Fashion has always been a serious business to those within, however much hilarity its catwalk shows may have engendered in the press over the years.
Now that it is a legitimately masculine pursuit, with London Collections: Men kicking off a series of fashion weeks and trade shows, menswear is beginning to succumb to many of the same issues that make womenswear such a brilliant and often silly industry.
In only its fourth season, London Collections: Men (LC:M) already feels like an established event and it must, in part, be responsible for the recession-busting 12 per cent growth in the British menswear market during the past five years. While it is a serious fashion business, then, it also takes business seriously.
Yet as its heft has grown, some of the fun has diminished, particularly among the younger designers, who are very clearly aware of the eyes of the world watching them. The participants divide along fairly clear lines: the old Savile Row hands adding a fashionable edge to the best of British tailoring; and the young Turks, some extraordinarily talented, others perhaps thrust in the spotlight a little too early for their own sense of self-importance.
J W Anderson, for example, is widely adored in the fashion crowd: a womenswear powerhouse who has collaborated with big names and the creative director of the sublimely simple heritage brand Sunspel. Yet where menswear was once an oasis of sanity in a habitually contrary industry, Anderson’s LC:M collections seem to be aimed more at winning headlines than customers.
There’s always a place for that, of course, because few tweed suits have ever attracted a front page of tabloid outrage, but what may start to attract negative press at LC:M is the transferral of the super-skinny aesthetic from womenswear to menswear. Unlike the beefy male models of Milan and the elegant figures of Paris, London’s models are hollow-cheeked, loose-limbed, hunched and awkwardly lanky. It’s not pretty.
The British tailoring side of things, on the other hand, reflects its wide appeal with an ever more diverse selection of models. The likes of Richard James, Hackett, Duchamp and Rake are continuing to showcase the beard as the hot facial accessory – and what a beard: forget perfect lines, it’s all about a vigorous growth, ideally with a scattering of grey.
The Brideshead Revisited swains that floated around Lord’s Cricket Ground at last season’s Savile Row and St James’s show, The English Gentleman, were this season given a more intriguing persona, in the astonishing setting of Churchill’s underground Cabinet War Rooms. Dressed in dark wool coats, trilbies, flannel and tweed suits and horn-rimmed glasses, models and actors presented tableaux of Second World War campaign-planning, with punning Woolmark Company posters: “Help Britain’s Warm Effort”.
That 1940s look – the warm tweeds, the autumnal colours, the neatly parted hair and geeky glasses – was, to varying levels, the look of the season. Trousers varied from baggy flannel (at Lou Dalton, Alan Taylor for MAN and Oliver Spencer) to neatly pressed, short and tapered (Richard James, E Tautz, Casely-Hayford). Checks, from dog-tooth at Paul Smith to Prince of Wales at Hardy Amies, added liveliness in otherwise low-key palettes of brown, beige, dark blue and an awful lot of black.
Black, in fact, is one of those trends that will continue to play through the next few seasons: ascetic looks from Matthew Miller, Topshop and Lee Roach were all straight cuts, round necks and layering. Within the dark palettes everywhere, bold pops of colour came through, from the summery flamingos of Orlebar Brown to the graphic knitwear of John Smedley, as well as petrol blue and burnt sienna shades, and bold yellow at Richard Nicholl, Christopher Raeburn and Oliver Spencer.
Microtrends included the biker jacket, whether in tweed or leather, at Richard James, Matthew Miller and E Tautz; kilim-rug designs, in Paul Smith’s shoes and scarves and Burberry’s giant bags; and straight-cut trousers rumpled up and tucked into boots (Gieves & Hawkes, Christopher Raeburn).
A more significant look coming through is a move towards the oversized in coats and shirts, with big, drooping, rounded shoulders at Topman, sharp, gigantic one-button coats at Craig Green for MAN, roomy black-and-white check coats at Agi & Sam, and relaxed, fluid shirts over low-cut vests for Burberry.
In fact, the relaxed looks at Christopher Bailey’s collection for Burberry may prompt a change of gear that drives on the menswear looks for future seasons, ditching the uptight trenches, spacey metallics and tense postures in favour of easy, summery shapes, silk scarves or Scottish wool blankets sitting nonchalantly on the shoulders of loose macs and dusters.
For these men, dressing is an exercise in effortless confidence. And while their less established counterparts are busy making fashion trends, they can get on with the serious business of enjoying the discipline of style.