The suits have it
The fact that Savile Row has been tailoring clothes for 200 years makes London the original home of menswear. Even the Italian and French labels cannot match such a long history, which is coupled with the British capital's enviable legacy of street style. But in a typically understated manner, the city has not shouted about it - until now. Last weekend, the 2013 menswear season kicked off with a new showcase that was launched by Prince Charles, the patron of the event, called London Collections: Menswear.
A passionate believer in craftsmanship, Prince Charles, impeccably dressed in his double-breasted Anderson & Sheppard suit, is on GQ's best dressed list. 'I am finding it very hard to live with myself after I discovered that somebody has suggested I might even be an icon of fashion. It has taken 64 years,' he said at the party at St James' Palace to inaugurate the event. 'I have gone on in my old way, like a stopped clock: I tell the right time every 25 years.'
Aside from royal patronage, which comes at the height of Queen Elizabeth II's diamond jubilee celebrations, Burberry and Dunhill, along with Americans Tom Ford, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Joseph Abboud and Thom Browne, hosted events. Beijing designer Xander Zhou was invited to present his menswear. GQ editor Dylan Jones, who spearheaded the fashion week, was inundated with support from designers and retailers.
Savile Row threw open its doors to show off its bespoke showrooms and workshops. Spitalfields-based Timothy Everest proved it is possible to order bespoke casualwear, including jeans, for clients who do not need a three-piece suit for work. Singer Elton John turned up to see his favourite tailor, Richard James, make his catwalk debut.
John's partner, David Furnish, is on the British menswear committee along with Ford, dapper rapper Tinie Tempah, actor David Walliams and, of course, designers and retailers. Young designers added an edge to proceedings with Jonathan Saunders, James Long and Katie Eary unveiling collections that illustrate London's diversity from the established to sportswear and the avant garde.
The international menswear market was estimated to be worth ?20 billion (HK$243 billion) last year. It is growing faster than womenswear, which suggests more and more men are getting interested in clothes. And well they might, judging by the cool styling of more recently established Savile Row tailors such as Oliver Spencer, Spencer Hart, Richard James, E. Tautz (formerly Savile Row's Norton & Sons) and former Kilgour designer Clive Darby who is behind Rake.
The mood is for relaxed elegance with lightly structured jackets, flat front trousers and lots of shorts.
E. Tautz and Rake both riffed on the North Africa theme. Rake took us into the shadowy decadent world of the souks with relaxed tailored jackets and baggy trousers worn with bright velvet slippers, cravats and worry beads. It had a retro vibe that conjured up the louche world of Sheltering Sky author Paul Bowles and the literary characters of Tangier in the 1940s.
E. Tautz paid homage to the great British explorer and author Wilfred Thesiger, an old Etonian who lived among the tribesmen of Africa and Arabia in the '50s. But this was not about rugged safari suits. The collection of double-breasted suits paired with pleated shorts, kaftan shirts and travellers' hats had a polished schoolboy charm. What made it sing were the bright colours: a cobalt blue duster coat, a fuchsia cape and crisp yellow shorts.
Spencer Hart, which dresses such musicians as Ronnie Wood and Robbie Williams, was more modern. Jazz-funk and soul music accompanied founder Nick Hart's presentation of sharp, lightweight tailoring with loose coats. The devil is in the details when it comes to luxury tailoring. Here it was all about different styles of pockets, and the elegant shirts, buttoned-up but tieless, or wrapped like a judo tunic.
There was a retro vibe sparked by Baz Luhrmann's remake of The Great Gatsby that will hit the screens the same time as the collections next spring. Hackett channelled the Jay Gatsby look with three-piece suits in linen and seersucker, and golfing outfits in ivory and greys.
The loosening up of the silhouette - especially trousers - is a growing trend after years of narrow cuts. Then with a witty nod to London's roots, a finale was staged of city gents in their bowler hats and brollies.
The slick Brylcreemed boyish haircuts of the models enhanced the elegant retro vibe around the shows and presentations. It was also evident at Richard James with its relaxed but polished, cool grey tailoring highlighted with pastel ties and crystal-studded bright velvet slippers - a tribute to Elton John.
Saunders - with his crisp tailored looks, buttoned-up shirts and tucked in sweaters - showed his artist's approach to colour, print, texture and technology.
Retro buttoned-up shirts with stiffened collars were a trend around many shows and looked particularly clean and modern in Richard Nicoll's debut menswear collection, looking cool in white and pale blue teamed with sporty Harrington jackets and flat-front trousers.
Mr Start, renowned for its pared-down aesthetic, showed granddad shirts and polo shirts with sharply tailored collars, but fitted them under much more relaxed tailoring.
At Pringle of Scotland, the focus was naturally on knits. There were some clever shadowy interpretations of the signature Argyle design from departing designer Alistair Carr. These clever knits just might appeal to Britain's new sartorial icon, Prince Charles.
The opinions of the new menswear showcase from the press and buyers - which included representatives from the big stores in America, Russia and Hong Kong - were very positive.
'I think this has been very smoothly run,' says Adrian Clark, style director of ShortList, Britain's biggest menswear magazine. 'London tried to do this 15 years ago and it didn't work. But now is the right time, because there is so much interest in what's happening here.'
But while Dunhill, Burberry, Belstaff and Paul Smith, among others, supported the event, they are still presenting their collections in Milan and Paris this season.
Will that be true next season? We will have to wait and see.
VIEW FROM THE EDGE
London is a hotbed for avant-garde design. There was no shortage of surprising, inspiring ideas to emerge from edgy creatives such as Meadham Kirchhoff, which offered a voyeuristic experience in a derelict squat.
Masked models lounging in layered T-shirts, pyjamas, flower-print shorts, sari silks and brightly coloured Kickers showed the level of subversiveness that characterises London designers.
Katie Eary, James Long and the other talents that show under the Fashion East umbrella brought a bit of irreverence to the fashion schedule. London was the birthplace of the dandy, so the more colourful ideas are part of the British culture, such as Christopher Shannon's folk dancer-inspired shirt-and-shorts combos with passementerie detail, worn by flower-faced models. He is stocked by I.T locally, as is Eary, who looked to California's skateboarders for her vibrant baroque-style fishy print Harrington jackets, T-shirts and boardshorts.
Long, who is known for his leather and knits, is also making waves. His bold Kung-Fu Cowboys collection was a reference to the pleated and panelled shorts that looked like skirts on the models, rather than the abacus-inspired graphic embroidery that embellished the crisp white shirts and knitwear.
These designers combine business nous with a passion and a crazy exuberance that you just don't find in other cities.