Men who buy their clothes in London have long been faced with just two basic fashion choices: Savile Row suiting, the fully tailored look that features Britain’s finest heritage materials, or an entirely urban look made up of sportswear fresh from the city’s street scene. While both styles have their merits, the most interesting looks presented at London Collections: Men are finally offering a middle way.
A new breed of menswear designers, standing apart from the large fashion houses and mainstream design schools, has recently come to the fore, united by a common desire to push the limits of modern menswear. While British womenswear designers have long enjoyed the freedom to lose themselves in the realms of whimsy, satire and subversion, designing with any and every woman in mind, it is only in the last decade that menswear designers have started to be afforded the same privilege.
Agi & Sam: the print masters
British label Agi & Sam is not afraid to push boundaries by embracing print. While many menswear designers only use print to reference bygone eras – a smattering of 70s snakeskin here or a sliver of 60s paisley there – this designer duo is turning the way menswear designers traditionally perceive print on its head. The designers behind the brand, Agi Mdumulla and Sam Cotton, work with both hand-drawn and digital prints that in turn inspire their focused cuts.
Agi & Sam is a prime example of the way modern British menswear designers are fusing old and new techniques to create fresh pieces. Cotton studied illustration before using his knowledge of colour theory to produce prints for Alexander McQueen and Karl Lagerfeld while Mdumulla had a more traditional training at a Soho-based tailor. Together, the pair create new and exciting designs that combine print and tailoring into innovative, engaging pieces.
Sibling: Kings of knitwear
London’s modern menswear most impresses when it reflects both traditional techniques and new talent. The most successful designers, regardless of their particular style, realise that British craftsmanship is key – something the designers at knitwear specialist Sibling is well aware of. The label’s fun and colourful collections feature great craft knitting and pieces that subvert stereotypes. Miners inspired Sibling’s autumn/winter 2014 collection yet the designers’ informed use of knitwear meant that their references were so subtle that show notes were needed for explanation. This use of traditional craft in such a subversive way is refreshing and rewarding, resulting in wearable pieces that are underpinned by great talent and technique.
JW Anderson: blurring the lines
The most headline-grabbing designers modelled on the catwalks at London Collections: Men are those that challenge established norms by exploring gender roles. Designers such as Jonathan Anderson of JW Anderson have been pushing the limits of gender boundaries in their work. Anderson’s autumn/winter 2013 collection, for example, featured male models in bustier dresses while his spring/summer 2015 presentation saw men take to the catwalk with exposed midriffs or wearing off-the-shoulder jumpers.
Christopher Shannon: stylish sportswear
Sportswear has provided a launching point for many modern menswear designers; Christopher Shannon is among them and is known for offering a fresh take on the tracksuit season after season. Shannon takes pieces usually worn by men on the sports field and presents them in a fresh, conceptual way. His tracksuit-trouser hybrids stand out for featuring all of the elements of traditional sportswear combined with carefully selected additions that catapult them into a more controversial and innovative category.
‘London has always been one of the most stylish cities in the world but now, more than ever, London’s men are thinking twice about their looks,’ says Johnson Gold, editor of menswear magazine Pause. ‘Thanks to the “outfit of the day” culture emerging from social media channels such as Instagram, it’s only natural for men to want to take more risks. London’s menswear is on the rise and now LC:M is giving innovative menswear the recognition is deserves.’
Whether they are offering a fresh take on print, pioneering innovative craftsmanship or blurring the lines between femininity and masculinity, London’s menswear designers are not afraid to stand out from the crowd. From traditional tailors and sportswear superstars to intellectual innovators, the diverse range of designers showing at London Collections: Men each season has helped make the event one of the most exciting weeks on the fashion calendar. It’s definitely one to watch.