I’ve made the claim previously that fashion is most powerful when it has something to say, and London Fashion Week Mens shouted angrily to this end.
Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as the US president have resonated with a swathe of London-based mens fashion designers, including Liam Hodges and Christopher Shannon, resulting in their angry bid to assert their voices of creativity, diversity and civil rights via fashion. They channelled the UK’s (and perhaps the world’s) bleak political canvas into a colourful, textural backlash, with Liam Hodges asking where to find a “vocation in the decline of civilisation” (in this sector, fashion tech and materials science?) and an emblazoned sweatshirt with the parental warning “Our following EVENTS have been approved for ALL AUDIENCES by the International campaign for fear and Hysteria… PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned” via his Dystopia Lives! collection.
The opening pastel-tinged denim of Christopher Shannon’s AW17 show lulled me into a false sense of security (in the form of appreciation of the neat jean) before the flag-laden faces in collaboration with Rottingdean Bazaar and the slogan sweats transforming benign fashion branding into statements on the current political state of affairs – Boss became “Loss” and Timberland became “Tumbleweed” – showed Shannon’s serious and stinging intent, ramping the show up to an outspoken and bold level.
Defiant slogans they might be, but that wasn’t at the expense of wearability and seriously well made clothes. I won’t venture into critic territory about garment structure, textiles and details, not because I didn’t think they were extremely well constructed, but because fashion is subjective and this is simply commentary and reflection, I’m not a critic, rather a designer, writer and appreciator, and I’d wear the lot.
Shannon’s show notes cite photographer Oliviero Toscani and art director Tibor Kalman, “founding editor of the pioneering COLORS magazine, which was at the forefront of embracing diversity in fashion” as sources of inspiration. Judith Joy Ross’s Living with War also influenced the collection.
Photography: Oliviero Toscani Studio
Colours Magazine, Editor Tibor Kalman and United Colors of Benetton campaign, featured in Colors
Photograph: Judith Joy Ross. Living With War
I’m thinking back to Ashish’s brave and passionate political show at LFW for Spring Summer 2017 and hoping that this resonates through womens fashion week this coming season, as it has mens. I contemplate the upcoming New York Fashion Week and wonder whether there will be any similar sentiment shared by designers there facing an era of challenging, nasty politics under the new Trump administration. Will Putin get a (not so honourable) mention?
It’s brave for a designer to be so gobby, especially with the pressure of commercial sales targets and constant burden of turning a profit and keeping the wheels turning, but Shannon’s line of thoughtful and clever sloganeering is somewhat proven, with his current and previous collections bearing a corruption of Sports Direct as “Lovers Direct” and “Haters Direct”, currently in store at Selfridges.
Fashion that provokes questioning and contemplation and contributes to social and political discourse gets my vote. Slogan up!
Christopher Shannon show credits:
Styling: Max Clark assisted by Julie Velut and Louis Prier Hair: John Vial at UNIT 30 for Revlon at SALON SLOANE Makeup: Andrew Gallimore and team at CLM Hair & Makeup Face: Rottingdean Bazaar Footwear: Christopher Shannon for Hi-Tec Soundtrack: Maxwell Sterling Models: Select Special Thanks: Laura Davidson at Marks & Spencer
This morning, I went to a Major League Baseball (MLB) match – in Covent Garden. Such is the brilliance of VR. I’ve never been to a baseball match before, but store manager Luke confirms the authenticity of the atmosphere re-created in the film in between my ‘wows’ of approval as I was immersed into the spirit and atmosphere of a match at Petco Park, San Diego. The store feels like a cool fan hangout with memorabilia and merchandise intermixed. The jerseys have an oversized, unisex styling appeal and I threw on a few styles whilst wandering around the shop floor, trying to work out which graphics, colour and embroidery I liked most.
Wanting to dig a little deeper into the sport and technical aspects of the clothing, I asked about the differences between the commercially available jerseys and the ones the baseball players wear. Luke explains that the professional jerseys are a denser, more durable textile, developed to withstand a battering on the baseball field. I immediately want one. The professional jerseys are made by Majestic in a factory in Pennsylvania, featured in the film below, to individual player specifications.
