A fresh wave of lad culture is washing over London. Today, every beautiful boy you know, see and meet is wrapped up in a combo of sportswear and designer brands. This effortless mix of Astrid with Adidas, Nasir with Nike, Raf with Reebook and Shannon with Stone Island, feels both fresh and familiar. Steve Salter investigates…
"Sweatshirts and tracksuits have been the domain of young London designers for a while now, but the words ‘streetwear’ or ‘sportswear’ are demeaning to them: what they are creating is pure fashion," menswear journalist Charlie Porter said in his spring/summer 15 London Collections: Men round up for the Financial Times. It’s a sentiment with which we couldn’t agree more. Designers such as Christopher Shannon, Nasir Mazhar, Astrid Anderson, Bobby Abley and Cottweiler are pioneering a new movement redefining the way modern men dress. Interpreting symbols of sportswear, the stars of MAN and NEWGEN, are crafting a new uniform that can be seen everywhere from quiet street corners to sweaty club crevices and the most fantastical of fashion’s fanfare.
During London Collections: Men spring/summer 15, the moment gained momentum. Enthused by watching her British high street collaboration sell out in record time, Astrid Andersen explored Asia and discovered the softer side of her boy with soothing sunset hued, sumo inspired streetwear. "I want my boy to feel like he belongs to a very confident group of guys who don't care about general perceptions of masculinity and redefine these lines through their own empowerment," she discloses backstage. Elsewhere, inspired by the work of Adrienne Salinger, Christopher Shannon escaped inside memories of childhood bedrooms, delving deeper into ideas of identity to emblazon sweatshirts, anoraks tracksuits and oversized tees in scribbles of his own name alongside cut and pastes from scrapbooks and sticker books. Symbols of casual wear were the chosen canvas to intricately print his teenage dream. Similarly, Bobby Abley, the dashing Disney daydreamer of MAN, weaved youthful flashbacks of characters from The Little Mermaid on neoprene to create some of the Insta-wants of the season.
"This is not sportswear for sport and it's not streetwear for, or from, the street," declares Ben Cottrel, one half of British brand Cottweiler. "It's clothing that’s responsive to our social environment, who we are and where we’re going." Luxury streetwear brands #Beentrill and Hood By Air may be entrenched in US culture, but Christopher, Nasir and Astrid are undeniably British beasts, morphing garments from the flickering streetlights of long forgotten estates into the spotlight of the fashion elite. Under their creative vision, something as deceptively simple as a sweatshirt can reveal what music you listen to, where you party and who you fuck.
"It's familiar as it's what we have grown up with, but this is not ‘sportswear’ for sport and it's not ‘street wear’ for, or from, the street. It's responsive to its social environment and relevant to where we are."
“Nasir uses symbols that everyone connects to,” Stavros Karelis, founder of independent boutique Machine-A, explains. “By wearing one of his pieces everyone feels part of the same community, the Nasir Mazhar family.” “The Nazir Mazhar man is into music, he’s into hot girls, he’s into muscles... he’s into the good life,” menswear journalist Daryoush Haj-Najafi chips in. Stavros agrees: “Nasir is creating a world that has a way of talking, a way of dancing, a way of moving, a way of dressing. It’s got a whole world around it that is thought of as street but it’s not just street, it’s so much more.” So how do you feel wearing Nasir Mazhar? “Modern as fuck basically. It's a little bit like riding a flying moped. It’s like dancing,” Daryoush adds with a smile. And who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
I experienced a similar fashion movement growing up in Kent in the 90s. In the midst of Britpop's comedown and the dawn of Garage, it was the wave of the New Lads that washed me onto the shores of this industry. My earliest style memories are of armies of teens lining the arcades of Margate seafront dressed in Reebok trainers, white Nike socks tucked into Umbro joggers, a Lacoste polo and a Nike cap. For a few moments at least, this was my uniform. Fast-forward to the here and now, and there’s something wonderfully nostalgic about seeing boys mix designer labels with sportswear giants that warms my soul.
It seems I’m not the only one, London’s menswear designers recall the delights of similar boyhood wardrobes too. "I was about nine or ten when I first pulled a look together," remembers Christopher, who recently won the inaugural Designer Menswear Fund. "I was more into clothes than my friends and I bought a hooded tracksuit and wore it with a leather Afrika pendant and a fake Fila baseball jacket. It was quite advanced and I never wore it twice. My hair was styled in full curtains and I wore a great pair of Reebok ERS on my feet." Matt Dainty, co-founder of British menswear label Cottweiler, was another early adopter of the high fashion streetwear trend. "I wore a lot of Ralph Lauren Polos, Hudson loafers and sportswear brands like Ellesse, Fila and Umbro,” he recalls. "Embroidering the YSL logo on the breast pocket of my school shirt was the ultimate, but it had to be white on white to comply with uniform rules."
"They are a vehicle, a way of playing with ideas and preconceived notions. They are items loaded with preconceptions. From football terraces to student unions, grey Magistrates Courts to sunshine-filled all-inclusive holiday resorts."
Thankfully there are no rules today. London’s menswear designers are free to push boundaries, duly disregarding the constraints of traditional menswear, and combining new ideas with inspiration from the urban environments that surround them. "I’ve always been drawn to lads on the street, rather than some guy that’s obsessed with dressing like his granddad," Christopher confirms. So what do tracksuits and trainers mean to men today? "Modernity," Matt Dainty states simply. "Performance fabrics and technical construction represent a knowledge and understanding of your environment. Lightweight tracksuits allow you to move and travel effectively and productively within a busy lifestyle.”
Ever evolving, the lad uniform is so much more than just a tracksuit and trainers. “Tracksuits are a vehicle,” Christopher confirms, “a way of playing with ideas and preconceived notions. In my MA collection I made all the shell suits reversible and French seamed, every aspect has to be really thought through. After all,” he concludes, “a tracksuit is just a tracksuit if you have nothing to say or no point of view."