As London’s men’s fashion week gets ever smaller it becomes even harder for designers to make an impact. The four day event is really only two days with a mix of established brands and young designers trying to pad out the schedule. Like a Summer pond retreating, due to lack of rain (funding), with LFWM's decreasing pull the audiences are smaller and less important. Under this handicap, designers have a few short minutes to grab people's attention and resonate further outside of the room. When you look at the expense, you do wonder why anybody is crazy enough to do it, but that’s what makes you love the ‘art’ of fashion even more. LFWM is as much about getting together and looking at each other as it is about trends and looking forward. It’s not really even about selling clothes anymore, it’s like a social event or festival.
Left - RCA Graduates Gráinne Walley, Right - Clara Chu
On London Fashion Week Men’s opening night, the Royal College of Art graduates held a show called ‘All at Once’. The 50 MA graduates each had one look each which gradually rotated around the room. Held at a new retail development on Cork Street in Mayfair, this new way of showing ever increasing volumes of students makes it increasingly hard to see a story in people’s ideas or only gives them one chance to grab your attention. They were saying it was a reflection of the cost it takes for students to produce these collections and, possibly, a reflection of the times of not making huge amounts of stuff with one student offering ‘Extinction Rebellion’ as a reason for not producing anything physical at all.
It’s a tough task to show this amount of students in a realistic amount of time, but it might be better to possibly break them up and give them 5 looks to show in differing categories. Unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the more stuff you produce, the more opportunity you have to mentally sell something to somebody. Desire triggers people sharing and buying things. Noted highlights were Irish graduate Gráinne Walley’s Game of Thrones type armour and Clara Chu’s food inspired accessories.
For the remainder of the fashion week, the front rows were still sprinkled with Burberry check and Balenciaga Triple S trainers, all seen this time last year, and a sign of the lack of hit replacements even though fashion giants continue to churn out incredible amounts of product and ideas.
Here are some brief highlights of LFWM SS20:
This South Korean label, established in 2013, and with creative direction by Hyun-Min Han, made its London catwalk debut. An alumni of Wooyoungmi, Han showed a sophisticated collection mixing pinstripe tailoring and sportswear with flourishes of ruching and ruffles with a finale of models all wearing branded Münn suit bags.
Following her first collection as part of Fashion East, last season, the Dublin-born returned with more of her stylish normcore. This time it was summer towelling mixed with traditional Irish knits and sports fabrics in her mono-coloured looks which are fast becoming her signature.
Nicholas Daley gave LFWM a tribal jazz happening in a 18th century church in the City of London. The ‘Sons Of Kemet’ band dressed in a warm, bold checks made from British fabrics created a crescendo of music and that quickly fell into a party atmosphere with looks referencing his Jamaican heritage.
McQueen came back to London town with its usual exquisite tailoring and its fashion as art raison d’être. As well as the all ultra smart evening wear, there was watercolour symmetry prints and bold fuchsia pink florals in the charming surroundings of the C1348 Charterhouse in Farringdon. I just wish McQueen’s accessorises were as elegant as the clothes. Those chunky trainers and boots just don’t sit right and aren’t the best of their type.
Hussein Chalayan celebrated 25 years with a walk on the street near his store in Mayfair. Lucky with the weather, and with the backdrop of a textured stone wall clean striped shirting - something that continues to look fresh - in simple shapes and a minimal palette was a reminder of this experienced technician of a designer.
For the past few seasons Lou Dalton’s collections have been dominated by her collaborations with British fine knit manufacturer, John Smedley. This season, she returned to a fuller offer with outerwear, shirting, tailoring and, of course, knitwear, but this time in fine rugby shapes, in a collection of easy and stylish clothes which don’t scream ‘designer’. A return to beautiful things?
Depending on how you look at it, Copenhagen's shows are either late or early. It’s the end of the men’s calendar and the beginning of the women’s. Copenhagen has two main trade shows: Revolver and CIFF. Revolver is more condensed and in the upper mid-market of men’s and women’s brands, while CIFF runs the full spectrum from East London’s finest to affordable and wearable mainstream brands and designers.
