Designer Vivienne Westwood blurs the gender lines with boys in skirts and dresses at men’s fashion week in London

Westwood wasn’t the only one turning heads at British showcase, with everything from long coats to shrunken shirts and padded survival gear from XimonLee, Zander Zhou, Craig Green and J.W. Anderson

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2017, 2:20pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2017, 2:20pm

Boys in frothy skirts and gold dresses and girls in trouser suits: so very Vivienne Westwood. The show for her autumn/winter 2017 collection, the last event at London Fashion Week Men, merged her menswear line MAN and women’s Red Label and delivered tailoring and patchwork knitwear both sexes can wear.

Westwood is passionate about saving the planet, so slogans, photo-montages of herself and tribal mask prints and headgear were a recurring theme, mixed in with menswear that ranged from tailored country checks to1980s-style double-breasted suits with voluminous trousers.

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Westwood is among a handful of designers using a single show to present fashion for both sexes this season. Although fashion is worth £28 billion (HK$265 billion) to the British economy, there is no doubt that last year’s Brexit vote and a slowdown in fashion exports to China has proved a double whammy to the industry, and so it makes economic sense for designers to present their seasonal men’s and women’s lines together. The issue is when: now, or at the women’s collections next month. Andreas Kronthaler shows the unisex line he designs for Vivienne Westwood in Paris in March.

The line-up at London Fashion Week Men this season has suffered. Gone are Burberry, Coach and McQueen, while Paul Smith, who often hosted an event in London, will add women’s fashion to his long-standing slot on the menswear roster in Paris. However, the London menswear week did gain Westwood and Belstaff (who has elected to show women’s fashions now rather than in February), and a number of younger menswear designers such as Agi & Sam and Katie Eary are incorporating women’s fashion into their lines.

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Joe Casely-Hayford, a womenswear designer of the 1990s before setting up the Casely-Hayford menswear label with his son Charlie, has reintroduced womenswear to celebrate his label’s 30th anniversary. London has also gained rap-star Tinie Tempah as a designer, who debuted his What We Wear label on men but who says it will be a unisex collection.

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This makes for a confusing time in the fashion business. British menswear designer of the year Craig Green is nevertheless very clear about his priorities, and in a standout collection his ideas mixed deep-sea mariners in their sou-westers and loose-fitting rain gear with carpetbaggers in what he describes as their “English pub carpet meets Aladdin” coats. There was the padded survival gear for which Green is famed, with all its extraneous strapping, and some of his familiar workwear silhouettes, but there were also his first ventures into tailoring with soft jackets wrapped with large rouleaux tube belts.

J.W. Anderson, like Green and Westwood, is another big lure for press and buyers. The colourful autumn winter collection had overtones of the ’70s, with lanky youths in saggy knits and tabards trailing long scarves and super-stretched sleeves. Homespun crochet patchwork was a recurring theme, along with prints from stained glass windows.

His ideas began, he said backstage, by looking at knit on knit and also taking “lost crafts and reinterpreting them with a modern twist”. The crochet patchworks, for instance, he said reminded him of iPhone apps. They decorated the sleeves of jackets and toes of shoes and appeared with heraldic symbols as patches on the knitwear.

XimonLee (sic), the current beneficiary of GQ China sponsorship and Xander Zhou, a former beneficiary, both showed in London. Zhou’s focus was on shrunken shirts and tank tops, which raised the possibility of bare midriffs – great for those with ironing board stomachs, not so for the rest. XimonLee produced beautiful long brocade coats (with a woman’s nude disguised in the weave) and loose but polished tailoring decorated either with beaded pearls or deconstructed leather bras engineered to hide or reveal parts of the body.

It was a clever working of the show title “Shame”. There were even a couple of women models in the show, but Lee clarified: “It’s just because the clothes looked so elegant.”