Sartorial Progress: The Future Of London Collections: Men
There was a time when London Collections: Men was heralded as a breakthrough event.
Why, after all, didn't London - arguably the global epicentre for menswear design, historically and recently - have an event that recognised its talents in this field? The British Fashion Council woke up to the idea and a three, then a four-day event came into being: brands new and old, traditional and avant-garde, came to show their wares.
But all things evolve: along with a rebranding - renamed London Fashion Week: Men's in a bid to tie it into the more internationally recognised womenswear event a few weeks later - has come a shift in emphasis. Less a hotchpotch of very different brands - both aesthetically and in terms of market (a hotchpotch that made the early editions of the event so invigorating) - London Fashion Week: Men's has inevitably had to undergo something of a natural streamlining to guarantee a longer term future, the healthy focus being more on up-and-coming designers or young contemporary style brands - around 55 of them this time around. These are the names that, rather than having built and, sometimes for generations, maintained the foundations of the house of menswear, are helping to shape what the decor will be like in the coming years.
Not only have many of the more regular names stepped down from this new offering (for AW17, one men's style magazine noted that the event 'had been a quiet one, with many sartorial stalwarts neglecting to show this time around'), but the tempo of the event has also changed, putting it in line with the way fashion shows operate. The catwalk show, once the epitome of brand statement at such an event, sees growing competition in the presentation: yes, a more affordable, less stressful affair, but also one that - in an age where quality and craftsmanship are in demand as much as sign direction - allows buyers and press alike to get up close and personal with the garments (and to take the obligatory snaps for the blog).
Given the international catwalks' recent obsession with technology - seeing the latest advance in much the same light as the latest trend: good for one season then discarded - inevitably some presentations are digital. But most are real, physical - even if the London Fashion Week: Men's would refer to them as a 'pop-up showroom' (anything to get a buzzword in).
This chimes with the split happening too within the better-known shows in Milan, Paris and New York (and, OK, London): between a move towards brands staging ever more theatrical events - statement-making, celebrity-attending marketing spectaculars with no pretension to be of any utility to fashion buyers - and one that returns us to the kind of intimate, personal salon event that prefigured the catwalks, and which many buyers are said to prefer.
Indeed, the shift at London Fashion Week: Men's echoes what one respected menswear designer recently noted as being the fashion industry starting to break with traditions that suit the system, rather than allow for what is best for individual brands. The system of, for example, showing men's and womenswear separately, of showing all together at the same events, at the same times of year, and so on.
Rather, he says, he sees a future in which each brand will go its own way, showing its latest products as and when, and how it suits its buyers and customers best. That may sound radical but it's more a tacit admission that the major fashion-show schedule and its format - originally organised for convenience, before attendance became a marker of credibility - has, over the longer term, run its course. The future of London Fashion Week: Men's may prove some barometer.