London Continues To Charm

Brexit looms, but the Brits are showing that creativity has not left the fold

christopher-kane-aw-2017Christopher Kane

The just-concluded London Fashion Week isn’t like New York Fashion Week: boring. The city, like New York, is where many designers—not necessarily from London—feel the creative pull. Yet, unlike the Big Apple, London designers aren’t attached to a certain English aesthetic the way US designers are stuck to American sportswear, including those designers in the east coast—if the reported rise of Los Angeles is to be believed. The English are more freewheeling that way, allowing the city’s plurality of culture to inform their design directions. They are not wedded to predictability.

Indeed, London designers are not hung up about adhering to a certain English look. Although Burberry’s Christopher Bailey paid homage to English sculptor Henry Moore, the collection is far from depicting a certain English ideal. Many London designers do not appear shackled by the need to keep the flame of Englishness alive. Indeed what is English today isn’t quite the same as what it was in the Sixties, when London was called “swinging” and positioned as the centre of the “youth quake” of that era. Sure, there’s always the influence of the past—royalty, Victoriana, punk, the New Wave, the Scottish Highlands, the old garbs of fishing folks of the bleak coasts—but English designers tend to look ahead, drawing from urban miscellany to forge a more progressive whole.

j-w-anderson-aw-2017J. W. Anderson

You don’t get British designers revisiting to death Mary Quant or Biba, but you do see American designers returning to Studio 54 time and time again, as if the ’70s can never be left behind, as if the Battle of Versailles was not proof enough that American designers are able to march to a new beat. That the past may influence the present is understandable. Some of Britain’s great designers, such as the late Alexander McQueen, drew heavily from what went way before. The past is, however, a platform to springboard to the future, or, at least, delineate the present.

That was what we sensed at Christopher Kane this season. There’s something vaguely and deliciously old-fashioned about the collection. Mr Kane is not, of course, a trad lad, but his approach to designing seems born of dressmaking of the past. Still, there is none of the British frumpiness, or maybe there is, just cleverly subverted with spiffy cuts and shiny fabrics. We like his flattering, feminine silhouettes too, within which he makes his magic. That’s where his unpredictability lies. Contained in near-conventional forms, Mr Kane incorporates fold, tucks, and slits within. The look isn’t wayward, yet there’s something unusual about it. Appealing, too.


Similarly, J. W. Anderson, created some rather compelling clothes. While media eyes are mainly on his work for the Spanish house Loewe, fans are keeping a close watch on the developments at his eponymous label. Mr Anderson is not terribly concerned with Britishness, but he is adept at reaching into the mixed bag that is modern-day England and pulling out quite a remarkable jumble. It’s not easy to pin-point the typical J. W. Anderson silhouette, but that’s precisely why his work is so beguiling. His autumn/winter 2017 collection shows draping, asymmetry, and gently puffed-up shapes, and in-between, something plucked from Qing China.

One of the London collections that made us re-focus on the line is Erdem. This is supremely feminine, not something we normally would pay close attention to, but Erdem Moralioglu has created a smashing output based on so many desirable dresses that are, to us, post-Duchess of Cambridge. There is a certain artistic aspect to the way he mixes fabrics and prints, all the while keeping the silhouettes rather controlled—not-too-princess-friendly. We were thinking that if ever (and, really, just if) Pierpaolo Piccioli should ponder leaving Valentino, Erdem Moralioglu should be considered for the job.


Throughout much of London Fashion Week, under-appreciated English labels are doing more interesting work than over-exposed American names across the Atlantic. One that deserves a bigger audience is Joseph. Although once a fairly conventional brand, Joseph has, under the stewardship of Louise Trotter, steadily evolved into a line that straddles confidently between sophistication and edginess. Ms Trotter does not shy from unconventional shapes, nor quirky details that give her designs character. We appreciate her pairing of prints, placement of pockets, and the push-pull of masculinity and femininity. It’s the creative tension that gently tips her work outside basic. It gives you reason to make space in the wardrobe.

British designers are re-defining femininity without having to underscore it. In fact, it is heartening to see them not succumb to the commercial appeal of the fit-and-flair dress shape that many of today’s women cannot seem to break away from. Constant is their exploration of the spatial relationship between fabric and the body, so that the basis of the silhouettes is not the hourglass shape, or a figure that adhere to the vulgar sexiness consistent with those frequently witnessed on social media. These are not clothes to show off Victoria’s Secret underclothes. For that reason, we’re keeping our eyes on London.


Lace Knows No Gender

Lace shirtsClockwise from top left: the spring/summer 2016 lace T-shirt of Givenchy and shirts of Gucci, Burberry, and J W Anderson

By Raiment Young

Unlike so many of the (by-now-not-so-new) new-media generation, I have a soft spot for magazines. Flipping through the March copy of The Peak in an airport lounge recently, I was intrigued by an editorial penned by the publication’s “Watches & Fashion Editor” Lynette Koh. A pull-quote from her opinion piece was especially pulling: “When I saw the lace tops on the men’s racks, I tittered to myself and thought, ‘What man is going to wear these things?’” You can imagine the delighted smile on my already silly face, which lit up also in reaction to the full-cap sentence, no doubt the misfortune of a lax house style. Naturally, I’d like to quote in similar type, just to be accurate, but you know what that would look like here.

