London Collections: Men
London Collections: Men – Machismo, mauve, muddles and messiness, from Alexander McQueen, JW Anderson, Sibling and James Long
There could be few more opposing statements on contemporary menswear than those proposed by JW Anderson and Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton on the third day of London Collections: Men. The former focussed on the floppy, the fey, the snake-hipped gender-blending 1970s; the latter on curled-lip, swagger-shouldered military machismo, last seen circa 1870 when Britannia still rules the waves, and the world. Their men were sufficiently removed from each other to seem to come not merely from different wardrobes, but different species.
It felt like groundhog day as you took your seat in the Topman venue in London’s High Holborn – where the high street behemoth and the various designers it supports has shown since London Collections: Men first launched in 2012 – and watched the boys go wandering by. Not just because of that déjà venue, nor the clothes, which for autumn/winter 2015 were standard seventies-via-nineties-via-last-season stuff jazzed up with psychedelic prints and a heinous passage of tartan. But because, well, we weren’t here all that long ago.
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.
The media’s current favourite portmanteau is “Spornosexual.” Its current favourite garment is the c-string manikini, a cutaway one-sided posing pouch that barely adheres to the pelvis. Modern masculinity, it seems, is in a period of flux and upheaval, where societal norms are shifting and suddenly what men are willing to put on their backs (or, perhaps, around their crotches) seems more malleable than ever before. Ideologically, if not physically.
Last night, Christopher Shannon won the inaugural BFC/GQ Designer Fashion Fund – an injection of £150,000 cash with £50,000 in mentoring, the biggest prize in menswear. It’s the bloke’s counterpart to the Vogue Fashion Fund, a stamp of establishment prestige.
In layman’s terms, Christopher Shannon’s receipt of this award is the equivalent of Conchita Wurst’s Eurovision victory, or England winning the World Cup. Namely, the people’s choice. Lest that sound overtly populist, he’s also the critic’s choice. He’s liked and his collections are lauded.
The question of clothing versus fashion fascinates me. Particularly in menswear, where even at the highest level the lines seem blurred. Clothing does what the name suggests. It clothes a body. But what does fashion do? It’s a noun and a verb. Perhaps fashion is about re-fashioning our bodies, or at least our perceptions of them. You could argue that’s what the pourpoint did – the fourteenth-century foundation garment worn beneath plate armour, heavily-padded on the chest to fill out the convex breastplate, which is acknowledged by many as the starting point of true fashion. Namely, when humans began to use the cut of the cloth to radically alter the shape of the human form. It still clothed the body, of course. But it also did something more. And it was worn by men.
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