An Anglo-Italian Angst

As the fourth season of London Collections: Men, the newly created showcase of british heritage brands and burgeoning new talent, ingrains itself as here to stay, an overshadowing of the long-established Pitti Uomo is causing quite a stir.

 Nick Wooster and gang, Pitti FW14

While London winters (springs, summers, and autumns too) are noted worldwide for their wetness, the meandering sway from drizzle to downpour and back again did little to deter the fashion crowd during the fourth season of London Collections: Men. One characteristic of the LC:M shows that was a little disorienting though, was their punctuality. While no fashion show in New York would dream of starting any less than 30 minutes late, the shows in London were all prompt. But this is British menswear after all, old boy! And perhaps a strong sense of propriety paired with a stiff upper lip is more persuasive than the Fashionably Late, who, left standing in the rain at 5 past showtime, now arrive punctually. To their credit, the British Fashion Council has made punctuality as easy as 1, 2, 3; 3 venues all within a few minutes walk of each other, just beyond the gridlock of the West End.

Chairman of the LC:M board, editor of UK GQ Dylan Jones (OBE), worked with the British Fashion Council to assemble a committee that now includes some of the most notable heads of menswear including Paul Smith, Tom Ford, and Tinie Tempah (he’s a rapper). But it was Christopher Bailey and his decision to join the schedule in its third season that cemented LC:M into the fashion calendar. With Burberry, Alexander McQueen, and Tom Ford all showing, London is a requisite stop on the European circuit.

Jones hosted a breakfast at 8.30am on day 1 of the shows, and while the ‘breakfast’ would be more accurately described as coffee (lots of coffee), bloody marys and amuse-bouches, there was a buzz in the room entirely uncharacteristic of any 8.30am I’ve ever met. Perhaps it was the bloody marys, but nevertheless, the fashion crowd all turned out and so began the three day week.

More striking than at fashion weeks in other cities, perhaps due to the rich history of British menswear, was the polarity of the LC:M schedule; on the one hand, Savile Row and other heritage brands in business for centuries, and on the other, bright new talent, comparatively wet behind the ears, but with considerably more directional vision. “There are a lot of collections that are on the more avant-garde end of the spectrum and a lot of collections on the Savile Row end, and until now there hasn’t been a lot of meat in the middle,” says Saks fashion director Eric Jennings, “but this season I notice some of these emerging brands moving more towards the middle, and some of the Savile Row brands moving towards a more modern approach to tailoring which is definitely the zone in which we’re looking to do business.” Jennings called out Jonathan Saunders, Christopher Raeburn, Gieves and Hawke, and Kent & Curwen as LC:M favorites. “I love that Simon Spurr is designing for Kent & Curwen. We love Simon so much, and we’re thrilled to see him designing again,” said Jennings. “It’s great to see his take on the brand, making it a little younger, more modern.”

This move to the middle was also noted by Forbes fashion director Joseph Deacetis. “There is a more reserved statement of approach this season, which I’m happy to see,” he says. “Overall, I’m seeing a move to a more understated simplicity, an elegant luxury.”

Jonathan Saunders FW14

Topman, one of the event’s leading sponsors, joint-founder of the MAN initiative, and designer/producer of the headlining Topman Design show is one of the key participants supporting the BFC’s menswear movement. Says creative director Gordon Richardson, “Each designer is now creating a specific niche for themselves, regardless of trends; these young new designers always excite and stimulate with their directional approach to contemporary menswear.”

Unfortunately, a scheduling conflict created a 2 day overlap with Pitti. “The last thing you want to do at any trade show is have your customer, the retailer, distracted,” says menswear veteran Michael Macko. “Almost every retailer and editor I spoke to spent less time at Pitti this season. “Of course there are problems,’ explained Dylan Jones. “There is the discussion about dates conflicting with Pitti, but it’s not an insurmountable problem, it’s certainly one we can fix.” CEO of Pitti Immagine Raffaello Napoleone is also confident. “We are determined to find a solution to the schedule conflict,” he says. “It is very important to find a way to put together all the different international fashion events and find a balance in the calendar.” And although there looks like light at the end of the tunnel, Napoleone was taking no chances this season. In a bold move, Napoleone, Pitti, and Diesel chartered a flight to take 53 top editors and buyers from London to Florence. The fashion folk were scooped up from the Burberry show, and driven by coach to Victoria Station and the Gatwick Express, and on through a private VIP screening area to the plane. The journey was a little fraught. “It’s like that joke, Heaven is where the mechanics are German, chefs Italian, and it is all organized by the Swiss,” Suzy Menkes quipped, intimating that the Italian organization was Hellish. “Well let’s hope they don’t serve sauerkraut and currywurst on the airplane”, I returned. But all this banter was in good spirits. The herding of 53 fashion editors and buyers, not often revered for that proverbial virtue, patience, was a grand feat, and the fact it was executed at all was astounding.

Suzy Menkes takes notes, Burberry FW14

With only 2 days of Pitti left, the only option was a spring to action. The third day of the show, our first, was busier than ever. “I saw more people writing orders than I ever have inside the show,” said Eric Jennings. The weather was mild, even balmy at times, the positive energy was electric, and whether most people arrived late or not, the numbers were up. “The biggest surprise was an unexpected recovery on the Italian front (about 13,000 buyers) which translates into more than a 4% growth over the previous edition,” says Napoleone. “The number of buyers from the USA – a fundamental market in terms of prestige – rose by 10%.”