London Fashion Week Men’s: As much a cultural statement as a fashion week
There are moments when the London Fashion Week Men’s season seems as much a cultural statement as a fashion expression.
This next menswear season will be the last before Britain – eventually – decides whether to activate Brexit, due to happen on March 29; by either leaving Europe; having another referendum, or falling off the cliff.
The year began optimistically with London Mayor Sadiq Khan illuminating the giant London Eye Ferris wheel in the European Union’s blue and yellow star flag. As fireworks went off, the words “London is Open” were displayed in English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Romanian and Spanish.
It seemed well timed for the menswear season, given the multiplicity of nationalities showing on the London catwalk.
Later Khan tweeted: “Our one million EU citizens are Londoners, they make a huge contribution, and no matter the outcome of Brexit - they will always be welcome.”
Fresh faces like Paria Farzaneh, a second-generation Brit designer, born in Devon to Iranian parents; or Arashi Yanagawa from Japan, who named his brand – an off beat take on traditional tailoring - after the famous Irish-American boxer John Lawrence Sullivan. Or consider Khalid Al Qasimi, a brand that melds Middle Eastern influences from his home in the United Arab Emirates with utilitarian streetwear of London where he creates.
Says Dylan Jones, Chairman of the UK menswear season: "At LFWM we have hosted the likes of Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, Tommy Hilfiger, Tom Ford and many many others, but what’s happening now is we are starting to see younger designers from abroad wanting to show here, rather than just established players. This is because people prefer showing in London, because London is the coolest city in the world."
Though, arguably the fastest rising new London marque is A-Cold-Wall. Founded by a local star, Brixton-born Samuel Ross, it is an assemblage of working class garments, techy sportswear, conceptual detailing and clever volumes. A former assistant to Virgil Abloh, and an LVMH Prize finalist, Ross is destined for great things.
Argues Jones: "I think the diversity this season is really overpowering, and while some of the bigger brands have joined womenswear, which is happening in every fashion capital, no city has the young talent that London does. I’ve seen at least three generations of menswear talent in London, from Vivienne Westwood and Katharine Hamnett right through to Alexander McQueen and JW Anderson, and I honestly think that the current vintage is as good as any of them, if not better."
Internationally, 2019 also opened with Brazil swearing in its new, and openly homophobic, president Jair Bolsonaro. By contrast, the three-day season in London will debut on Saturday morning, Jan. 5 with Art School, whose whole oeuvre celebrates the idiosyncratic nature of queer style. Art School’s founders, the creative partnership of Eden Loweth and Tom Barratt, believe in non-binary gender identities – very non-Bolsonaro.
In fact, the week is packed with several gender fluid fashion houses. Notably, Blindess by the Korea duo of KyuYong Shin and JiSun Park who are based in Seoul. Their men’s and women’s collections always attempt to remove gender boundaries in fashion. And, most spectacularly, by Charles Jeffrey Loverboy; a brilliant Scottish madcap designer whose clubbing clothes incorporate elements of drag queens, disco dragoons and performance artists like Leigh Bowery.
This will be the 13th season of pure menswear shows in London since its inauguration in 2013. Though the large majority of designers showing are London-based, the city has also attracted foreign notables like Italian knitwear specialist Iceberg – its second on the UK calendar.
The season will also include plenty of modern day tailoring and stylish casual wear, from such able designers as Oliver Spencer, Wales Bonner, Stefan Cooke and Kent & Curwen – led by David Beckham, the official ambassador of the season.
Though, the heart of the matter with the local menswear season is that, to its credit, it is very much the most experimental season for men’s fashion on the international calendar. In short, London is the true experimental laboratory of men’s clothing today.
Something about which, Londoners are not afraid of reminding other fashion capitals.
"I wouldn’t call these shows experimental, I would call them modern, as they are right at the cutting edge of menswear,” says Jones. “Let’s face it, you’re not going to see this degree of talent in New York, are you? London has innate talent, and has become the fulcrum for global creativity. Milan has some monumental brands, but it doesn’t cultivate young talent like we do. Paris is still a very exotic location, but it is incredibly traditional, and sometimes rather bourgeois. As for New York, it just doesn’t have the young talent."
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