It used to be the case that, when I heard the word 'menswear', my mind would jump straight to outdated clichés of a well-groomed thirty-something, sporting nothing but a James Dean haircut and a well-tailored suit. Luckily, menswear has changed recently and, although there will always be space for a well-tailored suit, young designers are using their imagination and skills to push the boundaries and redefine the wardrobe of the modern male. This experimentality and will to play with the fashion formula is never more evident than in London, the capital of eccentricity and individuality. More specifically, it was evident in the recent LCM shows which collectively unearthed a feast of sartorial delights for men worldwide who are becoming bored by tradition. In this post, I have picked my five personal favourites from the host of talent on show - some of them are on the list due to a cohesive aesthetic and stand-out pieces, whereas others are on the list for subverting tradition and creating enough controversy to fuel debate and keep the ball moving forward.
AGI & SAM
The first of the five highlights from the A/W 2014 shows comes courtesy of Agi & Sam, a British duo that pride themselves on "sitting firmly between those who fear to create something different and those who push collections too far" - a quote which perfectly sums up their African-inspired collection.. Agi's background in tailoring was evident from the array of black-and-white statement coats on offer, desirable investment pieces that are chic enough to distinguish themselves from the high street but wearable enough to justify their price tag. Steering clear of shock tactics, the duo showed a selections of pieces which were brilliantly styled with specific emphasis on Middle-Eastern silhouettes - think loose drop-crotch trousers paired with makeshift moccasins and you're on the right track. A series of logo-print tees added a pop of colour and traditional African prints were reimagined in monochrome tunics, resulting in a stand-out collection that introduced a splash of culture to Western aesthetics.
In stark contrast to Agi & Sam, young provocateur J.W Anderson once again sought to subvert gender roles with his androgynous collection inspired by the 'sexy secretary' archetype. His angular cuts and oversized silhouettes are a testament to his innovative eye for design, and when the clothes were good, they were great. Slouchy cropped trousers with a tapered ankle presented a cool new alternative to workwear, and the designer's fresh take on the camouflage print spawned highly successful results. However, it was the heeled patent boots that caught the attention of critics and, although it was admirable to push so firmly an 'androgynous aesthetic', the boots pushed the looks into unwearable territory for a majority of men.
Subverting gender roles is entirely necessary in a society of men still heavily driven by testosterone - work still needs to be done in terms of making men of all ages see high-end menswear as an option that is both attractive and attainable. The heels felt more like a cry for attention than a necessity, and drew focus from some of the best pieces in the collection. For example, there were occasions in which the designer introduced a feminine touch successfully, but this was thanks to the addition of peplums and ruffles which were subtle but still made an impact . It's only when the designer becomes too literal with his intent that things start to head downhill - by re-thinking how to 'break the mould' without resorting to shock tactics, this is the talented young designer with the most potential to infiltrate his way into mainstream menswear.
ADA & NIK
The result of a collaboration between menswear maestro Ada Zanditon and male model / writer Nik Thakkar (click here to see my interview with Nik, outlining the inspiration behind the collection), Ada + Nik's A/W 2014 offering was the definition of a considered and cohesive aesthetic. Sticking firmly to an all-black colour palette and choosing instead to experiment with texture and silhouette is a decision which set the duo apart from their contemporaries and resulted in a series of garments which were both timeless and incredibly versatile.
Fabric choices helped strike a balance between hard and soft - sheer shirts and soft jersey were shown alongside tough leather, softening an aesthetic that was unashamedly masculine. The duo also demonstrated how to pull off that tricky style statement - the jumpsuit. By adding patches of suede and leather and sticking to a classic zip fastening, the overall result was stylish, utilitarian and utterly covetable. The final look of the show was arguably the collection's highlight, a cropped leather jacket which descended into a dramatic cape which billowed behind the model as he left the runway. It summed up the design duo's aesthetic in a nutshell - chic and accessible, but with enough style and flair to elevate it above its contemporaries.
For boldly re-interpreting a 'punk aesthetic', Katie Eary has earned her way onto the 'best of LCM' list. Describing her ideal client in an interview for the LCM website, the designer described someone '"treading the monumentally versatile line between Vogue and Vice" - a statement which perfectly sums up the streetwear-meets-Savile Row construction of this collection. Incorporating graphic red leopard print, PVC and body harnesses, the collection sounds a mess on paper but is an utter triumph due to its clean lines and sharp silhouettes which tie together the various concepts.
It's also a breath of fresh air, introducing a sense of adventure into an everyday wardrobe. It's hard not to smile at the bondage Mickey Mouse helmets and quirky animal prints which recurred throughout, and the strict colour palette of red and black (with the occasional flashes of blue and white) created a cohesive dimension. It is also one of the best examples of punk to hit the British fashion scene since Vivienne Westwood in her heyday, and is a fond reminder of the stylish brand of anarchy that only Britain can do so well. Individual pieces such as the PVC t-shirts could work extremely well as separates for those less daring, creating a commercially-viable and creatively-challenging collection that sees Eary going left-field without going too far.
The final highlight of LCM was a toss-up between Alexander McQueen and Xander Zhou - I eventually chose Zhou, partly because I write far too much about McQueen but mainly because Zhou's relaxed take on elegance is both original and extremely appealing to those of us who are desperate for walking the streets in PJs to become acceptable. Presenting some of the most covetable outerwear of the season, Zhou mainly stuck to the formula of the sophisticated overcoat teamed with wide-leg trousers and casual shoes, presenting a new laid-back take 'dressing up'.
Zhou also showed diversity by tackling school blazers, showing them in graphic hues and dropping hemlines by several inches to create a new brand of geek chic which recurred throughout the collection in the form of oversized specs and preppy college crests. Fabric choices were often unconventional, with some examples being a dip-dyed silk tunic with matching trousers and a full metallic ensemble with a funnel-neck and furry slipper boots. Finishing touches came in the form of supersize scarves which were draped nonchalantly over shoulders and miniature pom-poms which were scattered upon evening coats, adding a quirky touch which appears to be the designer's signature. All in all, the designer's insouciant brand of chic is one which is hugely appealing to the laziest amongst us - they are the perfect items to wake up and throw on, emanating that 'just got out of bed' look that many (ironically) spend hours to achieve. Quirky yet sophisticated, Zhou represents a fresh eye - one which could drive the future of menswear.