Fashion is for real men, too!
London's first Men's Fashion Week leaves Matthew Bell dazzled by bright colours and worried about the fixation with shorts
Men in shorts are standing outside a pub. It must be the football. Except these men are also wearing jackets and sharp Shoreditch haircuts, and their shorts are made of tweed. And they're not holding pints, but swarming out of London's Hospital Club, where a catwalk show by Martine Rose has just finished. A fashion blogger is taking pictures of almost everyone. He lets me through untroubled.
I've come to London Men's Fashion Week. Apparently, it's the first one ever, which is odd as it feels as if it's always fashion week. And I'm sure there's usually plenty of menswear, if that's the right term for the PVC bin bags and neon-orange jumpsuits in which those lantern-jawed models strut down catwalks. But while menswear has always been part of London Fashion Week, this is the first event just for menswear. It's as if Uefa had announced a European Championship just for women, though not quite as absurd. Or is it?
As a young urban professional and a man, I'm clearly the target audience. Except, today, I'm teaming egg-stained corduroy with a shirt that used to be white. My bike helmet has left its usual red mark across my forehead. But I'm not heading for the catwalk, but into the hub, where you can meet the designers and their clothes at first hand.
Joseph Turvey is a young graduate of the London College of Fashion. His screen-printed T-shirts are inspired by David Attenborough's jungle days: they have bright floral prints with heat-reacted leaves, and the cool thing is that the colour fades as you get hot. "Like Eighties rave clothes, though not in the armpit area." I try on a pink pyjama suit – with shorts, of course – and try to think of an occasion when I might wear it. The Leveson inquiry?
But worrying about when you might wear these outlandish designs is to miss the point. Fashion is all about fantasy and fearlessness and fun. It's about letting your imagination run wild and seeing what happens. How else to explain the panda bear balaclavas and green tissue-paper Mohicans? But some of this stuff is actually rather sensible. Like the raincoats over at Hancock. This is a new British label making traditional raincoats. It set up in January and opened its Cumbernauld factory in March. The coats come in sensible colours such as taupe and black, as well as green and yellow, but I'm sensing pink is on trend this season, as I'm pointed to the "Honeysuckle pink" number. Not so keen on the £800 price tag. Does anybody actually pay that?
Apparently yes. But this show isn't really for punters. It's for buyers, designers and journalists. It's about getting ideas out there that gradually trickle down to the high street. And, as Hancock's co-founder Gary Bott reassures me, you don't have to be loaded to be fashionable. "Sophisticated male consumers start to refine their tastes, and, really, you only need one Savile Row suit. You only need one pair of leather shoes, made in Northampton perhaps, and you only need one watch and one coat." It's not what you usually hear from fashionistas, who guilt you out for not keeping up with the seasons.
I move on to Dashing Tweeds. This is more my thing: fogeyish fabrics with a modern twist. Founders Kirsty McDougall and Guy Hills explain how their tweeds are designed not to blend in with rural landscapes, but urban ones. So there's a wool in pavement grey, with a double yellow lines pattern. Some even have light-reflective weaves, designed for cyclists. Hmm, I could be persuaded to shell out on one of these suits. If only the bottom half wasn't shorts.
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