MAN is arguably the most inviting and representative of the menswear shows. One feels as though they are among friends every season. That is perhaps, in part, due to the truly inclusive, thought-provoking and exciting offerings each designer brings forth, but also the natural pairings that seem to be at play. When surrounded by magnetic duos it is easier to feel included. Lulu Kennedy and Natasha Booth are the steadfast duo who put this essential show and initiative in motion each season, James Theseus Buck and Luke Brooks of Rottingdean Bazaar are a two-men-show who live and work together in East Sussex, the Art School duo are a couple on and off the runway, and Stefan Cooke is comprised of both Cooke and his partner Jake Burt. Thus, it felt as though MAN this season was a truly innovative meeting of minds. No clashes of opinion here, the show felt as though each partner in each duo was in perfect osmosis, bringing their expertise and outlandish ideas together.
First up was Stefan Cooke.
Cooke was perhaps a little hard done by last season, the duo's first offering under MAN followed the rambunctious Rottingdean Bazaar and, despite their beautiful design, was a little overshadowed. This season, Cooke opened the show with a collection so impressive it could surpass the need for showing with MAN altogether. Checks and tartans were layered and pinched with a delicate flair, ostrich feather flounced out of belt buckle, a trick-of-the-eye beading appeared on vest and cross body bag and ruffled necklines cascaded from one side of the collar. One of the largest takeaways from Cooke's last show was the incredibly popular lucite framed bags. Here, bags were printed in a trompe l'oeil effect, a successful signature of Cooke’s. It was a succinct, polished and slick modern dandy: a triumph!
Rottingdean Bazaar followed with another wonderfully charismatic show. The pair pushes the boundaries of what fashion is and what it should be deemed to be, with their comical cheese boards and Naomi Campbell cut-outs. This season saw models each wear hired costumes, the likes of 'Worm' or 'Christmas Tree' walking with 'FOR RENT' signs. They push the concept that a catwalk show is about presenting an idea, and not necessarily about something that needs to be sold. In this case, Bazaar were challenging the notion that the creators of these pieces perhaps underestimate the costumes’ beauty or appeal. There certainly was something unexpectedly desirable about each costume. Bazaar are two very necessary creatives for the fashion industry; anyone that challenges the status quo, or pushes people out of the box are a strength we cannot lose. However, to play the cynic, they fill a very covetable slot on the schedule that would be a lifeline for budding creatives who design clothes to sell. I was conflicted once more as the final look 'The World' walked; these two are innovative art directors and stylists, but is the runway the best platform for their ideas?
Two more innovators followed. Art School’s Eden Loweth and Tom Barratt brought the glamour, the elegance and the drama for their last hurrah under the umbrella of MAN. Choreographed by Holly Blakey, models - the Art School community, Princess Julia, Trans activist Munrow Burgdorf, Illustrator Dominic Myatt - all oozed appeal as they crawled, fell and rose to then stride and glide down the runway. It was emblematic, visceral, and had a power that captivated onlookers. Suiting, slip-dresses and double-waisted trousers gave this collection an undeniable elevation, as too, did the luxury collaborations of Myatt’s spray painted Swarovski jewellery and marabou and kangaroo leather Gina Shoes. Looks cut on the bias cemented Art School as one of the most forward-thinking duos in fashion. Cutting on the bias lets the wearer bypass the need for shopping for men or women - they can simply find their size. A true celebration of gender, community and a worthy farewell to MAN.