LONDON — The atmosphere was tense as the first shows of London Fashion Week Men’s began the day after the country headed to the polls for the latest general election. The Conservative party clung to power (barely), but the results were decisively shaped by the power of the youth vote, a surprise outcome that sent shock waves across the British capital and beyond.
It seemed fitting, therefore, that many of the spring 2018 collections were a fierce celebration of the next generation.
Big-league brands were all but absent from the five-season-old schedule: Burberry now holds its combined men’s and women’s show during womenswear in September, while this season J.W. Anderson decamped to the Pitti Uomo men’s trade fair in Florence, Italy.
As a result, there was a conspicuous absence of foreign fashion editors and buyers (at least compared with years past), and it was up to a chorus of emerging names to fly the flag for British menswear and its future on the international scene.
Luckily, many were up to the job. Here are some of the best things we saw during the four days of shows.
• Charles Jeffrey held his first, jaw-dropping stand-alone show
The Scottish-born designer, illustrator and radical creative Charles Jeffrey graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2015 after paying his way through school by hosting Loverboy, a wild monthly club night at the Vogue Fabrics nightclub in London’s Dalston neighborhood.
The party didn’t just make Jeffrey the talk of the town; it also spawned his avant-garde gender-bending menswear label of the same name, which had its debut stand-alone catwalk show after three seasons under the umbrella of Fashion East’s MAN.
The runway was a bizarre and joyous riot of colorful energy featuring dancers, pink cardboard dragons and lashings of gay couture; the show notes described it as “a euphoric unity of debauchery.”
Jeffrey, who considers his label to be the product of a collective of fellow art school creatives, be they seamstresses, dancers or choreographers, has been nominated for the 2017 LVMH Young Designers Prize. And the garments spoke volumes about the ambition of his vision: a mishmash of tailored, peplum-waisted gowns or baby doll dresses, accessorized with Tudor wimples, top hats and sunglasses; denim pantsuits; bondage pants, and T-shirts bedecked with slogans mocking tabloid headline hysteria (“Children High On Drink and Drugs” was one example).
But beneath the pantomime and theater, serious ideas were at work, including musings on self-expression, hedonism and the right to freedom. “We need to dance in the face of threats,” Jeffrey said. “It’s not enough to stay woke. We also need to be alive.”
• ...while Grace Wales Bonner stripped things back
Winner of the 2016 LVMH prize and currently making waves in the industry with collections that ask boundary-pushing questions about black male culture and identity, Grace Wales Bonner is a rising star of the London menswear scene.
“I was thinking more in terms of minimalism this time,” Wales Bonner, 26, said after offering a procession of monochromatic suits and shorts-and-jacket combos, all with a lean and tailored silhouette that revolved around neat shoulders and flared trouser hems.
This being Wales Bonner, there was also more to consider than first met the eye. In past seasons, she has woven together historical and cultural narratives to give a rich and dense subplot to her clothes. But the inspirations this season were stripped back to an essay about the gay African-American activist and author James Baldwin, which was handed out to the audience, alongside pictures from “The Homoerotic Photography of Carl Van Vechten” (some of which were reprinted on singlets).
The designer said she had meditated on different states of being and “sexuality, more than sensuality. It is more severe that way.” That clarification of vision, and its rigorous execution on the catwalk, brought a fresh power to her work.
• And Craig Green delivered his best show to date
The final day of the London season, Green presented a superb show that demonstrated why he was named British menswear designer of the year at the British Fashion Council’s awards in December.
Shown deep in the dank belly of an unused Victorian railway station, the collection explored the idea of garments as tools for a journey — maps of self-exploration, where paths can be discovered through distinctive patterns and codes. So there were kite-like constructions fixed atop black sportswear looks in highly technical fabrics, and billowing denim pants paired with ribbed windbreakers and tops scored with lines that appeared to dissect the wearer.
Then came an eruption of colors: vivid patterns of palm trees and sunbeams printed on stiffened, corrugated fabrics that Green said were inspired by the thought of venturing toward paradise. Next, hemlines became longer and hoods became larger, until a final triumphant procession of robed jackets underscored both the designer’s continuing obsession with uniform and communal forms of dress .
When Green’s offerings are at their most theatrical, it’s easy to see why Ridley Scott tapped the 30-year-old to create costumes for his latest movie, “Alien: Covenant.” At their most understated — think jeans, T-shirts and perfectly cut workwear jackets — it’s also easy to see why the Craig Green brand continues to expand and grow.
• Elsewhere, Dame Vivienne proved the old guard can still come out on top
Trust Vivienne Westwood to take a runway bow in scribbles covering her body and clothing (including a T-shirt with an obscene slogan), chanting about politics and riding high on the sculpted shoulders of a dashing young acrobat.
The show began with rappers shouting out about the state of British politics from a colorful children’s playpen at the bottom of the runway. Then out spurted male and female performers, cavorting and cartwheeling in clothes mirroring Westwood’s favorite social causes: trash was encased in bright fishnets or tumbling out of satin bodices; plastic-bottle slippers on models’ feet.
Westwood runway staples deconstructing formal aristocratic attire — pinstriped suiting, paper crowns, slogan patterned prints and genderless corseted gowns — remained a rallying cry against the establishment.
It was outlandish, outrageous and a clear inspiration for many of the younger designers showing on the schedule. London’s best-known punk queen still packs serious punch.
• David Beckham was back on the calendar
Kent & Curwen is a 1920s vintage British menswear brand that has had new life breathed into it by Daniel Kearns, its creative director since 2015, and David Beckham, one of the brand’s owners.
The duo were on hand to present their spring collection, with Victoria Beckham, Beckham’s fashion designer wife, snapping away from the photo pen while models made their way around a sports court to show the latest wares. David Beckham said that the clothes — cricket whites, striped rugby sweaters and classic lightweight rain jackets — continued to be inspired by the brand’s sporting roots, and a sense of patriotism at a time when many Britons feel somewhat at sea.
“I feel that we should show a sense of pride in where we come from,” Beckham said of the collection, which used codes of traditional university sporting attire and sports badges, but with a 21st century update.
The dominant force on the London menswear scene continued to be sportswear. There was techno-fabric outerwear in sun-baked hues on display at Belstaff, speeding through different cultures, climates and terrains. Zip-up jackets, tight shorts and tracksuit silhouettes were offered by Cottweiler, spawned from ideas around off-grid Californian desert communities. And the Momentum collection from Hussein Chalayan was packed with slick, futuristic clothes designed to be in constant motion.