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Tripping Down Memory Lane at the London Menswear Shows

Topman, Agi & Sam and Lou Dalton all looked to the past for inspiration, but found little to please the eye.
Lou Dalton Spring/Summer 2017 | Source: InDigital.tv
By
  • Tim Blanks

LONDON, United Kingdom — At the same time as the Queen's 90th birthday celebration was beginning with maximum pomp and circumstance in St Paul's Cathedral yesterday, Topman was celebrating a British institution of a different stripe: the seaside town.

Penny arcades, funfairs and piers, holidays from hell, dirty weekends, drunken tattoos, mods, rockers and teddy boys heading to the coast for a riotous time… they were all mashed up in a cheap and cheerful collection that teetered along the knife edge of vulgarity that photographer Martin Parr captures so well in his pictures of the Great British Seaside. The models were even given a bit of colour to look like they’d passed out drunk in the sun. And the styling did a great job of capturing their gawkiness, right down to the VPL.

Topman Design Spring/Summer 2017 | Source: InDigital.tv

For creative director Gordon Richardson, it was a trip down memory lane, kick-started by the popular referendum the UK will soon be taking to decide whether it remains tied to Europe or not. “It’s made me reflect on what I love about the UK,” said Richardson. But what came out in the collection was a peculiar British domestication of Americana. As Mr Richardson pithily observed, “Seagulls are our eagles.”

Today, Agi & Sam revisited the past too. Sam Cotton's farmer dad kept the home fires burning in the country while his mum worked in the city, so he grew up with a feeling of roles reversed. A kitchen-sink-drama edge insinuated itself into the duo's new collection: washing-up gloves were an accessory, the men's brooches looked carved out of a morsel of soap, and a brocade jacket and pants were apparently inspired by a tablecloth.

Agi & Sam Spring/Summer 2017 | Source: InDigital.tv

Other touches that shored up dad-as-housewife included the ankle-length support hose worn with all the footwear (very Miss Marple) and the way unstructured coats and jackets were layered to suggest a bracelet sleeve. There was also a male bonnet or two. The womenswear shown by the designers was noticeably more direct.

Agi & Sam were working with Dormeuil worsteds in what they described as "a refined return to tailoring," but the fact is it was never tailoring that was their strong suit. And when their shownotes went on to mention "a controlled mess," as another goal, they were truly opening up a can of worms.

Lou Dalton has somehow lodged in my mind alongside Agi&Sam. They came up together, they usually show very close to each other and there has been a steady evolution from whimsy to seriousness of purpose in both businesses, which has tended to expose a reach exceeded by grasp.

Lou Dalton Spring/Summer 2017 | Source: InDigital.tv

Another point of contact today was that, like Agi&Sam, Dalton referenced family back pages, remembering the country hikes she and her brother used to take as inspiration for her “new urban uniform,” of nylon sportswear, accessorised with TEVA sandals, compression socks, waterproof document holders round the neck and knitwear that mapped out a route.

Proportions were odd — droopy shoulders, shorts and trousers with volume in odd places — which was possibly authentic, given that obsessive hikers have their own sartorial peculiarities (Dalton’s nylon coats over bare legs conveyed some of that oddness).

But one thing the designer continues to get right is her choice of soundtrackist. Horse Meat Disco's James Hillard delivered a blinder, from A Certain Ratio's Knife Slits Water to A Guy Called Gerald's Voodoo Ray, with a Wheel Me Out stopover. If Dalton could come up with the new urban uniform to match that mix, I'd be first in the queue.

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