Military without the swagger and uniforms that say it with flowers – can British menswear take a fresh march towards masculinity? That is the question that has come up after a week of terrible violence in Paris and at a moment when Europe has been taking stock a century after the First World War.
The ceramic poppies that filled the moat at the Tower of London, as a remembrance of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who gave their lives for their country, have been incorporated into fashion. Poppy-shaped buttons from JW Anderson and poppy patterns worked into the military tailoring at Alexander McQueen underscored the emotional reaction that the poppy “field” produced.
But London Collections: Men – a youthful addition to the menswear shows and with a roster of young male designers – raises a more general question: after androgyny, female aggression, belligerent femininity and return of hard-edged masculinity, where does the male/female war now stand for winter 2015?
I liked the attitude of Sarah Burton at McQueen, when she said of her Regency-style, body-conscious coats, with flower patterns sweetening the sharpness of the silhouette: “This is uniform – but not military.”
She turned the models’ backs on war by inserting into pin-striped suits or tailored coats words of military gallantry such as “valour”, “honour” and “truth”, while sending an anti-war message with jacquard florals sprouting in the taut tailoring.
I started to search the weekend shows for their masculine/feminine traits. Jonathan Anderson brought out a man’s (or maybe also a woman’s) softer side by perverting the Seventies, mixing skinny sweaters with trousers un-zipped at the ankle to create a puddle of flares, and the same idea for dangling cuffs on skinny shirt sleeves. The big coats, the ruffs of fringe and the wild mixes of unexpected fabrics made the show seem ambidextrous in a twenty-first-century way.
“I like the idea of floppiness,” JW said backstage. Although some of those looks hovering between male and female fell too far on the girly side.
For Jeremy Scott, his vision for Moschino was more or less bisexual, but with pecs and abs on show for men taking the wintry mountain trail, while girls covered up bare skin with bearskin. Were the men’s looks – such as a silvered padded jacket decorated with orange flowers – more Hollywood than wild wood? Not really. Jeremy Scott greets male and female bodies with the same colourful separates, making for sportswear with a wild-as-wolves edge.
The world of motor racing has passed me by, but I understand that it can be a way to channel male – and maybe female – aggression.
Belstaff got its message across by staging in an oily, underground garage a meeting of hipsters who had parked their bikes to hang out in a cool café. Shearling blousons, butter-soft leather jackets and even waxed cotton looked much too classy to fit with this low dive. Yet they did seem like symbols of masculinity, in a sumptuous style. And maybe it is a luxury for today’s male to find something that stands clearly on one side of the sex divide.
In a more practical way, Christopher Raeburn’s show was a statement of pure masculinity. The concept of the collection started with a raft and what the designer called “survival, endurance and immersion – a group of men adrift on the open ocean.” Although he also designs for women, parkers and bomber jackets, re-made from a section of a survival raft, seem designed for the active male.
Most dramatic of Raeburn’s offerings was the latex inflatable outerwear, flat to pack, but blown up to give authentic meaning to the “puffer” jacket. Other offers include sharks patterning merino sweaters – everything that might dress an alpha male.
Masculinity with a modern twist is the message so far at the London Collections: Men. But there are brands with a more relaxed vision of menswear. John Ray, the creative director of Dunhill, looked not at the military but at the artistic bohemians of the late Fifties, including artists Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and David Hockney. I felt that this collection had included touches from the wartime code-breaking film of the moment,