After a brief wobble last season, where only two designers made the cut for MAN (Fashion East’s talent hub for young designers) and certain critics failed to raise a smile at the show, Lulu Kennedy had struck gold for A/W 16 with three very different propositions. Ask most seasoned fashion critics and they’ll tell you that all you really need to succeed in fashion is a point of view - it sounds simple, but on the cluttered show schedule, it’s remarkably hard to present a fresh perspective, especially as a new designer. Perhaps that’s why Central Saint Martins graduate Rory Parnell-Mooney, now on his third and final season with MAN, failed to standout quite like the other two designers on show today. He talked of exploring protest - a reference as common in fashion as you could find. He said he’d been looking back to his own ‘angsty’ youth. The best of the best in menswear - Raf Simons, Hedi Slimane and co - are obsessed with youth culture, Parnell-Mooney could, and should, make use of the fact he is actually young and create something new and unexpected. This felt too familiar - indeed that wording gave off whiffs of Simons himself. Charles Jeffrey's show, also a CSM alumnus, by contrast, captures a more dynamic portrait of young London - his work is born from a club night out East. It’s not entirely new - many remember Leigh Bowery, Trojan and co - but it feels alive and jubilant. But more on that later.
Grace Wales Bonner not only has a clear handwriting for a young designer, but perhaps one of the most recognisable aesthetics in menswear right now. Her references are completely her own - in an industry that is often woefully behind in its approach to race and diversity, it’s little surprise that her meditations on black culture feel so new and important. This season it was spirituality, specifically the role of the griot in West African culture, and Sun Ra, the late composer, who had sparked her imagination - sound confusing? Wales Bonner’s work often is, not because it’s dense or lofty, but because her references are both so personal and so specific, and because her work refuses to be defined by boundaries or expectations. Is it menswear or womenswear? Different stores will give you different answers. Certainly, the shimmering suits and familiar crystal embroidery speak to a certain breed of man who’s enthralled by the current pattern of feminisation in menswear. But then Wales Bonner isn’t trying to appeal to the masses. Her work excludes, cleverly, deliberately and excitingly. It’s just for a few - both because it’s not easy to understand and because the make is exquisite, laboured and slow. It’s a unique proposition. It’s also brilliant.
From theory and research to reality. Jeffrey, who closed the show, looks only to himself and his friends for inspiration. His club-night, LOVERBOY, is just as important to him as his fashion collections - the two couldn’t exist without each other. Backstage, he explained that the ideas and shapes came from trying on clothes with his pals, playing dress-up and taking pictures. Some of this must have happened a few drinks in if that ‘drunk tailoring’ was anything to go by. Jeffrey himself wore a t-shirt with a portrait of Johnny Rotten when taking his bow - a lap round the catwalk, complete with dance moves, rather than the usual shy wave other designers favour. A Sex Pistol - how apt. Jeffrey makes no secret of looking back to the troublemakers and subcultural heroes that litter the landscape of London menswear past. Rotten once said, ‘I’m not here for your amusement. You're here for mine.’ Jeffrey probably feels the same. He doesn’t care what the fashion pack do or say, so long as they sample the party.