Has London menswear gone wacky?

Thursday, 09 January 2014
British fashion has long been associated with innovation, championing emerging designers who often are fresh out of college and quick to make it onto the London Fashion Week official schedule, their newness invigorating us. It is interesting to watch these designers grow into businesses when they present formidable collections in their early seasons, and from this young stage of their fashion cocoon emerges a unique usp and a credible designer. Such is the case with Christopher Kane, who has triumphed since his Central Saint Martins MA bodycon and lace debut and who highlights the importance of nurturing young talent and how it benefits.

Championing the new but also unworthy

But just as often as we champion emerging designers, we give the same praise to collections that look as if they have been assembled at home, that lack both the intelligence and direction to shock and the craftsmanship to admire.

Instead, shouldn't London be championing real clothes? Supporting and promoting brands and designers who create considered yet credible commercial collections, stripped of artifice and that have a retail prospect?

Or is British menswear defined by only those pushing boundaries, whose wacky looks take up the majority of column inches by editors craving whatever is new, new new, but that never make it past sample stage, and that in the end fizzle away in what is known as the graveyard of fashion obscurity.

With the spotlight on menswear around the globe, men's clothes have become big business. The Italians, French and Americans have embraced this, but Britain has been a little slower, often celebrating eccentricity over relevance and retail success. Back in the 90s, when brands like Jean Paul Gaultier challenged conventional menswear, there was a real sense of excitement. But in London, the challenge is far greater, trying to find consistent collections that will work in the modern man's wardrobe. Looks that a consumer will want to pay for and ultimate wear, not a random item from a boundary-pushing catwalk collection, but a relevant wardrobe.

One show that disappointed this season was J.W. Anderson. Hotly tipped as the British designer to watch since his label was bought by LVMH, his AW14 collection supposedly challenged conventional gender-defined clothing. But instead the majority of looks were frightfully unfashionable and undesirable. Yes the mod-heeled brogues where beautifully executed - that's where LVMH come in - but other than a few fashionistas and perhaps Prince, who likes to perform in a statement heel, they are conceptually irrelevant.

Finding the balance between challenge and commercialism, between forward thinking and staying power, between aspiration and evoking an emotion, is something all designers aspire to, but few achieve. Helmut Lang was one such designer, as is Comme des Garcons, even Phoebe Philo. But in London, it's the outlandish styling, the offbeat fashion and conceptually nonconformist that is heralded yet unconnected from anything current or indeed wearable. In the end it doesn't as much as challenge, as it takes us a step back into a gilded cage of the bizarre.

Images: J.W. Anderson © Dazed

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