It’s a man thing

Lately, it’s just all about men. Men are having a moment. Some might argue that men have had it good for a rather long time. They are gravely mistaken. Until recently, a gent in search of sartorial advice from the pages of a magazine would have had to make-do with a token page in GQ or FHM directing them vaguely at the high street, and London was distinctly lacking in well-edited menswear boutiques.

All that London Fashion Week had to offer in terms of menswear was a single show—the MAN show sponsored by Topman. It has seen some big talents: ‘Cassette Playa’, whose aesthetic defined youth culture between 2006–2007. (She styled and designed for Klaxons and still styles M.I.A.) There has, however, been a distinct lack of a substantial men’s programme in London, let alone a whole week as in Paris and Milan. No more.

Perhaps it all began with Fantastic Man, the ‘gentleman’s style journal’ to rule them all. Fantastic Man (available in Borders) is a trail-blazing publication that has a cult-like following and which has broken many stock rules of men’s magazine publishing. For starters, its aesthetic is the very definition of restraint. Tits and arse of either gender are noticeably lacking from the cover and there are no ‘gimme a freebie’ promo articles on useless gadgets and cars.  Many hours have been spent considering typeface, the texture of the paper (usually two contrasting ones are used) and text and images have room to resonate on the page.

Fantastic Man is a space that gives proper consideration to the masculine aesthetic, with minutely specific pieces and shoots on tweed, or ‘the chest’ (male), or how to pack in the correct fashion. Gert Jonkers and Jop van Bennekom, the founders and editors of the magazine which is based in Amsterdam (though entirely English language) stated: ‘However quietly or extravagantly delivered, style is all about making a difference, about the will to stand out. It’s time to be FANTASTIC.’ This kind of positive statement, made concrete in the magazine, is what men’s sartorial culture needed: Fantastic Man is the standard bearer for a new appreciation of men’s style. There have since been a spate of new titles including 10+ Men, which is worth getting for the 20 page editorials where stylists and photographers have the luxury of space to really develop a narrative, and Man About Town, which has a noir look to its photography and strong arts content.

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Wednesday 25th February 2009 will be London Fashion Week’s first ever menswear showcase day. Topman, as Topshop has done for womenswear, is making moves to expand the menswear scene for London Fashion Week. For many seasons now the Topshop NewGen shows have been the must-see shows of London Fashion Week – the hottest young designers get sponsorship from Topshop to produce a collection for the catwalk. This scheme has launched the careers designers like Christopher Kane, Gareth Pugh (who’s recently begun to show in Paris) and Marios Schwab and has seen some of these designers do capsule collections at relatively affordable prices for Topshop in return.

This season, Topman has collaborated with Fashion East, a nonprofit organization set up by the Truman Brewery in 2000 to produce the menswear showcase day. As well as the usual MAN show, at which there is the work of three young designers as well as a ‘Topman Design’ collection, there will be individual shows.

Some to look up are Carolyn Massey, whose work draws on the tradition of menswear craft but recast in black and stripped down, ‘Sibling’ who produce knitted twin-sets for men in bright prints as well as one-off couture pieces and Tim Soar who for his Spring/Summer 2009 collection reworked 1950s rockabilly made it modern with pared-down suits, minimalist overalls and Hawaiian shirts with a twist.

Naturally it’s no use new designers showing collections at fashion week if there are no boutiques to stock their clothes. b Store which defines itself as ‘the antidote to superbrand behemoths’ has been a champion of up-and-coming menswear designers since opening in 2000, regularly buying collections from designers who have only just left fashion college.  b Store’s move to a small but well-curated space on Saville Row from Conduit Street in 2006 has cemented its position as the premier stockist of new menswear designers in London. Over Christmas, b Store created a temporary pop-up shop in Oxford Street’s Selfridges, putting focus in a central location on new menswear design.
b Store’s founder Matthew Murphy, dubbed the ‘accidental hero of young London fashion design’ by The Independent, designs a small collection every season which will show next week. In terms of the high-street, things are looking up for men. Aside from the design-focussed lines available at the Oxford Street Topman, Regent Street’s ‘Cos’—H&M’s recently created, classier sibling—has been making waves with its minimalist take on modern masculinity. Fabrics there are good: silk-cotton mix T-shirts, cashmere and no synthetic. They cut a lean suit and their sense of colour is quite something to behold: black, moody grey and taupe, punctuated by navy, burnt orange and warm beige.

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As far as menswear on the net is concerned, London-based www.oki-ni.com stocks limited ranges of labels like Raf Simons, Martin Margiela, Acne and Levis Red Label. It is what could be called a ‘destination website’ with an extensive range of designers of the highest calibre and super-efficient service. Yes please.

Things look hopeful for men. There’s a new mood in menswear, and it’s looking good.