When Virgil Abloh devoted his latest AW19 Louis Vuitton men’s collection to Michael Jackson he never could have thought that the whole thing was going to disappear so quickly. Paying homage to the ‘King of Pop’, the entire show was inspired by his Billie Jean video with its light-up paving stones and litter-strewn New York street.
Left - Those famous Jacko sequinned gloves reimagined for the, now, cancelled AW19 Louis Vuitton men's collection
The designer and brand presumed that it would be as uncontroversial as the icon from the first collection, under his creative direction, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz: her glittery red shoes being replaced by his glittery gloves. In a collection brimming with references to Michael Jackson, it was a celebration of Jackson the stage performer and musician.
All good, until the release of the recent documentary, ‘Leaving Neverland’, which focussed on the allegations made by two men who say Jackson had abused them as children. The energy around this film reignited the controversy surrounding Jackson, reminding people of his potential darker side.
The Louis Vuitton damage limitation machine kicked in and released the following statement: The documentary ‘Leaving Neverland’ featuring two men who allege they were sexually abused as children by Michael Jackson has caused us the greatest pain. It is important to mention that we were unaware of this documentary at the time of the last LV FW19 Men’s Show. “My intention for this show was to refer to Michael Jackson as a pop culture artist. It referred only to his public life that we all know and to his legacy that has influenced a whole generation of artists and designers." said Virgil Abloh, Men’s Artistic Director.
Right - Billie Jean trash can
“I am aware that in the light of this documentary the show has caused emotional reactions. I strictly condemn any form of child abuse, violence or infringement against any human rights.” added Abloh.
The collection, due to hit stores in July, has been stripped of any of the Jackson references and the label confirms that it will not produce any of the pieces that include Michael Jackson. Fortunately for Louis Vuitton, it was easier to cancel the collection in March, before too much had been expensively manufactured, and they were left with product they couldn’t sell. To cancel it before production was the safest option in a environment where brands are frightened to upset people or be controversial.
So, where does this leave us as an industry in relation to references?
The fashion industry is a huge business with a never ending conveyor belt of ideas and products needing copious amounts of references and inspirations. One minute it’s rainbows, then unicorns, then llamas, and whatever next, and who knows where these images come from and what they mean to different people.
In an era of ‘Cultural Appropriation’ and ‘Blackface’ controversies, brands will, now, always err on the side of guilty. This is guilty until proven innocent and a way of limiting the social media outcry and killing the thing stone dead. It’s just not worth the hassle.
From Katy Perry’s shoes to Prada’s figurines to Gucci’s roll-neck, we’re now clear on what should definitely be erased from the design vocabulary. But, won’t this limit the scope of references at the disposal of brands and designers and lead to boring collections frightened to reference motifs and cultural imagery? Won’t it be a case of collections designed by lawyers to satisfy the small print and devoid of anything challenging or different? Every moodboarded person will be researched and investigated in a Stasi-like, 1984 approach into finding anything controversial in their background. You just wonder how Coco Chanel gets away with it.
Dries Van Noten, the Belgian designer, famous for this Indian embroidery and ethnic motifs, told Business of Fashion in 2017, “For me, other cultures have always been a starting point. But I never took things very literal. Quite often, we take one element that we like...and mix it to be something very personal,” he said. “It’s like layering. Indian- or African-inspired or ethnic-inspired...it has to be clothes people want to wear now. Clothes that are used to express who they are. To me, that’s the final goal.”
Left - Louis Vuitton menswear referencing The Wiz, the sequel to the Wizard of Oz, which starred Michael Jackson and followed Abloh's first collection with Dorothy was the main inspiration
“I look now more to the art world, for several reasons, I still make elements and references to ethnic things, but it has become more difficult now.” In response to Cultural Appropriation he said, “The only ethnicity I could look at is Belgian folklore.… It’s not that I exactly copy them and it's not that I want to hurt people by using certain things,” he said. “It’s the alphabet of fashion, which I use to create my own things. Sometimes, especially with menswear, you have to work with recognisable things. You have to make things that men know.”