I spoke to Rob Grow, Director of Product, based in Easton, Pennsylvania, to delve a little deeper into the design and functionality of the on-field jerseys. What unravelled was a fascinating explanation of the development of a Flex Base system which took over four years of research, design and development to move away from a warp knit to a double knit textile that can withstand 162 plus games per season and that is light, breathable, has stretch and is light and colourfast. The jerseys incorporate breathable mesh side-panels and an airbelt for reduce bulk and heat below the belt line. The pant (trouser) waistband incorporates silicon grippers and an inner leg cooling zone. Add to this the preference of each player in terms of fit and the result is a tailored, custom-fit uniform matching function and style. For all the tradition of the final look, the final garments are packed with technical development to enhance the function and look. Majestic are currently developing sensor-embedded apparel for athlete monitoring and performance analysis. Rob is clear that wearable tech is a huge growth area that’s “really taking off”.
Rob describes an approach to design and development akin to that of a fashion atelier. All 1800 MLB players are measured by team members from Majestic during spring training to determine the individual specifications of each player’s uniform. The players all have preference over fit and length, so no two uniforms are identical. There is an in-house flat-pattern cutter who has been drafting the patterns for all players by hand for many years, and one-on-one meetings are held with the players to ensure they are involved in the process. The construction uses cut and sew methods and is carried out in the manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania.
We talk about the stylistic choices of players and fans and I am surprised to hear that players and fans alike admit to preferring competitors jerseys. The level of detail they go into about colour and detailing is somewhat of a surprise and definitely supports the idea that jerseys are as much a fashion choice as a sportswear choice.
Majestic is using techniques including sublimation print to create fashion-led versions of the on-field jerseys that appeal to a younger consumer and create collections especially for retailers with this in mind. It also uses sublimation print on the new Diamondbacks on-field jersey.
Browsing around the shop I consider the varying trim and embroidery details on the jerseys and the stylised curved neck and hemlines which put this merchandise into the styling stakes for baseball and mere fashion fans alike. I plump for a Miami jersey with “Techstyler 3” and take a late night warmup swing on my roof, just for fun.
Taking advantage of the growing consumer appetite for customisation and instant consumer gratification , the MLB pop-up offers name and number personalisation in store, in around 10 mins. They’ve also got a MLB snapchat cap filter, which I styled jauntily (thanks to Photoshop).
MLB is set to go global with expansion to Europe and an already thriving league in Japan. I’ll be match-ready when it comes to London. Majestic MLB jerseys – more than a uniform indeed.
Fyodor Golan are somewhat of a paradox – at once intellectual and playful, they traverse the fringe of a fashion industry in a state of flux. Whilst contemplating the structure and aim of their fashion business, they are questioning the importance of individualism in a sea of rampantly ‘cohesive’ and highly refined fashion. The designers open the interview with the revelation that they delayed their seasonal trip to their Paris showroom in order to vote in the referendum. The fallout from the vote in favour of ‘Brexit’ has left them with a sense of resilience in the face of potential EU funding losses. Many of the projects and initiatives they have undertaken whilst establishing and growing their business have been supported by EU funding and they predict a Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ situation will ensue amongst young independent fashion designers in London who are struggling to create seasonal collections and remain solvent.
Where this dramatic and uncertain political climate could potentially trigger cautious conservatism, Fyodor and Golan are intellectually and pragmatically assessing all areas of their business and considering the needs of their customers and the best platforms with which to engage them. They resolve to stay ‘individual’ and adopt an ever more digital and tech-driven approach to their seasonal collections. Why do a show at London Fashion Week that draws vast energy and finance away from the business and requires the creation of some garments that they know will not be good sellers, but that are necessary in order to create requisite looks simply for the purposes of the show? If the show is to the clear detriment of their product offering and bottom line, what is the point? The vast press generated by a fashion show is well documented and, as any fashion designer involved in London, New York, Paris and Milan fashion weeks will tell you, the credibility gained from showing on-schedule during fashion week is immense and affirming – at least ostensibly. But the rise of social media has taken fashion out of the hands of the few and placed it in the hands of the many global consumers. Digital platforms have a life beyond a seven-odd minute fashion show during which time it is ‘impossible to see the clothes properly’ as noted by Fyodor. In summary, fashion shows aren’t fit for purpose and the stigma attached to designers who decide to no longer ‘show’ is waning.
