LONDON, JANUARY 8, 2016
London’s menswear talent incubator MAN—a joint venture between Lulu Kennedy’s Fashion East initiative and the Arcadia behemoth Topman to hurrah a triumvirate of future menswear stars—was founded in 2005. And many a star has been born from it—most notably, Craig Green and Jonathan Anderson.
Yet, in the increasingly crowded fashion landscape of today, you wonder how fashion fledglings—like Kennedy’s ragtag brigade of MAN designers—can make a dent, let alone an impact. The answer? By offering up something different: uncompromising, fiercely individual, a decidedly acquired taste. Forget multimillion advertising muscle, MAN has moxie.
At least, it did for Fall 2016, where a trio of designers offered unique opinions on contemporary masculinity: black-shrouded Catholic schoolboys rubbed shoulders with a bejeweled West Indian master of ceremonies who were followed by a raggedy, drag-edy East London club kid in Party Monster flatforms and a bunched-up corduroy miniskirt. It takes all sorts to make the fashion world go round.
MAN sort of does that. Look at Anderson and Green, whose designs have influenced fashion on a world scale: Tick off the number of men’s and women’s shows featuring ties (Green’s trademark), or the number of women cropping up in men’s shows (à la Anderson).
The breakout this season was Grace Wales Bonner—although having already bagged a British Fashion Award and global exposure, she was a sure bet who understandably didn’t stray far from her established formula. That formula is the decorated male, with specific reference to the West Indies; Wales Bonner has explored African-influenced themes throughout her career, which, although brief (she graduated from London’s Central Saint Martins barely 18 months ago), has been intriguing. Obsessed as she is with history—rich in stories and visually rich—Wales Bonner herself said backstage that she didn’t feel beholden to it. Hence the mash-up of 1970s with 1870s, of African-American slave songs, Bollywood, and the psychedelic Afrofuturists, the Nigerian Irish composer Tunde Jegede strumming a West African harp as the models walked. Those models wore another mash-up of Funkadelic wide-lapel tailoring, Victoriana crystal beading across silky tracksuiting, and shirts sharply tugged in at the waist, like cotillion dresses. Feminine? Wales Bonner winced. “It’s about bringing beauty and sensuality to menswear,” she said. But who says that can’t be masculine?
That thread—of questioning received notions of menswear—was what strung together this MAN ménage à trois. Rory Parnell-Mooney regressed to his teenage years in a Catholic school, printing slogans like “Nancy Boy” (a song by the band Placebo) or “Repent” (no prizes for the origin of that) across clothes that riffed on the well-established uniform of dispossessed youth: hoodies, slouchy shirts, sweatshirting, ’90s nostalgia. You’ve doubtlessly seen it hanging around a shopping mall near you already.
Maybe that uniform has changed, though? That was the feeling you got with Charles Jeffrey, whose pierced, powdered, and pomaded band of dandy rebels careened about cardboard totems. They were the ones in the skirts but also in tucked and tweaked jackets (Jeffrey called them “nervous,” their tailoring reflecting the tics and tugs characteristic of anxiety attacks). It looked a mess. Here’s the clever thing: backstage it actually wasn’t. The knitwear, especially, with its high-rise girdle of ribbing, chopped-out shoulders, or buckshot pointelle patch across the chest, is worthy not only of merit, but of attention. All these designers are. Get ready for impact.