It seems there’s competition for Charles Jeffrey’s party crown. The young designer who gave us a gritty and sweaty club night presentation at the ICA and, last season, giant monsters running around the catwalk followed by a wave of dancers, isn’t the only one offering us a new interpretation of the London ‘Club Kid’.
At this afternoon’s MAN show, ‘Art School’ made its dramatic debut with a small collection that was big on personality and, despite really pushing the androgyny and drag of menswear, was a believable treat. Entitled ‘Queer Couture’, designers Eden Loweth & Tom Barratt, say it is ‘rooted in a cast who are emblems of trans defiance’ and ‘the unfolding narrative of a non binary paradise to be indulged in’.
Translated that means boys as girls and clothes moulded and designed around the wearer and not the usual conformist approach. Slutty Swarovski covered hooded mini dresses in scarlet red mixed with biased cut dresses and splits to the gusset. The only way of spotting the girls from the boys was to look at their legs.
Left & Right - Charles Jeffrey's 'Loverboy'
While exhibitionist, it felt real and believable. It could simply be the models’ conviction, but it felt more than that.
Charles Jeffrey’s first standalone ‘Loverboy’ show was an ‘orgy’ of ‘clothes made of dreams’. Labelled ‘Queer hedonism’, this time, it was a theatrical display that included a crocheted daisy thong and Elizabethan finery. Jeffrey has become a poster boy for this polysexual energy of the city’s young and while it’s caught their’s and our imagination, I can’t help but think it’s a shame there isn’t a bigger scene for all this go with. I’m thinking music and clubs, because, as we all know, this has been in decline for most of this century. Of course, there are pockets, especially in East London, but you feel like you need a New Romantic moment that resonates into wider society.
And, this brings me back to Jeffrey’s collection. While fun and entertaining, it felt more like costume and the clothes dictating the wearer. While the tailoring is there, Vivienne Westwood’s shadow was ever present, especially with the styling and Blackadder type Elizabeth I wigs.
It feels like he needs to go back to the club and think less about the show and spectacle of fashion week. There was too much going on and didn't feel as raw and as fresh as previous shows.
Left & Right - Art School
But one thing is for sure, London’s young is sandwich between high rents, student loans and low pay and need this. This is the generation where, while they have the freedom, they feel handicapped by the older generation and in a cultural landscaped that is being squeezed.
This is fashion that inspires the creative. It's time for a night of a escapism.
Flaming June made her appearance as Jermyn Street was transformed into a blazing celebration of men’s style. The festival spirit took over the Mayfair thoroughfare as the usual hum of traffic was replaced by the buzz of a catwalk space and a handpicked selection of British food and drink vendors.
The third open air catwalk show from St James’s London showcased the best of the current season from retailers within the St James’s area. Key pieces from contemporary brands Paul & Shark and Norwegian Rain were mixed with heritage favourites such as New & Lingwood and Turnbull & Asser. Styled by Grace Gilfeather, Fashion Editor at GQ, it ran the full wardrobe gamut from formal to holiday.
I took my place on the front row and saw the updating of timeless British style using knitwear from JohnSmedley, luxury basics from Sunspel and key outerwear styles. Reimagined for the 21st century gentleman, while rooted in the foundations of St James’s which has drawn men’s shoppers for centuries, this showcase was a timely reminder how very relevant and important this part of London is to the British menswear industry.
We’re on the eve of London Fashion Week Men’s and, while celebrating its 5th year, the biannual event is having to deal with the changing menswear landscape. Brands are cutting expenditure, many are merging men’s with women’s, budgets are under pressure and London Fashion Week needs to be justified more than ever.
Left - The new face of Topman AW17, Lennon Gallagher giving good brows
The closed, industry facing idea of fashion weeks is over and it’s all about photo opportunities and customer facing events. It’s about promotion, harnessing the buzz and trying to get some direct return on the costly investment.
Perfectly illustrating this is Topman Design. One of the originals on the London men’s schedule and the first to really elevate high-street to a catwalk proposition, Topman Design has decided to shelve the show and instead have a presentation for its new SS18 collection that will be thrown open to the general public over the weekend. Arcadia, the parent of Topman, has seen sales falling and this puts pressure on making these type of events perform.
A ‘multi-media event’ called ‘Transition’, the Topman Design installation is curated by a series of collaborators.. Each collaborator will ‘own’ a space and create an installation showcasing their interpretation of this attitude with each room having a completely different and fresh perspective to create a unique journey through the space.