His latest collection references the Danish designer Verner Panton, but what if Panton turns out to a few skeletons in his closet? For example, imagine you created a collection around the much loved Beatles’ song, Penny Lane. Referencing the fireman, the banker and nurse selling poppies from a tray, but then somebody points out the famous street in Liverpool is named after James Penny, an eighteenth-century slave trader. It’s knowing when the line of history needs to be drawn or how far back you investigate the reference. Rather than seeing people celebrating these things, many are seeing it as a hijacking, and limit people to only use the culture they identify with; making a very boring and restrictive design vocabulary.
The world moves forward and things change. Everything needs to be judged on an individual case-by-case basis and the decision is an informed and instinctive knowing when something isn’t right, appropriate or we’ve moved on as a society. We’re all learning this, all of the time.
Different cultures think differently about things and being frivolous or decorative about things with deeper meanings should be used with caution.
Right - Pixelated Michael Jackson on Louis Vuitton accessorises
Brands make things to sell, not to upset anybody, but won’t our oversensitivity limit the references we have at our disposal. We’re in an era of seeing the negative in everything and blowing it up on social media and it could lead to a very bland and beige period of fashion.
After much menswear excitement on red carpets, this awards season, the expectations were high for something interesting at the Oscars. Apart from Billy Porter’s voluminous train, it was a fairly conservative and traditional night. Those immature-looking, shrunken velvet suits were rife, while the rest opted for traditional black tie.
The man to offer us something new was British actor, Nicholas Hoult, in Dior Men AW19. From the recent AW19 collection, the suit was reimagined in plain fabric with a shorter sash. The simply singular button and sash wrapping around the shoulder, around the back, then to the side, is elegantly different.
Nicholas Hoult is tall enough to have carried off the original length, but, I think it would have looked chicer with black fringing at the end. It would have also weighted it down.
It certainly saves needing a napkin!
My first visit to this beautiful city’s fashion week; its new remit of hosting international talent, and nearly half of the shows dedicated to menswear, makes this a place to watch for nascent menswear brands. Here are TheChicGeek’s highlights:
Mans Concept & Menswear
One of Barcelona’s emerging menswear stars, Mans Concept & Menswear - it's a mouthful - is designer, Jaime Álvarez’s brand. Born in Seville, he studied fashion at IED Madrid and graduated in 2017. This was a journey to India featuring florals, exaggerated lapels and knitted tank tops. An Indian colour palette of fuschia, marigold yellow and green gave this a summery feel with the highlights being delicate leaf cutouts in soft tailoring.
Both Left - Mans Concept & Menswear took a trip to India
Invited Turkish designer, Benan, looked to religion as a leveller of people: once their shoes are taken off in the mosque everybody is equal. He launched his eponymous line in 2009 and won the 1st edition of Who’s on Next/Uomo contest the year after at Pitti Uomo. This collection featured long trench coats to the floor, even coming in reflective gold, thuggish looking bleached corduroy and knitted under-looking clothes. Tailoring was prominent with evening wear and overcoats and quilted jackets and trousers injected the AW19 protective element.
Right - Umit Benan
Javier Girón studied at the Instituto Europeo di Design (IED) in Barcelona and upon graduating he moved to Los Angeles to work alongside Jeremy Scott, Creative Director at Moschino. He returned to Barcelona in 2016, to establish his high-end menswear brand. This was a slick sportswear collection featuring collegiate lettering in a monochrome palette. It’s hard to get this kind of aesthetic to look high-end, but here it looked considered, stylish and well fabricated.
Left - Jnorig AW19
Pablo Erroz founded his ready-to-wear fashion brand for men and women in 2010. Entirely made in Spain, this was a collection with a touch of the Gallaghers with the 90s round coloured lensed glasses. Stripes and the Spanish leather work was there in a light, wearable collection with nautical ropes, florals and sequins.
Right - Liam or Noel?! All made in Spain, Pablo Erroz
Spain’s own youthful and unashamed take on Versace hyped fashion, the Rubén Galarreta brand launched in 2014. Featuring the perfect balance between haute couture and sportswear, the vibrant prints, transparent fabrics, hand-embroidered pieces and unique accessories aren’t for those who want to blend into the crowd. Elasticated side cut outs on trousers, the Chinese Lucky Cat waving motif and transparent underwear makes for a sexualised and provocative male for AW19. This is underwear as outerwear.
