Review: London Fashion Week Mens AW18

John Lawrence Sullivan1In sum, the Autumn/Winter 2018 season of London Fashion Week Mens was a tad underwhelming. Underwhelming is perhaps a euphemism, considering that the season was as exciting as a slice of white bread dipped in a glass of tap water. Burberry, Vivienne Westwood, J.W. Anderson bailed out, leaving a gap in the schedule which reverted to a three-day format. Collections were as gloomy as the city’s weather, but a few designers stood out and nevertheless delivered bright ideas.

Kicking off LFWM was John Lawrence Sullivan, a brand at the crossroads between VETEMENTS and Balenciaga, but minus the insufferable hype. Creative director Arashi Yanagawa’s collection successfully managed to blend together a dark aesthetic side with the zeitgeist of today. The Japanese designer sent down the runway a leopard print long coat so good we imagined Jared Leto wearing it fresh off the runway. One of the strongest looks, a leather jacket with matching waistcoat worn over leather trousers could have been taken out from The Matrix. The cropped leather jackets for women were excellent, too. As far as tailoring is concerned, Yanagawa hit the bull’s eye, especially with a brown pinstripe double-breasted suit with strong shoulders. All the suits were sharply cut. This was a collection for men with a rock & roll attitude and a definite sense of style.

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Edward Crutchley was, surprisingly, a sheer disappointment. The venue, a room in the portentous Ironmongers Hall, has become too confined to accommodate everyone betting on Crutchley’s talent. With a growing fan base of connoisseurs, insiders or not, Crutchley should truly consider showing at the BFC Show Space on 180 Strand. However, had the clothes been superb, one wouldn’t mind the wait and the claustrophobic feeling. Unfortunately, the collection was not as striking as it could have been, as the designer sadly went on a commercial detour, pleasing buyers, and boring the most demanding critics. The best of the collection stood in fabrics that looked and felt expensive. Two mink furs, elaborated with contemporary furrier Kopenhagen Fur, exuded know-how. Crutchley has obviously an eye for textiles, his clothes are cut out of exquisite velvets and liquid silks, but the designer should now focus on creating silhouettes worthy of those materials. As for the Emoji collaboration, it was a fun and modern way to reference ancient pictograms.

Edward Crutchley Men's Fall 2018

At the Wood Wood presentation – the Danish brand imbedded in street style – the watchwords seemed to be “cool and accessible”.  Designer duo Karl-Oskar Olsen and Brian Jensen launched their label in 2002, mixing their love for street culture and their appreciation for quality garments. They have previously collaborated with Nike, Champion, Barbour, and Eastpackto, name a few, and they have already made a name for themselves in Copenhagen, Berlin, and New York. As London is still seen as a good platform for designers, Olsen and Jensen decided to showcase their collection in the Big Smoke. The clothes were not about luxury or innovation: Wood Wood doesn’t position itself as a fashion-forward contender, and honestly, it’s totally fine. Men need those puffers, denim and college jackets, sweaters and plaid shirts. They are pieces for practicality-seeking customers for whom fashion is first and foremost about comfort, but who enjoys well-made garments. There was something youthful and real about Wood Wood’s girls in double-breasted suits and boys double-denim.

Wood Wood Fall 2018

No, it wasn’t Marks & Spencer showing at 4pm on the first day, but rather Oliver Spencer, and his clothes did not match the coolness of his references and inspirations. Citing Bryan Ferry and the early 1970s, he nonetheless showed an incapabability of designing interesting lapels. The tailoring was decent, but boring. The fabrics were luxurious, and that’s about it. The womenswear looks were on other hand quite exciting as a first attempt. Daisy Lowe, Jade Parfitt, and Catherine Hayward of Esquire were the highlight of this otherwise highly unimpressive show.

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Next winter, Khalid Al Qasimi wants men to find solace in comfortable, plush clothes. The designer really understands the notion of luxury. The opening look announced the motif of the collection: a big dark ochre coat perfect for days the weather becomes troublesome. The rest of the collection featured heavy sweaters and blankets in earthy tones to snuggle in. Models also walked in super wide trousers, perfectly cut. Qasimi knows how to play with proportions. It was a cocooning proposition we wish was available right away.

