The Sense of An Ending: London Menswear Moves Forward

That’s all for now, folks. The show, quite literally, is over. London’s Autumn/Winter 2018 menswear collections came and went in the space of less than eighty hours; a stripped-back season, shorn of familiar flagship names. But while it may have been low-key, this season also allowed audiences a chance to register how much the texture of British menswear has changed. 

Bobby Abley FW18 menswear show in London. Picture by Guillaume Roujas.

The line-up was startlingly international, for one; of the 45 shows and presentations, a third came courtesy of designers born or working abroad; 6 from Asia, 5 from Europe, 2 from North America, and 1 from the Middle East. It was just as startlingly young; many of the labels who’d slid into the main schedule slots have only been showing for a few seasons – and several of those were making the jump from presentation to runway for the first time. And when it came to the clothes themselves, the absence of formal labels like E. Tautz or Richard James meant that Savile Row’s centuries of tailoring tradition seemed to have disappeared in one fell swoop. Instead, London’s latest wave focused on a uniform of resolutely contemporary comfort, built from roomy parkas and voluminous overcoats, slouchy knits and slimline athleticwear. And those elements repeated over and over again, across a spectrum from quiet neutrals to vibrant colours to witty prints.

Bobby Abley FW18 menswear show in London. Picture by Guillaume Roujas.

But what also intrigued, amongst the fizz of all that bubbling-under newness, were the glimpses of a re-emerging narrative. London’s been at this crossroads before, after all, at various points stretching back to to the early Eighties. Just ask Michiko Koshino, who first exploded onto the scene over thirty years ago with her imaginative, boldly synthetic clothing line – and whose latest presentation, midway through the London shows, was one of the schedule’s most exuberant moments. Inspired by the couriers who race through the city’s streets every day, Koshino’s collection clashed nylon layers with satin bomber jackets, barcode-stamped plastic raincoats and padded shorts. It was energetic and vividly colourful – an oasis of fluorescent glee amongst a schedule still heavily anchored in the safety of navy blue. “It’s been very hard to get out of black.” Koshino laughed backstage, burying her face in hands tipped with neon yellow nails. “But it’s been the most important thing, this season. In black, I felt very bad, like I didn’t really know myself. But now I’ve gone a little bit bright, so I feel new – VERY new! When I started here 30 years ago, we had a lot happening in music and in clubbing; that whole culture was growing around us, very naturally. And now, I think young people are missing that kind of culture, that sense of connection – the dancing, the music. But I feel like all that’s coming back again.” 

Michiko Koshino FW18 menswear show in London. Picture courtesy of PR.

“The brand has two types of buyers now,”  Alex Fakso chimes in. “The old ones buy because of the history; they remember the brand, they have nostalgia for it, and they still like it. And the younger generation just love it; they find the ideas incredible. I mean, she was doing inflatable jackets 35 years ago!” Of course, Koshino’s already been through this cycle a generation ago, as one of the ringleaders of a wave of designers whose clothes targeted Britain’s club kids instead of moneyed Yuppies. She’s part of an alt-fashion history of British fashion that includes Pam Hogg, Dexter Wong, Red or Dead, John Richmond, Sibling, and KTZ – names that have given the industry much of its energy and impetus down through the years. “I have to take chances,” Koshino told another interviewer, back in the Nineties. “Otherwise all I’m doing is following a tried and tested formula.” “I just do what I want!” is how she puts it now. “Every season, change, change. Why not!” That’s the funny, unfunny thing; we’ve spent the last decade treating menswear, and fashion, as a desperately serious business: serious clothes, made in serious ways, for serious times. But this season, at long last, it felt like London had reconnected with that spirit; the inventiveness of Beverly Williams, the charged wit of Art School and Rottingdean Bazaar, the effervescence of Bobby Abley and Alex Mullins, Henry Holland’s playful collaboration with Ben Sherman. The world may be dark – but for Autumn/Winter 2018, at least, British menswear is lightening up.