Fashion weeks are falling apart. So what? As the autumn/winter 2018 season begins with the London menswear shows, many in the industry have deep anxiety about the shifting sands of the schedules. More brands (Balenciaga, JW Anderson) are deserting menswear to combine their men’s with women’s. Women’s ready-to-wear shows are taking over couture. Some brands aren’t showing at all. It’s turmoil.
You can worry, or just enjoy it. Fashion is often at its best when brands are disruptive. Case in point is John Alexander Skelton, a graduate from the MA course of Central Saint Martins, whose off-schedule show on Friday night had belligerent intent. The look is entirely other than the catwalk norm. Skelton has a deep commitment to sustainability, the specially woven cloths of low carbon footprint adding to a sense of homespun and handmade. This does not mean his work is soft.
A sheet, hand-painted with folkloric images, was hung around the edge of a church hall in Dalston, east London. There was no music. Lighting was by candle. Masked faces appeared through slits in the sheets, the expressions gnarly. Many of the men had hair grown to grey.
When they emerged, the clothes were like they’d been left in a wardrobe for a few centuries. I mean that as a compliment. A long black coat had two rows of closely set buttons from the neck, fitting to the waist before pleating took over for the coat’s skirt. Sweaters and knitted jackets came with pleasing broad horizontal stripes of red, white or blue with black. A striped frock coat looked like it stank, but on closer inspection the placement of its stripes — some panels vertical, some horizontal — revealed artistry.
The men promenaded around the edge, and then paired off for some slow-speed folk dancing. A female figure emerged to sing a wassailing song. The show happened to be on Twelfth Night. “I had no idea,” said Skelton, “Wassailing would happen on Twelfth Night. It was one of the things I was looking at, a time pre-industrial revolution, when people would perform plays for the lord and lady of the manor, and given charity of warm ale and cider and cake.”
Skelton currently sells to five stores, hopes to expand to ten. Why give so much attention to a designer of such small scale? Because Skelton is emblematic of the attitude that works in fashion right now, from just-graduated designer to billion-dollar conglomerate brand. He has the gumption to make decisions that suit him, rather than fit in with the stagnant norm.
Over on the official schedule, Liam Hodges sent out a banger of a show, mining a rich seam of dystopian ecstasy. Tracksuits and padded jackets were defined by lines of white piping. Denim was graffitied with ghosts and sad-faced flowers. A T-shirt was printed with the image of a wired dog and the slogan “only mopes smoke dope”. There were two suits of broad cut. A pink cardigan had yellow dots and a smiley face on the back. Pink with yellow: yes, correct — it was based on Mr Blobby.
In London right now, rave culture is resurgent. Full disclosure: I run a rave with a couple of friends, and last weekend Liam came to our party. “As I said to you, when I was speaking about the suits at 4am,” Liam said backstage, “in the end we washed them and bleached them and they were better for it. We made them our own.”
I nodded, but really I was thinking, did we talk about suits at 4am? I have absolutely no memory. I was only drinking beer, I swear.
Twenty-odd hours later, Hodges modelled for Rottingdean Bazaar. “I went to bed early,” he said afterwards. Liam’s look was a white sweatshirt heat-sealed with a shredded Union Jack. It was one of the more sober moments.
Rottingdean Bazaar are a duo overflowing with ideas. “We took blow-up costumes and shibori-ed them,” said James Theseus Buck, one half of the pair. Shibori is a technique where fabric is tied and then dyed, or, in this instance, boiled. The result was strange blister blobs on these funny inflatables. “That one is a Transformer,” said Buck.
His partner, Luke Brooks, stood nearby. Brooks’s father had walked in the show, wearing a novelty T-shirt they found in Crete. The artist Julie Verhoeven wore two dart boards and an extension cord. Unabashed creativity: what a thrill.
Rottingdean Bazaar showed as part of MAN, a collective show for new talent from not-for-profit organisation Fashion East with funding from Topman. Joining them on the catwalk was Stefan Cooke, a recent graduate of Central Saint Martins who last month won the H&M Design Award, with a prize of €50,000. Cooke excels at subversion, with what seems like a leather jacket or jeans actually being a trompe l’oeil print. Coats are constructed from diamond shaped panels, their edges left open to appear like diagonal slashes. It’s work of exciting promise.
Also showing at MAN was Art School, a label that celebrates non-binary freedoms. Their models were across and beyond gender. Among them were Princess Julia, a London figure of nightlife legend, and Julia Hobbs, an editor at British Vogue. Dresses were corseted or had the fastenings undone. Velvet jackets were cropped short, pants straight-leg worn with a heel. Afterwards, designers Eden Loweth and Tom Barratt said they were proud to have activist Munroe Bergdorf sitting in the front row.
“For her to wear our clothes is so important,” said Loweth. “In my opinion, she’s the most important trans person out there.”
“She’s got a voice and she’s using it,” said Barratt.
“And that’s brave to do in that context,” said Loweth.
In London, difference and defiance are very much the watchwords.