Left - Strapped in for AW19 - Rubén Galarreta
Disclosure - TheChicGeek travelled to Barcelona thanks to 080 Barcelona Fashion Week
All fashion roads lead to Paris. While the Paris landscape is fractured with many smaller trade shows and showrooms competing for people’s time, it’s also the place where orders are written and retailers and people finally commit to the season. Word on the street was brands were deciding to forgo Florence’s Pitti Uomo for showrooms in Paris to justify the time and expense of doing the men’s fashion week circuit.
Left - Outside one of the Paris trade shows, Tranoi
Here are the trends and brands to know from Paris for AW19:
British fabrics are having a huge renaissance, none more so than for the AW19 season. E. Tautz has reworked the traditional black and white tweed into a vortex design that is both contemporary and respects the qualities and attraction of this type of fabric. Charles Jeffrey Loverboy turned up the dial on tartan with bold blue and red. This is a designer making the transition from the conceptual to beautifully cut and made pieces.
Right - E.Tautz tweed
Left - Charles Jeffrey Loverboy tartan
People are beginning to yearn for dressing up again. Tired of sportswear and the grunge aesthetic, this is a new idea of wearing something more dressed at anytime of the day. British designer, Bianca Saunders, captured this perfectly with extra ruched shirts a dark palette.
Left - Bianca Saunders AW19
Following on from Mary Katrantzou’s chesterfield sofa coats and Anya Hindmarch’s chubby hearts, it’s the men’s turn for something to take the cushion in a world full of sharp edges. This is from Virgil Abloh’s second collection for Louis Vuitton which was inspired by Michael Jackson. Overinflated much?!
Left - Louis Vuitton AW19
Heat bonded pockets and steel poppers are some of the details on menswear to make it perform and look high-tech. Mammunt Delta X is a new label, it debuts this SS19, from Swiss heritage mountaineering company Mammut. Using their 150 years of outdoor expertise, it is offering something younger and more urban to satisfy the insatiable thirst for element protecting products.
Left - Mammunt Delta X AW19
Jupe by Jackie has become come something of a cult label known for its hand embroidery. Established in 2010 by Dutch fashion designer Jackie Villevoye, Jupe by Jackie uses master embroiderers from the Indian province of Uttar Pradesh to work her designs onto items of clothing. J-B-J is a new, younger brand, from Jackie’s son, offering the signature embroidery on T-shirts and more casual pieces.
Left - J-B-J yeti, all hand embroidered
Made from plastic waste, Norden is a new outer label made entirely of single use plastic. Their “U-Trust” verification program provides customers with comprehensive certification designed for a high level of transparency. The Fiber Print technology validates the authenticity of the products, with complete analysis of all fabrications to support the certifications. All of the garments are free of fur, feathers, leather and all other animal by-products. There’s even an internal water bottle!
From Left - Norden - All made from plastic waste and include a water bottle
Part of London’s Fashion East show during LFWM, Dublin designer and recent MA Westminster graduate, Robyn Lynch, referenced old football supporter footage from the Irish television channel RTE in her first collection. This tone-on-tone, normcore collection took the best of Ireland and injected sports and technical details. This sleeveless Aran sweater with side adjusters is a perfect example of this.
From Left - Fashion East debut collection from Irish designer, Robyn Lynch
Finding stylish American basics is much harder than you think. Those grey army sweats which make any man look like Steve McQueen are very subtle to get right. Knickerbocker says it is a “factory born brand” and is transparent about its manufacturers which are mostly in Portugal, but do include the USA.
The standout item is the sailor-like hooded grey sweatshirt to wear On The Town a la Frank Sinatra!
The two main Berlin men’s trade shows, relevant to the UK market, SEEK and Premium, had a switch up for the AW19 season. SEEK, the younger, more streetwear and sportswear focused show pushed its separate area for skate fashion, Bright, into the main show space. What this did was make the show feel more outerwear heavy and technical and showed a definite turning away from branded sportswear for AW19.
