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Essay: What’s in a label?

by Lara Johnson-Wheeler on 28 February 2018

Lara Johnson-Wheeler unpicks both the physical and metaphorical labels present throughout London A/W 18 Menswear, asking: What's in a label?

Lara Johnson-Wheeler unpicks both the physical and metaphorical labels present throughout London A/W 18 Menswear, asking: What's in a label?

To show as a menswear designer in London in 2018 is inevitably a loaded task. Modern masculinity is in a state of flux and responding to this in the bubble-capital of Britain requires a certain amount of consideration. As the shows began and the fashion press flew in, London Fashion Week Men’s opened the doors to current questions about identity: gender and nationality. The responses that emerged were simultaneously colourful, complex and contradictory.

Eden Loweth and Tom Barratt’s Art School is informed by non-binary gender identities; their own and their friends. Presenting the brand as a platform for the expression of contemporary queerness, the A/W 18 show fearlessly flaunted their designs. In an elegant, sweeping show, the pair defied definition and sent a beautiful array of humans in designs as fluid and all-encompassing as the cast that wore them down the catwalk. The show was one that set the tone for the rest of London Men’s and raised the questions we should be asking during this week.

While Art School asked about gender and the meaning of the term 'queer', their contemporaries queried difference of other kinds. At a show of a totally contrasting nature, Samuel Ross of A-COLD-WALL* showed a characteristically practical collection. A-COLD-WALL* was established with its eye on institutions and the consciousness of British society on class. The brand name itself focuses on the story of two young men, who come from different backgrounds. Ross tells this story simply, explaining that he imagined one boy living on a council estate and one living in an upper-middle-class house. One touches a granite wall and the other a sleek marble. He explores the idea that both may have different experiences but each is equally as interesting. Ross referenced the National Gallery - a London landmark that is arguably the epicentre of high culture - in his A/W 18 collection, the graphics embellishing his designs.

Ross’s narrative is constantly exploring the constraints and contradictions tied to Britishness.

These graphics and labelling - so synonymous with Ross’s brand - became detachable this season. This marks a move to elude the ever-present British class system, creating clothing that transcends those boundaries, appealing to a youth obsessed with labelling, as well as the city slicker wanting to hold his own in the boardroom. Thus, Ross’s narrative is constantly exploring the constraints and contradictions tied to Britishness.

A designer that further questions these contradictions has recently received a barrage of positive press. paria/FARZANEH explores her Iranian heritage, bottling her background and mixing it with the silhouettes she’s familiar with in London. Farzaneh questions perception, focusing on cultural signifiers she often feels are demonised in the West. A combination of textiles taken from traditional Iranian garments and nineties-inspired sports shirts and trousers marry history and modernity. However, the main pull of the show was the presentation. Upon arrival, one was greeted with a scenario that displayed the garments on young teens, second-generation migrants. Lying on carpets and cushions, gaming into the night, the presentation was comfortable in its approach, foreign yet familiar.

paria/FARZANEH A/W 18 by @crownsandowls

Phoebe English, a longtime pioneer of openness and inclusivity, also showed a presentation in a tableau of homely comfort. Boys in Nehru collars stood against a backdrop of clothes sprawled, a heaving washing-line perhaps? English always taps into a feeling with her work and her shows. This was distinct and present in the A/W 18 collections, a sense that we were seeing a slice of Britain today. The work of home-grown talent, next to those who have come to this country to grow and sow their seeds. Apt, in a moment in history where borders are being redefined and Britishness is being questioned.

Fellow Fashion Eastiens, Rottingdean Bazaar, showing after Art School, represented Britain this season. To quote myself, the pair explores 'a Britishness that’s a far cry from bullish nationalism appropriated by the far-right.' These designers have been lauded left, right and centre for their lightness of heart and contemporaneous wit. Julie Verhoeven in a carpet dress and dartboard headpiece. A tall, thin boy dressed head to toe in price stickers. A cardboard cutout of Naomi Campbell hauled down the runway. Which other nation could this be emblematic of?

London Fashion Week Men’s showed the outside, the unexplored, the outré. London is a specific melting pot of inclusivity and acceptance and that can’t be ignored when exploring the work of designers in Britain’s capital. To misquote one of my favourite clap-backs, London’s menswear designers don’t subscribe to labels, they’re producing new ones.

Explore

Show Report

Show Report: MAN A/W 18 Menswear

10 January 2018
Lara Johnson-Wheeler reports on the MAN A/W 18 show.
Show Report

Show Report: Phoebe English A/W 18 Womenswear

17 February 2018
Lara Johnson-Wheeler reports on the Phoebe English A/W 18 womenswear show.
Show Report

Show Report: Phoebe English A/W 18 Menswear

09 January 2018
Lara Johnson-Wheeler reports on the Phoebe English A/W 18 menswear show.