Top man: From knit-wits Sibling, to 'plank' star Craig Green, meet Britain's cutting-edge menswear designers
To celebrate the first year of London Collections: Men, we assembled a cabal of blokey fashion talents and asked them to parade their own wares. With nary a three-piece in sight
CRAIG GREEN: Upping sticks
The 27-year-old Central Saint Martin's graduate inadvertently found himself on the receiving end of Middle England's confused ire when he debuted his wooden facial sculptures as part of London Collections: Men in January this year. David Gandy openly mocked Green's work on Alan Carr's Chatty Man while the Daily Mail's headline 'What a Plank!' is Green's favourite quote from a review to date. Looking past the face-furniture though, Green is an extremely talented textile developer with an exciting vision.
Growing up in London, Green never really had a style inspiration but remembers being bought a pair of LA Gear black trainers with red lights in the sole at the age of seven. His most recent purchase was a pair of black Nike Air Force 1 trainers, so it seems safe to say he knows what he likes.
Green always wanted to be a sculptor or painter, and claims his move into fashion was an accident, choosing menswear design over womenswear because he was better at making stuff for men at college.
He designs for somebody who has an appreciation for technique, craft and things that have been touched by human hands, and his creations are something of an anti-digital reaction, which goes some way to explaining the most important item in his studio – a plastic, cross-stitched, orange, white and brown adjustable calendar.
Craig Green wears Craig Green, other-shop.com
Jonathan Saunders designs for a man who takes pride in his appearance and wants to make a statement (Ronald Dick)
JONATHAN SAUNDERS: A dog's life
Jonathan Saunders initially studied furniture design, but it is fashion’s great gain that the Glaswegian transferred to a printed textiles course at Glasgow School of Art before following up those studies with an MA from Central Saint Martins. Just days after he showed his final collection at the famous London college in 2003, Saunders had been commissioned to design prints for Alexander McQueen. His bird of paradise print for McQueen’s spring/summer 2003 collection became one of the most photographed of the season.
Something of a darling of the womenswear scene, thanks to his way with print and colour, the 35-year-old designer added menswear to his repertoire for spring/summer 2012. When designing for men, he starts with pieces he would want to wear himself, making it a personal and fun process. His style inspiration, perhaps surprisingly for one so fond of acid brights and sharp suiting, was Kurt Cobain, and his first memorable clothing purchase was a Morrissey T-shirt, at the age of 13.
As well as to fill his own wardrobe, Saunders designs for a man who takes pride in his appearance and wants to make a statement. He is not afraid to mix in a bit of colour into the everyday and to generally stand out from the crowd a little. Saunders hopes to offer him something a bit unexpected yet practical, and in the words of fashion writer Tim Blanks: "a perverse sense of colour".
Jonathan Saunders wears Jonathan Saunders, Liberty, Regent Street, London W1
The knitwear collective Sibling is proof that a huge amount of skill goes into designing and creating knitwear that is at once modern, exciting and covetable (Ronald Dick)
SIBLING: The wool pack
Knitting is not as easy as nimble-needled nannas make it out to be. The knitwear collective Sibling, born in 2008, is proof that a huge amount of skill goes into designing and creating knitwear that is at once modern, exciting and covetable. Spotting a definite gap in the marketplace for colour, humour and pattern in menswear, a recent sea change in the market can be attributed to the trio: Joe Bates, Sidney Bryan and Cozette McCreery who combine sources of inspiration as diverse as Quentin Crisp and McCreery's parents who dressed incredibly glamorously and never pushed their tomboy daughter into wearing frocks.
The joy of dressing up is a huge part of the designers' aesthetic, with thematic explorations helping to create a narrative each season, explaining not only the recent purchase of a giant vintage denim jumpsuit from a flea market in New York by Bates, but also McCreery's investment in a leopard-print, fake-fur coat by Simone Rocha to channel her not-so-inner Bet Lynch.
Designing for everyone and no one in particular, the Sibling gent is somebody who likes to smile, is perhaps also partial to a beer, but above all is a very welcome addition to the fold. Working collectively, the relationship between the three is, fittingly, like that of siblings, as each brings a different set of skills to the team and each was propelled in the same direction by various influences, including Jean Paul Gaultier, who McCreery cites as a fashion godmother who encouraged her to "go for it" when she met him in her early twenties. For Bryan, knitting is in his blood and would be whether he was with his fellow Siblings or not.
