"The real problem I think with fashion now is that creators means less and less. It's bureaucrats and facilitators who make the decisions."
"The British Fashion Council seems to be growing and growing and growing but the results aren't getting any better."
"Out of this chaos will come something good. The world came out of chaos."-
A lot of people talk about London fashion at the moment as if it's really standing out and going through this incredible period of creation and growth. Do you not agree?
Why is that?
Why? Because I use my eyes.
There is a sense of anything being possible here in London. What do you think is extremely hard to achieve in the city?
Well, it depends. I don’t necessarily find that the London designers here are taking enough risks. When I used to show in London, in the mid 90’s, we took so many risks. We were doing it for creativity, we weren’t really thinking about the consequences. Of course, I really wanted to sell at the same time, because I was really concentrating on tailoring as well. I always thought it was much more modern that everything was wearable, apart from a few show pieces that you’d seen more of, because of the way that the press wanted to see the designs, and not necessarily the way the designer wanted to be represented. I always thought it was really important to have an inspiring show, but also to really have a wearable collection. Even the wearable stuff was experimental. I was always trying to push ideas, let’s say.
I feel that now a lot of the designers are more on a commercial route, where they can have the businesses. But, I just don’t think they push boundaries enough; or I find their work too similar to other designers’, from the past. I find that they’re not really pushing themselves enough. Of course, there are a few that I think are, but generally I think it’s not as much as the work from my generation. I would definitely like to see more of that happening. I think you can do both, you can have a business and push boundaries at the same time, but people think you have to do one or the other.
London now has a fledgling male fashion scene that could soon lead the world, if handled correctly.
All I can say is, ‘Thank God, but what took you so long?’
I am a Londoner, born and raised South of the River (I was born just opposite the Houses of Parliament, across the River, in St. Thomas' Hospital and have remained South ever since. Fun fact: officially speaking you can not actually die in Parliament, your body will be carried across to St. Thomas' and pronounced dead there instead). But when it comes to fashion week, London has never really excited me - each and every season I wait patiently for Paris. Let me say right off the bat that if you are truly serious about fashion, Paris is where you take your collection, and I honestly do not see that changing for a long time to come. It is why Yohji and Rei went to Paris, it is why Rick went to Paris, it is why Raf went to Paris, it is where you go if you want to be seen alongside the best (...and of course some of the worst, but there we are, money buys you anything).
London Fashion Week and London Collections: Men has not excited me in years, and I have been quite open about that fact - it has been a visual orgy of costume shows and deafening noise, drowning out the talent and chewing up young designers mercilessly. The British Fashion Council would boast about how many more shows they had this season compared to last, as if determined to prove that quantity beats quality by shoving it down our throats until we spewed it back up and called for a dark room to lie down in. I maintain that most collections that show in London would be better served with a simple showroom presentation, and that most designers who show would be better served by going away, learning to edit, and only showing if they have something actually worth showing. But it's fashion, so I guess I'll get on my flying pig and speed away from the street style fodder come London Fashion Week.
That probably sounds thoroughly pessimistic, but the truth of the matter is that the more I despair about the state of fashion, the more hopeful and excited I actually become. The worse things get, the stronger the need for a reaction, and when that reaction comes, it is definitely worth the wait. Looking at any of the great moments in fashion history we see time and time again that designers emerge to shock the system because they were reacting against something. Whether this reactionary motivation is conscious or not for the designers who create those landmark moments (although I would argue that it almost always is), it is that sense of rebellion and a yearning for something new that is at the very heart of fashion. So perhaps it goes without saying that certain conditions do help cultivate it, and nothing is more antithetical to the cycle of fashion than stagnation. Stagnation may sell well (Saint Laurent being prime example of that), but it also allows for creativity to emerge.
For the first time in a long time I saw the London shows (London Collections: Men A/W '15) and was actually excited by what I saw. Suddenly it seems as if something genuinely exciting could emerge, and maybe there is hope yet for the flourishing London fashion scene that the British Fashion Council has been raving about for the past few years. The shows this season actually made me stop and look twice, and although there is a lot of work still to be done, the seeds have been sown, and nowhere was that more obvious than in the work of Craig Green. His current season collection is for sale in Dover Street Market as we speak, and without meaning to generalize, that in itself is a promising sign. This Autumn/Winter 2015 collection built solidly upon the framework he built with his debut, with a clarity of voice that is remarkable for such a young designer. If one will allow a rather cheeky comparison, the energy and creativity of his work reminds me of early '00s Raf or, as McDowell points out, early Galliano.
For me the improvements at Casely-Hayford have been welcome and steady, and indeed this collection was one of the better ones in recent memory. How do we advertise and export the idea of London fashion? Yes there is the quirky nod of Paul Smith's tailoring that probably outsells everything else London has to offer, but I think the two main stays will always been youth subcultures and tailoring. We have the two extremes - from punks to dandies, and this provides a goldmine of resources and creativity. Casely-Hayford have the craftsmanship on lock, so to see the cool streetwear vibe executed so neatly, and in a far more alluring manner than the kitsch insanity of KTZ and the like, was a really nice moment. Indeed I wish most of the brasher brands that seem to need to scream youth culture and rebellion would simply stop for a minute and think about actually designing clothes rather than just Instagram and Tumblr friendly prints and images.
Alongside these two collections were two, somewhat more conservative ones, that really stood out to me - Patrick Grant's E. Tautz and Margaret Howell (who McDowell affectionately calls the "Mother Teresa of London fashion"). With E. Tautz I think Grant manages to do what Ozwald never could - bring a sense of Savile Row to the catwalk in a translatable and fashion-oriented manner. What I mean to say is that Ozwald's shows never got the balance quite right. Even though the technical skill and creativity was there, the direction was never really suited to a fashion collection. It is the same issue I have with the likes of Gieves & Hawkes or Richard James; their catwalk shows do not really fit into the fashion framework - they are showroom collections at best. E. Tautz also managed to do what Dunhill failed to. Although both collections were tinged with nostalgia, E. Tautz channeled that nostalgia to create a contemporary image, whereas Dunhill's efforts simply came off as costume (albeit costume well styled).
When it comes to collections by London tailors I would suggest two possible routes. The first option is that you create a brand profile away from bespoke and oriented towards a younger fashion consumer like E. Tautz does. Or you go budget (and balls) to the wall with the technical brilliance and theatricality of Thom Browne in order to bring more bespoke clients in and also to help sell some of the more creative off-the-peg pieces. London has some of the best tailors in the world, and for that brilliance not to be center stage come LC:M is a crime. They should be able to amaze us with their skill and craftsmanship and get all the menswear bro's away from mid-market Italian tailoring and double monk shoes, and into the best of the best that London has to offer. Oh, and while we're at it - kick Abercrombie the heck out of Savile Row and protect the area by instating it as a heritage site, after all it is where modern menswear began.
Getting back to the quieter side of things, Margaret Howell is one of those designers who I think of in the same space as Christophe Lemaire - a whispered elegance that you want to surround yourself in. Like most of my favourite designers her story is a continuation each season rather than an abrupt change, and that constant refinement really shows in the quality and finish of each look. I would rather see ten looks from Howell than ten of the "blockbuster" London shows that fill the newspapers. Parallels to the earlier work of Jil Sander are dangerous, because Jil had a far more artistic (for want of a better word) direction, but I think there is something there - I wish Jil could have stayed and kept refining her collections like Howell. Keep your head down, work hard, share what you love with the world - she gets it, and boy does it look good.