MAN autumn/winter 16
The Topman sponsored, Fashion East menswear initiative designers put on a show that put the fun back into fashion week. This is what it's all about.
This season's MAN triptych delivered exactly what the fashion crowd was hungering for - it was actually exciting. There were ritual ceremonies, angsty nancy boys, and a whole clubland created right there in front of us on the runway. After getting everyone riled up last season with their brilliant, but entirely different presentations last season, MAN first timers Grace Wales Bonner and Charles Jeffrey didn't disappoint with their first fashion week catwalk shows. They were showing alongside Rory Parnell Mooney, who presented his third and final outing with Fashion East.
We all guessed who was first out, when a man dressed all in white started playing a strange, stringed instrument at the head of the runway. It turned out to be a West African 21 string harp called a kora, and the musician was Nigerian Irish composer Tunde Jegede. As Wales Bonner's boys walked out, they bowed, saluted or nodded towards the player before striding away. "He was like a master of ceremonies," the young designer told us backstage. "So he kind of introduced the mood of that world. It was more about a ritual, a ceremony between them and him, it was about their world, not the observers." Her models showed off brown velvet suits, bejewelled chokers and floppy crochet sunhats "evocative of winters in hot climates", her press release read. Grace's collections are always steeped in both history and Afrofuturism, and this one focused on "spirituals" - the choral Christian harmonies sung by African Slaves in the US that spoke of both their values and hardships - and also the name of her autumn/winter 16 collection. "It's about different interpretations of spirituality," Grace says. "It's influenced by Sun Ra and Parliament [Afrofuturist musicians], but also the idea of spirituals and community behaviour as a mechanism to escape certain situations." It was beautiful, as always.
Next up was Rory Parnell Mooney, the Irish Central Saint Martins graduate who's still going strong with his final collection as part of MAN. "It's really scary," he told us after the show. "You know what, I say it's really scary but I feel like that collection kind of rounded it off for me. It was more grown up than it was before, it was more finished, it actually had buttons and zips and things, like real clothes!" This season drew on Rory's own experiences of being a teen in Catholic school, "like this regimented exterior with this underlying, angsty feeling of always trying to reel against something, and tell the priest - who's always telling you that all this shit is true - to fuck off." He told them where to go with hoodies riffing off the robes of Carthusian monks he found in the work of Spanish artist, Francisco de Zubaran, huge slits up the side seams like monastic tabards, and the words "repent" and "nancy boy" strewn across the collection. He brought back every 20-something in the room's own teen angst with Placebo's version of the latter during the finale. We can't wait to see what he does next.
And for the grand finale - and (lover)boy was it grand - was Charles Jeffrey. The freaks and the fabulous came out to play, dancing between the giant pink cardboard sculptures of a set by Gary Card, in a reimagining of the designer's club night LOVERBOY. It's not just about the clothes, and it's not just about the club, Charles' world is one and the same and everything is intertwined. "With Loverboy it's like a laboratory," The Scottish CSM graduate tells us backstage. "We experiment with set designers and create an environment, and I really wanted to express that in the show. I feel like that's something that echoes the design process as well. All the distressed aspects in the set, we had that on the boys as well." From afar, the mish mash of harnesses, pin stripe suits, paint-smudged trousers and flatforms looked like a hot mess, but look closer, and you can see - like last season - the influence of the Savile Row tailors,and his signature Aran knits. "Each collection is like a learning curve, and I'm trying to see what's working and what's not," he explains. "I felt like we had quite a nice line between those two worlds, so I'm hoping this experience will help me develop further, and refine, refine, refine instead of scream, scream, scream!" It was clever and it was fun and fashion needs more of it. Now we're off to recover from our LOVERBOY hangover.
Photography Jason Lloyd-Evans