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London menswear (1) – From boychik to mandarin

Tunic and pants in mandala print by Craig Green for MAN Fall 2014 Collection (mens ready-to-wear)
MAN (FashionEast/Topman)

I’ve gotta tell you, dear readers – it’s a little tough reviewing my already very sketchy notes with the red carpet action in the background, to say nothing of the near-hysterical pitch of the twitter-feed. My overall impression (thank you @SandraBernhard) is that it’s just a tad subdued compared to other years. Not a lot of electricity, as far as I can tell; but I’m really only getting snippets here and there. By the way, the best tweets so far are from André Leon Talley. (Should we really be surprised? He was always so great with the fast take at Vogue.)

Has Christopher Bailey been reading my mind? Please tell me what’s not to love about the Fall 2014 Burberry Prorsum men’s ready-to-wear collection. As much as the McQueen fall collection looked as if half of it had been pulled from my own closets past and present, this collection is moving in all the right directions. Maybe it’s not the most adventurous collection out there – but Burberry is a heritage label for a reason; and, as with the tartan touches in any McQueen collection, ya gotta be true to your school.

I thought the color mix was wonderful – the de rigueur blacks, mushroom/ecrus, beiges and browns enlivened with reds/oranges, russet and amber-toned browns, forest greens, indigoes, gray-blues and impossible-to-describe teal-french-cornflower blues (beautifully layered over navy). And – shall we skip tartans and plaids for a second? – the patterns: the first tip-off were the scarves (and of course I’m a sucker for a great scarf) over the more minimal looks – in all-over city-map patterns in rusts, greens, golds and reds – soon to be coordinated with complementarily patterned shirts, coats and trenches, and giving way to foliage and floral prints in a broader palette. The looks ranged from the most minimal (even the T-shirts were bared down to athletic/fishnets) to blousy shirts with foliage/floral prints doubly set off by over-scale plaid or geometric-patterned scarves or mufflers (layered under the coats) and quietly clashing capes or shawls patterned in native American or Zuni-looking geometric designs. The whole of it was rich but restrained, the contrasts elegant, the balance so judicious – the total effect bracing, clarifying. It makes me long for winter – next winter – bring it on.

I read in the preview notes that J.W. Anderson was playing (as usual) with the gender-semiotics of drape, accent, embellishment; and I guess he was to some extent, but to what end exactly, I’m not sure. I confess that this sort of play doesn’t always grab me because we’ve seen so much from the other end in women’s wear, that – to some of us, anyway – it just seems like a foregone conclusion. It’s true, though, that the taboos on these conventions in the past have been far stronger for men than women. It just seems to me that the artists, performers and other style-setters who are the real exponents of this kind of sartorial gender blur usually get there long before the designers. (Consider, outstandingly, Amadeus Leopold.) I’m not going to deal with the high-water pants (which anyway seem to be ubiquitous this season), but some of those slashed sleeve sweaters made me think of Kirk and Spock boating on the Seine (or would that be punting on the Cam?). The camo looks (note my previous posts – we seem to be on to something) morphed into floral prints by way of Murakami. The asymmetric coats or cloaks, criss-crossed over the shoulders in a one-shoulder cape or drape made me think of Bill Cunningham street-style favorite, Timothy John (and again, Leopold).

I liked the idea of the color-block ribbed turtleneck sweaters or tunics with the contrasting horizontal ribbing draped wide across the shoulder. (I’m a fan of tunic dressing in general, as readers of this blog know; and it definitely crosses gender lines.) But something seemed unintentionally surreal about the overall effect – as if a chaise-longue had met a venetian blind on an operating table – or a sewing machine. Peplums, cowl necks – hey we’ve dealt with them; go ahead, boys. Ruffles, capelets; frock coats with pleats…. Okay, but you really want an Empire waist on that? I think my favorites were those little jackets in chalky green, blue and gray. They reminded me so much of the street-sweeper jackets Bill Cunningham wears on his bicycle rounds.

I really loved some of the coats and jackets in the MAN collection that kicked off the London collections. Most of these were by Alan Taylor, some of which featured appliquéd or screened Matisse-oid or vaguely Russian post-revolutionary cut-outs – the best on washed-out greige-y tweeds, some (less successful on the whole) in other fabrics. Some of the cut-outs or prints had the effect of being intercut or painted on the fabric – a kind of deconstruction of silhouette possibly more interesting on the level of visual art, as opposed to wearable fashion. But there was a lot going on there.

The cowl was back on Bobby Abley’s variously Disney-fied/Goth printed T-shirts and sweatshirts. But what was going on with the mouthpieces held the models mouths open in a fixed snarl? If you’re using an effect like that to push your design message, something is missing from the design itself.

There was a bit of Timothy John in Craig Green’s designs, too – but so much more: bits of Rei Kawakubo, Rick Owens, Alexander Wang, with maybe a bit of Margiela and even Dries van Noten – but all synthesized into something very much his own. This was a kind of tunic dressing, too; but over-sized or over-scale – long coats over capacious pants or skirts/sarongs (sometimes with the skirts or sarongs over pants). It would be hard to call a collection with so much color ‘dark.’ Certainly, there were blacks and shimmering anthracite/graphite grays; but for all its mandarin austerity, the color – in bright, almost jewel-like tones, a palette suggestive of painters from Delaunay to Rouault to Mitchell and laid on with comparable expressiveness – cast a prismatic glow. The colors and patterns suggested AbEx-tweaked rosettes or mandalas or roughly interlocking geometrics.

And speaking of mandarins and the monastic, may I recommend that Tommy Hilfiger send his design staff off on a Zen/meditation retreat to Jonathan Saunders? If you want to go preppy – and goddess only knows there are a lot of us with these elements permanently embedded in our wardrobes – this collection for Fall 2014 might suggest a few new directions. Hey – ya gotta work with what you’ve got.

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