The good, the bad, the ugly: Alexander McQueen, JW Anderson and Moschino at London Collections: Men

Alexander Fury
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A look from Jeremy Scott's Moschino men's show for spring/summer 2015

The good, the bad, the ugly – fashion shows are sometimes all three, and frequently that’s their strength. That’s because fashion isn’t about just looking pretty, particularly when it’s elevated by a catwalk showcase. Those shows are also not purely about product. They’re aspirational aesthetic proposals, about shifting the goalposts and introducing something fresh and new. A fashion show should question, and provoke, as well as try to hawk us something new off the back of it.

That’s the way I look at fashion shows anyway. And, perhaps, it’s the root of my problems with some of the more simple-minded shenanigans we’ve seen at London Collections: Men, as well as the source of my admiration for some of its trickier proposals. I like designers who are trying to say something different and original. I dislike designers trying to make a quick buck from some old tat.

Jeremy Scott showed his Moschino menswear collection in London this evening. I say “menswear” but almost half comprised women’s looks. That’s fairly incidental. For men or for women, Scott pastiched luxury, appropriating Chanel and Louis Vuitton iconographies as prints, reinterpreting Hermes ribbon-crossed silks as denim separates and their Birkin straps and padlocks as biker-jackets and baseball caps, as well as lookie-likey backpacks and duffle bags. There were some tinkerings with flags and Coca-Cola-y artwork too, as if Scott were reducing prior symbols of luxury and longevity to expendable, mass-market consumables.

But that’s looking beyond the surface. Which is way, way too deep. The most telling motif was simple “Moschino” branding where the “S” was substituted for a dollar sign. That’s the motivating factor in Scott’s ‘Schino – monetary gain, and an American pop sensibility.

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The designer Jeremy Scott with model Charlotte Free in a Chanel-influenced look.

It all felt very familiar – not just those flags, but that faux logo gimmickry. You see the “real” fakes on many a dodgy street-corner stall, while their barely-legal “ironic” counterparts are sold at many a high street store. Brian Lichtenberg, the Californian-based designer, has created a decent business wittily re-interpreting luxury logos, devaluing and re-valuing them.

Scott’s offerings have antecedents close to home: Franco Moschino was the originator of those kind of visual games, a direct descendent from Elsa Schiaparelli’s surreal trickery of the thirties.

Is Scott continuing that lineage? I would argue no. Scott isn’t following on where Franco left off. He’s rehashing and reissuing Franco faves, already worn and tested. That’s all very well – fashion houses have become obsessed with defining their own “codes”, presumably with the aim of ensuring a given brand outlives whatever designer helms it.

The trouble with Scott’s Moschino is twofold. Firstly, those almost-illegal trademark twists have become part of popular culture, co-opted by other high-end designers and high street hawkers alike. Their ubiquity means their contemporary impact is deadened. Secondly, despite the house originating them, the simple act of stitching a Moschino label inside these gaggy clothes is not transformative. It doesn’t make them any more valid or interested than those legions of near-identical mass-market counterparts, and neither do their heftier-than-justified price tags.

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JW Anderson spring/summer 2015

What JW Anderson does is valid, and interesting. It’s not always wholly original, but Anderson has the gift of the gab and enough nous to synthesise his reference-points to a point where they feel fresh and exciting. He’s a superb editor, of other people and himself. That sounds slightly pejorative, but it isn’t intended to be. Anderson is a strong presence on the London menswear schedule, indeed one of its lynchpins. He’s influencing younger talents – the collections of both MAN’s Nicomede Talavera and the older Agi & Sam duo bore an imprint of Anderson, like an aesthetic brass-rubbing.

So, to spring 2015. Anderson said he was looking at bourgeoise women. For menswear. He shag-carpeted his venue in pastel pink, like a suburban boudoir, and showed slouchy tailoring in pinstripes, needlepoint tops and aran knits in shrunken, cropped shapes that were deliberately uncomfortable both to wear, and to watch. They were ugly and bad: and, in this context, that made them very good indeed.

They were a few moments like that from Anderson: the entire conceit being that of dressing a young man like a dowdy middle-aged woman. Imagine Harold and Maude swapping clothes, and you’re halfway there. In between those sublimely sick and twisted looks, he snuck in a few pieces of slick knitwear – matching trousers and polo-shirt in fine merino, a man-twinset in luminous lemon, like a Midget Gem – and some easy draped coats, bloused above drawn-in waists with fanciful pussy-cat bows. All of it can be boiled down to make sense on rails, in clothes tinged with those perverse themes but not overpowered.

Anderson understand the power and purpose of a fashion show. His catwalk statements are concise and precise, and they power the rest of the JW Anderson machine. If that sounds like the kind of vocabulary you use about far bigger brands, it’s because Anderson is well on his way to becoming one. If he isn’t there already: today, he launched e-commerce on the website of his eponymous brand, a brand 49% owned by luxury gods group LVMH. In less that two weeks, Anderson makes his debut as creative director of the house of Loewe, a multi-million pound company with over 150 stores in 35 countries. He isn’t phased. Because he’s more than up to the challenge.

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Looks backstage at Alexander McQueen, spring/summer 2015

Sarah Burton is too. That’s what makes her work at Alexander McQueen exciting. This season, however, wasn’t about excitement, but enticement. It was something of a retrenchment, a paring-back, a pulling-back even. Burton’s own terminology was “cleaning and cleansing,” which accounted for the stark palette dominated by black and white, and the sleek shapes, fly-fronted with seams flush.

This was a quieter, more contemporary offering than is frequently the case at McQueen, with a focus on cut to create impact – quite literally, in the case of the trad-tailoring triumvirate Prince of Wales, Birdseye and houndstooth checks pieced together into serpentine graphics. Those resembled Japanese woodcuts or abstracted willow patterns (like the plates) winding their way across ultra-Occidental tailoring. They were based on a blown-up, hyper-abstracted Kabuki artists’ made-up face, with a bit of Matisse thrown in.

And a bit of McQueen: Burton casually threw out a reference to McQueen menswear past, the spring 1998 “Untitled” collection where pinstripes and wools were spliced and diced together, creating something modern and graphic, and indeed clean. Today those variations in cloth were sometimes achieved by jacquards rather than patchwork, a further refinement – although Burton showed in the Royal College of Surgeons, a nudge-nudge wink-wink pun on the scalpel-sharp cut both she and Lee are renowned for.

This was a subdued, reflective McQueen. Considering that oriental influence, we could call it Zen. A few found it unsatisfying. They want fireworks and high-camp high drama. But amidst the hullaballoo that is characterising the jam-packed London Collections: Men schedule – with a multitude of voices screaming, visually, for attention – it was welcome, as is Burton’s pragmatism, confidence and ease with a potentially back-breaking legacy.

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