I often wonder how many new ideas fashion really wants? Furthermore, does it really want anything new at all? These questions are inextricably tied into notions of cost and worth. It’s easier to sell old stuff, stuff our eyes have adjusted to and are familiar with.
The jolt of the new may excite visually, but few people actually want to put it on their backs. That’s why while London bubbles over with ideas – specifically in menswear, which is experiencing a boom – it’s too often at the expense of sales. Big brand names – such as Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Dior, Valentino – are worth plenty. All those ideas, not so much.
That’s a sobering thought as we begin the four-city, fortnight-long round of autumn/winter 2015 menswear shows – especially as they now slide, seamlessly, into the Paris haute couture presentations, and then after a brief hiatus, into the month-long womenswear season. Or maybe it’s just depressing. That’s a lot of time for not many ideas. And autumn/winter 2015 London hasn’t been packed with them, either.
When Christopher Shannon splattered the slogan "Thanks 4 Nothing" across his sweaters and affixed plastic bags over his models faces (was I the only one to think "choking hazard"?), I couldn’t help but wonder if he had been looking at the rest of the city’s output and thinking: "What a load of rubbish."
Shannon would probably just have said it, though: he’s straightforward, like his clothes.
As the themes suggested, this collection, presented on Friday night, was an exercise in making something out of nothing, and questioning notions of value.
I make it sound heavyweight and pretentious, but it wasn’t.
It revolved around everyday, workaday sportswear, scratchy tracksuits in polyester, heavy knits, padded jackets. Bus-stop stuff. It was what Shannon did with the design that made it special, rather than just knocking it up in expensive fabric or trimming it in fur – a route taken by many menswear houses on the continent to up their game, and prices.
When Shannon deconstructed his tracksuits to ribbons via press-studded panels (an extreme version of those side-ripped Kappa trackies favoured by Sporty Spice in 1996), they ended up looking like tattered rags, or maybe the slashed finery of Elizabethan courtiers – if you wanted to be pretentious.
John Galliano (AFP/Getty)
This was Shannon in sarcastic, experimental mode. He received the inaugural BFC/GQ Designer Fashion Fund prize of £150,000 back in June, so he isn’t broke, as his appropriated and re-named Coke can imagery suggested. That allows him the freedom to play with ideas. The result was refreshing for a journalist, if frustrating for a buyer trying to sift out pieces to roll out on to the shop floor.
It often feels as if London fashion is a toss-up between creativity and commerce. It’s thrown into relief during the menswear seasons, with Savile Row tailors offering clothes with a hanger appeal that, if not immediate, is at least general.
By contrast, look at Sebastiaan Pieter, a Dutchman whose Pieter label’s challenging clothing is riddled with libidinous undertones – a sweater inspired by the gay iPhone app Grindr is printed with "Fun Now". This season he has created a snug, flesh-coloured cycling-short jumpsuit and vest with "Masc" embroidered on them (that’s another Grindr thing).
His clothes are clever, well-made, in good fabrics. But they have failed, so far, to snag a stockist.
A success story is Astrid Andersen, whose menswear is extravagant to an eye-popping degree. She designs oversized, layered sportswear pieces, such as long-line sweatshirts and elasticated joggers, but uses metallic chintzed lace and lamé, panné velvet and lots of fur. Sounds like Liberace at a health spa, but somehow it works.
This season’s inspiration was Samurai warriors, which accounted for the wide shoulders and palette of seaweedy black-green and sashimi pink – via Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog. Andersen’s work throbs with machismo. And men are buying it. Demand is so high that she’s presenting a bespoke collection of fur, for him, at New York Fashion Week in February.
It’s interesting that Andersen is choosing to show overseas – fur is a significant percentage of her business, but remains controversial in London. In the past, a move abroad was seen as necessary to shift both perceptions of a designer and their merchandise. John Galliano is a good example: he left London where, despite critical acclaim, he had failed to build a substantial business. He returns to London – and to European fashion, following his dismissal from Dior in 2011 – tomorrow, to showcase his first designs for Maison Martin Margiela. It’s a throwback, the house says, to his formative years and beginnings in the industry. It’s his first show in the capital since 1992. Perhaps it’s a return to that early wellspring of creativity, before the stifling pressures of big business?
It is also the first time a Paris-based house has jumped across the channel to debut its haute couture line here. The result? Margiela has been struck off the official Chambre Syndicale schedule. At least for this season. Like the rest of the industry, its members must be waiting to see how tomorrow’s show is received – what Galliano’s big ideas are for Margiela. And what they’re worth.