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Stefan Cooke, a young designer who happens to be a Central Saint Martins graduate and recipient of the H&M Design Award, showed a great collection during Fashion East’s MAN show. Creatively strong and commercially viable, the looks were thoughtfully crafted and innovative. Fashion East has a longstanding habit of supporting young designer with overflowing yet nonsensical creativity, so it was refreshing to see something worthwhile. Cooke played with his trompe l’oeil signature by printing photos of second-hand jeans onto trousers, which was smart. He also presented skinny suits made with diamond-shaped panels sewn together, and zipped cardigans in cream and brown. Last season, the young designer collaborated with Faith Connexion, the brand now helmed by Balmain’s former creative director Christophe Decarnin, and that means Cooke is for sure one to keep our attention on.

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Christopher Raeburn has, once again, used and abused the parka as well as inspiration from the military. The collection seemed to have been a purely functional response to harsh weather, displaying little true fashionable design innovation. Raeburn needs to understand that everyone enjoying his aesthetic doesn’t live on top of Mount Everest or on a catamaran in the stormiest seas of the world. The colour palette, too, was dull: orange, black, a bit of yellow, creams and greys. One doesn’t reject the work of Raeburn, but one wonders how it all fits within the current conversation. It’s time the Royal College of Art graduate update his thought process in order to upgrade his work.

christopherraeburn2Last season, Wales Bonner’s creative debacle – most of it due to bad styling and too obvious references – left many people puzzled. But for AW18, the young woman stepped up her game. It was a ravishing collection of pieces that can become essential wardrobe staples. It is also the first time Bonner experiments with abstract prints, gifting her audience with shirts and scarves, and blousons to die for. There was a great four-pocket white shirt with sleeves cut on the elbows, and a double-breasted peacoat with a single set of buttons on the front. There was something pure, authentic about this collection going from the casting, to the set design, and the clothes themselves of course.

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Vivienne Westwood was not showing her collection in the traditional catwalk format this season, and that’s okay because London still has the hottest ticket in town, Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY. Another Central Saint Martins who’s become the enfant chéri of London, thanks to his amicable personality, clever references, and the electric ambiance that rules his shows. The latter are performances that leave editors and journalists in awe. There is such sincerity in Jeffrey’s work, no one can escape the emotional ride, and that’s one of the reasons why he received the Emerging Menswear Designer Award at the 2017 British Fashion Awards. For AW 18, it was less club kids, and more angry boys. Clothes were meticulously riven to illustrate this anger. Tailoring remains one of Jeffrey’s most efficient assets. A suit made out of the official LOVERBOY tartan was simply astonishing. From his first collection, one remembers the painted jeans, and they were back on the catwalk, only this time they were digitally printed. One piece that struck was an upside-down coat from the French revolution and reworked as a cropped duffle coat. The collection was good. So good, we are almost flirting with creative genius here, considering this is only LOVERBOY’s second solo installment.

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GQ China brought back PRONOUNCE to show at LFWM, and to our pleasure! Showing an hour after Craig Green, the collection upstaged the seemingly uncomplete offering of Craig Green. Yushan Li and Jun Zhou presented one of the strongest shows of the season. Rich in textures, colours, ideas, it was a total feast for the eyes. Of their Chinese heritage, the pair took Mao suit jackets and re-styled them, oozing a classic modernity. The best pieces were oversized puffers, big coats in patent leather, and a cocooning knitted belted cardi-coat. The tailoring was relaxed, and trousers cut wide, as comfort was an important element of the collection.

Shifting from the presentation format to the runway show, Nicholas Biela and James Waller prove that Blood Brother is a relevant fashion label. For A/W 18, the designers delved into the notion of excess, condemning today’s society’s search for instant gratification. A lottery aesthetic and ostentation were making the thread of the collection, with scratch cards and players receipts printed on sweaters, and luscious suits that screamed nouveau riche. A Blood Brother key piece, the tracksuit, was given the luxury treatment – quilted in Rolex green – while denim jackets were embellished with Swarovski crystals. Blood Brother also collaborated with Jimmy Choo on slippers lined with fur. The collection, despite its often try-hard styling was a beautiful metaphor putting a finger on the vulgarity associated with money.

There are a few designers worth a mention. VELSVOIR reminded us of the time Savile Row tailors would be a big part of the schedule with exquisite craftsmanship. Hussein Chalayan whose expert cuts and innovations are always enthralling delivered a satisfying collection. Bobby Abley’s fun yet full of swagger aesthetic is certainly something not to miss. There was modern clothing at Kiko Kostadinov, and Cottweiler too. Overall, and with hindsight, the A/W 18 season was good enough.

Words by Pierre M’Pelé