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LONDON — London has long been a world capital of men’s wear: It’s the city that spawned the dandy, the home of Savile Row and Jermyn Street, and the birthplace of “lo stile Inglese,” or what the Italians lovingly refer to as “English style” — lots of color, texture and check fabrics.
In typically understated style, however, London has never shouted about itself or held a high-profile men’s wear showcase similar to those in Milan or Paris. But times are changing: The single day of men’s shows tacked on at the end of each London Fashion Week in September and February this season evolves into a three-day international men’s wear showcase.
RELATED STORY: The English Take, Designers and Their Inspirations >>
Prince Charles — a well-known fan of double-breasted suits with peaked lapels — will kick off the festivities with a cocktail party at St. James’s Palace on June 14. Paul Smith, Burberry, Tom Ford, Calvin Klein Collection, Louis Vuitton and Spencer Hart are among the labels that will host events. Richard Nicoll will use the showcase to launch his men’s wear line, Hardy Amies will unveil a collection of wardrobe staples called Hardy Amies London and Savile Row’s tailors plan to host a cocktail reception at the Burlington Arcade and will invite guests into their showrooms and workshops.
While there is a definite frisson of excitement in the air, designers are approaching the shows, which have been organized by the British Fashion Council and the Fashion 2012 Men’s Wear Committee chaired by British GQ editor Dylan Jones, with a degree of caution.
“It’s a big unknown for us,” said Sean Dixon, the cofounder and managing director of Savile Row tailor Richard James, which will stage its first runway show on June 17. “The show will help consolidate our existing business and hopefully bring in new business. It’s something we have to do and, at the very least, we’ll be getting nice visuals, a great video and a nice buzz.”
James said among his inspirations for spring 2013 are “urban fete, with lots of color.”
Dixon said he and James are still deciding whether to live-stream the show, which will take place at a private members’ club in Mayfair. The runway show exposure should give the growing brand a boost: In addition to selling bespoke suits, Richard James sells off-the-rack collections to stores including Barneys New York, Bloomingdale’s, House of Fraser and John Lewis.
Last month, the company began doing a collection of suits called Savile Row Inspired for Marks & Spencer, Britain’s biggest suit supplier, priced at about 350 pounds, or $565.
Clive Darby, the founder and creative director of men’s wear label Rake, which will also be staging a show, said he is hoping for more exposure among international buyers and press. “I hope it encourages the buyers, especially, to come to London — even if they don’t actually write their orders here,” said Darby, who usually sells his collections from a showroom during Paris Men’s Week.
While he welcomes the men’s wear week in London, Darby said it’s a risk for companies like his, which have had to ask their suppliers to manufacture samples well before Pitti Immagine Uomo and the Milan and Paris men’s wear shows.
“It’s a massive task for them to put us in the front of the queue, and I hope we can all pull it out of the bag. The week will only work if we can get the international press and buyers in London,” said Darby, whose customers include Barneys in New York and Los Angeles, Harrods and Matches in London and Harvey Nichols in Istanbul. He said he’s also looking to open a stand-alone shop in London’s Mayfair.
The BFC already has a host of international stores on board to attend, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Opening Ceremony, Joyce, United Arrows, Le Bon Marché, Printemps, Quartier 206 in Germany, Luisa via Roma and TheCorner.com in Italy, and Brown Thomas in Ireland. Representatives from Selfridges, Mr Porter, Harrods, and Liberty are all on The Fashion 2012 Men’s Wear Committee.
Katie Eary echoed the concerns of her fellow men’s wear designers. “I hope these shows bring all of the buyers to one place so I don’t have to keep traveling around every season,” said Eary, who sells her colorful, in-your-face collections at Harvey Nichols and has worked with Topman and Asos.com. “The shows will work if they get the buyers, and I hope the British buyers will be out there to support us. We have needed this week for a long time.”
Eary, whose past collections have been inspired by Frankenstein and Elvis, with spider web cutout T-shirts and neon biker gear, said this season she’s making an effort to tame her wild ways.
“I am hoping to get into the bigger stores — I want Selfridges — and I am making the collection as salable and commercial as possible without losing my identity,” she said.
The collection is inspired by Nineties California skaters, she added. “I’m doing a lot of crazy prints on silk shirts. I think it’s what young kids want.”
Other designers are less concerned about buyer attendance and sample manufacturing, and see the week as a promotional activity. The Beijing-based Xander Zhou, a newcomer to the London men’s wear scene, said he jumped at the chance to show in London.
“The opportunity presented itself through a recommendation by GQ China, and I did not need to think twice, because in my mind London provides a platform for edgy designers,” he said via e-mail exchange. “This will be my first time in London, and the first time to show a collection in a European fashion week, so for me personally it is a meaningful event in many ways.”
While Zhou, who studied industrial design in China and fashion design in the Netherlands, said he is excited about coming to London, he admitted he’s ambivalent about promoting the Chinese origins of his label.
“If there is a China buzz in the fashion world, it is probably because Chinese fashion is still lagging behind internationally, so everybody is anxious to see what will come out of this country that is developing very fast in certain areas. For some people, only something with dragons or peonies on it is ‘really Chinese.’ Chinese fashion is gradually connecting to global fashion, which is much more about individual expression and much less about nationalism.”
He said his inspirations for the spring season are “Boy Scouts and jet streams,” and that he has used silk and mixtures of silk and wool. The texture of these fabrics drape around the body in a certain way, with silhouettes that seem to be inflated or blown by the wind.”
Like Zhou, Hardy Amies’ creative director, Claire Malcolm, sees London as a springboard. She will be launching Hardy Amies London, a collection of wardrobe staples with a contemporary look and functional details.
“Hardy Amies London is inspired by today’s English man and what the modern classics are that make up his wardrobe,” said Malcolm. “Sir Hardy himself had the perfect English look. Men is the perfect launch pad; it’s so great that we can present Hardy Amies London at the brand’s house on Savile Row when there’s so much focus on British men’s wear.”