Willfully Bizarre: The 8 Best Designers at LCM

Photograph by Morgan O'Donovan

Text by Adam Lehrer

London Collections: Men has arguably been the most exciting of all the fashion week’s for some time. With a slew of shows highlighting young talent (Fashion East, Central Saint Martin’s Graduate Show, MAN), it seems like every year fashion heads are treated to some new, mid-20s designer that looks poised to offer the world entire new codes of dress. But a whole lot of those once-young designers have become veterans: JW Anderson, Nasir Mazhar, Craig Green, Christopher Shannon, Christopher Kane, Matthew Miller, and more. These brands have found their target audiences while still continuing to expand upon and hone in on their wildly diverse aesthetics. This all seems to have resulted in a more matured and refined, if still wildly eccentric, London Men’s fashion week. These designers have already presented exciting and fresh ideas on how men should dress. Now they are trying to build viable global businesses. The primary takeaway from LC:M SS 2017 was that designers need not dumb down their ideas to become commercially viable, in fact it sometimes feels that the more willfully bizarre designers are becoming the most successful within London’s fashion circuit.


JW Anderson: The Modern Man Is Actually a Boy

JW Anderson’s clothes on his eponymous label (less so in his role as creative director of Loewe) are loud, goofy, and juvenile. And I mean that in the most complimentary of ways: his designs are fun. Anderson seems to embrace the overt kookiness of his collections, whether by presenting his FW 2016 collection over a Grindr live feed or extending his customer bases to Hip-Hop heads with a collaboration coming out this month co-designed by A$AP Rocky and to art-school dropouts with a collaboration with Larry Clark. His penchant for spontaneity manifests equally in the actual aesthetics of his garments. That juvenile flair became the focal point of his SS 2017 collection with its primary influence being French aristocrat, novelist, and pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s titular character in his 1943 novella, Le Petit Prince. Literary critics often express their belief that Saint-Exupéry drew upon his own childhood for the book. Therefore, Anderson finds influence in the idea of young boy that has immeasurable access to art, fashion, and culture. But how does a boy process that information to find his own individuality? That’s the question that Anderson seems to be asking here, but revising the concept for the modern world. Modernity is Anderson’s ultimate end game. How did this manifest? Well, there was an arresting air of mish-mash in this collection: Pollock dribbles on long tunics, Surrealist prints, masculine utilitarian workwear draped over feminine skirt-length shirts paired with purses. The collection really nailed its concept: it was easy to imagine a young boy trying to figure himself out. Here was a boy trying to figure out what kind of art he liked, the politics he would align with, and where he lies on the gender and sexuality spectrums. Like the best designers, Anderson sells highfalutin ideas in packages of both high and lo-brow beauty. Even better? Anderson has learned business. There were products here that any man could buy and make work for himself, from a bomber jacket to those spectacular goggles all the models wore. The influence of Demna Gvasalia also felt palatable here with the ultra-long sleeves and architectural shoulders. Pioneers acknowledge other pioneers, I guess.

Craig Green: Bedding as Fashion, Fashion as Poetry

Craig Green is the avant-garde menswear designer du jour, but his SS 2017 collection felt like a step forward to commercial viability. While the designer still showed great imagination when it came to conceptualizing function in garment construction (hoods constricted to the head like bonnets, jackets that only covered the wearer’s front), it was also actually quite easy to imagine incorporating some of these pieces to one’s wardrobe. The brown coats, deconstructed and accessorized by multiple studded belts, are wildly adventurous but fit so poetically as to not make the wearer look ridiculous. Craig also seems interested in the garb of other cultures. He isn’t one so solely look at just Grime, or just Punk, but he has great care for the beauty of well-made garments. Many of the looks seemed to recall the simple but abstract look of wearing bedding around the house when waking up in the morning, but made to perfection and tastefully pin-striped. Craig’s clothes are also hard to write about, truth be told, but the hype around him makes perfect sense while watching his shows. Like Rei or Raf, the fashion show is to Craig what an installation is to Wolfgang Tillmans: the perfect summation of his creative thought process distilled for the world to witness and ponder.