A reaction to her question, however, is in order: what about popes and priests? Perhaps they’re not manly enough since so many are celibate, assuming we believe the papacy. Ms Koh appears to me to have her own definition of what makes a man a man, or more precisely, what clothes make a man. Of course she’s not alone. Many women do subscribe to a certain ideal of masculine dress (the synonym for clothes, not the frocks of Valentino) that goes merely as far back as the Regency period when men were dashing in their military uniforms. Jane Austen fans will know what I mean. Masculinity, with the added advantage of handsomeness, is, therefore, devoid of the frippery and foppishness that the donning of lace suggests. Women, tittering ones I suspect—so many Lydia Bennets among us, have a penchant for men in solid, plain-weave wools and cottons as they suggest strong hands unlike the intricate loops and picots that, quizzically, seem to denote limp wrists.

PassageThe page from the March 2016 issue of The Peak

I suppose Ms Koh is not a Catholic. Admittedly it is bold of me to go there, but such a supposition, even one that asks for trouble, is inescapable since it appears that she is unaware that some of the earliest adopters of lace for clothes were the clergymen of the Catholic Church. Up till now, the liturgical vestment (not to be confused with Vetements!) surplice is still worn with lace trims. In one Christmas mass I attended in Florence’s Duomo some time back, the priests conducting the service wore white surplices with trims and insets of clearly good lace, presumably from Venice, that was evocative of the lace of Dolce and Gabbana, only the priests’ were bridal, rather than Sicilian-widow sexy-mournful.

Lace is associated with kings too, if I may interest Ms Koh. The French king Louis XIV was known to spend heavily on lace for his clothes—fancy fashion clearly could express power as much as a fancy chateau. During his reign, the court demanded different code of dress for each formal occasion. Lace was popular, and unisex, and not at all out of place with the Charles Le Brun interiors of the Versailles. Prior to Louis XIV’s rule, it was on trend for the lords to adorn themselves with lace, which had to be imported from Venice, a dent, I suspect, on French sartorial and national pride. During his time, the luxury industries, lace included, were encouraged to strengthen France’s economic might over its neighbours. And the king led by example. Whether the policy worked, we leave it to the historians to debate. But lace, it did become more fashionable.

Lace shirts 2Lace shirt by Saint Laurent and embroidered lace tunic by Gucci

Gucci may have put lace shirts in the spotlight recently, as Ms Koh observed, but the use of lace in men’s wear goes further back. My earliest memory was of a Jean Paul Gaultier cotton lace pullover with contrast, ribbed cuffs in two layers of black and white. The top was teamed with a pair of extremely wide-legged trousers that, in those days (the early ’90s, I believe), was considered a skirt with an identity problem. Further down, the two Brits that took Paris by storm, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, worked lace into their respective eponymous men’s wear lines with the same fervour seen in the women’s. Vivienne Westwood, no shrinking violet herself when it comes to delicate fabrics for men, too had lace—in some designs, patchwork, no less—incorporated into rather classic pieces, such as a cardigan.

And it isn’t really Gucci that kick-started the trend this time round. In 2014, Czech designer Vladimír Staněk introduced lace shirts for his own Stinak line, a strategy in sync with a collection that appeared to target what store buyers call “men with advanced taste”. In fact, lace is an open woven fabric, which means that some of Giorgio Armani’s gauzy and similarly textured cloths from the ’90s could be considered the precursor to lace for 21st century men. What, perhaps, could urge the raising of eyebrows is not the use of lace, but in what form they’re used. Dolce & Gabbana’s varsity jacket with lace bodice (and an embroidered owl to take the place of the alphabet used to represent the school—very Hogwarts, of course) is hardly the stuff to cause a snickering stir. Take, instead, J W Anderson’s lace shirts: not only is it sleeveless (too gay?), it is cut as a halter-neck! Will tittering, I wonder, give way to silent shock?

Lace jacketDolce & Gabbana bomber jacket with lace bodice

Lace shirts or “these things”, as Ms Koh calls them (disdain or euphemism, I couldn’t quite tell; a sneer possibly), seem to feed into a fear of a man’s world turning effete. Men have been confined to limited sartorial offerings for so long that breaking free from the incarceration may upset the social balance of things. Men have to be men, as we often hear both men and women say, and they must, as a consequence, dress like men. Women, however, have made great strides; they have been emancipated for so long (thanks, Coco) that they forget what it was like to be frowned upon for even showing their ankles. Or for wearing trousers.

It took a while, but pink is finally not a colour limited to women. Maybe a period of gestation, too, is needed for lace to be seen as a masculine choice. I understand Ms Koh is likely to appreciate men in Danish label Soulland’s gingham button-down shirt with the personification of maleness printed all over it: Gordon Gekko. However, men’s wear is going through a small-scale renaissance, and as designers redefine the definitive item of men’s clothing, the shirt, chances are, they will look at what has worked so well for women. The real beef could be in the crossing of lines. Perhaps men shouldn’t encroach on these last few aesthetic and textural symbols of femininity. If they take lace, also associated with lingerie, what’s there left for the fairer sex to call their own? After all, even the skirt is no longer exclusively female. Lace will possibly not materialize in a woman’s search for her knight in shining armour, but as Denzel Washington said of those idealised mounted soldiers in The Equalizer, “problem is, they don’t exist anymore”.