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Burberry, JW Anderson and London's New Feminine Mood

Just the right amount of femininity created a new mood at London Collections: Men, writes Colin McDowell.
(L- R) Burberry Prorsum, Craig Green and J W Anderson | Source: Courtesy, InDigital.
  • Colin McDowell

LONDON, United Kingdom — At London Collections: Men, a stirring which began tentatively last season came out of the closet — and changed the mood of our menswear. It is the move towards femininity that is the story this season. Not, let it be clear, effeminacy or camp but delicacy with detail and a softness that suddenly seems entirely right. Men in skirts we are used to and tend to find them interesting or not, depending upon personal taste. So, I can imagine nobody was shocked by the tiny silver mini skirts over trousers at Astrid Andersen, even though they were lace, and four seasons ago would have been seen as aberrant.

Burberry Prorsum menswear Spring Summer 2016 | Source: Burberry

In fact, they looked great, as all the lace we have seen this week does. And I am pleased that something so integral to the history of menswear has suddenly reappeared as an important part of the feminisation of the look of young men today. After all, one only has to look at Elizabethan miniatures, portraits of Charles I or sculptures of Louis XIV to see how important a place lace held in the male wardrobe of the past. It was one of the great status dress accessories because it was very costly and therefore highly prized as a sign of wealth and the power it brings. This season, it popped up a lot but nowhere with more conviction that at Burberry where, in a outstanding collection, Christopher Bailey used it freely — from shirts and delicate see-through tops to collars on coats — and even one fabulous 'red carpet' white lace overcoat. It was all done with the greatest tact and assurance, as was the rest of this show in which the menswear was punctuated by female models, also in lace.

Bailey gave us his best collection in a few seasons, as did Tom Ford, with whom the Burberry designer used to work. In both cases, they showed us the greatest mastery of the garment that men get most involved with: the formal suit for town or country. Slim, with a slightly longer, shaped jacket and straight trousers, in their hands it is about formality without the slightest feeling of heaviness, structured but not constraining, authoritative without pomposity. Both designers demonstrated their skills with cutting and colours; Bailey with interestingly dour combinations of chocolate and navy and Ford with strong tweeds and a range of tuxedos in shimmering sea colours, chic spots; and blousons patterned like jigsaw puzzles or large scale camouflage in red and white, which seemed an interesting departure from form. To these two outstanding designers of relaxed formality we can add Paul Smith, who this season showed his lightly cut, easy living suits on a trick cyclist pedalling around huge chair sculptures in a vast art gallery in Mayfair.

Craig Green Spring Summer 2016 | Source: Craig Green

Last season, Craig Green blew most people's socks off with an extremely strong, directional collection that was praised everywhere. So, of course, expectations for this season were high. What would be his next move? Disappointingly for many, he has been criticised for seemingly not making one, an opinion with which I cannot agree. One of the problems with ready to wear is that retailers push designers to change tack every season. 'Give us something new to sell,' is the mantra. And it is a totally unhealthy way to try to influence a designer, especially a young one. This collection is a very good example of how what they say is fallacious. Green, I am sure, is here to stay. He could become one of the world's best designers and he showed he had that calibre this season. Yes, the shapes and proportions were similar to last season but, for me, along with the palette, they made this show a clear move, not forward but around the concepts. It was, like so much of London, a gentle statement, with almost feminine delicacy highlighted by brilliant bulldozer yellow and road worker orange, both of which looked great in the quilted jackets, wide pants and flowing ribbons that are already clearly going to be the basis, in one form and another, of the thinking of this clever young designer as he ponders the future of menswear. My advice is keep pondering. You are onto something very strong, not least the allure of movement on loose shapes in menswear.

There was a strong use of orange in Lou Dalton's palette also. It worked well with grey Prince of Wales check, loose jackets and waterproofs. Agi & Sam played it safe, a little too much for my taste, in a collection that was soft, gentle and commercial. They had fun with roughly drawn wall stripes that I felt seemed far too close to the High Street to be in a designer collection.

JW Anderson menswear Spring Summer 2016 | Source: InDigital

No playing safe in the here and now world of the wild card of London's menswear: the very courageous and talented trio known as Sibling. They are a very good example of pop-up newness each season and how it can be made to work if you decide to change tack each time round. In this case, doing so makes them fresher and bolder every time. This season, they defied the move towards delicate young men and instead, filled their runway with butch gym guys dressed as American footballers. It was fast-paced, raunchy fun but quite how it will translate into clothes in shops I am not sure. I loved it most for the memories of iconoclastic mayhem that used to be so much the London scene 20 years ago.

JW Anderson is highly focused, uncompromising and very confident. In a very short while, he has become one of London's stars. And I can fully see why. He is lucky that he has the sort of backing most young British designers don't have but, even without it, I am sure he would have made his mark just the same. His collection this season was the most interesting in London: eclectic, diverse and accomplished, and at one point I found myself thinking, "This is how Cristobal Balenciaga would be cutting for men, were he alive today." Relaxed, sculpted clothes, the product of a fastidious eye and powerful hand, it had, like the Burberry Show, just the right amount of femininity to keep one's interest in a new take on manliness.

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