c.2015 New York Times News Service

c.2015 New York Times News Service

LONDON — The most telling cameo at the four-day menswear shows here, the kickoff of the fall 2015 multicity men’s fashion circuit, was not from the three-piece-suited David Gandy, the male model better recognized in his Dolce & Gabbana-ad skivvies; the visiting designers of the U.S. labels Public School and Coach in town to show their wares; or any of the unplaceable Brit rockers at Burberry. It was by the most unlikely guest star of all: the plastic bag, making arguably its most prominent cultural appearance since “American Beauty.”

The humble bag’s runway appearance — wrapped around the heads of models like trash whipped in on the breeze — was the work of Christopher Shannon, 34, one of the liveliest designers showing in London. It might have been a missive from beyond the closed confines of fashion week, where roiling winds are blowing. Shannon offered up a sweater with a bag, too, to underscore the point. It read, “Thanks 4 Nothing.”

From a lesser designer, it might have come off as a bratty joke. But drollery is one of Shannon’s strong suits. (He has a clever way of dissecting real clothes — the ones seen on the streets, rather than on the runways — and of twisting them into something rich and strange, like his track suits, split into strips like snap-studded fettuccine.) So those bags, and the anger they suggested, lent a darker resonance to the collection, one that resounded throughout many shows this week.

“I’m not so aspirational in terms of luxury,” Shannon said backstage at the Old Sorting Office, the former postal facility that is one of the official sites of London Collections: Men. “I’m not into croc rocking down the runway. It doesn’t do much for me.” Another sweater featured a Coke can whose tweaked logo read “Broke.”

Shannon isn’t an outlier or a Cassandra preaching doom in the wilderness. He isn’t even, as he may be considered in another city, or at another fashion week, a punk. (On the contrary, he’s been knighted by the establishment, last year winning the inaugural British Fashion Council/GQ Designer Menswear Fund.) He’s one of many designers here whose collections alluded to unease, unrest and uncertainty — albeit with a slight smirk.

Outside the fashion bubble, after all, violence (or the threat of it) buzzes. The Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris two days before the official beginning of the London shows cast a pall over the week, even if it went largely unmentioned, save for a brief tribute to the victims and their families by Dylan Jones, the chairman of London Collections: Men. And the English and European economies in which these designers sell their indisputably luxurious goods are struggling.

The responses to these outside factors vary. There are those designers who look for an escape hatch, like father/son team Casely-Hayford, who called their collection of monkish layers and robelike alpaca-wool hoodies “The Runaways.” (“I guess we thought it was time,” said Charlie Casely-Hayford, the son.)

And there are those who batten down the hatches. “We’re dressing for the apocalypse that’s on its way,” said Patrick Grant, the dapper designer of E. Tautz, whose collection of exaggerated, slouchy tailoring came in shades of pavement-puddle gray.

He was kidding, but only just.

Fashion week isn’t merely an occasion for doomsdaying, of course. It’s a spectacle and an entertainment, just like the movies, and just as at the movies, popcorn is widely available. (At key London Collections: Men sites, it’s passed out along with beer, coffee and water as part of a canny sponsorship deal.) It’s work but it’s play, and relentlessly social, where international editors, buyers and marketers jostle endlessly on a nonstop small-talk express. Even those editors who don’t cover menswear cropped up at shows this season, after arriving in town for the debut presentation by John Galliano at Maison Margiela.

The men’s season begins so early in the year that the just-passed Christmas and New Year’s holidays are an especially hot topic, and an industry that travels in pack formation, it turns out, vacations in packs, too.

“I went to Tulum,” reported Ben Cobb, the handsomely bronzed editor of Another Man Magazine, Tulum being a thickly trafficked destination among fashion types at present. “Everyone says ‘hi.’ ”

But in a climate like the present, it’s hard to fault an escapist bent or those taking their pleasure where they may. Rapper Wiz Khalifa, for instance, one of the few celebrities making the front row rounds, was traveling in what appeared to be a choking cloud of pot fumes.


Gloom didn’t dim the shine of Jeremy Scott, who for the second season running brought his Moschino menswear to London from Milan. He is an undaunted maximalist, who ran riot with faux fur, ski chic and bare chests (an odd trend throughout the week, in fact), inspired by Bruce Weber’s photos of manly mountain men in his Abercrombie & Fitch mode.