Nasir Mazhar: If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It (Just Build on it a Bit)

Nasir Mazhar has found his sub-culture. He is Grime’s high fashion patron saint, and no one does hyper-stylized sportswear as well as him. After a couple of all black collections, Nasir incorporated some outstanding color-blocking into his SS 2017 collection. The show started off with a look structurally similar to the past two collections: a magnificent track suit that was both loose-fitting but cut close to the limbs of its model. But as opposed to all-black, the jacket and pants were two-toned in black and a deep burgundy. There were some clothes that looked new for Nasir: a baby blue denim vest, a sleeveless fur coat dyed green, short rights with the upper legs exposed. But mainly, Nasir mainly dressed his diverse and gym-hardened models in a variety of sportswear with a flurry of utilitarian details (harness straps). Some might have grown bored with Nasir’s approach but that doesn’t matter. He’s found his customer base and the tracksuit to him is what jeans are to Levi’s: an utterly perfect product that customers will want to buy again and again. All Nasir needs to do is find new color patterns.

Matthew Miller: Early Skinhead Culture (Minus the Politics)

By now, we rightly associate skinhead culture with Neo-Nazism. But in its early days, in the ‘60s, it was actually defined by its rather progressive adherents equally drawn towards mod culture as they were towards the music coming out of Jamaica (Dub, early Reggae). Early skinhead culture, which has been basically eradicated from counterculture history due to being overshadowed by its far right nationalist counterpart, served as the primary influence for Matthew Miller’s excellent SS 2017 collection. Miller, however, said he tried to leave politics out of the collection (out of the ordinary for him), and for the better. By largely eschewing political sloganeering, Miller focused on the vibe of the movement. It was a softer take on skinhead classics, like bomber jackets and sharp cut blazers cut with sensitivity and draped, not to mention some lovely womenswear pieces. The clothes somehow managed to look hard and intimidating, while still revealing a femininity in the wearer, harkening back to a tough guy culture that preached equality and let itself be open to cultures from around the world.

Grace Wales Bonner: A Personal Reflection on Regional Styles

LVMH Prize-nominated designer Grace Wales Bonner, at age 25, has lit a match under the ass of the fashion industry: “Luxury can be marketed towards more people than just privileged whites,” her collections seem to say. Her SS 2017 collection, her debut on the LCM schedule (outside of the MAN show) was dedicated to the 1930 crowning of Ethiopian king Haile Selassie; a man both worshipped and reviled. In reality though, the clothes felt like a chic and European envisioning of traditional African garments. Though Grace’s garments have been nabbed up by a plethora of womenswear buyers due to their feminine cuts and decoration, she still uses dudes exclusively in her runways. She welcomes the business but she has, at least up to now, stayed true to her dream of the modern black man and shown little care for the played out gender fluidity trend. Alexander Fury, a critic far more experienced (and let’s face it, better) than I, noted in a review for Vogue how personal Grace’s collections feel, imbuing the experience of growing up with a Jamaican Dad and British Mom in London. The SS 2017 collection merged the ceremonial styles of Selassie with uber-luxe decoration, recalling the Sunday morning church styles of people of all backgrounds dressing to the nines and men getting away with any manner of flamboyant sartorial gesture. Grace is also primarily a designer of men’s suits, and yet she feels as radical as any designer on the circuit. Has there been a suit designer that has felt this anti-establishment since Rei Kawakubo started introducing menswear in the ‘80s? I doubt it, and fussily dressed men all over are learning whole new ways to wear their suits due to Grace’s work.

Kiko Kostadinov: The Fresh Prince of High-Concept Workwear

While still a menswear student at Central Saint Martin’s, Bugarian-born 26-year-old designer Kiko Kostadinov designed a 20-piece capsule for Stussy’s 35th anniversary that was sold specially at Dover Street Market. The collection featured a range of Stussy’s well-made skateboarding streetwear staples deconstructed and elongated and sewn back together: hoodies with sleeves ripped off and sewn back on, sweatpants made of different colored fabrics, baggy fits. The avant fashion and streetwear communities went nuts, and Kiko was already poised for fashion industry disruption. After a stunning FW 2016 Central Saint Martin’s graduate show, Kiko landed an exclusive deal resulting in Dover Street Market serving as the sole retailer of his garments for a year. After having shown his SS 2017 show, it is safe to say that Kiko is well worth the hype. Kiko is all about garment construction. You won’t find any patterns, eye sore colors, and certainly not useless detailing in his clothes. His favorite designer is Yohji Yamamoto: the designer’s singularly harsh, beautiful, and unfussy workwear speaks to Kiko’s own vision of fashion: “It’s all about cut and finishing—I hate decoration,” sais Kostadinov in an interview with the NY Times this week. “There’s nothing worse than finding a pair of trousers that are cut great but covered in straps that don’t do anything.” Kiko wants to make workwear for the modern active creative man: everything from painters to carpenters to (why not?) art journalists. His SS 2017 collection featured modernized chore coats, jumpsuits, and lab coats with headwear and tool bags used as accessories. He hand-dyed all the fabrics and incorporated the technical fabric Tyvek into the mix making the garments both aesthetically rich and functional as all hell. There is a palatable fashion revolution hitting its apex at the moment, particularly with menswear. Starting with Raf and currently represented by Vetements and Gosha, the aesthetics of avant-garde and counter-culture styles have never been more present in the industry. But even those designers more often than not make clothes that are occasionally hard to imagine being worn by people outside the industry. Kostadinov offers a high fashion option to the closets of style-conscious guys with natural aversion to clothes that look too “fashion.” The type of guy who puts himself together in a smart Stone Island jacket paired with work pants. You don’t need to adopt the “Kostadinov look” to wear his clothes. He seems to be a designer not only revolutionary, but also potentially commercially viable.

