Do We Need to Talk About London Fashion Week Men’s?
The New Order takes a look at the U.K.’s leading menswear event and why change is needed for the future of the city’s design talent
Menswear has had its ups and downs in London. Last weekend saw the 13th season of London Fashion Week Men’s, but for sometime now the industry and beyond have had their doubts about its longevity. Having lost some of its big name draws last year and downgraded in size from four to the original three days – maybe its time to acknowledge that something doesn't feel right in the capital.
For many, the first weekend of the new year is spent recovering from the Christmas break, nursing New Year hangovers and pledging to be better for the 12 new months ahead. But London is back to it on the first weekend of the year as the trade calendar reignites. Has this obscure scheduling isolated London, with LFWM held to ransom at the very start of the year by competing fashion capitals?
Editor’s schedules are stretched; Modelling agencies strained. Indeed, some buyers are no longer showing up at all, favouring Paris appointments later in the month when budgets, like heads, are a little clearer. Perhaps attendees are simply not as excited about London’s ‘moment’ because some of our greatest strengths are not being celebrated. Our vibrant subcultural scenes from music to skateboarding have become the lifeblood of British fashion and how men currently dress – yet the fashion week format seems dated for these zeitgeist brands.
Started in June 2012 under the iteration of LONDON COLLECTIONS: MEN, its debut ushered in a new era for menswear, previously tacked on as a single day to the womenswear offerings of February and September. It was a time where London took centre stage in the world, from Royal Weddings to Olympic games. And with menswear sales on the rise, LC:M presented a unique opportunity for British fashion. Fashion Week releases promised iconic British designers such as Margaret Howell and Alexander McQueen, heritage brands such as Aquascutum and Savile Row tailors, alongside emerging designers such as JW Anderson and Christopher Raeburn. And it delivered. LC:M showcased the varied breadth of British Menswear at the time.
Since those halcyon days, however, the world has changed – and the names that once lured press and buyers continue to dwindle. Burberry, Tom Ford and McQueen have all flown the nest, taking with them many of the buyers and editors whom are so crucial in the success of any fashion week. And, as the print and digital media landscape continues to be challenged, many advertising teams attach themselves to these big brands, sometimes leaving London in the dust. “London always represents a challenge for us, says Chris Fisher, Senior Buyer at END clothing. “The timing is always difficult and as buyers, we are always up against it with regards to prioritising what we should see vs what is commercially viable for our store.”
And whilst the Government enters its final 90-day window in the lead up to Britain’s potential exit from the European Union, there is grave concern for the future of British Fashion. Frictionless trade currently allows for lower tariffs on import and export, set and regulated by the World Trade Organisation. These are now under threat. What’s more, the drop in exchange of the euro to pound means those already crippling fees are suicidal. Of course, luxury brands have the option of relocation, but our young designers and brands are being presented with what’s been dubbed by some as a “doomsday scenario”.
There is of course a silver lining. London has always been heralded as the place to go to see emerging talent, who thrive in the face of adversity. The current guise of fashion week however, seems established in that old roster’s image. Surely to maximise London’s creative potential we must embrace the energies and cultures behind the brands that break with convention, allowing them space outside ill-timed and costly runways and presentations.
However, initiatives such as NEWGEN and Fashion East play a pivotal role in achieving this, birthing some of our most loved favourites such as Kim Jones, Craig Green and Grace Wales Bonner. The British Fashion Council, regulatory organisation of LFWM, currently charges for a slot on its schedule unless you are in one of the above programs. In fact, costs can sometimes reach into five figures if you choose to present within an official show space in London. So, why the obsession with doing “The Show?”
“Should designers who have no revenue, and who can’t afford to be on a schedule, show at all?” asks Olya Kuryshchuk, the founder of 1 Granary – the self-started Central Saint Martins publication turned global creative support network. “Fashion weeks around the world already fail to select designers or brands based on merit, and schedules are crowded with shows that no one has any interest in seeing.”
Samuel Ross of A-Cold-Wall* is one of London’s break out stars whom we can look to as a model for the future. Trained in graphic design and not fashion, Ross and his team re-interpret retail spaces, debut films alongside clothing, create installations and mix their own soundtracks. This hybridisation of culture is so embedded at the heart of the brand that its runway shows feel more like performance than catwalk. London needs to facilitate more moments like this both on and off schedule. “People should want to be in this industry because it’s part of who they are, not because of the immediate gains that can come from it” Ross shared recently in an interview with Dazed. “That’s short-sighted and it won’t last.”
London’s creative energy has always triumphed in times of uncertainty – and new business models and presentation methods are beginning to appear in response. Brands, just as the music industry did some time ago, now understand their audiences better, realising that our traditional outreach mechanisms no longer represent how we consume fashion. Nowadays, social media gives brands the power to build with their own culture, interact with their consumer demographic or to be held accountable for questionable business practices. “When it started, London was a much more rounded schedule of shows and brands of all sizes, but the landscape has changed” adds Fisher. “We need the system to embrace and nurture the creatives who are building a culture around their brands, which in turn is creating viable businesses. Regardless of their route into the business.”
Daniel w. Fletcher, owner of eponymous London based menswear label, this season presented his collection off schedule, sourcing his own venue and working with his network of friends and long-term collaborators. Fletcher, like designers including Charles Jeffrey, Paria Farzaneh and Nicholas Daley, stem from building a culture and family around their brands.“I’ve always played around with the format that I present my work”, he explains. “And this season is no different. I’m showing off schedule but it feels right to do something brave like that. We found our own space, which has allowed us to do so something more intimate and challenge the conventions of a normal runway show. It’s important for me to always question the structures of the status quo.”
Other menswear weeks such as Pitti Uomo offer curated event lists that range from exhibitions and panel discussions to club nights or restaurant takeovers that bring wider creative industries together. Paris is extending the prowess of brands via collective showroom culture where brands work together and develop a larger identity via a pack mentality, where cross-promotional tactics are worth their weight in gold. Equally this draws a wider footfall and deeper cultural understanding of the brands in their environments surrounded by likeminded folk. This is testament to how in the present-day, successful brands are much more than good clothing – rather guided by and demonstrative of the culture it represents.
Laura Robertshaw, menswear buyer at Liberty, shares the view that young talent, and the culture that surrounds them is key to London Fashion Week Men’s success. “Just as Milan is known for the big glitzy fashion houses and larger than life shows, London could and should be considered as the hub for newness, fresh ideas and hottest young talent on a world stage.”
Does London Fashion Week Mens need to play catch up if it’s to continue to draw the attention of the press and buyers that it deserves? Our capital has such a rich and varied culture – yet our current fashion week set-up feels like it has been hammering the same format, which doesn’t allow us to explore the city’s full potential. The fragmented nature of the new format, split across East and West London tells the tale of a week at odds; where cross pollination of high and low is stunted – and visitors are restrained to what they can experience in full.
There was, and will continue to be, unquestionable flair and support on show over London Fashion Week Mens. But its time to face that London needs better structures in place to embrace new forms, allowing brands the room to question and provide new ways of presenting their ideas. And to also facilitate those who have never had the opportunity to present these ideas in the first place.