With the ennaugural London Collections: Men done and dusted, who better to make sense of it all than David Hellqvist, Editor of Dazed Digital and Fashion Editor of Hemma Magazine.
We asked David to pull together all the strands of this new London menswear initiative, while also giving us his take on the state of British menswear and a run-down of the designers who we will be hearing a lot more from in the future.
Read David's in-depth review below, and browse the images above for our exlusive, back stage shots from the event.
Click here for more backstage images from the J.W. Anderson show.
Click here for more images from the Chiristopher Shannon show.
Images from Thom Browne's unique presentation can be found here.
For many people this summer is all about the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics. And as I write this we're all obsessing over Euro 2012. Sport events and royal celebrations are what's on the menu. But there's another reason to sit up and pay attention, especially if you happened to be in London last weekend. Sure, you could have followed the action online, but like with most other groundbreaking events, you kinda had to be there.
London Collections: Men, as it was quite clumsy christened by the British Fashion Council, was the first time ever that London got to gather its menswear designers over three days, rather than the previously cramped 24 hours, and given a much-deserved slot on the international menswear schedule. What this, on a very rudimentary level, means is that the press and buyers who used to leave town after London Fashion Week to go to Milan can now fly in, set up camp and really discover what Britain has to offer in terms of menswear.
Unfortunately there weren't many big names around to lure them in, at least not British ones. Ironically it took NYC designer Thom Browne and his Harrods presentation and ultra-exclusive Tommy Hilfiger and Tom Ford dinners to give the long weekend a stamp of approval from the big guns. Saying that though, there was a welcome interactive intervention from Sir Paul Smith who, in his own unique way, invited designers, press, buyers and random fans to a Q&A session together with journalist Suzy Menkes.
[For our in-depth interview with Paul Smith, click here]
The veteran designer has a fair bit of advice to give. Not only is he an all-around nice guy, but the man has been around for quite some time and London's menswear designers, known for their rebellious youth, has a great deal to learn from him. One can only hope that next season Sir Paul will not only talk the talk but also walk the walk, and move his menswear collection from Paris back to where it belongs. Because that's exactly what we need. It's not enough for Burberry to do a watch presentation; they need to show a bit more than that. Don't be shy, Christopher! And where's Vivienne Westwood when you really need her?
Having said that, we are grateful to the likes of Pringle of Scotland, Nicole Fahri and Margaret Howell, returning from Milan and Paris, for their support in cementing our menswear week as a standalone fashion force. But, and we all know this, a London menswear week was never gonna be about Nicole and Margaret – not when there's the likes of Jonathan, Christopher, Martine and Matthew to feast your eyes on.
The three day long event was defined by the younger generation of designers who, very much like at its female counterpart in February/September, set the tone and standard. For good and for bad, this is where you come to see young and avant-garde blood, but never the finished product. Traditionally, designers leave for Paris and Milan once enough attention has been accumulated.
"The three day long event was defined by the younger generation of designers"
So what was good, what went down and who excelled on the catwalks? Well, it started in a quite slow and safe manner with only a handful of shows worthy of a mention on Friday. Perhaps the strongest effort came from Martine Rose, a veteran of Topman-sponsored MAN shows who last season was promoted to her very own catwalk show. Rose's S/S13 collection, shown in the BFC's Hospital Club venue, played with the notion of oversized silhouettes, focused on bleached denim. Facemasks and neoprene details featured throughout and her signature shirts continued to impress. Compared to last season, when Rose obsessed over the MA-1 jacket, this felt like a full and complete collection; Rose showed blue and orange knits, shirts, loose denim, vinyl trousers and jean jackets.
The afternoon was dominated by the kind of brands that London does so well; sophisticated and contemporary streetwear. Firstly through Oliver Spencer and his excellent casual tailoring in subtle colours and then Fraser Moss and his YMC. Showing underneath a SoHo record store, the 17-year-old label is truly a London brand: directional but wearable. Moss showed stripy rugby shirts, preppy plaid coats, belted safari jackets, 60s surf shirt and kimono fabrics. For his finale, Moss sent out three leopard printed looks that convinced any doubters that YMC belongs at London Collections: Men.
Saturday was perhaps the main attraction; many of the more exciting names took to the stage this day. Sibling, Jonathan Saunders, Katie Eary, E.Tautz and James Long all had a shot at wowing the audience. Bates/McCreery/Bryan (Sibling) continued their knitwear glam ride but added another layer through fantastical Noel Stewart hats and giant sequins. Eary went all hip hop, translating Kanye West's 'cray' cry into a Versace homage through OTT prints and a mishmash of colours. Great bikinis, though. Saunders, on the other hand, went back to the 70s and David Bowie á la the Thin White Duke. Pinstriped suits, bright blue cardigans, coats in optical prints… everything you'd want from a Saunders collection.
