was the first thing you noticed at his show. The brilliant backdrop was by the all-round creative and too-many-credits-to-mention Julie Verhoeven. “Creatively, I trust her implicitly,” said Shannon backstage. “I did want that inside of a Hoover bag vibe.” That’s certainly what he got. The set featured old tires, strewn pink net curtains with bricks caught in them, abandoned foil balloons in the shape of love hearts, and the bottom half of a female shop dummy, among other violent after-party detritus. At their best, the clothes and accessories had something of this random perversity, too; a broderie anglaise shirt with a ruffled back, a jacket covered in the designer’s swing tags, and a rucksack decorated with innumerable key rings. “We started excessive and pared back,” said the designer, yet there was maybe a bit too much paring back or, ultimately, the simple color palette of navy, white, sand, and black was a little too conservative or too flat to really help make some of the interesting points he was driving at.
On the other hand, the standout clothes in the MAN show reveled in a particular kind of vulgarity. Shaun Samson also had a restrained color palette and used stock conservative menswear fabrics perversely, such as a coat-length, gray flannel bomber jacket with cropped flannel dungarees. The big silhouette of this Californian’s background helped; big just seems better in menswear shapes at the moment, and the stock slouch of American-style clothes works. As did the play of artificial and real in fur and hair on the garments: “That’s real hair weave on fake fur,” Samson announced proudly. Shaved into the garments were also Mexican tribal-style patterns of faces with protruding tongues, another cheekily vulgar aside that seemed fitting.
Astrid Andersen, too, used a play on bad taste in sportswear to make her point in her show. A vivid fuchsia pink puffa with dark brown fur sleeves, inset with baby pink fur stripes? Quite purposefully horrible clothes—in a good way—such as these might provide a get-out clause from all the trite “gentleman’s wardrobe” fodder that has been dominating menswear. But they do have to toe the line lest they fall into the category of “scally drag,” that other great horror in London menswear.
Finally, to Topman Design (pictured, left). On first sight, this collection might have looked like the most sackcloth and ashes of the lot—dominated as it was by black, black, and more black—and yet underneath was one of the most decadent reference points of all: the life and work of Robert Mapplethorpe. Topman didn’t go as far as men exposing themselves in nylon suits or using strategically placed whips, but this was a quietly perverse collection and very in keeping with the mood now. Mapplethorpe flower print shirts protruded and westernwear boots had that hint of degeneracy. Mohair overcoats added a sensuous feel to the tone-on-tone proceedings and were belted with studded leather. It all added up to an unrepentant Ash Wednesday.