Here are the trends and brands to know for AW19:
Left - A display at CIFF AW19
Seen on the red-carpet thanks to Abloh’s Louis Vuitton, the harness, with attached pockets, is the natural successor to the bum bag. The cross-body straps and practicality, makes it look fresh and incorporates better into an outfit. This is about sports and travel while being hands-free. New brands offering these styles are “BumBumBag” from France and “Taikan” from Canada.
Right - New affordble accessories brand from France, BumBumBag
This was a trend that I noticed at Pitti Uomo. The economics of recycling relies on the material having a higher monetary value and cashmere is one such raw fibre. Danish brand Pullover, www.pullover.dk is collecting old cashmere knitwear, taking it to Italy, removing all buttons, care labels and necklabels and separating into colours.
They then shred the fibres, mix with virgin cashmere to spin new yarn. The final garment contains 70% recycled cashmere and 30% new.
Left - Danish brand, Pullover's display of the different cashmere makers going into its recycled cashmere jumpers
The Cool Quilted Slipper
The Millennials and Generation Z aren’t leaving the house, so the cool slipper is where the money is in young footwear ATM. Something fun and affordable, these quilted versions look young and comfortable. Brands such as Woolrich, The North Face and Crocs each showed their versions.
See new brand “Coma Toes” in Berlin
From Left - Woolrich, The North Face
Return of the Brogue
If minimal Scandi footwear brands like Vagabond are reintroducing the brogue then you know it’s the direction footwear is going in. As we see a contraction in sports shoes, we’ll see a swing back to leather shoes and in particular brogue styles.
Left - Vagabond brogues
Christian Sneum worked at Valentino for 12 years before launching his own, eponymous label. New for AW19, it’s a dark take on western/army wear including accessories and footwear offering exaggerated details in classic menswear styles.
Left - Sneum, new brand by a former Valentino designer
This Dutch label is inspired by the name Vanessa. Interestingly, the name was invented by the author Jonathan Swift for Esther Vanhomrigh, whom Swift had met in 1708 and tutored. The name was created by taking “Van” from Vanhomrigh's last name and adding "Essa", a pet name for Esther. A soft palette of pastels comes in waisted coats, knitwear and trainers in this feminised feeling men's collection.
Left - New Dutch brand inspired by Jonathan Swift's invention of the name Vanessa
The vast majority of wine bottles no longer contain a cork, so what has happened to that centuries old Portguese commodity? Asportuguesas is a new footwear concept using the harvest from these oak trees. The world’s first cork flip-flops brand, it uses a 100% natural raw material that is born in a tree and is retrieved every nine years, without the tree ever being cut.
Left - Cork soles giving Asportuguesas a sustainable base
Meaning “Vandalism” in Danish, Haervaerk is a Gorillaz-type, gaming looking label of brightly coloured unisex clothing. Their uniform is metamorphorsed by the oil sea, wet asphalt and the rusty containers that litter the Danish seafront.
Niels Gundtoft Hansen, the lead designer, grew up in Denmark and is imbuing the collections with a Nordic identity. Originally hailing from Copenhagen, Hansen studied at London’s prestigious Royal College of Art. His 2016 graduate collection won the Only the Brave award at ITS – the International Talent Support contest in Trieste Italy. Marie Munk, as well a Danish graduate from the Royal College of Art, became partner in Hærværk in spring 2017.
Collaborations for AW19
Nicholas Daley for Fred Perry
Rising British menswear star, Nicholas Daley, has been tapped up by Fred Perry for this first collaborative collection. As well as working with adidas Originals for AW19, Daley offers his mixing of styles influenced by his Caribbean and Scottish backgrounds. Think madras camp collar shirts and bold tracksuits inspired by his father’s nightclub.
Cottweiler for Reebok and Allegri
Matthew Dainty and Ben Cottrell of British brand Cottweiler have worked with the Italian outerwear maker, Allegri, and Reebok for two further collaborations, this season. This is a continued relationship with Reebok featuring a new slip-on loafer and the 10 raincoats with Allegri are inspired by the deep sea and its underwater world using their respected fabrication.
