LONDON — In flux.
That’s one way to describe the London men’s calendar, which has seen most of the big-name brands depart, the parties and special events dwindle, and the lineup of coed shows — and see-now-buy-now collections — swell.
Designers and labels that have chosen to stay are going with the flow, using the showcase to promote their businesses and support the city that gave them their start. Others have moved on to Pitti Uomo or Paris — or are contemplating such a switch.
No one knows the fate of the recently re-branded London Fashion Week Men’s, which runs from Friday through Monday, although organizers are keeping an open mind. They argue that the January showcase, which coincides with a post-holiday period of diet and detox, is traditionally quieter than June and there’s always been a churn of designers in and out of the London calendar.
The city is also coming under increasing pressure from Pitti Uomo, the Florentine trade show with its more convenient timing, big budgets, large hospitality packages for international buyers and commercial buzz.
Paul Smith is showing his PS by Paul Smith collection at Pitti for the first time, while fellow British brand Johnstons of Elgin has chosen Pitti to unveil its first luxury lifestyle collection by creative director Alan Scott. Pringle of Scotland has recently swapped London men’s for Pitti, too.
The Italian and French competition — and the overarching changes in the industry — will inevitably recast the shape of the London men’s show weeks, although it’s unclear how long it’s going to take.
Dylan Jones, London Fashion Week Men’s chairman, British GQ editor and a non-executive director of the British Fashion Council, is the first to admit that the week is in a state of flux.
He believes there’s going to have to be “some sort of consolidation” with the women’s shows “because there is so much going on, so much activity, and so much disruption, that things need to be streamlined. There is a sense that the fashion world is becoming a little unwieldy.”
Jones is quick to add, though, that the London men’s fashion weeks were meant to offer the city’s designers a platform and a springboard to business. “What they do with it is up to them,” he said, referring to designers’ choices to stage coed or see-now-buy-now shows during January or February, during the women’s collections.
He said it may take two or three seasons for everything to settle down, “but regardless of what anyone thinks of our schedule — bizarrely and encouragingly — we have more press and more buyers than ever before.”
According to the BFC, more than 38 countries will be represented at the fashion week in terms of press and buyers, nearly 20 percent more than last year.
Chinese buyer attendance has increased 175 percent season-on-season, and nearly quadrupled year-over-year. U.K. buyer attendance has increased 20 percent season-on-season and 4 percent year-over-year.
Vivienne Westwood is staging her first coed show in London on Monday, while the rapper Tinie Tempah is launching his collection, WWW, or What We Wear, on Saturday. Hussein Chalayan is also showing his men’s collection on the official schedule for the first time, with a presentation set for Sunday.
Some 12 labels — including YMC, Casely-Hayford, Sibling, Christopher Raeburn and Belstaff — are showing men’s and women’s together. Six are offering see-now-buy-now collections, among them Barbour International, Edward Crutchley, Chester Barrie and Maharishi.
Despite the departure of big names such as Coach, Alexander McQueen, Tom Ford and Burberry (the latter shows two coed collections in London, in February and September), designers, showrooms and retailers alike say they’re looking forward to a robust season.
“The schedule is thinner; however, I have many more requests from buyers to come to our shows this time, despite the fact that there is always less footfall in January than June,” said Nana Suzuki, of the eponymous sales agency, whose brands include Cottweiler and Xander Zhou.
Suzuki added that there is “larger pressure on the brands that are showing in London in January to prove” they can be a draw for buyers, many of whom traditionally write their London orders at Pitti or in Paris. Indeed, some men’s wear buyers admit they can “see” London by visiting the Paris showrooms, where the British brands are selling.
Jimmy Collins, cofounder of the contemporary label YMC, was one of the first brands to take part in London Collections: Men, when it launched nearly five years ago. Although he’s hosting a coed presentation in Covent Garden this season, he’s mulling a move to Paris in June, with an eye to hosting a presentation or party.
He said while the big retailers always come to his shows and presentations in London, “my real business is with the independent stores, and they never come. They’re too busy: Some go to Pitti, and others buy in Paris. They don’t write orders in London — or after London — so commercially London is not working for us. And it’s a lot of love, time, money, sweat and blood — so it needs to work.”
The designers who have chosen to stay in London are making the showcase work for them.
“I’m old enough to remember when we didn’t have a London men’s fashion week, and the difference now is quite incredible,” said Raeburn, who will be showing men’s and women’s together on Sunday. “London offers an amazing opportunity to show the collection to press and buyers ahead of the sales periods in Paris and Milan.”
Raeburn said it’s up to the brands to generate business and commercial relationships. He recently expanded his studio, hired three new managers and is hoping for double-digit growth this year thanks to clients in Japan and a bigger wholesale base in the U.K., outside of London.
Patrick Grant, who’s juggling three men’s wear businesses, would agree. He’ll be showing his E. Tautz line during the week and said it doesn’t matter whether or not the big brands take part in LFWM. “I don’t think anyone is worried about it, and the big brands are not what make the London shows interesting.”
Grant said he has more sales appointments than ever booked during the London show week, although the majority of the E. Tautz orders will be written in Paris. He said spring was a commercial success, with the season’s business more than double that of last year due to Japanese stores and renewed interest from Europe and Scandinavia.
While he’s pleased with the business, Grant said he doesn’t want to ramp it up too quickly. He said the strategy is about “adding one guy at a time. And then maybe in 10 years’ time, we can have a really good business.”
Emerging designer Daniel Fletcher, who last season staged an anti-Brexit protest as part of his off-schedule presentation, said he’s proud to be part of London.
“There’s a lot going on in the sportswear industry in London, and I still have a lot to say. I think my collections have developed to be slightly more mature, tailored and luxurious. I feel like I can show on the schedule, and that I’m bringing something new to what’s happening,” said Fletcher.
Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, and a faithful front-row fixture the London men’s showcase began, said the city is a fountain of inspiration.
He believes London’s “historically leading role in men’s wear makes it a ‘must’ on the show circuit. I have always found it inspirational as well as directional, vital, really, for my work at Goodman’s and our variety of luxury men’s wear offerings. In addition to the fashion shows and presentations both big and small, I am always scouting new brands, factories and anything that may be of interest.”
Pask said the city “strikes a great and unique balance between traditional men’s wear and advanced design,” fostering careers and collections by labels such as Craig Green and the Mayfair tailor Thom Sweeney, a line which is now exclusive to the store.