Premium on the other hand made the correct decision to reorder their show spaces: mixing the brands and giving the feeling of discovery rather than uniform looking halls. Premium is, just that, more premium, targeting an older demographic with the deeper pockets to buy more expensive clothes and finishes.
Left - Inside the main hall at Premium, Berlin
Here are the big AW19 trends coming out from Berlin and the labels worth making a note of:
Post Sportswear Preppy
The sportswear juggernaut was bound to slow at some point and we’re seeing the beginnings of it for AW19. The overall feeling was of less branding and colour and the idea that sportswear to segue-waying itself into new areas. Retro sportswear is going out the door and morphing into either more technical or preppy product. A perfect example of this is Champion doing branded rugby shirts. It’s still sportswear, but it’s moving back into the preppy area of menswear. This will be how preppy returns to fashion.
Left - Lacoste 80s college jacket
Right - Champion showing the segue way from sports into preppy with rugby shirts
The Recycled Renaissance of Denim
Always eco-conscious and sustainably minded, the German shows have always been home to brands trying to change the system and limit fashion’s impact. Denim, one of the world’s most destructive fabrics in terms of pesticides, water and dyeing, needs a way back into fashion.
Two Dutch brands, Butcher of Blue and Mud Jeans are pioneering reusing and recycling denim. Butcher of Blue reworks vintage and Mud Jeans asks for its old jeans to be returned to be completely taken back to the raw fibre and remade. They also offer a leasing service - €7.50 a month, €29 sign up - for those who don’t want to own. Around 40% of the new jeans are from old jean fibres.
HNST, a new German jeans brand, claims to include 56% of reused denim fibres in its new jeans with the rest being Tencel. People donate their old jeans and electrolytes are used to fix the indigo to the fabric and make the dye soluble. Expect more of this from the bigger denim brands.
Left - HNST denim recycling old jeans into new
Corduroy has been making inroads back into menswear over the last few winters. Biscuit and forest green are the main colours, here, as it spreads from coats and trousers into accessories and footwear. Related to the remerging preppy trend, corduroy offers a fresh collegiate take in warm team colours.
Clockwise from left - Superga, Kangol, Far Afield, Averse
For those men wanting colour and pattern, tartan is the fabric of the AW19 season. First seen on the catwalks of London, tartan is a masculine way of putting interest safely into a any man’s wardrobe. Portuguese brand, Averse, had classic Black Watch, and Schneiders offered something more appropriate for those Rupert The Bear wannabes.
From Left - Schneiders, Averse
Long-Line Arctic Parkas
This is a trend that needs another winter to build, but get in early. Expect many more of these for AW20. In a saturated coat market and the oversized trend blowing up - pardon the pun - the arctic parka is getting longer and more cocoon like.
The American, but Italian run and owned, Refridgwear, has done a collection with a German designer, (they wouldn’t name just yet), where the bottom foot of the jacket can be simply added and taken away. All for around €500. There were a few more brands, such as Woolrich, doing similar long-line styles at Pitti Uomo.
Left - Refridgwear collab with a yet unnamed German designer, the bottom section is detachable
A father a son team, Tom & Adam, from Riga in Latvia, feature wearing their own product on the website and in imagery. Made in Latvia, designed in Paris, this new underwear and swimwear brand is trying to get us off our cheap addiction and slipping into something with more quality.
Trunks - €35, Swimshorts - €150
A Design Collective
A new British casual shoe brand offering value in the luxury, minimal cup-sole market. Made from Italian leather in Portugal, the people behind A Design Collective currently do private label and are now launching with the Common Projects customer in mind with this £130 sports shoe. Launches July.
Barcelona based, Brava Fabrics, manages to tread that fine line between fun and immature. Their Spanish made fabrics feature yellow submarines, llamas - the new unicorn? - and the ever nostalgic cassette tapes. The fun side of hipster.
This type of padded outdoor slipper could be the new slider. New British brand, Coma Toes, certainly hopes that’s true with their collection of padded sports slip-ons. I’ve seen something similar from The North Face before, but there’s always room for a new, well-priced and casual footwear trend. Watch this space...