With new presentation platforms comes new opportunities for self-expression and consumer interaction. Golan explains how insightful and inspiring the dialogue from client to designer is on Instagram. Their clients post images of their self-styled ‘FG’ looks, thereby contextualising Fyodor and Golan’s seasonal work – a dialogue that never occurred pre-social media when the only route to market was through wholesale accounts – meaning no direct contact between the designer and the consumer. That’s all different now and brings me back to questioning the point of ‘cohesiveness’ of a fashion collection.
The generally accepted framework for the study and application of fashion design that I, and many other designers have experienced at London/UK-based fashion design institutions, hinges on a refined, highly focused – ‘cohesive’ – presentation of a design concept/concepts in order to ensure that a specifiable ‘aesthetic’ is presented. This occurs to me to be a useful tool for categorisation and identification of a designer or brand for the purposes of critique, but may be at odds with the way fashion is best presented, experienced and consumed in a digital age.
Cohesive uniformity – Burberry Prorsum SS13
Sure, brands like Burberry are built on a largely singular aesthetic/design language and their merchandising depends on a sort of ‘cohesion’, but what of the explosion of Vetements against the backdrop of such ‘cohesiveness’ and singularly focused vision – and what of the conversation about this collaborative, multi-faceted and un-cohesive aesthetic that is starting on social media (of course)? Will cohesiveness and a singular aesthetic vision be relevant to millennials and Generation Z’ers? If they’re shopping online and creating individual looks according to their own vision, and Instagram and Snapchat are ultimately more influential and engaging and more readily consumed than fashion shows, what is the point of cohesiveness at the expense of alienating consumers? And again, if fashion shows continue to lose favour as the predominant presentation format, individuality becomes an even more powerful element of fashion’s presentation. Fyodor Golan question this uniformity and go on to state that they have never sought ‘cohesiveness’ in their collections, but rather the creation of clothing as a vehicle for self expression and fun for their broad customer base, whose age group spans four decades and is global. It could be argued that cohesiveness can kill creativity by stamping out individual expression, spontaneity and the charm of the unexpected – a fate unlikely to befall Fyodor Golan.
Vetements P/E 16
On the subject of individualism in an increasingly ‘global’ market the duo explain, ‘Our clients come to us to express a different side of themselves… they have serious, professional jobs and wear Fyodor Golan as a way of tapping into their personality and as a visual representation of that (fun) side of themselves’.
Fyodor Golan’s creations are seriously fun. Frothy? Yes. Flimsy? Definitely not. The products are underpinned by solid, quality-driven construction techniques employed since the launch of their label (which drew heavily on couture techniques initially) in 2011, and have evolved to express a sense of confidence through playfulness.
Fyodor Golan SS2012
A further discussion that touches on current challenges in the area of fashion tech centres on product design versus fashion design. Golan expresses the frustration at being restricted to short development times due to the seasonal nature of the fashion industry and longs to be able to explore design concepts in greater depth – as a product designer would, for example. The approach through product design of creating a perfectly formed, functional and beautiful object is a luxury that just may be possible once Fyodor Golan have broken free of the restrictive cycle and demands that come with staging a fashion show each season. Fyodor and Golan lament the unresolved design ideas that ping into their minds at that last evolutionary design stage – often the week before their London fashion week show – leaving them no time to see these ideas through to fruition because of limitations caused by show preparation and the restrictive need to create ‘looks’ for the show, rather than individually strong and exciting garments. Due to the seasonal nature of fashion, the scope to pick up and continue such ideas in following seasons does not always present itself. There is a serendipitous aspect to such ideas and sometimes, when the moment has passed, the opportunity and magic passes too. Essentially, dropping the traditional fashion show format allows the freedom and time to be more innovative. It’s during this stage of the interview that Golan mentions the Makerversity, which is situated near their studio in Somerset House, which has clearly provided a point of reflection for the designers where the process of product design and development is concerned, versus that of fashion.
