London Collections: Men (Day 1)

The first show of the first day of the first London Men’s Week (or rather, London Collections: Men) and we on the press benches had no idea what to expect. This new jaunt has taken the place of Menswear Day, London Fashion Week’s traditional last day, but also when all the grownups of the industry are en route to Milan and a bunch of heavily opiated, sleep-deprived Saint Martins’ kids roam Somerset House. However, as the British Fashion Council would remind us, London is no longer the arty, febrile little sibling of the Big Four—it’s a commercial powerhouse.

So what does that mean? For starters, it meant BFC chairman Harold Tillmans with Alexa Chung on his arm at 10 am at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden, both dressed to type—Chung in a tomboyish black number and Tillmans in Savile Row. Whatever the vagaries of fashion, it seems nothing will keep Sir Harold from his pinstripes, which is all kinds of reassuring. We were there for Lou Dalton, a Royal College of Art graduate who’s been quietly building a profile for herself for a few years. The show—which combined traditional tailoring techniques with sportswear flourishes and unexpected panelling—was slick, polished and super commercial. A sign of things to come, perhaps?

By midday, Topman Design gave us some fashion with a capital F. In the front row was Sir Philip Green, the brand’s tax-averse owner, a besuited billionaire who’s about as likely to rock any of these looks as the show was to start on time. A celebration of 80s and 90s Americana, the main reference cited was Jean-Michel Basquiet, his influence evident in the splashy fluoro florals, scribbled heart-print T-shirts and retro Lower East Side styling. Elsewhere, there were grungy twinsets in tequila sunset colors, jocky baseball jackets and cycle shorts, and laser-cut pastel short suits straight from Miami Vice. The inspiration for the all-in-one Prince of Wales check rompers was less apparent, but they will surely be ubiquitous in Dalston next spring. Topman’s head of design, the suave, silver-haired Gordon Richardson, couldn’t bask in the applause too long, however. No sooner had he taken his bow at his own show than he was back on the catwalk, modeling for his friend, Oliver Spencer.

On the subject of models, it was only a matter of time before a designer cracked and sent a girl down the runway. Putting a hot girl in a suit is a time-honored trick for gussying up jejune menswear, but at Spencer Hart, it was just where the stunt casting began. Benedict Cumberbatch, star of Sherlock, closed the show in a silk-lapeled smoking jacket. The inspiration, Spencer told us, was Rat Pack-era Vegas with a splash of Hugh Hefner. This coming from a man with a store on Savile Row? It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the classiest Londoners love a bit of tack.

It was a low-key kind of day—lots of promising indie brands and discreet Mayfair institutions, but low on big names. Time to head to the Tom Ford dinner at 34 in Grosvenor Square. So that’s where they were hiding! Daphne Guinness, Jefferson Hack, David Walliams and Tom himself, of course. The sea bass was delicious; even the fashion crowd were seen to eat. This, it would seem, is one of the key differences between the men’s shows and the women’s. The food is far better.

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