Offering great value and made in London outerwear, Wax London is a husband and wife design team. They aim to bring the manufacturing of traditional British outerwear back to the UK. These are complimented with staple essentials of jerseys, knits and shirts crafted in Portugal and Italy.
Salzburg based, Schneiders, is a quality outerwear producer with traditional alpine shaped and loden type fabrics. In the upper price points, the product is made in Romania, but from premium fabric and fur finishes. For the modern Cecil Beatons.
Thei-Sprint began in 1935 with Heinz Theisen, a man who dedicated his life to professional cycling. Born in the textile district of Moenchengladbach, after World War II he began making his own equipment, jerseys and gear.
In 1965 he returned to his roots and began designing cycling equipment again. With his own knitting machines, he made jerseys and beanies for local teams together with his wife in their basement. The “Thei-Sprint“ brand was born.
By 1985 Theisen had joined the renowned Telekom and Coast cycling teams as a mechanic. His final triumph came in the 1988 Seoul Olympics where Theisen won gold as a chief mechanic with the West German track cycling team. He is famous for his red beanie which they continue to make proudly in Germany.
It was most likely those wrinkly Ugg boots, looking like an oversized Shar-Pei, that garnered Y/Project its recent and biggest amount of attention. The Paris based label, headed by Belgian designer, Glenn Martens, has been lumped in with that Off-White/Balenciaga cool wave of recent years. Martens, 35, has been at Y/Project for the past 5 years, taking over from founder, Yohan Serfaty, when he died in 2013. His first assistant, Martens, was an Interior Architecture graduate and an alumni from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp.
Left - Y/Project's signature waders
This season’s guest designer at Florence’s Pitti Uomo, this was the label’s AW19 show of men’s and womenswear, bringing forward their usual date from Paris.
Forget the museum, it was a night at Florence’s famous Santa Maria Novella monastery, next to the central station and known for its smellies. Guests were given torches as they entered the huge, darkened church and we followed the hundreds of mini flashlights into the cloistered quadrant where the catwalk ran around the four sides with the models ending up like chess pieces in the middle.
Divine despite the cold, the columns and erect cypresses were silhouetted onto the shaded honey walls as the models took a turn on what has to be one of the longest catwalks ever. One model was hobbling in her lemon yellow stilettos before she’d reached the fourth side and on into the soil centre.
What we saw was a delight of design. Yes, a designer actually trying to design something and, the majority of times, pulling it off. There’s such a difference between a designer, here, and an editor, the majority of brands, who just reconfigure and fine tune things. The word here was reconstruction. Your eye followed seams and there was an itching want to open it all up and look inside: seeing where things were going to and how they worked. This is the kind of stuff that interests us fashion geeks and isn’t something Zara can easily replicate, and, as such, makes you crave the original.
Right - Y/Project AW19 - First men's bag and shoe collection
This was the debut of the brand’s men’s footwear and bag line, both hand-crafted in Italy.
The signature waders were there, but in rigid, shiny plastic, almost like creased trousers with the shoes attached. There was plenty for the tailoring revivalists. A new tuxedo jacket appeared where the satin label was pulled out to create a 3D effect with the button. This is difficult stuff to get looking right. Fringed scarves resembling Turkish carpets added to accessorises, plus pinstripes and this season’s pattern du jour, tartan.
This was contemporary cool, bit not aching or gimmicky. You could see different age groups in these clothes and wearers enjoying the newness and the details. It felt like the direction we’re headed in. From the deconstructed and harsh reality of recent years, back to a glamour of construction and playing with new ideas while still keeping it real.
This feels like the last of this type of designer we’ll see at Pitti Uomo, as I predict a return to more tailoring and Italian industry brands, but, Martens, lead us into temptation and away from the sportswear grunge to a higher sophistication. Could Martens become the Y/Prophet?
London Fashion Week Men’s - LFWM - was stripped back in more ways than one, this season. While the bones of the skeleton schedule were showing through, it was the lack of themes on the catwalks that really raised questions. What we were given was a genderless, season-less and sex less display of menswear: a casstratrated men’s fashion week. The rumour mill was flying that LFWM will soon be merged with the women’s London Fashion Week. It’s worth noting, there were as many female models as men, so, if gender is becoming less of a differentiation, then London Fashion Week will become just that, and the two separate halves could make a whole.
