Real men don’t wear spots... or do they?
London’s catwalks have just hosted the first winter edition of men’s fashion week. But how would the city’s streets react to civilians kitted out in cutting-edge threads? We sent an intrepid trio of reporters to find out
The outfit struggled to contain my dangerous curves: Liam O'Brien wears Sibling
We've come to think of London as a haven of tolerance, where people of every personality, persuasion and ethnicity find acceptance and can happily muddle along unperturbed by prejudice. It's certainly the perception I had, at least until yesterday when I flounced along the streets of west London in some audacious leopard-print knitwear by Sibling.
"Queer!" a white-van man hollers from his filthy vehicle, while those walking past on the pavement offer cold and unforgiving stares.
If only they had seen the full catwalk collection, which garnered a great deal of press for outfits such as mine and a look featuring a topless model with a giant woollen creation strapped to his head. In Marks & Spencer, the store assistants' laughter is barely concealed.
"Do you do anything like this?" I ask one of them, pointing at my outfit. "What do you mean, like this?" he says, before suggesting I try the ladies department downstairs.
In trendy American Apparel no one bats an eyelid, though back on the street people gasp "Oh my God", "Oh Jesus" and "Lord above" with such regularity that I feel like a modern-day messiah.
The temptation is surely to denounce such an outfit as ludicrous, but I was willing to give it a chance. Designers do not intend for people to buy the entire ensemble as modelled on the catwalk, and in reality the average buyer would probably buy only one of the items on show here (the cute red leopard-print V-neck jumper, most likely) and team it with more sombre staples from their existing wardrobe.
As I gracelessly pull on the jumper, cardigan and the joggers, I'm affronted by the fact that – in the parlance of a popular showbiz website – they're struggling to contain my dangerous curves. Some samples sent in by other designers were so small that only those for whom food is a rare or unpleasant experience could have wrestled them on to their bodies.
There was no danger, however, of the hat and "biker jacket" (yes, really) not fitting. The jacket is incredibly warm, but unwieldy, and the hat flops over my entire face as soon as I attempt anything approaching movement. The ensemble also has a distinct lack of pockets – perhaps it's intended for someone whose "sugar mummy"is able to pay for their every need.
And how much would it cost to look like this, you may (or more probably, may not) be asking yourself. The answer is more than £1,000 (the hat alone costs £330), while the oversized jacket is for show purposes only.
For some, it's worth every penny. In the office, a friend of mine who interned for the glossy fashion press gushes over its exciting print, the detail and the hours of craft that surely went into it.
I enjoyed wearing the outfit today, but then I am an easy sell. If someone in at style magazine Dazed and Confused deigns that something is "in", I will rush out and buy it immediately. But I do worry what some of the menswear shows we've seen this week say about Britain's place in the world of menswear.
The London Collections were meant to show off our designers' skill and talent, but the headlines were dominated by models wearing driftwood on their heads and leather dresses. If you want "stylish rebellion" though, which is what Sibling aims to offer, then Paris, Milan and New York can't hope to compare.
It's bright orange, and it's not for me: Will Coldwell wears E. Tautz
Orange is not a colour I would normally adorn myself in, so it was with some discomfort that I strolled from The Independent's Kensington offices to Notting Hill Gate wearing a checked number by London-based menswear label E. Tautz ("Exploded Orange & Gray Check Coat", price £1,135). Of course, the discomfort was entirely in my head; the fabric is incredibly soft. If only I could say the same about some of the stares.
As I pass a bus stop, a woman looks me up and down with a clenched jaw. "Is it the coat?" I ask. "I don't like it," she says, stepping onto the number 34 bus. "It's not for you."
Feeling a little like I'm wearing the upholstery of a Tube seat circa 1970, I drop into de Winter's, furnishings and interior design store, for some expert opinion. "I think the style is good and the material is lovely," says the store director Howard Berger.
"It's the pattern that's the problem. I'd keep the grey but do it with a dark red or green. I think it's something to wear if you're under 30 perhaps. I'm too old, but it suits you sir!"
My confidence boosted, sort of, I turn to leave, but not before another member of staff appears on the mezzanine floor just in time to declare: "You look ghastly."
Once on Bayswater Road the looks become more frequent and, I must admit, a little threatening. I start to desperately fish for compliments. Across the street I spot someone also wearing a bright orange coat and run over in the hope of some sympathy. She turns out to be a bicycle courier for TNT, hence the colour of their uniform, but fortunately she is still a fan.
"I just thought you were a bit of a trendsetter," says Jayne Stevenson. "You know what it's like around this area… You can tell it's expensive. I like the orange, it's an autumnal orange."
The crucial question, however, is will she swap jackets with me?
"I'd like it for my job," she says. "I'm getting a bit chilly."
Orange aside, even I had to admit that the coat was very warm indeed.
Bar towels elicit rounds of laughter: Kevin Rawlinson wears Martine Rose
As one who habitually gets more than his fair share of strife over his fashion sense, I have developed a relatively thick skin over the years. Nevertheless, it was with trepidation that I left The Independent's offices and headed down the street wearing what can accurately be described as a load of bar towels sewn together.
Among the first to see me in the jacket by British designer Martine Rose (price unlisted) – head down, hands in pockets and striding as quickly as comfortably possible – was a group of men in a white van. Bemusement, followed by amusement, would be a fair representation of the looks on their faces.
"It looks very nice, very good; you look sexy," said the shopkeeper who served me a short walk down the road. He meant it to be polite. He was laughing when he said it.
A student walking back towards university admitted: "I like it, it is very good. It is different to what you normally see. I noticed the bar mats as I was walking behind you up the street."
But, he said: "I am not sure if I would wear it, I am quite conservative when it comes to my clothes. But I know a lot of people who would wear it at university."
Kensington being one of London's more, shall we say, "socially conservative" areas, there were more pursed lips than screamed expletives. Sir David Frost, on his way to dinner, never batted an eyelid as I stormed past.
But, given the attention-seeking nature of the coat, outright abuse was non-existent. You'd get away with it in the west end of London; the west end of Newcastle, I'm not sure.
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