Christopher Bailey at Burberry — a very different designer from Scott — chose fantasy over grim reality, too. Burberry shows are always big-budget light-and-sound spectaculars; this time, with a performance by British singer Clare Maguire, backed by classical instrumentalists. But by the time reflective confetti showered down for the finale, the scene resembled a Bollywood fantasia (an impression only abetted by the flashing trousers and totes, embroidered with tiny mirrors).

Bailey called the collection “Classically Bohemian,” and his models wore poets’ spectacles and fringed blankets and scarves knotted over their donkey jackets. But his rhapsody over the bohemian — what he defined backstage as “a bit of freedom of the mind, something that is not necessarily conformist,” between kisses with Liu Wen and Jourdan Dunn, supermodels who had dropped in, Burberry-clad, to see the show — felt flashy and a little forced, and the justification for throwing a fringed, grannyish blanket over a two-button suit (worn, naturally, sans shirt) hinted at that same old darkness lurking at the edges of the glitter. “You’re not changing your whole self,” he said, “but just trying to have some fun and try to see something light.”


In the finest collections shown in London, the clothes didn’t distract from darkness but telegraphed resilience in the face of it.

Sarah Burton’s collection for Alexander McQueen, for example, presented in a grim bunker among parked trucks, struck a martial note, with military-precise tailoring and clothes bearing capital-lettered legends of soldierly virtues such as HONOUR and VALOR.

But Burton leavened the severity of her cuts (and the clone-like, stomping toughs who wore them) by piecing in motifs of poppies, the flower of remembrance for World War I. (In honor of the war’s centenary last year, the Tower of London moat was filled with hundreds of thousands of ceramic poppies, an image still fresh in many minds here.) Burton’s tailoring chops are well known and long established. But here, she managed to merge the strict and soulful, weaving war and peace into a single garment.

Young designer Craig Green’s show last season was such a breakout — met with wild enthusiasm and followed by tripled sales — that after it, he said, “We were terrified.”

But the designer, 28, rose to the occasion, adapting his priestly, ethereal clothes into something more substantial, ready to bear the brunt of high expectations, and whatever else may come along. His tie-trailing jackets in cotton/nylon and neoprene looked more armorlike and protective than ever, inspired by military uniforms and workwear. But their strength was set off by the sweaters with an oddly evocative detail: a kind of porthole dead center, which revealed a pale and vulnerable wafer of the wearer’s torso. (“We had to shave a few of them,” Green laughed.)

If Green is looking for a model of navigating success, there are worse ones to pick than Jonathan Anderson. Anderson has, despite (or because of) an insistence on abstruse conceptualizing, risen swiftly past the rank and file of many of his London contemporaries and into the big leagues. (In 2013, he was named the creative director of Loewe by its owner, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, which also invested in his namesake label, J.W. Anderson.)

But with every growth and success, rather than head for the middle ground, he has recommitted to experimentation and iconoclasm. His stridency can be alienating, especially when he throws concept bombs (his frilled culottes and lace babushkas for men come to mind), seemingly designed solely to provoke. But when he is at his best, as he was this season, he can be both provocative and inspired.

The attenuated elegance of his collection, with its drippy sleeves and floppy, French-cuff trousers, objet d’art buttons and smart, cropped jackets had a 1970s tang, but Anderson insisted he had looked not only at the ‘70s, but the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘80s and ‘90s, too, a mélange of references that he didn’t try to resolve neatly.

He preferred, as it he put it tellingly, to throw “everything that survives the apocalypse” into the mix: “the best parts of all those things, and overhybriding it to the point where it becomes, ‘Is it an ‘80s jacket or is it not? And does it really matter?’ ”

Is the apocalypse nigh? If so, Anderson is not one to spare himself or his audience. So he is cheerfully bounding into the uncertain future, on a runway of ground-up tires that stank to high heaven and looked like the surface of the moon. On the show’s soundtrack, a voice intoned a list of all things torturous (including, for the record, an “evil, gossiping fashion bastard”).

“I feel like it’s very uplifting to sometimes face it,” Anderson said.

And face it, it goes without saying, dressed to impress.