The event takes place at the Old Truman Brewery and open to the public on Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th June between 10am and 6pm. To gain access to the event simply download the DICE app on the App Store and Google Play or at DICE.fm.
Collaborators featured include photographer and filmmaker Nick Offord, musicians ‘The Rhythm Method’, poet and writer Max Wallis, architect and filmmaker Ben Cullen Williams and photographer and creative director Campbell Addy who will be working alongside illustrator King Owusu. In addition the space housing the installation will be designed by young British architect Benni Allan of estudio b.
The space will also feature a pop-up shop selling exclusive apparel featuring prints and graphics taken from and inspired by the Topman Design archive as well as exclusive pieces from the collaborators exhibiting.
Opening the fashion week up to the city makes it an event and creates the momentum that continues to keep these things going. We need to see more of this and not simply 'See Now, Buy Now'. I was thinking when they pedestrianise Oxford Street, it could become the location for fashion week. Clear marquees could hold shows and outside screens could showcase collections to the general public increasing interest and firmly keeping British fashion as the centre of creativity and the city.
Increasing the public's interest in fashion and fashion week and taking it out of its bubble should be the main objective this LFWM.
Last night I took part in the #MayfairCollective panel discussion talking about all things menswear in the lead up to London Fashion Week Men’s LFWM. Teo van den Broeke. Style Director, Esquire magazine, was a fellow panelist and said something interesting about how, on his recent trip to Milan, the luxury brands there told him they wanted to appear ‘warmer’ to consumers.
This is welcome news and also timely as their stand-offish approach is alienating consumers and becoming increasing sterile. They realise they've found themselves stuck in a luxury cul-de-sac with sales slowing and boredom setting in.
There was a time when the brands controlled the consumer. The consumer was supposed to be grateful that they were allowed into the luxury shop, buy the luxury goods and walk out with a luxury bag. Thank you, thank you, thank you...
Things have changed and the power is, now, in the hands of the consumer. The market is saturated, there’s more competition than ever and people are being short-changed with the quality of many of these ‘luxury’ goods.
Brand warmth comes from personality, inclusivity and a friendliness, which many brands, without a strong central figure, will find it difficult to find. It’s about tone of voice, retail environment and brand messaging.
This is a big shift for these companies and will take time. I think they need to think small to go big. People like to buy from people they know or feel like they know. They need to think about the cities and neighbourhoods they are in. They brands can have an overall message, but they need to tailor it for the specific consumers and locations.
They have stopped with the identikit shop fits, but it going to take instinct, trust and a more organic feeling of change, which these very rigid luxury brands will worry about. Addicted to control, it’s something they need to wrestle away from themselves otherwise it they will, eventually, suffocate their businesses or be replaced by those who do.
Is the love affair over? Has Instagram peaked? I’m not basing this on any stats, as there aren’t any recent figures, but, like all things, instinctively, it feels like the audience are growing bored, the novelty is over, it all feels like hard work and many people are thinking what’s next or they want a break.
Left - Instagram - Are you feeling bored? Is the love affair over?
Instagram’s had a good run for its money, but I think people have a sense of deja vu looking at the perfect and saccharine images that are repeated daily. The same faces in the same places. I think the British, especially, are suspicious of too much perfection and the filtered view on life feels distant from the reality.
Over the last 3 years, Instagram became an obsession for many with the birth of ‘Influencers’ and brands piling in to be seen in the hands of these people who always look both ways, but never into the camera, when they cross the road. It’s hard to do anything different and people are becoming immune to any great images and simply overwhelmed with the swiping. They even look bored.
Let’s look at Instagram with fresh eyes for a minute. It’s not often you learn anything from it. It’s mostly immature, forgettable stuff - hot people, cute animals, holiday pictures, floors etc - and appeals to your younger, teenage self and that can be fun, for a time. When you think or feel like engaging, it’s only natural to really care about the people you know in really life.
I’ve been put into the ‘Influencer’ bracket, I’ll put my hands up, but my foundation has always been the written word and this blog. The idea is and always was to try to be a trend setter, opinion former and find out the latest and best things within the men’s style area and to be trusted and influential. (I don't think we've fully settled on a label or a term to describe what we do. The word 'Blogger' has also had a rough ride and wasn't embraced by many). I care and am passionate about this business and it isn’t a vehicle for my own vanity despite what my enlarged head might say!
