Don't Count London Fashion Week Men's Out Just Yet

One writer stands up for the creative British fashion scene.
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A model during rehearsal for Charles Jeffrey Loverboy's Spring 2019 runway show. Photo: Ian Gavan/BFC/Getty Images

A model during rehearsal for Charles Jeffrey Loverboy's Spring 2019 runway show. Photo: Ian Gavan/BFC/Getty Images

When some of the big brands that signed on across the first few seasons of London Fashion Week Men's recently pulled out of the calendar, there were people too quick to call catastrophe. There have been some bumps since the event's inception — because, of course there have — but this season's just-wrapped menswear-dedicated week was as vibrant and creative as it's ever been. 

Perhaps those were people who don't know the team at the British Fashion Council, led by one Caroline Rush, who is an understated force in fashion. Did you see those pics of her sitting at Richard Quinn's show next to the Queen? Not Anna Wintour; I mean the actual Queen of England. And if you follow the BFC's myriad Instagram accounts, both official and personal, you probably saw her hobnobbing with Charles, Prince of Wales not long after — and with Victoria and David Beckham at a Kent & Curwen breakfast on Monday, and with Elton John, David Furnish and Dylan Jones (OBE), the editor-in-chief of British GQ, at a dinner the day before. Those naysayers might have missed the laundry list of sponsors, headlined by Topman. I don't think we need to panic, or even bat an eyelid to be honest; London Fashion Week Men's is in strong company.

While we're on the subject of retail, let's talk about it. I was at the Nordstrom men's store opening in New York a couple of months ago and overheard hushed by more than one human that retail was dead. Now, I don't have the stats to hand, but judging by the number of Amazon boxes that arrive at my apartment building multiple times a day — and unless I live in some retail-warped reality (and I do not) — people are still consuming. That doesn't mean things aren't hard for people. The retail landscape of just a few years ago looks very different from how it looks today. 

It's true that magazines don't make money from the brands that show at London Fashion Week Men's, even while they won't send editors to cover the shows editorially if those brands don't spend thousands of dollars to take out ads in their (aging) pages. But — and this is bitter in so many ways, but also in some ways, sweet — the brands need those ad pages less and less. They need those editors in attendance less and less (excuse me for two seconds while I shoot myself in the foot...one, two, OUCH!) but the consumers are seeing the shows. 

Tinie Tempah poses with models backstage at What We Wear's Spring 2019 show. Photo: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images

Tinie Tempah poses with models backstage at What We Wear's Spring 2019 show. Photo: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images

If you'd seen the scene outside U.K. Grime artist and London Fashion Week Men's ambassador Tinie Tempah's What We Wear fashion show, you'd know. If you saw the people without invites who were either attempting to blag their way in, or who were just content to take in the surrounds outside, you'd see. People want to be a part of these fashion things. They want to know what Samuel Ross is sending down his runway this season — the same Samuel Ross who no one, save his family and friends, even knew a few years ago. And now the fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman is posting Instagram stories from Ross's A-Cold-Wall* show. 

(Yes, Bergdorf Goodman was at London Fashion Week Men's. And so was Selfridges, along with any other self-respecting retailer — they were there because that's where they ought to be.) 

Retail isn't dead, but that doesn't mean every retailer is going to make it. There are so many brands, and not all of those will make it, either. But some will. I've seen the kids lined up outside the Supreme store talking about the SNKRS app and the Nike x Off-White drops. I've seen those sneakers sell in seconds for a hundred bucks and appear online in a matter of minutes for over a grand. Retail isn't dead. Neither is fashion. Neither is London Fashion Week. But everyone has to adapt, and — dare I say it — innovate. 

Thankfully, we in fashion are nothing if not creative. If anyone can innovate, we can. Reporting live from London Fashion Week Men's, I'm happy to say that all is alive and well. I've mentioned A-Cold-Wall*, which handed out safety goggles and earplugs before their sparking industrial endeavor. While I wouldn't been hard-pressed to recall the actual clothing from amidst the madness, the collection was ready for its close up in a matter of mere minutes back at the BFC showrooms —and it was good, as were other brands at the trade show-style space. JordanLuca was bold and conceptual; a bright iridescent yellow coat was a street style star's dream. Nieuway Agency's presentation of some of the most important up-and-coming brands — including The Incorporated, Necessity Sense and a relaunched Band of Outsiders — grabbed David Beckham's attention, too. He was flipping through the racks like a fashion-starved style icon.

Models backstage at A-Cold-Wall*'s Spring 2019 event. Photo: Tabatha Fireman/BFC/Getty Images

Models backstage at A-Cold-Wall*'s Spring 2019 event. Photo: Tabatha Fireman/BFC/Getty Images

Though the Burberrys and the Alexander McQueens of the British fashion capital were absent, Iceberg — once a favorite brand in the U.K. — kicked off the week's festivities with a spectacular show. Iceberg was so big in the soccer and London Underground music scenes of the 1990s and 2000s, with graphic prints featuring classic Warner Bros. characters that designer JC de Castelbajac introduced. U.K. House and Garage kids would queue alongside Drum & Bass "rudeboys" outside St. Christopher Street fashion mecca Probito to cop the latest Moschino, Versace and the third of that U.K. street scene triumvirate, Iceberg. There may have been no Tom and Jerry, or Tweetie Pie and Sylvester — the Warner Bros. license went with de Castelbajac — this time around, but now there's Snoopy, Woodstock and Charlie Brown, plus a sneaky cameo by the Pink Panther.

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Astrid Andersen's reconceptualized photo shoot format gave the snap-happy Insta-kids more #content than a fashion show finale, and her luxury streetwear, particularly a selection of silver alligator outerwear pieces, made for the kind of conceptual statements that London does so well. Neon-red-headed super-stylist Anna Trevelyan arrived already wearing one — because she's Anna Trevelyan — and the super team at PR firm The Lobby were on hand to shoot some footage of that fashion moment.

A look from Stefan Cooke's Spring 2019 collection at the MAN show. Photo: Jeff Spicer/BFC/Getty Images

A look from Stefan Cooke's Spring 2019 collection at the MAN show. Photo: Jeff Spicer/BFC/Getty Images

The MAN show, staged by fashion queen Lulu Kennedy's Fashion East and Topman, was as fantastically eccentric as British eccentricities get, featuring Art School, Rottingdean Bazaar and the most "accessible," but none the less wonderful, Stefan Cooke. While sending Planet Earth down the runway holding a "For Rent" placard is, obviously, quite literally everything, it was Cooke's tailored plaid pieces paired with button-made chainmail which were perfect for the kind of Hackney Wick-living artistic kids who set trends.

There were Martine Rose, Phoebe English, Ben Sherman by Henry Holland, Christopher Raeburn and Matthew Miller all giving us world class, directional collections. And leave it to Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY — arguably London Fashion Week Men's man of the hour — to put on the kind of theatrical production that only a man as creative as he could dream up. There were aliens and imps with prosthetic face-paint and dancing "Predator"-esque androids attached by industrial rubber tubing to tinfoil super computers in the air. There was a living chrome globe that swung from above and a choir that sang Orbital's "Halcyon On and On." Epic.

As Astrid Andersen and I discussed, London has always been a pioneer; the birth place of punk, for example, and the home of designers like Christopher Shannon, Nasir Mazhar and Kim Jones, who collectively ignited our current luxury streetwear force. London is the epicenter of this current seismic streetwear quake — and it will probably be the epicenter of whatever comes next, as well. 

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