Today is the opening day of London Collections: Men, a three-day fashion fest for the fellows with a schedule that's fairly straining at the seams. It's a great indication of Britain's standing in the international menswear arena – one that now makes up 50 per cent of the luxury goods market worldwide, worth more than £24bn. But, honestly, those rammed schedules are nothing bar daunting for a fashion journalist. Sleep, it seems, is out for next season.
For spring/summer 2014, Burberry Prorsum is the big story: namely, the label's first menswear show on the London schedule. They've upped sticks from their usual Milanese stomping ground and it makes perfect sense; the label's signature trench coat is much more at home in the rain-drenched streets of London than the sun-soaked climes of Lombardy. A sodden Kensington Gardens, the brand's show venue, feels much more British. And much more Burberry. There's no previewing the Burberry collection beforehand: the label's chief creative officer, Christopher Bailey, keeps a tight rein on any possible press intrusion. In fact, live-stream viewers will get to see the clothes before the press as Burberry will be broadcasting live from backstage. As for verbalising the collection a few days in advance? No dice. There's a preview video on YouTube that shows some sky-blue tailoring and very sunny yellow. Wishful thinking for summer 2014? Your guess is as good as mine.
Luckily, a few of London's other creative talents were willing to allow a sneak preview of their menswear rail before showtime. For a journalist, that's golden. It allows you to grapple with their clothes one-to-one, unravelling (figuratively, of course) their fabrications. It would be impossible to clock on a model whizzing by that Richard Nicoll's snake is woven rather than print, for instance, or that J W Anderson's crunchy knits are double-faced, with hidden smocking. You've got to turn them inside-out to comprehend. It's the same with the designers' minds: how else could you make the connection between chain-link fences and Sibling's net knits? Or Patrick Grant's colourful E Tautz suiting and the first three-piece worn by Charles II. The brains of these designers are what makes them, and their clothes, so brilliant.
Exclusively, in advance of London Collections: Men, The Independent on Sunday speaks to a quartet of London fashion's finest and reveals a little of what they have in store for spring/summer 2014.
Sid Bryan, Joe Bates and Cozette McCreery are the trio behind the knitwear label Sibling. The word "knitwear", however, encumbered as it is with mildewed imagery of Aran sweaters and folksy cable knits, seems an inadequate description for what they do. Sibling has been inspired by the 2011 London riots, Richard Hell, Leigh Bowery and Paula Yates, knitting everything from a denim jacket to a fox-fur with head and feet or sequin-encrusted leopard-print cardigans. For their spring 2014 show tomorrow, they've looked at West Side Story, with inspiration from the esoteric (chain-link fences of New York basketball courts) to the obvious (the Jets and Sharks logos are writ large). It's all knitted, though, embellished with prints devised with the artist Richard Woods or Laura Lees' embroideries of emblems and cheesecake pin-up tattoos. There's also a hefty dose of Miami Vice-worthy pastels and a touch of knitted lace: just the sort of thing you might have seen a Fifties New York hoodlum swaggering around in. "Masculine men can wear stuff that's really girly," McCreery states, holding a lace-inset cardigan aloft. Then she laughs, "I mean, God, West Side Story is so camp!"
J W Anderson
There wasn't much hanging on the rails when I visited Jonathan Anderson's studio last Monday. Well, that's a lie – there was his expansive 2014 Resort collection for women, and for the guys some neutral knitwear corrugated like tree bark, and three pairs of wool Oxford bag trousers. The rest was, in his words, a "work in progress", even though it was just a week until that work was scheduled to progress down the catwalk. But Anderson, 28, thrives on last-minute tension – that's part of what makes his clothing so electrifying. The corrugated knits, sliced-out shapes and subtle references to the Eighties avant-garde antics of Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto in his Resort offering are a good indication of the forthcoming menswear. His boys and girls always share a wardrobe: witness last season's love-it-or-hate-it ruffles and bandeaux. For spring 2014, Anderson places special emphasis on silhouette. It's like a column dress, he says – but for him. He also throws out words like "modernity", "cleanliness", even "sterile". But they sit at odds with the sly sensuality of halter-necks, exposed flesh and fabric wrapped and chopped around the body until the end results look like a cross between Araki bondage, obi belts, and origami.
"We don't need to be wedded too much to the idea of the tailored suit," says Patrick Grant. He's in the Savile Row HQ of Norton & Sons as he says this, and you expect a disgruntled bunch of cutters to beat down his door at any moment to defend the honour of E Tautz, former tailor to Sir Winston Churchill, under whose label Grant, right, shows as part of London Collections: Men. Grant's bespoke branch, the aforementioned Norton & Sons, does sterling business in the suiting and booting department. E Tautz is where Grant can experiment. For spring, he's been looking at the opulence of Sixties menswear legends Mr Fish and Granny Takes a Trip, as well as those Savile Row wild children Blades and Tommy Nutter. That led him in turn back to the 1660s and Charles II, "The first suits – brocades, silk, petticoat breeches". It's fair to say E Tautz looks dandy for spring 2014.
Richard Nicoll is a realist. That's something that has always characterised the Australian-born, London-based designer's womenswear. It's been a refreshing, sensible sensibility since it launched in 2005. It's also the linchpin of his menswear, now in its third season. "It's a jeans line really," says Nicoll modestly, of the spring/summer 2014 collection he'll show later today. And, indeed, there's a humbleness to the fabrics – canvas, denim, cotton lawn. Nicoll's inspiration is "individualism and beautiful ugliness"; his references, portraits of the New Wave and Punk denizens of 1970s Zurich. He talks about DIY glamour and a gay undercurrent. But Nicoll's undercurrent is much more down-low than many groin-grabbing, garishly gay fashion offerings. The only explicit touch? A series of prints featuring suggestive snakes and semi-clad lads clipped from porn mags and collaged by punk art-world legend and long-term Nicoll collaborator Linder Sterling, the first pieces of an exclusive, jointly designed collection.