Ten of the best shows at London Fashion Week Men’s AW17
Growing up can be difficult but you reach a stage where you know you’ve obtained a certain strength and established form that equates to substance. With the AW2017 collections ushering in its 10th season anniversary, London Fashion Week Men’s (LFWM) had indeed grown up. And it needed to be convincing to withstand the swell of industry chatter about the relevance of stand-alone men's fashion weeks in the already bloated fashion calendar. Thankfully LFWM had stamina: the key collections inspired social commentary and the designers were diverse despite the exit of some of the big hitters. These were the 10 shows that have us wishing for next fall.
Grace Wales Bonner’s collections are powerful in part because of the narrative they evoke: that black people have a proud history of artistic and cultural riches, spirituality, travel and exploration. For her first collection since winning the prestigious LVMH Prize, Wales Bonner continued her study of the romantic black male who wears soft cuts and feminine fabrics while remaining resolutely strong. This time she looked to religious preachers and West London’s sound system culture but the designer’s main reference was Patrick Cariou’s photographs of Senegalese men. With looks ranging from houndstooth duffel coats, patchwork jeans and wrinkled shirts to pure white suits and long gowns complete with do-rags, her sincere and lyrical storytelling shone brightly.
J.W. Anderson is one of London’s brightest stars while also making time to reinvent Loewe as its creative director. How does he doe it? His designs are always clever, have a sense of purpose and dazzle in terms of technique and references. Here he was inspired by David Hockney and Patrick Caulfield for his earthy yet bright colour palette, awash with outlandish bursts of orange and purple, that brought his hugely oversized shapes to life. But what really made the LFWM audience smile were his crochet knitwear pieces and stain glass window prints that both hinted at British village chic.
Workwear and uniforms – clothes that protect and defend – have always been powerful themes in Craig Green's work. For AW17 he referenced spacesuits, fishermen waterproofs and samurai armour in his all-enveloping looks that would protect their wearer from any attack, whether of the alien, Moby Dick or imperial warrior variety. The genius of the collection came in the manipulation of heavy wools, either as cutout coats that looked like Middle Eastern rugs, or padded cagoules wrapped with rope at the waist. It was easily one of the more directional collections of the week from the recently crowned BFC British Menswear Designer of the Year who never ceases to keep on perfecting his already damn near perfect approach.
A-Cold-Wall is at the forefront of where street fashion is headed by creating clothing that is seemingly anti-fashion yet secretly cerebral. AW17 saw the brand make its LFWM debut with a collection that showed an increasingly upscale aesthetic that begot standout pieces such as a silver utility coat, fine leather bags, rubber tops and silky suits - while still mixing in graphic tracksuits and sweaters. Speaking to the founder of the cult label, Londoner Samuel Ross, after the show, he confirmed that he is starting the new label, Polythene Optics, that focuses on sporty basics, leaving this as his more conceptual and (whisper it) luxurious main line.
While Qasimi’s AW17 collection may have looked like an ode to hygge (the humble Nordic concept that loosely translates as cosiness) with its dressing gown coats and pillows-as-accessories fit for sinking oneself into a chesterfield next to a roaring fire, it was in fact a quiet riot. Reacting to 2016’s dire international socio-political happenings, designer Khalid Al’Qasimi was inspired by John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1969 Bed In protest to come up with the collection’s blanket-like folds, duvet outerwear, loose trousers and mohair knits. Natural wools and leathers came in delectable colours ranging from mineral green to marigold and baby pink, which did not so much shout revolution as encourage making love not war.
Established South Korean designer Zio Song showed for a second season at LFWM after a decade at Paris Men's Fashion Week. Continuing his love of abstract hand painted surfaces and black and white tailoring, the collection’s first looks, including bomber and biker jackets, long Edwardian suits and large cloaks, were suitably splattered and had an ominous quality. More colours were then introduced with desert shades of brown, orange and yellow softening up baggy knitwear and trousers. Floppy hats, ribbon-tied collars and a midnight blue velvet jacket sprinkled just the right amount of dandy attitude across this misanthropic, impeccably made offering.
It must have taken an awful long time for KTZ’s backstage dresser to get this season’s models into their outfits. The brand has a long-standing love of laces, which they took to its extremes by applying them to almost every piece of the collection, ramping up the fetish references in the process. Keeping to its longstanding use of black, white and leather, KTZ's military and sporty classics were pulled together and done up profusely with lacing, from hoodies and bombers to backpacks and caps. Surplus coats were encased in corsets and frou frou skirts were pared with bother boots. Logo insignia and camouflage knitwear completed the ghetto goth appeal of this confidently kinky collection.
This young Hong Kong-born Parsons-trained talent explored the idea of ‘shame’ for AW17. Not that there was anything apologetic about Ximon Lee’s architectural silhouettes and revealing cuts. Deconstructed tailoring came into play across floor length coats, slashed jumpers, tunic tops and flared trousers. Swirling brocade, see-through organza, plush velvet and shiny leathers gave big shapes a brave attitude, as did a sea of pearls scattered across multiple surfaces. The bralets that were casually slung across shoulders aren’t likely to make it into many men’s wardrobes but they did add to the many well-crafted moments of the collection, which was bold without being contrived and edgy without being precious.
Father/son duo Casely-Hayford never rest on their renowned laurels by continuing to innovate tradition. They lent their expert tailoring and eye for sub cultural trends to the season to turn the finest silks and wools into gloriously textured suits for men and women. Roughed up, fluffy circles, stripes and checks added excitement to overcoats and wide trousers in shades of black, navy and grey. Sharp double-breasted jackets had striking proportions while a smattering of anoraks injected that all-important pop of realness.
For Vivienne Westwood’s first outing at LFWM, the city’s original rebel rouser combined her Red Label and MAN collections into one gloriously crazy boy-girl mash up. As we’ve come to expect from the dame in recent times, the collection acted as a manifesto for her environmental and political activism. This time she advocated for eco-friendly energy with models wearing childish crowns with Ecotricity (the name of a UK green energy supplier) scrawled across them, not to mention slogans aplenty. As for the clothes, Westwood’s unisex staples included patchwork knitwear, tulle frocks, velvet boxer shorts, skull embroideries, be-cloaked balaclavas, buffalo hats, golden gowns, cowboy boots and extravagantly proportioned suits topped off with finger puppets. She even used her own laughing face on t-shirt prints. The show was a fitting closing show for LFWM, reminding us, as if we were foolish enough to forget, who’s boss.
Words Lithemba Velleman