Fyodor Golan Pre-SS17
In their Pre-SS17 collection, Fyodor Golan have furthered explored a number of concepts initiated in their AW16 collection, including hybrid sportswear with strapping and bows that are silhouette-changing, rather than simply surface details. This plays into their desire for individuality within the collection – so one garment has many guises depending on the wearer’s styling preferences. The collection, entitled “Sakura Kawaii’ was inspired by Hatsune Miku – a hologram-generated pop star – resulting in a collection that expresses “romance through plastification”. It’s surreal to see real live fans at the concert of a holographic pop star screaming and waving glow sticks, but it perfectly illustrates the blurring of lines between reality and artificiality that Fyodor Golan have distilled into this collection.
The animated look book is the perfect expression of this darkly psychedelic-samurai mood, in collaboration with digital artist and animator, Ignasi Monreal. Part of the joy of Fyodor Golan’s look books is that they seek to excite the imagination, rather than simply sell, and it expresses an aesthetic that the designers describe as resolutely ‘digital’.
Fyodor Golan Pre-SS17
The digitally driven playfulness in the presentation of their Pre-SS17 collection causes me to speculate as to the format of their next fashion presentation for London Fashion Week in September. ‘We’re still exploring options’ and ‘we’re looking at integrating the process of creation into the presentation’ were the official standpoints at the time of our interview – suffice to say it will be an exciting, experimental and likely experiential offering that will gloriously break with tradition in yet another refreshing Fyodor Golan chapter. It’s an exciting time in an evolving industry where as many lessons come from Darwinian truth as they do from social media metrics. If fashion’s future is about creative adaptation, dynamism, freedom of thought and individuality, Fyodor Golan are surging ahead.
In continuation of London Fashion Week‘s Films, Fraying and Frizz, the second instalment of my fashion week roundup starts at with Belstaff, in collaboration with (an elusive) Liv Tyler.
The Belstaff presentation could scarcely have been more different from the others I have experienced. It occurred to me that a show format would have made it easier to see the clothes. Being a bigger brand with a larger captive audience, it was in a basement sauna of winter woolies and leathers with a biker-lite /polar vibe and a melee of guests enjoying the wares and fizz. The show notes stated that the collection was inspired by ‘female pioneers venturing into the earth’s most bleak and hard-to-reach locations in the most challenging of conditions’. Polar pioneer Christina Franco was named as a special guest, which I only discovered after re-reading the show notes for this article. I can think of at least a dozen questions about protective clothing and design I’d have fired off in her direction. I bumped into a couple of old friends and had a chat with Jonathan Saunders (whose mate designed the collection) on the way out, so it was suitably fashion-y and fizzy.
Huishan Zhang offered up the most elegant and serene of presentations at The Connaught in what felt like the coming together of two perfect halves – the romantic decadence of the location and the gently elegant and luxuriously refined clothing. The clothes screamed, or rather elegantly asserted, a grown-up ladylike appeal and I passed Linda Fargo on my way out, further confirming their level on the elegance stakes. Look out for Huishan Zang in Bergdorf Goodman next season?
The highlight of the day came in the form of Sid Neigum‘s mathematics-inspired and mostly monochrome collection. Chatting to Sid I learned that the starting point for silhouette development for the collection was a measurement of a shoulder line, say 30 cm for example, which was then multiplied by Da Vinci’sgolden ratio (1.6), applied rigorously by Le Corbusier and a hallmark of his modulor proportions, to determine the opposite shoulder line length, creating a harmonious set of measurements that formed naturally aesthetically pleasing proportions.
The best way to describe the experience of seeing the collection is to say that it all felt “right”. It was at ease. The lengths, the volumes, the textiles. Not forced, but lovingly calculated and evolved from a series of applied multiplications, which led Sid to his final silhouettes. Sid is a patter-cutter who designs in 2D by working back from a 3D ‘mental rendering’ of what he’s imagining he will make. He rarely sketches his designs, but rather sketches pattern piece shapes which he can mentally assemble before doing so physically. Brilliant. I plan to talk in more depth with Sid and bring you a more studied summation of his technique, but until then, enjoy the collection images.
Finally, we dashed to the 100 Club on Oxford Street for a slice of Mary Benson magic, only to discover we’d missed the show and caught the party. Here are the post show leftovers and gif-ified show images thanks to Village PR: