Words: Colin Chapman
We’re exactly half-way through London Collections: Men; two days down, two more to come, and so it feels like a fitting moment to pause and celebrate some of the highlights so far.
Never too shy to raid the dressing up box of Britain’s cultural history, Topman Design took us on a trip to the seaside for SS17. The collection made use of the full repertoire of clichés from Britain’s coastal resorts, which meant cheeky, end-of-the-pier references and Neapolitan colour combinations.
MAN – Charles Jeffrey
For his second outing as part of the MAN umbrella, Charles Jeffrey continued to tread a path of creative anarchy with a flower-strewn runway featuring a cast of clubland characters of many shapes and sizes. Backstage before the show, an army of hairdressers, under the watchful eye of John Vial, created elaborate hairpieces based on the 1920s finger wave but individualized for the each of the ‘faces’ of the show, creating a sense of dandyism worthy of seventeenth century Versailles.
While the scale and theatricality of the production were familiar, a noticeable change this season was the elevation in materials (Jeffrey now benefits from an association with Woolmark), placing greater emphasis on the Savile Row tailoring techniques, which demonstrate that beneath the noisy spectacle is serious attention to cut and form.
Speaking of seriousness, Craig Green’s show in the LC:M schedule usually signals the commencement of a certain type of scrutiny, the attention of the audience shifting to become more earnest in its search for meaning and influences. This show was no exception to that rule, the subtle changes in emphasis requiring the audience’s attention throughout. The tailoring that opened the show offered a different view of Green’s highly structured yet disassembled aesthetic, followed by the more familiar quilted panels in subsequent looks, this time featuring inky Ikat eiderdown patterning and a series of bold geometrics in weathered pastels, reminiscent of Scout neckerchiefs.
Fashion East always provides a punctuation point in the LC:M schedule, an injection of raw creative energy. This season the installations had a more contemplative nature. James Theseus Buck and Luke Brooks’ ‘Rottingdean Bazaar’ installation, which featured the likes of old-school white underpants bonded onto T-shirt surfaces, a wall of badges and a display of mousetraps had an air of slightly sinister provincial museum, full of witty references and more than a twist of surrealism. Upstairs MAN graduate Rory Parnell Mooney stepped a way form his obsession with ecclesiastic vestments towards something more tactile, involving glossy black vinyl, jeans made from distressed webbing and blood red accents. Meanwhile, a bowl containing a combination of host wafers and flowers indicated that his fascination with the trappings of priestliness is still close to hand.
Lou Dalton’s show brings with it certain dynamism, a sense of her solid London fan-base being willing her on, every step of the way. For SS17 then, Lou led us on a hike out onto the open moors, complete with a walking uniform like no other. Full of the functional details, which make her work so unique (and such a pleasure to wear), the collection fused utilitarian with the tactile and purely beautiful. Fabrics ranged from cool, flowing navy cottons, to organza featuring elaborate jacquard reminiscent of moorland flora and bold stripes in cool, ice cream tones.
Long gone are the stuffy overtones of E.Tautz, the Savile Row brand, which now moves with a more youthful gait. Short shorts, brilliantly contrasted with wide-shouldered blazers for a Miami-meets-Monte-Carlo take on summer dressing being a perfect example of this new pace. The now-familiar field trousers and crisp denim were both elegant and desirable, strong form underpinning classic wearability. Patrick Grant has a particular eye for the cut of a wide-leg trouser, and there were several covetable examples here, notably a pair with a chic ring fastening at the waist, typical of the just-so details that keep the taste levels of this brand so high.
At Casely-Hayford the colours were as loud as the thrash metal soundtrack, the volume of which made the passing parade of hippy trail plunder and Rajasthani royal excess seem all the more out of context. As ever, fabric choices were exquisite, paisley in jewel colours, silk brocades and an extraordinary bleach splattered pinstripe being noteworthy examples, the latter demonstrating that the father and son designers retain a handle on British subcultural references as deftly as they do the colours and fabrics of more exotic locations.
In a video presentation playing in the entrance to Edward Crutchley’s salon show at the ME hotel, the designer appeared like a sorcerer, controlling the elements from his workstation, set out in a dramatic moorland landscape, his silver MacBook as out of context as the lush colours and shimmering oriental surfaces of the clothes he creates. Using 3-D modeling, Crutchley was liberated to explore the physicality of his imagined designs, using this perspective to add the tweaks and details that make a design special. Stepping into the luxe cave of the actual salon presentation, the shimmering embroidery and fluid eastern garments had a supernatural pull in the darkened room. The artful embroidery is what we’ve come to expect from Crutchley, however sublime it may be, much more unexpected was the use of latex in the form of knee high socks, tops and headbands, in colours more reminiscent of luxury sportswear, and even a fascinating tie-dye version. The fact that all of this came together in such a cohesive way demonstrates Crutchley is truly a master of his materials, whatever they may be.
Speaking of the sublime, Matthew Miller’s collection had an air of otherworldliness about it too. Having abandoned overt political statement in his work, “everyone is doing political design now!” Miller said derisorily backstage, the collection was full of less tangible intentions. For SS17, the Royal College of Art alumnus turned to loftier inspirations, quite literally in the form of the “bleach print” denim, which is actually a take on Turner’s 18th century drawings of the sky. Naturally, the relevance of bleached denim to the classic skinhead uniform shows the designer has no desire to shake off his association with subversive counterculture entirely. In the same way, the silk banners pinned on the back of jackets with oversized safety pins proclaiming ‘NEGASONIC TEENAGE WARHEAD’ sought to undermine the easy elegance of the soft tailoring and luxe sportswear which was the main body of the collection. The elegance of a silk ribbon tie at the waist of pyjama-style pants, button badges containing real butterfly wings were just two of the more romantic details in Miller’s mesmerizing collection. “I’m not in my 20’s anymore, I’m a bit more mature” he offered by way of explaining this softer undercurrent in his work. Whatever the influences at play, Miller delivered one of his strongest collections to date, the looks all possessing the same easy-going luxury and deftness of touch, which, is, yes, a demonstration of maturity.