Today’s MAN show was less of a fashion show than a performance piece cementing London’s old school reputation as the city of madcap ideas and bizarre high jinks. Over the last few years reporters and commentators have praised London Fashion Week’s development from being an ideas factory to the home of a set of brilliant viable businesses. Designers like Craig Green and J.W. Anderson (who this season is skipping London for Pitti in Florence), both graduates of Fashion East’s MAN program that showcases the work of three new up-comers each season, have shown the potential for our capital’s menswear graduates to grow emerging brands and find committed consumers. One wonders what this set of MAN designers are aiming for? Shoppers, it’s certainly not. They seem more interested in politicking and posturing than building brands. That’s not a direct criticism - today’s show was a riot - more a questioning of why they chose fashion as their media, not costume, or theatre, or fine art. London has a problem with bright young minds making a splash for a few seasons then dropping off the schedule after being unable to earn a living from their wares - Louise Grey, Meadham Kirchhoff, the late great Richard Nicoll. It’s a crying shame when it happens. So one watched today’s MAN show with a mix of enjoyment and trepidation. Are we wrong to build up their press profiles when they may never have the sales or support to match?
The least conceptual and, for want of a better word, crazy was the first designer to show. Swedish-born Per Götesson, now on his third season with MAN, continued his exploration of baggy denim and unconstructed, oversized menswear. As with past seasons, his most convincing proposition was the quiet sensuality his promotes - the deep neck collars, the mesh vests, the way the baggy fabric on occasion clings to the body.
Up next was Art School, the brain child of Eden Loweth and Tom Barratt, who have a less quiet take on sexuality. Their shtick is trans culture, and they used their runway as a ‘safe space’ for characters who are symbolic amongst the creative students and queer clubbers of London for their roles in promoting trans defiance. You can’t move for guys in gowns on the menswear runways this season. It makes for an amusing contrast to the endless suiting brands who still use the London menswear shows as a way of hooking in press. Art School will need to work hard to stand out amongst the many other voices promoting revelry and unity. The clothes were costume, not fashion. But it was a riotous, uplifting presentation - undoubtedly the funnest thing to watch so far. One wanted to love, applaud and whoop all the characters. Now one just needs to covet the clothes.
Last up were Rottingdean Bazaar, whose dry wit and quiet, vaguely solemn commitment to the ordinary provided an intriguing to the shoutiness of Art School. Both labels, however, have a commitment to ugliness. The ugly is in fashion right now - see Demna Gvasalia’s whole agenda. The ugly and awkward looks modern, apparently. But what makes Rottingdean Bazaar, the work of James Theseus Buck and Luke Brooks, interesting isn’t the aesthetic itself but the material prowess - the skill for playing with scale, size and forms. They’d made moulds of a series of seemingly random objects and cast them in lightweight polyurethane foam. These were attached directly onto cotton jersey tracksuits. They wobbled and wiggled as models strode down the runway. One thought of the conveyor belt of bits-and-bobs in British TV classic The Generation Game - they preempted that by playing an audio tribute as their closing soundtrack. In the past they’ve sealed objects such as tights and pants onto garments, so today’s show felt like some strange kind of progression. The runway is just one avenue for this clever pair. They purposefully define themselves as multi disciplinary artists, and have simply chosen the fashion scene as a way of making a name for themselves, something Brooks has been doing since he raised smiles with his Olympic ring headdress over five years ago at his Central Saint Martins degree show. They are the most enlivening to watch - largely because they're using fashion, rather than letting it use them.