Smart, tailored looks for men feature on runways at the London Collections

Smart, tailored looks for men filled the runwaysat the London Collections, proving that suits arethe new modern casual, writes Francesca Fearon

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 January, 2014, 1:06pm
UPDATED : Monday, 13 January, 2014, 1:06pm

If there was a clear message from the runways of London Collections: Men last week, it was to discard your jeans and put on a suit - it does wonders for your stature, to say nothing of your image.

"A lot of younger guys want something to show their standing, their status, something bold and powerful, and so they want a suit," one Savile Row tailor said.

Men like the structure and shape a three piece gives them
Jason Basmajian, gieves & Hawkes

Tailor Dominic Sebag-Montefiore at Edward Sexton described a client who wore low-slung jeans to his job designing sneakers but wanted a tweed suit to wear to the pub on the weekend.

The London Collections, which kick-started the autumn-winter 2014/15 menswear season, were a showcase for both the burgeoning and the established. Among the young and avant-garde were J.W. Anderson, who was recently snapped up by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton to design for Loewe, budding talent Kay Kwok, and Agi & Sam, last year's winners of the British Fashion Awards' emerging menswear designer prize.

But the biggest trend this season has been a new take on formal wear. It was here that Gieves & Hawkes, Richard James, Kent & Curwen and Alexander McQueen displayed their strengths.

"London has always been famous for crazy creativity at one end and exquisite tailoring at the other, but now we are marrying these two traditions to create well-made fashion pieces that appeal to men across the board," says Scottish designer Jonathan Saunders.

That explains why consumers are seeing designers such as Richard Nicoll and Christopher Kane produce more tailored pieces. Their customers are demanding clothes that bridge fashion and formal wear.

Kane's pieces were inspired by chemistry, with molecular patterns created in knits and prints, and intriguing textures in woven jackets and jacquard topcoats. Nicoll appears to enjoy the romantic side to contemporary formal wear, and works with pea coats, sweaters and shirts in shades of blue. For evenings, there were also dress shirts with irresistible frills, seemingly inspired by Elvis.

It was easy to be distracted by gender bender styling, especially at J.W. Anderson. Designer Jonathan Anderson offered frilled leather blouses and sleeveless shirts, but there was also a beautiful camel coat, and some slickly tailored trousers revealing a shapely ankle and elevated shoes. Overall, the trend was for cropped trousers cut narrow or very full.

Beijing-based Xander Zhou showed long tailored overcoats, inspired by Edwardian images of royalty, while Kwok went sci-fi with amazing 3-D prints on sportswear, offering looks that are reminiscent of Thierry Mugler.

Agi & Sam presented a beautifully controlled monochromatic collection of layered, lightly tailored pieces in African woven fabrics inspired by Agi Mdumulla's African heritage.

The strength of the fourth instalment of the London Collections: Men was the tailoring establishment. Anchored upon a Savile Row presentation at the Churchill War Rooms in Whitehall, we saw the reason why so many make the pilgrimage to London for made-to-measure suits. Models were styled to fit the era, wearing trench coats and Homberg hats with three-piece suits, which are making a comeback this season.

"Men like the structure and shape a three piece gives them. It all goes back to the military look," says Jason Basmajian, creative director at Gieves & Hawkes. The label showed several waistcoats in a collection of tweeds and country checks. Double-breasted suits were also in evidence here and at Hardy Amies, Thom Sweeney and Rake.

Richard James, whose clients include British Prime Minister David Cameron and Elton John, has done much to update the image of Savile Row with a rock'n'roll edge. His palette is rich in variety and featured eye-catching blues in sculpted satin-collared suits and leather jackets, and military greens for jackets.

Top New York designer Simon Spurr also looked to military green and blue in his collection for Kent & Curwen. The collection updated the house's heritage of producing clothes for the military with brass-buttoned pea coats, mess-style jackets and officer's coats.

The Alexander McQueen collection was polished and full of nostalgia for the late designer, with kilt-pleated coats and overskirts, worn by models with crow feathers in their hair. The look was Gothic, sharply tailored, and featured prints of photographs by Lucien Freud.

Given the strength of the tailoring on show, it was surprising that neither of its stalwarts Tom Ford or Christopher Bailey at Burberry Prorsum featured it in their collections. Bailey focused on prints from the arts and crafts movement and maps for shirts and scarves worn with slim tailored pants and hand-painted leather coats.

Ford, the man who reintroduced the double-breasted suit when he launched his label in 2007, only went as far as showing cut silk and velvet dinner jackets with roll neck sweaters. Realising he hasn't offered much to his client for the weekend, snakeskin biker jackets, moleskin coats, and lots of elegant, roomy topcoats were shown.

Such is the diversity at this festival of finery, it is unsurprising that the British menswear market was valued at £10.4 billion (HK$133 billion) in 2012 by market research firm Mintel. As exports to Asia grow, that figure is sure to increase.