Aitor Throup: Back on the Schedule (and in our Dreams)

Argentinean designer Aitor Throup was a beloved designer on the London ticket just a few years ago when he put his namesake label into hiatus and went to work with the likes of UMBRO and G-Star Raw. Well, if anyone is worried that his time spent designing with those commercial retail giants would dull his taste for the bizarre, think again. Aitor re-introduced his brand with a SS 2017 collection presented via a performance staged by puppet designer and engineer James Perowne entitled The Rite of Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter. 10 models wearing masks animated a life-sized puppet wearing all-black Aitor Throup garments and pushed it down the runway mimicking a cat walk. This went on three more times. But it wasn’t just the abstract art that made this a great collection: the clothes were ace. Technically a capsule collection made to be worn cross-seasonally, the collection employed technical fabrics in all black and white to create deconstructed staples: trash bag looking bomber jackets, t-shirts, track jacket hoodies, and saggy but sharply cut backpacks. Also a standout: the all-white sock boots that look like the best futurist high fashion shoe in a decade not made by one Raf Simons or Rick Owens.

Cottweiler: The Tracksuit is a Permanently Evolving Organism

The conceptual sportswear design duo team behind the label Cottweiler, Matthew Daintly and Ben Cottrell, presented their first runway show for SS 2017 as part of the “NewGen: Men” showcase. Known for conceptual showcasing, Cottweiler drew upon the idea of “a future ruin of a hotel resort,” scattering the runway with shattered pink ceramic pottery material. In soft pinks and whites, the brand’s fetishization of the tracksuit continued with the use of Italian suit linen for incredibly soft and occasionally see-through track jackets, pants and shorts. It’s strange: Cottweiler’s collections more or less look the same. But the concept is so arresting, the look so beautiful, and the arrangement so organized that the brand’s presentations have become a hall mark of ideas in the industry. Can they do this forever? Probably not. But the look is unique enough that for now, their buyers will continue to eat it up.


Further Notes...

The New Kids on the Block

With the likes of Nasir and JW Anderson entering into the second phases of their careers, there is already a new crop of young designers that look equally poised for success following strong SS 2017 collections. Central Saint Martin’s educated Alex Mullins and Parsons educated Ximon Lee (fresh off a collaboration with H&M) both employed denim experiments so visually arresting they opened up previously unseen possibilities for the tried and true fabric. Charles Jeffrey’s Loverboy label used Woolrich-quality tweed and flannels, the dullest but most dependable of menswear fabrics, and altered them into club-ready and flamboyant party rude boy garb. Liam Hodges, the champion of mall fashion and Pirate Radio fans, was a little lighter on concept this season. But the clothes were still dope, with key products like worker jackets repurposed from Dickie’s but with the sleeves boosted to Vetements sizes and graphics emblazoned upon the back reading: “I’m OK.”

Also Good

There is something positively endearing about Stuart Vevers’ vision for Coach 1941. He is aiming for total commercial domination, and hitting bullseyes. There weren’t many products in the brand’s SS 2017 collection that I wouldn’t wear. He’s like the Joss Whedon of fashion, making predictably entertaining high trash for the masses. Astrid Anderson extended her luxed up sportswear fashion to a womenswear line, and it looked better on the ladies than it did on the men. Christopher Raeburn’s SS 2017 collection finally found an antidote for green fashion that doesn’t look right terrible. CMMN SWDN makes those minimal Scandanavian fashion styles quirky, fun, and uber-desirable. And, not the least bit boring.