From far left - Cottweiler X Allegri, Cottweiler's loafer for Reebook
Take the escalators upstairs to the first floor in Harrods and a sign above the entrance to the women’s designer floor reads ‘Superbrands’. Inside, individual, luxury fashion brands are housed in marbled-lined shop-in-shops giving consumers the full brand experience.
How these ‘Superbrands’ are anointed I’m not sure - it could be sales or how much they wanted to contribute to the fixtures and fittings - but, what we were willing to accept maybe ten year’s ago feels out of step with how we feel about brands right now.
Left - North Face or Sit On My Face?
Selfridges opened a similar ‘Superbrands’ room during the noughties, but has since dropped the moniker.
We’re moving into an anti big brand age and being labelled a ‘Superbrand’ isn’t the compliment it once was.
“Superbrands…who are they? Self appointment does not make you a Superbrand. And really was it just an industry ‘thing’. Did consumers really know or care who the Superbrands were? Did consumers really buy into this??? I think probably not. It struck me as quite ‘self congratulatory,” says Jo Phillips, Creative Director, Cent Magazine.
Right - The Hey Reilly Fendi/Fila collab for AW18
“The newer generations want brands that are traceable, responsibly care for the environment with ingredients, content etc, that is traceable and kind to the earth. Some want to have one offs so they can be seen as elite, first adopters, trail blazers etc or there are those who want individual products so they look for independent brands, small runs etc so they don’t feel like clones. Sadly some want to wear brands head-to-toe, emblazoned with logos so we all know ..how much money they have??? But, its beginning to look a little tired, like those people that act like a sandwich advertising board for a brand..especially if they wear them head to toe…its all a bit tragic,” says Phillips.
First published in 1995, and now in its 19th edition, ‘The Superbrands Annual’ highlights brands from a wide range of sectors that have become the strongest and most iconic in their field. The brands are voted for by marketing experts, business professionals and thousands of British consumers. There are two separate surveys: Consumer Superbrands (the UK's strongest B2C brands) and Business Superbrands (the UK's strongest B2B brands).
“A Superbrand must fundamentally deliver a good quality product or service but they also must be famous, come to mind ahead of the competition and be emotively engaging and distinctive, for example have a personality or tone of voice that is unique (think Virgin Atlantic vs Delta), or have a purpose that people can identify with and buy into.” says Stephen Cheliotis, Chairman of Superbrands UK.
Things have changed since 1995 and while many brands once wanted to make it onto the Superbrands list, it feels like the energy for consumers is turning towards start-ups and young, dynamic brands rather than something larger and established. People have become suspicious of big companies and this form of back slapping feels somewhat arrogant.
“While the fundamentals of what makes a strong reputation and what drives a positive perception have not in my view fundamentally changed, much of the context of marketing and buying has shifted substantially. For example, the channels or tools used to communicate with consumers has changed and there are now many more options, the consumers’ demands have has also rightly risen. With increased competition, not only has the bar been raised, but brands are increasingly called to account for poor delivery, for example through social media.” says Cheliotis.
“In many ways, brands are still, besides people, the most important asset a company has. A strong reputation in the market is essential to success. In this country we often focus too much on short-term success and short-term metrics, but really focussing on creating a distinctive brand with a clear purpose, point of view, personality and proposition should be a fundamental board consideration.” says Cheliotis.
As part of this change in thinking we’re seeing smaller brands or artists hijacking or playing around with established brands’ logos and slogans. These comical or clever playing with words have made many people think about brands’ messages and what they really mean. It’s part of our age of #fakenews, growing suspicion and rage against the establishment.
Left - OIBOY - £28
Since graduating from the Royal College of Art, Reilly has carved a unique position in the world of illustration and graphic art by playing with what is real or not in brand terms. His recent Hey Reilly AW18 collaboration with Fendi sees a play with the sportswear brand Fila. Both brands merge into a cool and playful outcome. It takes a level of confidence for brands to accept and give these tweaks their blessing. Other designers or artists such as Philip Normal, Proper Mag and OiBoy are all offering a British sense of humour on other people’s branding.
