Alexander McQueen was so raven, James Long hit up a sci-fi convention, and Christopher Kane got DNA all over his collection. It’s got to be Tuesday at the London men’s shows.
If anyone said the British were twee with our biscuits and teacups and florally knick-knacks, they need only pay a visit to our autumn/winter men’s shows. Brutality became the buzzword of the London collections once and for all on Tuesday as the city’s designers continued their quest for a darker world, led stalwartly by the princely house of darkness itself. “Especially the McQueen menswear always has a nod to how British men dress, so I think it’s very important to kind of stay within that world,” Sarah Burton said after her third Alexander McQueen men’s show on British soil, which ceremoniously flowed through the aisles of The Welsh Chapel to the tones of Bauhaus’ Bela Lugosi’s Dead. It was a statement open to interpretation, but it doesn’t take an A-Z of McQueen to see that Burton was hardly referring to the preppy, pastel-clad boys of the KR.
Drawing on all aspects of the black and white street photography of John Deakin, the designer offered up a lavishly dim collection of sharp power coats and kilts to beckon the London gloom, some with gratuitous checks and bonus pleats for the exceptionally Anglophile. And it was in the simplicity of the collection’s openly British elements and everyday rainy despair – crow’s feather headpieces included – that the collection became so exquisitely relatable. “What’s so beautiful about it are the starkness and the reality. There’s a brutality to it, and it’s very, very impactful and immediate. It’s in your face. It’s not retouched or airbrushed. It’s about characters and people,” Burton said referring to the work of Deakin, although she might as well have been talking about the London that created Lee McQueen and all the gloominati, who followed in his footsteps.
Key to London’s celebration of darkness has, of course, always been an ironic – if not somewhat geeky – approach to the subject matter, which the post-McQueen generation of men’s designers such as James Long, who’s practically a veteran on the British menswear scene, masters to perfection. He proved it with a collection of intricate tracksuits (yes, wrote that) and brutal glistening black elasticated quilting used in tops, all of which would easily and quite rightly have looked dead serious were it not for the fact that Long’s collection was based on the cosplay he witnessed at sci-fi conventions assisting Virginia Bates early in his career. “I actually used to go to the conventions with her, and the queues were absolutely insane because she was in Dr Who and Star Wars. I got the real deal,” Long avowed backstage. The Trekkies would say he boldly went where no man had gone before.
Perhaps the platformised eighteenth century shoes and delicate manbags set to chamber-esque music at J.W. Anderson represented a similar irony. But if the theme of brutality entered into this catwalk it was in the structure, panelling and wrapping of garments, and the general subversion of the collection, rather than in the emotional expression. The king of subversion, Christopher Kane continued the edutainment premise of his spring/summer 14 women’s collection by putting molecule illustrations (of physics class fame) on tops, creating a kind of dark, acidy boldness for his autumn/winter 14 menswear. It was a stark contrast to the kind of bravado depicted in Christopher Ræburn’s ode to the Arctic where original 60s Siberian officers’ coats in sheepskin had been reconstructed into brutally burly performance jackets.