LONDON — What is the future of London Fashion Week Men’s? The question has been asked many times in recent seasons, where the absence of major players and some brands’ decisions to show gender-neutral collections on the women’s runway calendar have shrunk the crowds at this twice yearly event.
Yes, the schedule felt rather thin — there would be a strong argument to make this a packed two-day event rather than drawing it out over four — and often the focus was on flamboyant artistic statements rather than commercial success. But the latest round of shows, which started Friday, spoke volumes, with several strong displays of energy, ideas and new talent that underscored why the British men’s wear scene should not be discounted yet.
Here are five of the shows that stood out.
Charles Jeffrey Loverboy
Charles Jeffrey Loverboy turned a real corner with its January collection, making inroads into the task of wrestling the boundless imagination, ideas and outrageous audacity that has come to define this breakout British brand into something accessible to those outside the fashion world. Pleasingly this season Mr. Jeffrey, a finalist in the 2018 LVMH Prize competition and recipient of the emerging talent prize at the Fashion Awards in December, continued firmly in that vein.
The latest collection, titled “Emergence” and looking at what Mr. Jeffrey called “embracing of the genderless and misunderstood through a sensitive, celestial study of bodies,” took an assured designer’s hand to unfiltered and unexpected places, leaving the audience with a sense of the wondrous possibility of the new.
There were ’90s sportswear zip-up jackets given tight belted waists and padded hips, followed by jackets printed with the fine detail of brocade and military regalia. Or the full silk skirt of a blue dress, which had an explosive petticoat of rubber gloves, plastic bags and inflated balloons. The bold, sculptured shoulders and silhouettes of a series of immaculately cut pantsuits in patchwork plaids or an elegant gray showed Mr. Jeffrey was also creating for both men and women with commercial requisites in mind, as did charming, scribbled prints on trench coats, shirts and shorts that would likely catch some retailers’ eyes.
The mood might have been one of thoughtful evolution. But luckily for die-hard fans, many of the hallmarks of a Loverboy showcase remained firmly in place. Models wove their way around dancing performers, who writhed on the floor wearing second-skin suits and were connected to the ceiling with wires. A chorus wearing helmets of silver foil wailed into microphones. It looked, and sounded, like the future.
Martine Rose: Spring 2019
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Collections that reflect a love of London are the calling card of Martine Rose, a talented fixture on the British men’s wear scene who is making international waves as a consultant to Demna Gvasalia and his Balenciaga men’s line.
On Sunday night, guests descended upon a small cul-de-sac called St. Leonard’s Square in a leafy north London neighborhood to watch her latest ode to the British capital unfold. As ever, she used the base materials of everyday street life to underpin her collection — think chav sportswear and office drab — but with the addition this season of a new male muse: a smiling survivor of the ’90s rave scene. There were psych-patterned shirts and spray-painted high-waist jeans, knits inspired by the drum and bass music scene, battered square-toe loafers and lots of black leather, from bombers to big baggy pants and used as detailing on layered shirts and waistcoats.
The front row crowd, which included fashion figures like Virgil Abloh and Luka Sabbat, sat on plastic chairs next to bemused but smiling local residents; lots of the latter also held small parties in their front gardens or hung out of their windows to watch the show. All seemed charmed by a collection that attempted to personify the current London spirit: a grizzled geezer, stylish but rough around the edges, who has seen it all and then some but is still ready for more.
A-Cold-Wall: Spring 2019
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Regis Colin Berthelier/Nowfashion
Samuel Ross, a finalist for the prestigious LVMH Prize, showed his latest A-Cold-Wall collection on Sunday, an offering packed with experimental ambition and momentum.
Inspired this season by Brutalist buildings in Britain — and, more specifically, by the ways spatial relationships and urban architecture can impact the psyche — it was clear on arrival at the show venue that things could get physical. Guests, presented with ear plugs, masks and plastic goggles, donned them apprehensively and then the show began, with some models, eerily dressed in dark gray hoods and painted top-to-toe with clay, moving as one body down the middle of the runway. Next came the clothes: deconstructed wardrobe staples in highly technical fabrics and with industrial touches, Mr. Ross’s most accomplished and considered collection to date.
Standouts were two-tone puffers and shimmering zip-up jackets shown alongside parachute pants, either with blown-up pockets, pull cords or finished with detachable pouches. Gray sculpted briefcases and bags also showed real promise, the designs speaking for themselves in a show where the performance components sometimes threatened to drown out everything else. For example, the sight of a naked man bursting, bloody and “reborn,” from a Styrofoam structure and then slithering around on the floor was a little much for some, though not for Mr. Abloh, who had come to support his protégé.
“This was a breakout show from Samuel,” he said. “We both come from a whole new set of designers who share the same work ethos around exploring social frameworks and tensions. I can’t wait to see what he does next.”
Christopher Raeburn: Spring 2019
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Christopher Raeburn was flying the flag for sustainability and the use of recycled fabrics long before it became a general cause célèbre. His label is based on the three pillars of remade, reduced and recycled.
This season, as part of a collaboration with Timberland, he scoured street markets and secondhand shops to find items made by the outdoor retailer, then reworked them into geometric color-block prints in utilitarian shades of red, gray, blue, green and black. Oversized hooded parkas made up the backbone of the show, as well as fluid silk pieces — caftans for women and shirt and shorts for men — printed with NASA satellite imagery of the disappearing Arctic ice and glaciers, underscoring the philosophy of the Raeburn brand.
“This collection is a creative call to arms,” Mr. Raeburn said before the show. “As an industry we need to keep thinking about how we consume materials and take a more responsible approach to design, now more than ever.”
It may not be a new message. But at a time where some men’s wear design is bogged down by introspection and intellectualism to the point of being inaccessible, it certainly felt like a powerful one.
For spring 2019, Edward Crutchley delivered a coed collection that blended the highly conceptual with more wearable features, to compelling effect.
This four-year-old brand’s reputation has been quietly forged on its devotion to ornate textiles, artisanal techniques and quality provenance, and this season was no exception. Mr. Crutchley’s offerings included a collaboration with the French artist Lucien Murat, who painted his vision of a grotesque, bestial world on traditional tapestries that were finished into open-collar shirts and shorts for men and dresses for women; a partnership with a historic Yorkshire mill to create woven suiting, and prints made by the oldest kimono printer in Kyoto, Japan.
However, new and simple silhouettes for both genders, heavy on volume but light on fuss, gave his ideas a better platform than in past collections.
The Edward Crutchley label isn’t known beyond a relatively small insider circle. But now that the designer has worked with Pringle, Kanye West and Louis Vuitton (Kim Jones, the house’s former men’s wear designer, sat front row at the show Saturday), and his clothing is sold at Browns and MatchesFashion.com, you can expect that to change very soon.