Based in South London, and founded by George Langham, OIBOY recently made its debut at Selfridges. “We all like to categorise everything into boxes, it makes us comfortable, but what makes a model super? "She's a ‘Supermodel’ not just a regular model”. Maybe adding 'super' to a brand or a model allows them to demand higher fees or prices because they are now super?! It's all bullshit really, BUT without these unaffordable (to the masses) 'superbrands', there wouldn't be brands like OIBOY, which is seen as affordable and accessible.” says Langham.
Is this about a lack of respect for brands who have spent many years and millions of pounds establishing themselves.
“I’m not sure it’s a lack of respect from our side of things, we see what we do as something lighthearted and harmless fun. What seems to be happening is privileged kids glamorising the working class, even glamourising poverty in some cases, you can see this with the trend of every fashion shoot being on a council estate or pie 'n' mash shop or wherever, it's like going on a safari for them, seeing how the ‘others’ live…” he says.
Left - OIBOY - £28
“Well ,we used to take any brand that rang a chord with us and British culture/humour, hoping that the brand(s) would see the funny side of what we had done, at the same time, realise it’s guerilla advertising, we never look to discredit nor try to pass ourselves off as them, yet lately we’ve had some issues from 2 ‘superbrands’... the first one which is an American preppy brand who were fairly nice to us and asked us to kindly remove items from sale off of our site, the other, which is a French tennis brand, they tried taking us to the cleaners, so I guess to answer your question; we now can’t mess with clothing (super)brands, so we best stick to beverage companies from now on.” says Langham.
"It's just another marketing spin, why is Mark Ronson a 'super' producer not just a 'producer'? I like the idea of some super hero character producer coming in to save the day, but not really a super brand.” he says.
This reaction is about brands not taking themselves too seriously and being able to laugh at themselves. Many larger brands have built themselves a straight jacket of branding and guidelines and aren’t flexible enough to respond to the new consumer’s desires. This is about having a personality and being confident enough to join in the joke. They had this trouble when social media first appeared and they needed to have a singular voice.
Superbrands is a dated concept and as such illustrates the change in the way we view established brands. Today, you don’t want to be seen as being too successful. You want to be part of the struggle and that’s also why many big brands are starting smaller brands all the time. Just look at H&M and its growing stable.
Many Superbrands have lost sight of its product and got wrapped up in the brand too much. They need to disrupt themselves. I think we’ll see many of these brands falter unless they give more attention to the final product and particularly its quality and longevity.
Right - Proper Mag Mug - £8
I wrote about ‘Russian Doll Brands’ - here
Does menswear really need yet another luxury label? It does if it can offer something different that caters to wealthy men by making their lives easier, increasing comfort and looking smart while not being too difficult or ‘fashiony’ to wear. So, no challenge there then?!
Left - Helbers AW16 Luxury menswear staples with sports detailing and modern fabric mixes
Many traditional luxury menswear brands have fallen into that trap of trying to draw attention to themselves, the brand and the product and it risks alienating its core group and those who can really afford it. Just look at the new Brioni or Zegna’s, now, defunct Couture line. They are all chasing the same customers and these men are picky and know exactly what they want.
Well, I’m introducing, Helbers, a new label of luxury menswear staples from Dutch designer, Paul Helbers. When I first saw this, in the Spring, it was the attention to detail and quality which you could instantly see, and that was just the branded hangers!
You may have heard of Helbers before from his time in charge of Louis Vuitton’s men’s under Marc Jacobs from 2006 to 2011. A graduate of the Royal College of Art, he has also worked at Maison Margiela.
AW16 is his first collection and I would describe it as Jil Sander meets Neil Barrett. Made in Italy, mostly near Venice, it is a small selection of classic and pure menswear pieces with athletic elements and fabric mixes. It is pricey, but I think this is a brand designed to complement the wearer rather than dominate.