This season’s MAN show was strong. Such are the levels of industry love and respect towards Lulu Kennedy and Fashion East that criticism of the set-up is taboo. But at some MAN shows it can be hard to get excited at yet more ‘new’ - 3 more designers throwing their cap into an already overly cluttered and disfunctional fashion ring. There’s too much already, who needs any more? Well S/S 17 makes a case for why MAN is still utterly worthwhile. Sure, one worries whether these bright young things will ever be able to build viable businesses, but, this season, one didn’t worry about their talent. This was everything a MAN show should be - eccentric, electric, urgent and irreverent.
Proceedings kicked off with an installation by Swedish MAN newbie and Royal College of Arts graduate Per Gotesson who’s pursuing the Vetements model of focusing on real clothes - normal things that guys actually wear and want. Vetements in ethos, not aesthetic, that is. This was more urban than bohemian. It felt relevant and real. Let’s hope Gotesson sticks around in London long enough to show a second season - that’s if Acne or someone of that ilk doesn’t snap him up.
Next up, also making her MAN debut, was Bejing-born Feng Chen Wang, another RCA grad. Her sporty, cable-connected, minimalist pieces looked familiar yet strange. She’d been musing on modern connectivity - swiping left and right and so on. She proved two interesting points with her collection, both of which feel relevant to the current fashion landscape. One, that ‘genderless’ or ‘androgynous’ fashion does not always need to be foppish, fey or romantic - this chilly, athletic garb felt just as forward-thinking. Two, that retro doesn't need to mean cluttered or magpie-ish. Looking at this, one thought of Helmut Lang or Martin Margiela. But mostly one thought of the sportswear obsession we have now and the many cultural peaks it draws on - Madchester, Hiphop, Casuals, and so much more. It’ll be intriguing to see what she turns to next.
Up last was Charles Jeffrey, with his LOVERBOY line. He’s had so much buzz and press that expectations were high. He aimed up rather than playing to the crowd or going for a gimmick or cheap laugh. Gone were the catwalk theatrics, aside from a few petals and roses scattered across the floor by some fashionable elves and in was the exquisite tailoring and couture-level focus. Jeffrey has been interested in this for a while, but it’s always been the paint splatters and colour that have won the column inches. By pairing back the palette he allowed us to focus on the cut. London Collections Men has a lot of tailoring, what with all those Savile Row brands on schedule, but it lacks tailoring innovation within a high fashion, high design context. The last master to assume that mantle was McQueen. There’s links between Jeffrey and him, however subtle. One thought of Mr Pearl walking the runway for McQueen, and the late designer's interest in corsetry, when one of Jeffrey’s models appeared clad in a navy corset. But then Jeffrey’s Head of Studio, Sybil Rouge, worked with Mr Pearl for years.
Jeffrey is perhaps best known for his holey knit, thick in yarn and decorated with electrical tape. It appeared again this season, but with chainmail in place of the tape. It hammered home the general ethos of tradition, history and respect that underpinned this LOVERBOY offering. It also suggested toughness and confidence, rather than irreverence. Many articles on Jeffrey call him a club kid. This collection was proof that first and foremost he is a designer.