Many men’s influencers were born from their girlfriends’ accounts and as such followed their lead on content and visual identity. Let’s be honest, how many afternoon tea reviews really appeal to anyone, let alone guys? The modern equivalent of a teenage crush or poster on the wall, the good-looking male influencer is not going to be cute for forever and doesn't really appeal beyond the superficial. These things have a shelf life and the Best Before Date has passed. They have to work out their USP or niche of expertise to have any longevity. I think men, especially, respect and are influenced by honest experience.
People are growing bored, posting less images and with engagement falling, this is the perfect storm to deflate this bubble. We are all influenced by many of things and by lots of people and the idea that these people have a magic key or insight is now over. It was all getting a bit 'Emperor's New Clothes' or was it the emperor getting paid to wear the new clothes?!
‘Influencer Marketing’ has a place in the arsenal of marketing, but celebrities lead the movement in this. There’s no reason for brands not to spend a slice of the marketing pie, but it became a central focus and I’m not sure it really warrants that importance and all the eggs going into this basket. Brands need to create good content and they can partner with people to do this: lots of different people. It doesn’t and won’t always result in stats telling you how much ROI - return on investment - you’ve had. It’s marketing afterall, everything is experimental and nothing is guaranteed.
As Instagram make it hard for people to grow their followers, it’s become a game of getting nowhere and a feeling of hopelessness and dropping out. It’s also hard to find anybody on there or break out of your friendship groups. I’m not entering the #Instafraud debate, but I think some people need to take a step back and realise that not everything revolves around Instagram.
Many of these Influencers don’t seem to have an opinion or express it on Instagram and this is why they’ve never really been into Twitter. Nobody is saying anything. Twitter requires a brain and thought process in order to say something and, this, unfortunately, makes it smaller in our figure obsessed world. Twitter is about news, opinion and conversation and doesn't appeal on a huge scale.
Also, what’s the ideal Instagram number of followers? 10,000? 25,000? 100,000? More, more, more!
As the men’s fashion business has been going through contraction - ChicGeek Comment here - the money available has deflated the Influencer bubble too. Brand people forget there is much more to the digital world than Instagram. We’re definitely seeing less sponsored posts and collaborations on there. While Instagram isn’t going anywhere, the days of thinking the sun revolves around it are over. It’ll take its place on the icons along with all the other accounts and move into the background.
I think things are going to go back to written content held on blogs and websites that can be searched for and while social media is important and helps you create great original images, it’s very disposable and becoming more and more noisy as more features are added. I also think personality is going to become much more important in the digital world and this needs to be expressed in what you say, not just how you are seen. Instagram has become stressful keeping up, increasingly serious and as such has lost most of the fun.
It’s time to get clever, again.
Fashionistos, clear your diary! As we stand on the eve of the new SS18 men’s show season be part of the excitement of London Fashion Week Men’s - LFWM - thanks to St James’s. Join TheChicGeek on Saturday, June 10th, as Jermyn Street is transformed into an al fresco catwalk.
The centre for London’s menswear for centuries, the St James’s area is steeped in history while still being one of the best contemporary men’s shopping areas in the world. Combine an afternoon of shopping with an inspirational see-now-buy-now catwalk show featuring some of the best British brands including Turnbull & Asser, John Smedley, Lock & Co and John Lobb as well as contemporary, newly arrived names including Paul & Shark, Jigsaw, Sunspel and Barbour International.
The two shows are at 1.30pm and 3.00pm and the tickets are free. You just need to register - here What are you waiting for? See you there!
Nearest Tube - Piccadilly Circus
Left & Right - Previous St James's presentations featuring the men's retailers within this prestigious area of Mayfair
If you can’t make either of the shows visitors will be able to drop into the shops of St James’s for a variety of special in-store activities such as a shirt cutting demonstration from a Master Shirt Cutter at Harvie & Hudson and complementary wet shaves at world renowned perfumery Floris. Jermyn Street will also play host to some of London’s best street food retailers all offering a bespoke St James’s menu, making sure the day will be a feast for all the senses.
In an age of increasing competition and saturation, anonymity is the death of any brand. People like to know the person or people behind the things they are buying. Ultimately, at all price levels, we are buying somebody’s taste, so, call it nosy, if you will, but we want to know who is making the decisions.
