Fashioning freedom and ignoring the hyperbole: Craig Green, Sibling, Burberry Prorsum and Nasir Mazhar menswear, in London
A lot of patriotic conjecture gets thrown around about British fashion. That’s probably because middle England, as a whole, doesn’t really like it, and hence fashion folk seem desperately keen to emphasise just how incredibly important it all is.
It is important, of course. Fashion is the second largest employer in the United Kingdom. It’s an industry similar in size to the food and beverages or telecommunications industries, and is bigger than automotives and advertising. Burberry is one of the UK’s most valuable brands, according to the FTSE 100. It rubs shoulders with Barclays and BP.
Nevertheless, British fashion seems to have an inferiority complex. It’s possibly tied up with a lingering Anglo-Saxon air of puritanism. America has sort of got over that by looking on fashion as a business, first and foremost. Here, we still feel the need to toss about hyperbole to try and justify the whole thing to the mostly uncaring masses. That’s the honest truth: there’s a great swathe of people, especially men, who don’t care about fashion, even when it’s going on their back. They’ll probably never be converted to the cause.
The thing that triggered that slight tirade is the amount of blind praise and chest-puffing that was going on around the last few days of London’s menswear showcase for spring/summer 2015. On the whole, the three days have been packed with shows, and with ideas. There have been some excellent collections. However, stating that London is the home of international menswear is simply factually incorrect. I’d argue it’s difficult to pinpoint a single “home,” given how fractured and diverse the international fashion landscape is.
If we’re being honest – which I like to be – it’s probably Italy. They manufacture enormous quantities of menswear for most international brands (Ermenegildo Zegna, whose eponymous label opens Milan menswear week for most press, also manufacture for the likes of Saint Laurent and London-based Tom Ford). Most men’s buyers are currently snaking through the labyrinthine exhibition stands of Pitti Immagine, the biannual Florentine menswear-only trade fair which hosts over a thousand brands. They’re also apportioning huge swathes of their budgets to the collections about to be shown in Milan and Paris – they return to Milan after the Paris show season, continuing buying for almost a month.
But neither Paris nor Milan tries to stake tenuous claims to being the “home” of menswear. They just get on with making clothes, and money. They let the fashion convince you.
London’s fashion is convincing too, for those who care to look at it. Craig Green is a middle England botherer, whose collections have drawn praise from the press and ire from the masses. That ire is provoked by the fact that Green is showing clothes that aren’t easy, either to make or to understand (although they are to wear). Green doesn’t fit easily into pigeon holes: he isn’t showing jumped-up sportswear, nor suits, and although his shows are theatrical and have undeniably unwearable elements, they can’t be lumped into the Camp camp of entertaining catwalk slap-and-tickle. That disturbs plenty of people.
Green’s collections are complex and rich, multi-layered. Over the past two seasons, he played with surface patterns, tie-dye and hand-painting. This time, he stripped everything back to head-to-toe shades of white, black and two hues of blue. Shapes were wide-cut, often delineated by linear quilting. Ribbon ties knotted jackets against the body in unusual points, or were left trailing like tangled ships rigging.
There were many references that came to mind when looking at these clothes: sails flapping (Green used an industrial tarpaulin, as well as hardy cottons); Peter Pan’s Lost Boys or Golding’s Lord of the Flies; a young Christopher Crawford escaping the confines of his “Sleep Safe” in oversized pyjamas in the film Mommie Dearest.
There’s a link between all of those reference-points: escape, and freedom. Free your mind, goes the En Vogue song, and the rest will follow. Green is a very free designer. It’s also liberating to watch what he creates. People welled up at Green’s show. I didn’t. But I got why they did. He is an excellent, perhaps even exceptional, talent.
Freedom is a nice theme for fashion to explore. The Sibling show felt free – unhinged, sometimes, but I mean that in a good way. Joe Bates, Sid Bryan and Cozette McCreery (the ironically unrelated trio who design the brand) found a near-perfect tension between crowd-pleasing and rail-filling with this collection: the extraordinary, editorial-ready showpieces were bolstered by knitwear with an immediate, but not inane, commercial appeal. Sibling’s kick this season was teenage, and said age group’s twin obsessions – “hair and spots” – wittily punned on, the latter in polka-dots and leopard markings, the former with towering mohicans on every model (those looked like hair, but were actually knitted). There were references to teenage subcultures from Cyber-rave to New Romantics, and a hefty dose of eighties goth. Overall, it was all a bit punk, because Sibling are. It was silly fun, but it had a point.
Freedom was there in Burberry Prorsum’s show also, quite literally in the case of words like “Explorer” and “Adventure” writ large, proud and hence instantly identifiably across the surfaces of bags and trenches. Those are the money-spinners: but hopefully, they won’t be the sole take-away from this show, because it was the best Christopher Bailey has designed in many a season. That is because it didn’t try too hard. There wasn’t much tricky or complicated about it, nothing too gimmicky besides wide-brimmed sou’westers pulled down over every models’ heads.
Nevertheless, although the overall effect was simple, much of what Bailey did was both clever and difficult. He showcased a superb sense of colour, something that has never been quite as evident. Models were saturated, usually in tonal hues of a single spectrum – a mustard suit was wrapped with an ochre scarf and topped with a lichen-yellow hat, an ecclesiastical purple knit rubbed up against blackcurrant wool, and an indigo denim jacket topped cobalt velvet trousers. Yes, it was colourful. But they were exactly the right colours, which was what made them satisfying to see. The air of freedom in this Burberry show was, perhaps, a little plaintive: Christopher Bailey is now chief creative officer and CEO. The man must never get a holiday.
Burberry is an enormous brand. You wonder if Nasir Mazhar wishes he was, or if he’s happy to keep pretending. Mazhar doesn’t design his clothes so much as brand them, running miles of logo-woven elastic and ribbons around his garments emblazoned with his name. Mazhar isn’t creating a fashion label so much as a sportswear brand, which differentiates him from the other designers creating luxed-out streetwear-influenced pieces. Mazhar’s clothes don’t feel very luxurious, instead they feel real. They’re worn by fashion folk, sure, but they’re also worn by people who hanker after the branding of Adidas and Nike and sport Mazhar with the same kind of fervour and label loyalty.
Mazhar’s fashion shows, then, aren’t much to do with fashion. They tend to look quite similar – but maybe my eyes are untrained. Lots of trainers look the same to me, while it takes a true aficionado to explain the subtle, nuanced variations in design tweaks. Nevertheless, watching these clothes on a catwalk sometimes leaves you feeling unfulfilled. Mazhar has undoubtedly made a name for himself in London fashion. I’d like him to do something more interesting with it than just print it on a sweatshirt.Tagged in: Burberry Prorsum, Christopher Bailey, Craig Green, Nasir Mazhar, Sibling, spring/summer 2015
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