Sibling wear Sibling, mrporter.com
The nostalgic Nineties pop culture Christopher Shannon references in his shows is a starting point for his forward-looking collections (Ronald Dick)
CHRISTOPHER SHANNON: Sporty spice
The wit and acid tongue of the Liverpudlian designer enlivens the Twitter feeds of all who follow him. But there is more to the 33-year-old's repertoire than just a few bon mots. The nostalgic Nineties pop culture he references in his shows is a starting point for his forward-looking collections. Shannon admits that he doesn't spend much time looking back, finding it harder to remember the pieces from the past as his collections expand to meet the needs of a growing roster of stockists.
Shannon was influenced by his upbringing, his mum filled the house with creative people: singers, art students and drag queens, but it was Neneh Cherry – her music, videos and artwork as well as her representation of the Buffalo movement – who a young Shannon first saw as the real deal. Wearing a hooded tracksuit and a leather Africa pendant to school elicited a rather confused reaction from the residents of suburban Liverpool, but it didn't quash his eccentric habits.
Music is obviously still important to Shannon, who retains a teenage dream of becoming a music director. More recently, he has channelled such energy into his collections, choosing instead to dress in what he refers to as prison-y attire: blue shirts and black jeans from Ralph Lauren, Prada and Uniqlo, but adding an element of exuberance with a ridiculous accessory or two.
Christopher Shannon wears Christopher Shannon, Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge, London SW1
Levi Palmer and Matthew Harding met at Central Saint Martins in 2007. They have expanded a repertoire of white shirts with a twist into a covetable statement of intent (Ronald Dick)
PALMER HARDING: Pretty shirty
Texan-born Levi Palmer, aged 32, met Matthew Harding, aged 28 and from Hertfordshire at Central Saint Martins in 2007, where they were studying menswear and womenswear respectively. They have expanded a repertoire of white shirts with a twist – most literally as a spiral pleat, a design feature that is worked into every collection – into a covetable statement of intent. While their customers are from a range of ages and backgrounds, the pair find it best to design for themselves. Indeed, they admit they no longer shop – but simply order from their own collection.
Looking at the pair's output, it is something of a surprise that they were not always so chic and clean-minded: Harding admits to an unusual style idol in Harry from 3rd Rock from the Sun – an alien who assimilated on Earth by layering two shirts on top of each other (and teaming them with a tank top) – while Palmer was inspired by Grace Jones, which perhaps explains the youthful purchase of a Jean Paul Gaultier halterneck with a chain in the neck.
The duo began their career in womenswear, before breaking into menswear for spring/summer 2012, finding their first stockist in the renowned retailer Joyce in Hong Kong, and admit a large debt is owed to Jan Strimple, a supermodel from the Eighties who moved into luxury fashion show production.
Palmer Harding wear Palmer Harding, Dover Street Market, Dover Street, London W1
Patrick Grant's charm lies in his humour and self deprecation (Ronald Dick)
PATRICK GRANT: Great Scot
Savile Row was given a sharp shock when Patrick Grant purchased tailor Norton & Sons in 2005, later launching the more youthful, fashion-led, ready-to-wear label, E Tautz.
The 41-year-old Scot followed an unusual route to design, pursuing a degree in materials science and engineering and an Oxford MBA. Grant's charm lies in his good nature – whether introducing his latest collection or presenting the Great British Sewing Bee, his humour and self deprecation are admirably British qualities.
Grant's foray into menswear, he admits, was more by accident than choice, although he has thrown himself into the task. Fashion writer Charlie Porter said of Grant's work, "Rather than chasing some watered-down or timid idea of what Savile Row should mean, Patrick revels in dressing individuals with all their eccentricities". This review is rather fitting at a time when so much of British menswear is dictated by the binary codes of street vs suits.
Grant has long had an interest in fashion – he fondly remembers the influence the menswear section of Elle magazine had on his look, namely in the guise of a pair of herringbone, Harris Tweed trousers from Next as a teen. Such a passion for sartorial detail is obviously an important aspect of the role of the modern-day tailor – a part Grant has thrown himself into wholeheartedly, ensuring his dream of a life in the Scottish Highlands remains, for now at least, just that.
Patrick Grant wears E.Tautz, etautz.com
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