No one needs me to say that 2016 was an utter shit show. With the far-right voting out for Britain’s Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, it’s easy for a Gen Y-er to feel as though the world, instead of progressing, is slipping backwards with a white supremacist ‘revolution’. As ever, fashion is a mirror of our culture and captures the zeitgeist of our time. So naturally, the generally left-leaning industry reflected our modern anxieties and fears in response to our political climate for AW17. As we’re hurtling towards a future of economic uncertainties and living in an increasingly oppressive environment with the rise of hate, fashion reflects an unpredictable future with the runway being used to stage dystopian worlds. And further out, beyond our borders, directionally menswear looks to the East with the rising prominence of Asian designers and, in particular, Chinese aesthetics.
Titled ‘Nowhere’, Tourne de Transmission’s AW17 collection featured a minimalist palette of colours black, white and grey on painted coats, contemporary streetwear-style staple parkas, tees and high-neck tops with the keyword ‘NOWHERE’ emblazoned across. Reflecting on his teenage years, creative director Graeme Gaughan explained: “[the collection] tries in some way to understand how my adolescent self would react to the recent political isolation of youth, the division of ideals and the loss of cultural icons.” Creating a nihilistic feel, yet also questioning what lies ahead, the press release includes the following notes: EYES OPEN / FUTURE GAZING / NOTHING WRITTEN / BORDERS OR BARRIERS.
Recently graduating from the Royal College of Art's MA menswear course in June 2016, Per Götesson unveiled his second collection under the MAN umbrella. For the Swedish-born designer, there's an emphasis on the process of design itself being emphatically important to the collection. Construction and technique played a large role in the design of his garments, and for AW17 he made use of ruching to play with shapes that balanced the fine line between being slouchy and elegant. Lycra was a predominant feature, and wide-leg raw indigo denim pants were created with such careful consideration and precision that they sat low on the hips with the details of the internal construction also featuring on the outside. Before the catwalk show, models apathetically lay on pillows held up by blue rope, which were hung from wooden framed constructions. To create a sense of fluidity with his vision of relaxed masculinity, Götesson's models walked the runway dressed in slouchy pyjama-style sets, carrying pillow-inspired handbags.
As one of the most exciting designers at LFWM, Charles Jeffrey began showing his collections at Fashion East in 2015 and presented at MAN this season alongside Per Götesson and Fengchen Wang. The show itself was an enthralling spectacle, a surreal fantasy world made up of four chapters that drew upon a frenzy of references. Aptly titled ‘Full Fantasy’, Charles Jeffrey and his LOVERBOYs (a group of young creatives whom Jeffrey works and parties with at his club night LOVERBOY) reacted to “shadowy figures, warped world events and the existential worries of young creatives in uncertain terrain… teenage obsessions, primal urges and the continuous threat of corruption.” Caked in clay, dancers from The Theo Adams Company stood solemnly still at the beginning of the show before proceeding to dance, writhe against the columns of the cavernous venue, stomp, hiss and snarl throughout the show. In the first chapter of Charles Jeffrey’s grand spectacle, the designer translated his vision of science fiction mixed with historical references through models appearing as celestial figures dressed in ivory shirts, exquisitely tailored dinner jackets, and sculptural puffa jackets.
Inspired by London itself and club kid culture, Jeffrey’s second chapter featured painted models inspired by the way The Scottish Picts would paint themselves before battle, much like “a LOVERBOY might before a battle with a dark night in Dalston”. Chapters three and four segued from exploring corporate corruption to royalty. There were fencing jackets, crowns, Prince of Wales coats, and Houdinni-inspired straps to represent choking and restriction. The finale felt like a horror show with the near-nude dancers chasing a dark goddess, only to later circle back being chased by its own prey as their growing screams echoed around the space, electrifying the runway. This show was one that displayed the theatrical decadence of a radical designer – one whose imagination appears to be limitless.
One of the most entertaining presentations at LFWM was ART SCHOOL, who engaged their audience with members of the Theo Adams company in song and dance. Dressed in red velvet kimonos, noughties-style Swarovski-embellished ‘ART SCHOOL’ tees, sheer yellow fabrics, and large key-shaped earrings, the presentation was a powerful celebration of artistry, freedom and queerness. From their bright yellow manifesto can be seen an image of a coil with the words: CHANGE, powerful, EMBRACE, and queer-touch. Through re-interpreting garments from their own wardrobes and those of their friends, designers Eden Loweth and Tom Barratt explored their non-binary identities, resulting in a collection that elevated queerness as a response to current times. ART SCHOOL are a brand that oozes an irresistible kitschy charm, and is most certainly relevant at a time when non-binary identities need to be celebrated loudly, colourfully and with joy.
For his collection 'Posh Crusty, Bored Protest, Confused Unity', Christopher Shannon teamed up with designers Luke Brooks and James Buck of Rottingdean Bazaar (who presented their collection as part of Fashion East this season alongside ART SCHOOL), to create masks inspired by the way sports fans painted their faces. But in using flags such as the rainbow gay pride banner, Shannon subverted sports fanaticism to create a sense of unity rather than division. Playing on the predominance of bootlegs in past seasons – which questions authenticity and brand identity – Shannon subverted brands such as Timberland by recreating it as ‘Tumbleweed’ on his functional staples. A particular favourite of mine was Calvin Klein's CK logo reimagined as ‘CS’ with the words 'constant stress' printed across a light grey t-shirt.
Often exploring male subcultures, Liam Hodges’ latest collection, named ‘Dystopia Lives’, referenced bowler hats worn by droogs in The Clockwork Orange, graffiti and aliens from Total Recall, the Seditionaries’ Tits tee, and dystopian fiction. Working with performance poet Hector Aponysus, “Looking for a vocation in the decline of civilization” sums up the state Liam Hodges finds us in, thus making its appearance on his camouflage and patchwork denim Levis and puffa jackets. Photo prints were taken from Hodges’ photos of China, which he explains as being “the state set to define our future in this Chinese century”. The soundtrack to the show was particularly powerful with Aponysus’ bars of poetry: “These ideologies are antiquated / we’ve lost the currency that we created / too much of nothing is never enough / we toughen up, it’s true / the locus of the new / it’s used a different view to living in these interludes / residing in the gratitude that only revenue resides in you / so I summon everything that you have to govern… these opportunities arose when the city limits limitations… no time for waiting for a vocation in the decline of Western civilisation.”
As the first menswear designer from China to ever show at London Fashion Week Men’s, Xander Zhou explored his Asian identity for AW17. Inspired by bleached denim, Japanese adult movies, Mao suits, boxy sleeves, uniforms, and traditional Chinese outfits, his collection reflected upon how understanding himself first began by looking at others “because it was easier than looking at ourselves”. Using others as a frame of reference, Zhou looked inwards at how his identity formed from them, and studied Asia’s current position in the world. Printed on the show notes is the sentence: “We are the new generasian.” At a time when racial issues are often being discussed in the media in relation to Asian beauty – and recognition – being marginalised by Eurocentric ideals of whitewashing, this collection felt particularly relevant, poignant and empowering.
Words by Vivian Yeung