London menswear showcase makes its mark
London stays on the boil as its menswear showcase kicks off the new fashion season, writes Francesca Fearon
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Squeezed in between the New Year holiday and the major catwalk presentations of Florence, Milan and Paris, the London menswear shows have their work cut out, but in season two, things are shaping up nicely both on the catwalk and in terms of business.
The capital is riding the wave of excitement after the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics. Taking a leaf out of the Olympic organisers' book the designers chose spectacular venues to showcase their collections: the stately Spencer House for the Savile Row tailors, the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral with Nelson's tomb for Hackett's city gents in their three-piece checked suits and velvet dinner jackets, while Vivienne Westwood borrowed one of artist Joe Rush's spectacular Mutoid Waste Company machines from the Paralympic closing ceremony, for her presentation.
Launched by Prince Charles last June the first London menswear collections were more successful than expected, proving that there was not just enthusiasm for the project, but a genuine need as well. "It had a major impact on business and international press exposure," says Dylan Jones, chairman of London Collections: Men.
For the young Chinese designer showcased last season, Xander Zhou, it raised his profile enormously in China.
"It is not a vanity project," insists Jones. "It can't be. There was no way we were going to achieve everything in season one. We won't in season two, but it is an incremental build and we have the momentum to make it work."
With London Collections: Men still in its infancy, recognition by world class brands like Tom Ford and Alexander McQueen is both welcome and vital. This week McQueen staged its first menswear show in London. Tom Ford, who presented a collection based on the O'Connor suit he designed for the James Bond movie
Skyfall says, "London Collections: Men is certainly working for us." But the collection will still be seen in Milan.
Vivienne Westwood presented nine looks for a collection that will also be shown in its entirety this weekend in Milan, as will the main luxury menswear collection for Belstaff, which for the London event highlighted a capsule collection in collaboration with Goodwood sports and racing. There is no doubt that the real business is still done in Milan and Paris but there have been plenty of delights for the press and buyers that descended on London earlier this week.
Tommy Hilfiger launched his men's tailoring collection. Former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher gave a cinematic presentation of his Pretty Green collection of urban casualwear, now in its fourth year. Gallagher has also just opened a shop in Tokyo.
The louche menswear label Rake was inspired by the 1970s German playboy Gunter Sachs for its collection of luxurious cashmere knits, suede pea coats, bright silk twill trousers and Sachs' signature white trousers, a trademark of the jet set. Then there was the bizarre headwear of Craig Green that resembled a picket fence laid waste by a hurricane. Actor Joseph Mawle recited Greek philosophers at the static presentation of explorer gear from C.P Company with its signature survival specific goggle fittings on jacket collars.
The explorers theme continued at Bally, which was keen to promote its connections with the 60th anniversary of the conquest of Everest, when Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, who reached the summit with Sir Edmund Hillary, did so in a pair of Bally Reindeer Himalaya boots. This inspired the Swiss brand to set up base camp in a London square to show off its lightweight, hiking boots - rugged and practical.
A taste for ruggedness and the outdoors was a trend explored in the roughened Shetland wools and tartans used by Lou Dalton (who is now stocked by I.T in Hong Kong) in her highlands-meets-oil-executive themed show; the richly textured hand knits and sheepskins in a modern monochrome palette from Nicole Farhi's new designer Jo Sykes, and also by Jonathan Saunders. "I was inspired by the outdoors, by fabulous walks in the countryside wearing lots of old-fashioned fabrics like alpaca, mohair and bouclé and felted wools, all layered up," he says.
While Jonathan Saunders showed burnt oranges, teal and blue tones Margaret Howell's pared-back easy-to-wear collection emerged in charcoal greys and sludge tones with waffle knit sweaters and boxy Harrington jackets teamed with berets. Berets and knitted beanies were popular around the shows.
Media and buyers, however are drawn to London's avant garde, young designers like YMC, Meadham Kirchhoff, James Long, Lee Roach, Richard Nicoll and J.W. Anderson. The target of these designers is the cool, urban male with a lot of attitude and a liking for edgy sportswear in colour-blocked combinations of leather, PVC and knit with lots of zips, quilting and trackie trousers.
British rapper Tinie Tempah, one of the ambassadors of London Collections: Men, attended the shows looking dapper in Burberry, Jonathan Saunders and Richard James. "There are a lot of up-and-coming designers that I wouldn't have been aware of and it is nice to shine a light on them. Especially to the demographic I appeal to," he says. "London is the epicentre of a lot of cool right now. International artists like Rihanna are wearing British. Whereas once we would go to America to do our shopping, now everyone is coming over here."