London Collections: Men shows the capital has what it takes

DAY TWO
THERE HAS always been a tension between “fashion”, as opposed to “style”, where menswear is concerned. For many men, the collections shown on the runway represent something confined to a very small circle of “fashion folk”. It’s not hard to understand where that perception comes from: how many men outside the fashion world would spend upwards of £160 on a top with the head of a rottweiler emblazoned across the front, or wear a pair of slim fit leather trousers, Kanye West style? Not many. But day two of London Collections: Men was all about wearable style.

Where the capital’s designers were once criticised for leaning too far towards the avant-garde, the shows proved designers are evolving, or are at least following the big British labels who balance trend-led items with more timeless, accessible pieces.

Nobody straddles both camps quite like Burberry, so it was fitting the label kick-started the festivities on Tuesday.

Actor and model Harry Treadway hosted an event at the brand’s menswear store in Knightsbridge to celebrate the event. And despite Tommy Hilfiger hosting a big party with Esquire at The Zetter Townhouse the night before, over 100 guests were up bright and early to go through the rails showcasing the brand’s store offering. Tinie Tempah, who wore the brand’s soon-to-be-released spring 2013 collection at the Olympic Closing Ceremony, attended although, contrary to the rumours, Romeo Beckham, who appears in the label’s latest campaign, was a no show.

Nicole Farhi was up next. Crowds lined the block to see the label’s first collection under the direction of former Aquascutum designer Joanna Sykes. Since joining the brand she has focused on elevating and recalibrating the menswear line and it has resulted in a tighter edit of what the brand usually presents. While the quality of the fabrics has improved, aesthetically, not much has changed. The collection featured items like an excellent boiled wool suit in navy, an oversized black shearling jacket, perfectly tailored herringbone trousers and a host of lightweight cashmere sweaters. The brand’s paired back aesthetic works well with Sykes’ understated style – so far, it seems like the perfect match.

Margaret Howell is another designer with a knack for creating desirable pieces without pretension. Her latest collection was full of charming simplicity. This season she continued her penchant for the colour blue; especially on a series of relaxed day suits and loose-fit shirts. Fabrics were lighter than usual (her signature shearling jacket was nowhere to be seen), which is probably a smart move, particularly for markets like Australia, where the brand is popular, who do not have the bitterly cold winters we’re accustomed to. Don’t worry, though – she didn’t ignore the British weather altogether. A handful of great, seasonless waterproof jackets were thrown in for good measure.

YMC also showed on day two. The collection was full of quality knits that felt slightly staid on first appearance but were made interesting by the inclusion of subtle, playful details. One cardigan, for example, looked classic from the front but came with a visible zip running the full length of the back. Even with its signature knits, blue and red prints added a welcomed twist and pieces like a quilted purple puffa jacket gave the collection a modern feel.

My favourite show of the day, though, was Richard James. The Savile Row designer comes in at the other end of the “fashion” versus “style” dichotomy. While the younger designers have been accused of being too “fashion”, James represents the old guard, which, in many ways, is perceived as being just as inaccessible; but this season he shook things up. The slim-fit suits he pioneered in the 90s were there, and so was the usual country garb but other looks – a velvet blazer styled with jeans or a bomber jacket and chunky day knits – felt young and certainly seemed to impress the front row, from twenty-something year olds Reggie Yates and Tinie Tempah to Mr Porter’s Jeremy Langmead and London Collections: Men chairman Dylan Jones. Not an easy thing to do.

DAY THREE
CHRISTOPHER RAEBURN, JW Anderson and Katie Eary are to London’s menswear scene what Christopher Kane, Peter Pilotto and Mary Katrantzou are to womenswear. Their arrival spurred the renaissance of British menswear, helping to broaden the perception that the capital’s contribution stops at producing traditional tailoring.

To some extent then, the combined editorial and commercial success of all three (and many others) contributed to the launch of London Collections: Men, banishing the days when menswear was just tacked onto the end of London Fashion Week.

However, “raw” probably isn’t the right word to describe what these designers are doing now. Yesterday’s collections were mature, focused and streamlined, creating the perfect ending to what has been yet another hugely successful event.

Man of the moment JW Anderson packed out the Old Sorting Office, as he showed his autumn/winter 2013 range. Never one to shy away from pushing his customers’ comfort zone, Anderson offered up super short high-waisted peplum-hemmed shorts, styled with boob-tube tops. Aside from that, the collection has enough wearable pieces to keep his fans happy.

And Raeburn was on top form too. With outerwear continuing to be at the heart of what he does, the autumn/winter season is always where he shines. There were countless top-notch styles this season, starting with an anorak with a map print that he used to open the show followed by bomber jackets and heavyweight single breasted styles, which appeared as the show developed. The only downside is they outshone the separates and accessories. It’s been a year since Raeburn launched those limbs of his business and the jury’s still out on whether they will ever live up to the standard of his outwear.