"Samson not only showed off a newfound technical skill but also demonstrated a progressive side to his vision"
The 11am slot belonged to the MAN show. As it turned out, it was down to this trio of designers, showing in Topman's magnificent Holborn space, to define the London menswear spirit. Of course, the show benefited from having three designers, giving the audience a trio of individual sartorial ideas. Astrid Andersen continued her American sportswear obsession but fused it with a spiritual and religious touch for S/S13. The Danish designer showed a coherent and consistent colour palette, great mixture of very sporty and fragile fabrics plus the best prints seen at any shows over the weekend.
Shaun Samson grew up on Saturday. He showed a collection of mature looks in subtle colours. Merging two fabrics in one piece, seen in both tops and trousers, Samson not only showed off a newfound technical skill but also demonstrated a progressive side to his vision, moving away from the predominantly visual statements of the past. Saying that though, there were a few lean and mean pussycat prints to be found this time around as well.
Agape Mdumulla and Sam Cotton are, after only two seasons, on their way to owning London's print scene. For a sophomore collection this was a very studious show with a strong and sharp concept running through it. The boys spoke of Miami Vice influences but sometimes I thought of a young Hunter S Thompson writing for a sports paper in San Juan during the early 60s (his real life inspiration for the Rum Diary). The Hawaii-style shirts, Tom Selleck moustaches, aviator shades and socks/Birkenstock combos were all slightly comical but to have the ability to make fun and wearable fashion is the exact feature that will make Agi & Sam a future success.
"The boys spoke of Miami Vice influences but sometimes I thought of a young Hunter S Thompson writing for a sports paper in San Juan during the early 60s"
Later that day, Christopher Shannon took to the stage in the same venue. By now a veteran of London's menswear scene, the designer established his idea of everyday shapes in sportswear fabrics a long time ago. Saying that, there's always been a glam antidote to the more loutish parts of sportswear aesthetics, as seen in his accessories and face jewellery. Frayed edges and tassels were aplenty as usual, but the S/S13 season saw Shannon go for a more colourful palette and stellar shirts with his trademark panelling. This was the season when Christopher Shannon re-took the throne and asserted his status as one of London's main designers.
In the evening, New York's master of 60s tailoring, Thom Browne, invaded Harrods with his army of seersuckers. On top of a double-decker bus, his models wore the typical Browne suit (slim and with cropped sleeves and trousers) while Wolfgang serenaded the crowd. Browne's aesthetic - not only the suits, but his entire wardrobe vision - works well in London. With his dandy look and swinging 60s take on Savile Row, he's the kinda tailor London wishes it had produced herself, without having to rely on America for such a strong and ground-breaking idea.
J.W. Anderson is undoubtedly one of London's most talented designers. Season after season he's shown influential womens and menswear collections. It's always really tricky to guess what Jonathan will come up with, he's one of few designers whose calling card is actually a carde blanche; each season is a blank canvas. For S/S13, that canvas was painted in bright reds, strong turquoises and blinding whites. Key pieces included flared trousers and fluid tailoring (oversized masquerading as double-breasted), monochrome jacquard organza tops and trousers. Many looks were decidedly feminine and a few silhouettes were distinctively 70s, helped out by a range of beige outfits - but Anderson showed his diversity through a line of Monster Munch-esque printed tops and tucked-in tuxedo jackets.
"Anderson showed his diversity through a line of Monster Munch-esque printed tops and tucked-in tuxedo jackets."
One of the last designers to grace the catwalk was Christopher Raeburn. It was a fitting end to the three-day fashion marathon. The designer has been fighting hard, not only to establish his distinctive look but also to make ethically aware clothes a credible option. Considering the praise heaped on him over the last few seasons and his successful collaborative efforts, it seems Reaburn is about to break the bank. For his first-ever catwalk show, he pursued his sophisticated study of outerwear. Parka coats, bomber jackets, quilted gilets, his signature parachute nylon jackets all featured throughout and, besides his re-appropriated military fabrics, there seemed be an array of new and exciting materials on show. Raeburn also showed he's capable of commandeering tees, polos and shirts – but it was the sight of a tailored jacket that set most people's Raeburn imagination spinning. Who knows what we'll get to see next time?
And that's the burning issue… what will happen in January? Was this a one-off, did the international press show up, did the buyers spend any money? Hopefully this wasn't a S/S13 BFC vanity project but a long-term investment in London's menswear scene. If these days showed anything it was that there's talent enough here to sustain three days of shows. Like all new projects there were glitches and ideally the dark Hospital Club basement will be upgraded, but the energy, creativity, determination and joy was evident all the way through. Can't wait for Autumn Winter 13!