At the recent Marks & Spencer menswear fashion show previewing their AW17 collection, and by chance, I met their Head of Design, Menswear, James Doidge. Impressed by his relaxed and honest approach, I wanted to find out more, so I sent him a few ChicGeek questions:
Left - Marks & Spencer, Head of Design, Menswear, James Doidge
CG: Where are you from originally?
JD: I’m from Aldridge, a small town in the Midlands
CG: How old are you?
CG: You studied at Central St Martin’s, what did you study & when?
JD: I studied Menswear on the BA course, at Central St Martin's from 1997-2000. Before that I completed a Foundation Course at Chelsea College of Art & Design
CG: You’ve previously worked at Paul Smith, Versace, Asprey & Calvin Klein, what was your favourite brand and why?
JD: Each brand was exciting to work for as they have their own strong aesthetic. Versace and Calvin Klein may seem quite opposite – gold baroque to minimalist, pure simplicity, however, a designer can help to evolve the brand and create a product that is relevant to their customer.
CG: You spent over 11 years at Calvin Klein, what was that like? What do you think about what Raf Simons is doing there now?
JD: When I started at CK, Calvin was still working there and it was great to understand how he worked – to learn from him and understand his founding principles. He taught the world how to advertise in a modern, aspirational way – how to make clothing desirable and sexy - even a pair of jeans or white T-shirt.
I love what Raf is doing and am really excited to see the next few collections and understand his complete vision, and I’ve been a lifelong fan of his own label.
Right - My favourite image from Marks & Spencer's forthcoming AW17 season
CG: How have you seen menswear change over your career?
JD: Menswear has become a much bigger market over the past few years and continues to grow. Men want to have fun with clothes and enjoy what they are wearing, they want to express themselves, in subtle ways, through the clothes they wear – no matter where they are shopping.
CG: Was it an adjustment going to M&S from Calvin Klein?
JD: Both are huge and very distinct brands, with their own heritage and handwriting. A big focus for me has always been fabric and quality, which is extremely important for both brands.
CG: What are the strengths of M&S menswear?
JD: The quality of the clothing is key when designing for M&S, we have a rigorous testing and trialling process.
We travel the world for seasonal style inspiration and edit those findings down into concise stories that deliver a broad choice of colour and fit that works for everyone.
CG: What made you want to take the job?
JD: I’ve always wanted to work at M&S, as it’s such an iconic British brand, so when the opportunity arose I moved back to London to take on the role. It's like the BBC of the clothing world, an incredible British institution – everyone in the UK has grown up with M&S and has a point of view of what it means to them. M&S has a unique place both on the High Street and in our customers’ lives.
CG: What were the first things you did there?
JD: Visited the incredible archives in Leeds, which has a huge selection of clothes, packaging, advertising and photographs from the 133 year history of M&S.
CG: What is your favourite piece from the new AW17 collection?
CG: How does M&S compete in the 21st century?
JD: Firstly and most importantly, we listen to our customers - 18,000 per week (to be precise!), which informs how we design, create and displayed our collections. We create quality essentials that fit into our customers’ lifestyles and act as staples to shape our customers’ wardrobes.
Left - Limited Edition Parka Jacket - £129
CG: Are there any other men’s brands/designers/retailers you look to or admire?
JD: I love Tokyo Hands, in Tokyo, it has the best stationary selection in the world and things that you could only find in Japan, and Virgil Normal in Los Angeles has a great mix of brands.
CG: Where do you find your inspiration?
JD: As part of our inspiration at M&S, we visit various global cities to understand the different markets and trends to see how, globally, people’s lives are changing and evolving – what they are wearing, eating, experiencing and watching all contribute to our research process. We usually visit Tokyo, Seoul, NY and LA. Also Stockholm, Munich, Cape Town, Sydney and Rio are also fascinating cities for inspiration.
CG: Where do you see M&S menswear in 5 years’ time?
JD: Still as the UK’s number 1 retailer.
CG: What book are you currently reading?
JD: Eduardo Paolozzi by Hal Foster. He’s one of my favourite British artists who produced amazing work from the 50s through to the 90s
Right - Marks & Spencer - Autograph - Navy Leather Trainers - £39.50
CG: The last film you watched?
JD: The Genius and The Opera Singer – an amazing documentary about a mother/daughter relationship that also features a chihuahua called Angelina Jolie!
CG: The last piece of menswear you bought?
JD: Autograph navy trainers - here
CG: Favourite city, and why?
JD: London, it has the perfect mix – people, culture, museums, music, art, restaurants, parks and great shops.