LONDON — It’s a season of uncertainty — and some would say opportunity — here, with London’s men’s wear showcase set to unfold Friday minus many of the names that helped to cement the week’s status on the international fashion calendar.
Four years after Prince Charles inaugurated London Collections: Men with a designer-packed cocktail party at St. James’s Palace, the schedule has undergone radical change due to the trend for see-now-buy-now or coed shows, and new strategic directions for many of the brands.
Burberry, Alexander McQueen, Pringle of Scotland, Gieves & Hawkes, 1205, Kilgour and Moschino have all left the spring 2017 schedule for a variety of reasons, while Tom Ford cancelled his separate men’s presentations beginning in January as the designer shifts to a see-now-buy-now model.
The four-day London schedule, which wraps on June 13, remains packed, however, with some brands, such as Sibling, deciding to show men’s and women’s wear on one catwalk. Organizers are naturally optimistic.
According to the British Fashion Council, there are more runway shows this season than last — 32 versus 29 — while attendance figures are up. “We are fully behind the changes,” said Caroline Rush, chief executive officer of the BFC. “This is about businesses continuing to do well, and doing what they need to do” in order to achieve their goals.
Rush added that London continues to appeal, in part because of the breadth of its businesses.
“We know we have a really strong offering in terms of young businesses, but there are also some of the more established ones — like Private White and Oliver Spencer — that people really look forward to seeing. The new schedule maybe gives them their moment in the sun,” she said.
Buyers from 43 countries will be at the men’s London collections, and Rush said attendance numbers overall are up this season.
“I have been attending London Collections: Men since its inaugural season and despite the smaller show calendar, I am still excited to attend,” said Eric Jennings, vice president and fashion director, men’s wear, home and beauty at Saks Fifth Avenue. “London has always been, and will continue to be, about discovery.”
Jennings’ sister teams from Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor will also be traveling to London.
The British men’s clothing market continues to thrive, said Rush. According to the BFC and Mintel, sales grew by 4.1 percent in 2015 to reach 14.1 billion pounds, or $20.48 billion, with men’s wear accounting for 25 percent of the total clothing market here.
Between 2015 and 2020, men’s wear in Britain is projected to grow by 22.5 percent to reach 17.3 billion pounds, or $25.13 billion.
Although many of the marquee names have dropped off — Moschino is doing a coed show in L.A.; Kilgour isn’t wholesaling this season; McQueen and Gieves & Hawkes are taking a break from presenting, but plan to be back in January, and 1205 will be showing men’s and women’s together in September — some of the smaller brands are supersizing their catwalk offer.
Sibling plans to combine its women’s and men’s spring 2017 collections for the first time, as do Bobby Abley and Astrid Andersen. Belstaff, meanwhile, is staging its men’s collection alongside the women’s resort one.
They’ve all taken a cue from Burberry, which plans to stage its first coed show in September in a new see-now-buy-now format.
Sibling will also wholesale its men’s and women’s collections side-by-side in Paris in January and June; put its pre-collections on ice and cancel “all activity” during the September fashion week season. The brand said the changes reflect “a pragmatic rethinking” of how to manage the demands of the “disjointed men’s wear and women’s wear calendars” for emerging brands that are active in both markets.
Pringle is another London brand that’s reevaluating the way it shows and sells. Although the brand is keeping its men’s and women’s presentations separate, it has chosen to forgo the London men’s catwalk this year and show at Pitti Uomo only.
A spokeswoman for the company said with all the change afoot, “we felt it was an ideal time to review what we are doing. We are currently looking into the bigger picture of how we structure our collections, therefore we are approaching this season with a stronger focus on sales across our target markets whilst we work on putting a wider press and commercial strategy in place.”
Next week, Pringle will be hosting a breakfast during Pitti where men’s wear design director Massimo Nicosia will do one-on-one appointments with buyers and editors.
London has also been facing other challenges in addition to a shape-shifting schedule: With a relatively new — and early-in-the-season — men’s week, it is still not the city where most buyers sit down to write their orders.
Most wait to do that in Paris, a full two weeks or more after London ends, giving some British brands reason to show at Pitti Uomo or abandon a runway presentation altogether and take a showroom in Paris, where the money is.
Rush said some buyers do organize themselves early enough to place orders in London “but others, equally, want to wait until they’ve seen the shows in Milan and in Paris and then commit their budgets.”
She added that the BFC “would encourage everyone to write their orders earlier. It’s really important and something that we work with the younger businesses on, because this isn’t just about the shows; it’s about building businesses.”
Despite the changes and challenges, London Collections: Men is still attracting new brands and projects. For example, MCM has collaborated for the first time with Christopher Raeburn on a unisex spring 2017 collection. Raeburn has deconstructed MCM signatures, such as its canvas, and reworked them into new patterns and designs.
The Bulgarian designer Kiko Kostadinov, who studied men’s design at Central Saint Martins, is making his debut at LC:M after creating a capsule range for the London shop Machine A and collaborating with Stüssy and Dover Street Market on two collections. The 26-year-old has been making a name with an aesthetic based around a “modern uniform with an antidecorative approach” and was recently awarded the Topman-sponsored NewGen Men support for London Collections: Men. His presentation will take place on Monday at 180 Strand.
Barbour is working with Selfridges on a capsule collection of classics from its archive, and will be showing some of those pieces at London Collections: Men during its larger spring 2017 presentation at Royal Institute of British Architects, near Oxford Circus.
London retailer Simon Burstein, formerly of Browns, will be present at London Collections: Men for the first time, showing his newly acquired brand Leathersmith of London. Last year, Burstein bought the Charfleet Book bindery, on Canvey Island in Essex, where the Leathersmith leather goods and stationery are made. The Leathersmith offer includes leather-bound journals, small leather goods, belts and a briefcase. The palette takes in green, navy, black and pink — as well as graphic prints — with contrasting suede linings. The collection will be sold at his new store, The Place London, beginning in July.
Although it remains unclear how much more change is in store, there are those who argue that the London men’s showcase is here to stay.
“What’s happening in the men’s wear industry is fascinating, and it’s manifesting itself in the fashion weeks,” said Dylan Jones, the editor of British GQ and chairman of London Collections: Men. “So much is up in the air and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more women’s wear brands showing during the men’s wear months of January and June. We might even end up with [just] two fashion weeks during those months.”
He said the most important thing for London is that it remains “a platform for design talent and creativity.”
The BFC’s Rush added: “We know that the men’s wear market overall continues to go from strength to strength and for us British men’s wear is incredibly important and certainly something the British Fashion Council will continue to support.”