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During the packed schedule at three days of London Collections: Men, it’s easy for things to start to blur but certain experiences stay with you. And it’s not just about the clothes. The spectacle and theatre of catwalk and installations creates powerful moments when music, space, lighting and a load of beautiful-looking people are brought together for a few dazzling minutes. Here are some of the things I’m mulling over now the shows and presentations are over.
LC:M is memorable for more than what is presented on the catwalk. With hundreds of stylish buyers, journalists, editors and bloggers on show for three days, it’s a perfect opportunity to see what men in the industry are actually wearing. One note I picked up on was a certain relaxed, less buttoned-up approach to dressing (lets ignore the truckloads of pocket squares for now), as evidenced by the popularity of denim: both in jeans and jean jacket formats. Not since the ‘80s heyday of Levi’s 501’s has the perfectly worn faded blue jean been so revered by the fashion elite, or worn so knowingly. Denim was also seen within many collections, though rarely in its natural state: patch-worked and raw-edged at Marques’Almeida, splattered with bleach at Oliver Spencer to name just two. The iconic jean jacket shape was also prevalent, worn in its original denim format and redefined by designers like Kit Neale with his genius all-over digital prints and as solid colour like the lilac version in Lou Dalton’s brilliant opening show.
Bleached denim at Oliver Spencer:
Another thematic one here: I noted that since digital print is becoming a little less prevalent, fabric is now being battered, tie-dyed, coated, treated and otherwise mistreated. From the mottled, crumpled fabrics at Lou Dalton to Matthew Miller’s pristine super-minimalist coated pieces and Christopher Raeburn’s desert-ready adventure gear, it seems that fabric is due for a good kicking in the year to come. Which provides absolutely no excuse to revisit those over-styled ‘distressed’ jeans from years ago.
A boilersuit in a mottled, crumpled fabric at Lou Dalton:
Speaking of Matthew Miller, from the opening ‘looks’ (bare-chested models with slogans stenciled over their bare skin), this was another brilliantly cohesive collection, featuring super-minimal pieces in solid whites, blacks and a perfect grey. The coated fabrics suggested the tactile pleasure of painted surfaces, just one reference to a re-appropriated art world that inspired this collection. Infused with the same infectious subversive energy and love of wording as embellishment, Matthew’s work reminds me of John Richmond’s in his heyday and the pieces from this collection are already added to my mental wishlist.
A double-faced T-shirt in coated grey fabric and matching trousers at Matthew Miller:
Meadham Kirchhoff’s haunting presentation on Tuesday began with a film. In fact, two films were projected simultaneously, showing archive black and white images of wartime Europe, with surging crowds, bombed cities and flag-waving processions. A looped voice-over intoning: “The great barrier between me and the outside world is my appearance”, evoked the collision of inner turmoil and public display. When the boys finally arrived, the boundaries of personal and public were tested further, as garments were removed and passed between pairs of models in an elaborate ritual. Transparent rainwear, stripes, gingham check and delicate white shorts were some of the incongruous elements woven, as ever, into a perfectly cohesive story by the designers. Partly inspired by Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando, with its central theme of gender identity, its difficult to think of a literary work more suited to Meadham Kirchhoff’s approach to menswear, given their love for playing with the accepted boundaries between men’s and women’s clothing. There is a sense of absolutely nothing being left to chance in their work, from the collection of old wooden chairs the models sat on to the exact Penhaligon’s floral perfume that scented the room, and above all, the pair’s uncanny ability to unsettle and provoke.
A model at Meadham Kirchhoff’s presentation, with a copy of Orlando:
After a couple of days of attending catwalk shows, the youthful and anarchic installations at Lulu Kennedy’s Fashion East are always a refreshing eye-opener. Installation ‘veterans’ like super-talented Kit Neale and Joseph Turvey returned this season with polished collections, while newcomers (to menswear at least) Marques’ Almeida impressed with their grungy, patch-worked denims and ponyskin jackets. Other new blood included Tom Ryling whose designs cut a military dash in burlap and painted denim, while fresh-out-of-college Liam Hodges held a riotous party in the corner with his ‘urban hobos’. If sometimes the ideas are raw, the talent is unstoppable.
Raw edges and the strongest cheekbones in town at Tom Ryling’s installation at Fashion East.
Christopher Raeburn’s show took his interest in military clothing and fabrics designed for very specific purposes into the extreme realm of desert warfare. Not surprisingly, camel was a key colour, though there was also a rose pink and a subtle take on tie-dye (actually, any take on tie-dye seems subtle after Craig Green’s psychedelic collection on the Sunday).
A stand out piece for me at Christopher Raeburn was this sport mesh sweatshirt in camel:
Agi and Sam
For sheer energy and atmosphere, Agi and Sam’s show couldn’t be beaten. A palpable sense of anticipation could be felt in the room before the show started, the same buzz you might get before a much loved performer takes the stage, or a DJ lines up a great tune. Leaving behind, in the main, the wild digital prints that made their name, the focus in this collection was on cut and form. Boxy shapes, strong colours, extreme texture, taped seams and the kind of vivid pattern familiar from bus seats told yet another great story. There is a sense that Agi and Sam are playing to an already devoted home crowd, but the presence of international fashion press showed that the rest of the world is listening. I was lucky enough to see the collection up close at the showrooms later in the week, and fell in love with their boxy t-shirts, featuring blocked, highly textured panels.
Print was scarce at Agi & Sam’s collection for SS14:
Lou Dalton’s show on Sunday set the bar very high in terms of design and execution. There is always a bit of romance in Lou’s work and here the romance came from the figure of the aviator. Prints featuring the codes and lettering of Royal Air Force planes brought this them out, also the shapes of the reimagined MA1 flight jacket and boilersuits brought to mind airfield heroes. Two pyjama shorts suits in a silk brocade fabric punctuated this tough aesthetic, adding depth and range to the collection, Again, I had the pleasure of seeing the collection up close in person, and have stored away the idea of a shorts suit for SS14. The footwear is also worthy of a mention, continuing Lou’s storming alliance with Grenson with an update of her AW13 chunky boot in black canvas.
Jacquard pyjama shorts suit at Lou Dalton:
With kimono-raincoat hybrids, tri-coloured prints, double-faced boxy T-shirts and overall, a sense of vivid colour and rich texture, the E.Tautz of SS14 is a very different animal than the more conservative brand it once appeared to be. Patrick has a great eye for colour and the blue-black-red prints and strong greens and yellows against black were a unique palette in a week when virtually every variation of colour has been seen: from subtle summery tones to acid brights. With more than a nod to the mystical East, this collection referred to an era when Savile Row was a refuge for returning travellers from the hippy trail and less associated (rightly or wrongly) with the establishment. The Rorschach-test like butterfly prints showed another example of Patrick venturing into wilder visual waters, though, as ever, the taste levels were set very high.
A butterfly print double-faced t-shirt over red, silky trousers at E.Tautz: