LONDON — The British capital is quickly building a reputation as the go-to city for urban sportswear, with designers and brands toning down the tailored suit, splicing sneakers with formal footwear and inventing a new — and more laid-back — wardrobe heavy on lightweight denim and luxury separates.
Buyers said the energy was palpable during the four-day London Collections: Men showcase that wrapped up Monday.
There was no better example of London’s upmarket street style than the look that LC:M’s latest ambassador, Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton, was working on the first day of the shows: A black-and-gold jacquard jacket, smart white T-shirt and tracksuit style bottoms by Oliver Spencer, accessorized with sparkly stud earrings and gold bracelets.
Stephen Ayres, head of fashion, buying and merchandising at Liberty, said London Collections: Men has become synonymous with urban dressing, while Bosse Myhr, Selfridges director of men’s wear and head of accessories buying, said the vibrancy of street culture — via elevated, progressive sportswear and the energy of often street-cast shows — was prominent once again. “This movement is very much part of the founding DNA of LC:M,” he said.
Eric Jennings, vice president and men’s fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue, pointed to Gieves & Hawkes, which showcased a collection filled with rich tropical colors, as one of the week’s best and a great example of a brand that’s happy to fuse tailored clothing with sporty silhouettes.
“They were much stronger on sportswear this season and showed men how to wear an elegant T-shirt with tailored clothing — without looking like Don Johnson in ‘Miami Vice,’” Jennings said.
Indeed, on the eve of the shows, Gieves’ chief creative officer Jason Basmajian said he made a real effort to keep the collection sporty and elegant at the same time. “Our customer is expecting sophisticated options for dressing down — and dressing down doesn’t mean dressing sloppily,” he said.
Jennings said many a trend emerged during the week, all related to London’s increasingly relaxed attitude to everyday dressing: He pointed to lightweight indigo and dark denim tailoring; crinkly paper bag textures, metallic finishes and jogging pants.
London is leading the way in footwear, too, said Jennings, with slides still a major trend — as in the shearling ones at Coach — and the unstoppable rise of the sneaker. “I love the direction that sneakers are taking, and Jimmy Choo’s wingtip and monk strap sneaker styles in particular,” he said.
Liberty’s Ayres said London’s silhouettes were looser than ever this season, “particularly with pants. They’re getting wider, slightly higher on the rise and, within many collections, with pleats. There were plenty of pockets adorning all categories — trousers, coats, knits, shorts — you name it, it came with a pocket.”
Ayres also named androgyny as one of the abiding catwalk themes with “most younger brands showing both men’s and ladies on the same catwalk, and many outfits that could easily have crossed both genders comfortably.” Ayres named J.W. Anderson, Craig Green, Alexander McQueen and Oliver Spencer as his favorite shows of the season.
On the androgyny note, Jennings called Burberry’s collection a standout — although he said lace will be a tricky proposition. “No, men are not prepared to wear lace,” he said, adding that Christopher Bailey’s solid silk shirts and collections filled with lightweight and heavyweight fabrics, were the real highlights.
“Christopher is leading the way with seasonless collections and addressing the different climates around the world. His collections have a weight for every season,” he said.
Andrew Lepp, director of men’s wear at the Toronto-based Holt Renfrew, said the London collections “showed off so much new and emerging talent with fresh points of view. London has offered a leading point of view on streetwear — a trend that is not ending anytime soon.”
Lepp touted athletic silhouettes and technical fabrics with a Nineties vibe; looser trouser shapes from wide-leg to pleated; plus a looser, fuller silhouette overall.
“It was exciting to see Tom Ford present a runway show, and the collection continues to evolve and embrace a more youthful customer,” said Lepp, who also lauded collections by Christopher Shannon, Astrid Andersen and Kit Neale.
Reece Crisp, men’s international and tailoring buyer at Harvey Nichols, cited the Fifties and shades of indigo and denim as a key emerging trends, with an emphasis on tailoring.
J.W. Anderson was among his picks for the week’s top collections. “It was one of his best shows for me, and I am excited to see it in the showroom,” he said, adding that Matthew Miller’s collaboration with Robert Clergerie also was a standout, as was Joseph. “It was a really strong collection and with a lot of depth to it.”
Damien Paul, head of men’s wear at Matchesfashion.com, said that volumes at Craig Green and J.W. Anderson, bright colors at Burberry, Astrid Anderson and Christopher Kane — and denim — were the biggest trends he spotted at the London shows. He added that Grace Wales Bonner, who showed for the second time as part of Fashion East, is his favorite new designer.
“Grace feels totally distinct from all of her contemporaries. There’s something incredibly engaging about what she’s doing,” he said. “Pieter is also one to watch — very subtle, intelligent design that feels modern and very wearable.”
He said Green “has been really smart at establishing signatures in a remarkably short amount of time. His deconstructed take on work wear is now instantly recognizable.”
As for J.W. Anderson’s collections, Paul said he looks to them to “see where men’s wear is going” and that the designer’s knitwear was “exceptional. It was great to see him introducing new trouser shapes — I loved the roomier pleated styles he showed,” he added.
The season’s key pieces, according to Paul, were cropped wide-leg trousers “done best at Craig Green and Agi & Sam,” and the graphic knitwear shown by Kane and Anderson — “they offset some of the more minimal styling we’ve seen this week,” he said.
Jo Harris, general merchandise manager for men’s wear at Harrods, said the energy in London was undeniable, and the driving force was the “eclectic mix of heritage and urban sportswear.”
Like Jennings, she said Hardy Amies was a standout due to its “modern masculine feel, fabric innovation, and nice layering.” She lauded Kane’s colors, and said she preferred Burberry’s “more simple styles” over the lace ones. “I love the pared back dressing at the brand — the jackets, pants and scarves.”
She also thought Gieves & Hawkes “dressed-down approach to tailoring and layering” was a highlight, as were the denim jackets at Tom Ford. She said London brands such as Gieves and Christopher Kane are important to the story. “And they’re getting bigger and more relevant.”