There was a muted air at today's MAN show - not in terms of spirit (Lulu Kennedy's handpicked pack of talented young upstarts always have plenty of energy) but in hues and tone. Navy, black, grey - bruised, moody colours ran across Rory Parnell-Mooney, Liam Hodges and Nicomede Talavera's collections. It gave the MAN show a new, more mature feel (though maybe that was just the absence of the lewd logos and crass cartoons of Bobby Abley, who completed his final season with man for S/S 15). If the palette had been shared, so too had the references. MAN alumni J.W. Anderson and Craig Green (and by way of that Yohji Yamamoto) were clearly on all three designers' mood-boards - particularly those of Parnell-Mooney and Talavera (Pinstripe? Check. Ruffles? Check.) But everyone has to start somewhere and why not start with the past work of two of London's greatest success stories? There are worst references to pull (Disney being one of them, just to remind you again of last season's Abley nightmare).
So quibbles about provenance of ideas aside, this was a strong showing and one that said lots about the future of menswear and its history as well. It was the latter where the best ideas came, but more on that later. First up was newbie Parnell-Mooney, an Irish designer who, like so many of London's stars, graduated from the acclaimed Central Saint Martins MA. His graduate collection explored ecclesiastical shapes and religious garb, a reference he was still preoccupied with for A/W 15. The strength of the collection came in the marriage of naive, wayward elements - frays, flowing fabric on wide-leg trousers, hole-infested tops - with precise, minimal details like those structured bonded jackets. These two contradictory ideas came together most convincingly in the linen pieces that had been furnished with a sharp geometric pattern via deliberate frays and handpicked threads - control perfectly conjured through chaos. On reflection, and largely due to those monkish shapes, the collection was all a bit Green (Craig Green that is) but then the young Parnell-Mooney himself is still green, and this showed lots of promise.
Next up was Liam Hodges, who's been with the MAN and Fashion East gang for a while. It's apt then that he was thinking about growing up - the muted palette and focus on menswear staples (jeans, joggers, jumpers, shirts) rather than anything snazzy or unexpected suggested a certain maturity, or conservatism even. He called it 'your bigger brother in better duds.' The best elements where those that seemed most personal to Hodges and his long obsession with making the ordinary extraordinary by tirelessly referencing the clothes of 'average blokes' - guys that work 9 to 5, snog girls, lift stuff at the gym, rather than those foppish dandies that litter fashion week. So jumpers furnished with market trader money pouch details raised a smile, as did those great oversized coats, reminiscent in feel not finish (they were executed perfectly) of a Del Boy wheeler dealer. The knits in particular stood out - slouchy and sloppy, they suggested that this collection was a conversation about clothes worn and loved. And when it's the first day of a 3-week slog that will see the fashion pack trek from London to Florence, Milan and Paris to stare at hundreds of shiny new clothes, that notion of familiarity - of something lived in - felt surprisingly heartwarming. Hodges sent out some of his models with sandwich boards - a slightly gimmicky addition that referenced newspaper front pages - which read 'Totally Safe Classics.' There was an irony to that - yes this was a collection about staples but it wasn't safe, puerile or dull at all. It was a step forward.
Closing the show was Nicomede Talavera, a Central Saint Martins graduate who's on his second season with MAN. Like many designers who studied under the late great Louise Wilson he was reminiscing about his student days and his MA work. He was particularly preoccupied with the outfits worn by the Muslim boys he grew up with around Hounslow and the way they clashed the traditional clothes of their faith, the thobes and robes, with modern sportswear. He'd furnished some pieces with a slogan referencing OT Quartet's Hold that Sucker Down - sweatshirts, t-shirts, all calling us viewers a 'Sucker'. It was a suitably aggressive, irreverent statement for a collection that offered a forceful, disruptive argument for what menswear history is. What Talavera showed isn't 'new sporty shapes' or 'modern, youthful styles', as they will be called by many lazy journalists who see the history of menswear as little more than the Savile row suits worn by years of white city slickers, but garments that riffed on a more diverse and untapped, though no less legitimate and urgent, part of London's menswear history - the age-old stapes and styles of the multicultural population that makes London such a great city. I read the collection as a challenge to our perception of menswear 'tradition' and a reminder that fashion is global and therefore must be representative of the many men whose heritage and history has, however silently, influenced British style. So, despite the darkness of palette there was a lot of light in today's MAN show.