Left - Alex Mullins AW19 - Girls for Boys?
If the men do return to the women, it needs to be as equals and not just a day tagged on at the end. Menswear is outgrowing womenswear, and is always seen as the less established and important sibling from brands who see ii as an add-on and not a priority. It’ll be interesting to see which brands are brave enough to give menswear equal billing.
Men’s fashion needs stereotypes to challenge, it needs boundaries to push and lines to blur, if all the lines have been erased, aren’t you just floating into nothingness? And that’s what it felt like a bit here. Menswear collections entirely shown on females models - Alex Mullins produced an entire men's show featuring only female models - more non-binary club kids dressing up in dated womenswear or six pack revealing T-shirts for the coldest months of the year: it was the male minimised.
As for gender, the whole big reveal of a chick-with-a-dick is no longer shocking, nor interesting, nor original. Art School showed a collection that didn’t look good on either gender and, Charles Jeffrey, the Uri Geller of the London scene, continued with more theatrics, but, in his defence, when the feathers stopped flying and the smoke and mirrors were turned off, the collection looked more accomplished and could hold its own alongside any other designer in-store.
This lack of focus made for a schizoid season, and it was brands like E. Tautz, which didn’t do anything particularly new, that created a pull and yearning for collections featuring something beautiful again. Bored with sports, bored with fugly, the next men’s movement will be a return to something you want to enjoy and cherish rather than Instagram and discard.
That most British thing of all, the weather, was totally missing during LFWM. It’s all about “drops”, and “Autumn/Winter” is delivered in the middle of the summer, but, before, many brands and designers would start with this idea of “Winter” or, rain, which made Burberry. That probably had something to do with bigger budgets and fancier staging. Larger and more established brands used to like to ram home the cold weather feel, already visualising the windows, and while this idea is dated, at this LFWM, many of the clothes could have been for any month, anywhere, at anytime. So, what makes it 2019?
Sex was missing too. Even the hyper masculine muscle boys at Astrid Andersen were covered up for a luxury pyjama party. It was as though men were getting ready to go into hibernation until all this woke madness blows over. Though, Per Götesson, showed T-shirts pulled up to reveal the stomach, perfect for those social media body fascists. “It’s about equal parts vanity and fragility.” he says. “Each piece is designed three dimensionally around the body. We are applying techniques perhaps more common in womenswear and couture where lines and proportions in movement are taken into consideration. The jersey pieces are developed using this process, it is about finding a balance between strength and fragility.” And, there was me just thinking it was about likes on Instagram. Back to creating a male pecking order, As soon as one thing disappears, a new line or goal is revealed to differentiate the masses: that unattainable 8-pack separating the men from the boys.
Right - Art School AW19
Fashion is about selling change and, as a designer or brand, you need to create desire for that change into what you are presenting at that moment in time. Genderless, season-less, sexless, can equal nothingness. Just please don’t make men redundant.
Tom Ford is a clever man. Starting with two of the highest margins categories in fashion - eyewear & beauty - he founded his eponymous company. Fast forward 13 years and he’s developed money-maker after money-maker. Suits, followed by trainers and then jeans, all added to his ballooning business.
Left - Tom Ford debuted his new underwear range during his February AW18 catwalk show in New York
The last big fashion category untouched by the Texan’s magic was underwear. But, no more.
What debuted in his show in February catwalk show in New York was a bit underwhelming. Think Yeezy uncooked sausage coloured trunks; a world away from the sexy, see-through briefs Ford produced when at the helm of Gucci. Calvin Klein could still sleep easy at night, or so I thought. But, looking at the news from British GQ, it looks like they’re more standard tighty-whities, albeit with a velvet waistband. They’re also cheaper than I thought at £55. (I know, it's still a lot for a pair of white pants).
For a man who famously dresses commando, the big question is, will be practise what he preaches?
Below - Briefs by Tom Ford - £55