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London Collections: Men | If You Build It, They Will Come — But Will They Buy?

In a city where big shows can mean just that, BoF examines the rise of London Collections: Men and the business impact on the brands taking part.
Source: London Collections: Men
  • Robin Mellery-Pratt

LONDON, United Kingdom — Tomorrow, at 5pm, London Collections: Men will enter its third season. In one year Dylan Jones, editor of GQ (UK) and chair of London Collections: Men, with strong support from the British Fashion Council (BFC) and Britain's menswear industry, has succeeded in establishing the showcase as an important event on the international fashion calendar, creating palpable industry-wide excitement amidst a rapidly expanding luxury menswear market.

The initial idea, says Jones, was “to basically move the designers, who were showing in London to a more relevant part of the calendar.” Prior to LC:M, British menswear designers showed at the end of London’s womenswear fashion week, two months after they had already shown their collections to buyers. But from small — and commercially pragmatic — beginnings, have come great things.

This season's schedule is undoubtedly the most impressive to date. It boasts presentations from international brands like Tom Ford, Alexander McQueen, Burberry and Rag & Bone; quintessentially British brands like Hardy Amies, Margaret Howell and Paul Smith; the bright hopes of London menswear's future, including Jonathan Saunders, J.W. Anderson, Christopher Raeburn, Shaun Samson and Sibling; and the erect pillar of its past: Savile Row.

“We wanted to, and needed to, make the experience as exciting and as enticing for foreign press and buyers as possible,” said Jones. To do so, he needed the support of Britain’s most successful design houses.

Alexander McQueen was one of the first brands to answer the call. "Alexander McQueen is a British luxury brand, it feels natural for us to show our support and present our collections at London Collections: Men," said Jonathan Akeroyd, president and CEO of Alexander McQueen. "There's a genuine pride in our homegrown talent."

Since its first season, the BFC and Jones have put the British capital and its institutions to work — HRH Charles, Prince of Wales, was asked to launch the inaugural showcase — but this season, they have launched a campaign to brand London the ‘Home of Menswear,’ commissioning a report, compiled by Keren Protheroe, OPA Researcher at the Victoria & Albert Museum, entitled ‘Beyond Measure: A Short History of British Menswear,’ that outlines London’s historical contribution to men’s fashion. Boris Johnson, the city’s mayor, will launch an accompanying map, next Tuesday, identifying sites associated with menswear.

"I have always been very influenced by the steep heritage of British menswear and tailoring," Tom Ford told BoF. "Britain is, in a sense, the home of menswear. It was an obvious choice for me to show in London."

Meanwhile, British brands such as Burberry, Alexander McQueen and Paul Smith are, understandably, attracted to the opportunity for public affiliation with Britain’s inalienable commodity, Britishness, perhaps the primary reason they returned to show in London. For one, Akeroyd believes LC:M “further ascertains McQueen’s Britishness.”

British retailer John Lewis, an official sponsor of LC:M, is also showing its John Lewis & Co menswear collection at the event in order to grow the "credibility" of its burgeoning menswear business. "[The show] will be shared within our stores, it will be shared on our social platforms, we will probably do something on YouTube with it, we will connect directly with the consumer around this product," Peter Ruis, brand and buying director at John Lewis, told BoF.

But it's not just British companies that have responded to the branding opportunities afforded by the LC:M platform. The showcase has also been crowned by a contingent of non-showing international brands. Dolce & Gabbana, Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss and Tommy Hilfiger all feature on this season's schedule and, through a series of dinners, parties and store openings, will help make London, in Jones' words, "as exciting a proposition as possible." Whilst doing so, of course, these brands will also conveniently capitalise on the marketing opportunities a global luxury retail capital like London presents. Dolce & Gabbana, for example, is set to host a party for the opening of a tailoring-focused store in London's Bond Street.

Rising attendance at London Collections: Men seems to show these strategies are working. International buyer attendance is up by 55 percent, year-on-year, the British Fashion Council informed BoF. The organisation declined to provide the precise number of buyers who are set to attend this season, however, making it difficult to reach firm conclusions.

But significantly, many of the emerging labels that BoF spoke with were able to reduce the impact of LC:M to a single word: sales.

"We trebled our order book in the year we've been showing," Christopher Raeburn told BoF. E Tautz has seen similar success. "Our international sales have almost tripled," said the company's director Patrick Grant. Grant believes that "indirectly, almost all" of E Tautz's sales are linked to LC:M. The label's overall business is now "more than double what it was pre-LC:M," he said.

When asked if emerging London knitwear label Sibling had seen an increase in international sales as a result of LC:M, designer Cozette McCreery responded “very much so,” highlighting growth in “interest from America, Europe, especially Germany, and Hong Kong.”

Indeed, every emerging designer contacted by BoF praised the initial results of the LC:M showcase, the organisation’s showrooms in London, New York, Hong Kong and Paris, and other development aids provided by the BFC.

"Currently our mentoring sees the BFC deliver seminars focusing on cash flow, IP, marketing and sales strategy. Going forward, as part of this new three year strategy we aim to increase support to designers, through introducing them to mentors from retail, production, logistics, sales and media, as well as experts in PR, marketing and digital," Caroline Rush, CEO of the British Fashion Council, told BoF.

But despite all the positive momentum, a statement on the first page of the official guide to London Collections: Men Spring/Summer 2014, saying that this season’s schedule is “cementing London’s reputation as menswear capital of the world,” remains premature.

We’re “making London the real home of menswear by having all of the brands — the important British brands, the men’s brands and the international brands — show in London. But it isn’t going to happen over night,” said Jones.

Well, not quite.

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