Christopher Shannon Fall/Winter 2016 London

“Comfort and Horror” was Christopher Shannon’s theme for Fall. Pretty weighty words. But Shannon has always been one to imbue his designs with more than immediately meets the eye. London has many purveyors of pumped-up, jumped-up streetwear—some of whom sneeringly refuse to acknowledge the label, getting caught up in semantics when they should be devoting time to designing better clothes—but Shannon is the oldest. And, I reckon, the best. He’s the heir apparent to Kim Jones, and his shows throb with the same clash between brash, working-class machismo and high fashion.

Until Fall 2016. Because, for Fall 2016, Shannon showed via an installation rather than on the runway. Hopefully it was a one-off thing, as the chutzpah of Shannon’s shows would be sorely missed—and, indeed, was today. His show was staged in the Alison Jacques Gallery in central London, and was inspired by a recent collaboration with artist Linder Sterling on costumes for a performance with the Northern Ballet Company. Although the stasis of the presentation gave you plenty of time to admire Shannon’s adept design skills, it simply wasn’t the same.

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When Shannon chose “comfort and horror” as the title and the inspiration for this outing, he was thinking about the suburbs of Liverpool, the northern English city he grew up in—the comfort of home, but the horror of being trapped there. The towering wooden structures at the center of the presentation came replete with PVC-framed windows. They wound up resembling the bare timber bones of a semi-detached home, the sort built in the much-repudiated mock-Tudor style by British construction firm Barratt. Those crop up on otherwise green and pleasant lands across the whole of the north of England—a comfort, and a horror.

The dwellings house ordinary folk—who are also at the root of Shannon’s clothes. Not just for this season, though this outing was especially persuasive in extolling the obscure appeal of men’s boxer-short poplins in candy-color stripes and checks; chopped-up hooded jackets and track-pants sliced apart down the seams; and gold-chained medallions and earrings that were dandyish displays of the trappings of wealth.

The cleverest bit of Shannon’s clothing is how simple it all is to understand. “I was thinking back to the boys who went out with my babysitters,” he said, Shannon’s being the second collection of the day to talk about blue-collar heroes. You don’t need the deep backstory, nor to have visited Liverpudlian suburbs, to get a twisted sense of small-town life (and, indeed, pent-up teenage sexual frustration) from his clothes. They riffed on the preppy pastel palette, reminiscent of mass sports chains Esprit and Benetton in the patched, zippered wind cheaters and sweatshirts and varsity shapes.

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Those are also tropes Shannon has offered time and again, remixed and reimagined each season, a tight-knit web of garments in seemingly constant reinvention via his always-fertile imagination. It was pleasant to take time out from the runway rat race and admire his handiwork sedately for Fall—and it felt like Shannon pushed himself out of his comfort zone in doing so. But one hopes Shannon’s dynamic verve returns to London’s runways for Spring: The city undoubtedly benefits from his energy, and he irrefutably rates as one of its very finest.

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