London Collections: Men – Sporting, suiting, and the great in-between

Alexander Fury

The spring menswear season has only just begun, but I’ve already started to get deep and meaningful. I can’t help but wonder what modern menswear should really be all about. At the moment it seems caught in some kind of limbo between two opposing poles: one being the hyper-traditional, conservative armour of the tailored suit, the other a rebel upsurge of sportswear, a new kind of urban masculinity. Maybe it’s urban versus urbane?

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Astrid Andersen Spring 2014

But both are constructs. When I see men attending the shows buttoned into three-piece suits, tie-bars in place, hair brilliantined and wing-tips polished, it feels like they’re wearing a costume. Perhaps that’s how they dress everyday. But it doesn’t feel terribly modern. It’s the same when female fashion rediscovers that Fifties working woman wardrobe and tries to lace, button and buttress women into taut little skirt-suits like Kay Thompson in Funny Face. Those suits have relevance to some women, sure. You want your solicitor to wear a suit, for instance. But the idea of either me or my female colleagues teetering to the fashion desk in tourniquet-tight tailoring feels like a relic of another time. On the other hand, elasticated-waist basket-ball shorts and a sleeveless vest-top don’t strike me as especially appropriate, even if they’re in sumptuous panne velvet like Astrid Andersen’s, or patterned with Tweetie Pie prints (that isn’t a pun: I mean the actual character) like Bobby Abley’s. I’m sure both have appreciative acolytes desperate to dress in their luxed-up sportswear, but it’s a niche market.

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Richard Nicoll's collaborative print with Linder Sterling for Spring 2014

The interesting shows thusfar at London Collections: Men have stabbed somewhere between those poles of stereotype. Richard Nicoll may have shown high-art collage prints devised with Linder Sterling from requisitioned gay porn and National Geographic-style pythons and eagles, but they were strewn across sweatshirts, bomber-jackets and roomy anoraks. Sportswear was Nicoll’s focus, but American sportswear of the mid-century style, with blousons and sweaters, the latter sometimes in transparent net combined with leather, giving a Mapplethorpean frisson of danger to the easy shapes. There were a couple of suits in powder blue and grey, but they were worn over t-shirts. There was nothing stuffy or overwrought about them. That was refreshing. Nicoll says again and again that his menswear is based on what he wears, everyday. It’s the way I reckon lots of men dress. Minus the porno, probably.

Craig Green also had an arty-farty moment, suspending giant crushed cardboard and wood sculptures over his models’ faces, as if daring you to be distracted. They made for great theatre, but your eye was drawn to the clothes – in head-to-toe tie-dye, for instance, with exposed unravelling seams on the outside, or a slippery, sickly nylon. There were lots of pleats and panels and multiple layers in his clothes, clever tricks of cut, this time with those overwhelming whorls of pattern added to overpower and overawe. There was ambition to what Green was doing. He wants you to see the world differently, but it feels more modern and relevant than a stuffy, waistcoated suit.

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Craig Green Spring 2014

Allow your eye to travel away from the pattern pile-ups or the bandannas wrapped around his models’ faces, and it’s remarkably easy to imagine anyone wearing Green’s relaxed, unlined jackets, simple shirts and loose trousers. The vision was demanding, but the garments really aren’t.

Edit: An earlier version of this blog erroneously identified Tweetie Pie as a Disney character. He’s obviously Warner Bros.

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