LONDON, United Kingdom — On day two of the fourth instalment of London Collections: Men, internationals and locals alike were treated to a downpour that might have caused grumbles and groans in any other city on the menswear circuit. Surprisingly, smiles abounded. The secret to all this wanton happiness? A schedule that allows for plenty of travel time, a fleet of Mercedes to transport esteemed guests, and two main show venues that are a mere four minutes' walk apart.
Ease and simplicity are not words typically associated with fashion weeks, yet the British Fashion Council, who organise LC: M, have proven themselves adept at maintaining the situation admirably. Shows alternate between the two venues; water (often difficult to find in Milan and Paris) is given away at every turn; there's free wifi available onsite; and perhaps best of all, each front row seat comes equipped with a charging station courtesy of Vodafone, which will juice your phone's battery while you're watching the show.
"Since day one the organisation here has been unbelievable, says Bruce Pask — men's fashion director of The New York Times' T magazine. "You can't underestimate the importance that they start these shows on time. If a show's at 3 o'clock, the doors shut at 3:00, and you're out of there by 3:15. You can finish your appointments, you can get to the next show, and you're not scrambling trying to make up for lost time that you spent sitting on a bench for 60 minutes [waiting for a late show to start]. We're very well taken care of over here, it's all well thought out. The BFC are great hosts."
Dermot O'Leary, the host of England's X Factor and an ambassador of the event, agrees. "I don't know how they do this here in one of the most brilliant — but inconvenient — cities of the world; they somehow find a way to spread LC: M over three days of mayhem in a town that was designed for a horse and cart, and they manage it."
The event has not been without its hiccups, though. Before LC:M was established, the men's season began in Florence at the four day tradeshow Pitti Uomo, then moved onto Milan, and finished in Paris. This season, LC:M started on January 6, just one day before Pitti Uomo, forcing the kind of conundrum usually associated with Christmas Day and the children of divorced parents — guests had to choose to either go to London and skip the first two days of Pitti Uomo, or go to Florence and skip London altogether.
"[T]he clash with the Pitti Uomo trade fair… will be improved next season," says chairman of LC:M and editor-in-chief of British GQ, Dylan Jones. "Long term, the international fashion weeks need to be more aware of each other in order not to become a burden to the international press and buyers. But LC:M goes from strength to strength."
In an attempt to solve the problem, the organisers of Pitti Uomo chartered a plane which leaves the moment the Burberry show finishes this afternoon, and which will fly a huge number of key media and buyers to Florence just in time for the Diesel Black Gold presentation, the premier show of the Italian event. Everyone wins, right? Well, no. There are four shows on the LC:M schedule which fall after Burberry Prorsum, meaning that those designers who have paid the not-insubstantial fee to show onsite will do so without many of the international media and buyers in attendance.
"It's a problem. It's a huge problem," says Eric Jennings, vice president and fashion director of men's, home and gifts at Saks Fifth Avenue. "I have to tell you… there's a lot of tension right now between Italy and England on this whole topic. I used to spend [every moment] from the opening of the door to the closing of the door at Pitti, and now I'm there for a day and a half. It's a big difference."
It's no mistake London's flagship show, Burberry Prorsum, falls on the final day. "I think Burberry does a great job by showing here and supporting their own city, and I like the fact that it keeps everybody in London," says men's fashion director of Wonderland and creative director of Rollacoaster, Andrew Davis. "It's the same thing in Paris where Saint Laurent shows on the last day and we get held to Paris as a result."
To be fair to LC:M, these are hiccups that would be faced by any city attempting to establish itself as a major player on the stage of an industry that's been largely shut off to newcomers for decades. So it's a feat of no small proportion that London has managed to attract such high profile guests, not to mention brands like Burberry, Tom Ford and Alexander McQueen, which formerly showed at other fashion weeks.
"I felt it was vital to be here and to support it from the start," says Pask. "It has always proven to be creatively fruitful; there's this amazing creativity that is also completely commercially viable. I think people think of London menswear as this whole street-driven fashion but designers like Richard Nicoll and James Long and Craig Green are very savvy about how they want to be presented and where they see their collections going."
That said, London has often received criticism for the binary nature of its offerings, which are split between traditional Savile Row tailors, and avant garde creatives. Jennings says this season has seen a more robust selection of product. "I've been looking for them to fill in the meat between those two worlds and I'm seeing more of that this season which is making me very pleased."
Josh Peskowitz, the fashion director of men's for Bloomingdales, says London is a great place to keep an eye on up-and-comers. "There's a lot of young talent in England, and the British Fashion Council has done a really good job of fostering that and giving these younger designers a platform. You get the opportunity to see a lot of things that potentially don't have the same commercial appeal… but some of them maybe will make sense for us in the future."
And LC:M isn't just good for the designers who are taking part by the books. Thom Whiddett of Thom Sweeney, a six year old tailoring outfit, contacted visiting media despite not being affiliated with the event. "It's great for every British brand," he says. "Purely from a marketing and PR perspective it's fantastic. Everyone is in the city at the same time so you have access to a lot more people, and it's commercial as well because all the buyers from the big stores are here."
It would seem the formula is working. "None of us expected it to become so successful so quickly," says Jones. "LC:M is in its infancy, but already we have become a vital part of the menswear calendar."
So what are they going to do about those schedule clashes?
Caroline Rush, the British Fashion Council's chief executive, says lines of communication are open between themselves and Pitti Uomo. "Whilst everyone talks of a conflict… I think both us and Pitti want to find a solution to resolve it. But it does mean that not just ourselves and Pitti have to get there; it's also the guys in Milan and Paris because it's all about the dates working for all of us."