Words by Glenn Waldron
While the rest of London is slipping into Lycra one-pieces and doing unseemly stretches in preparation for you-know-what, the designers showing at this season’s Menswear Day are having a bit of an art moment. From iconic painters and sculptors to the white gallery space itself, modern art is a key touchstone for many an A/W 12 collection.
Take Oliver Spencer, showing later today in the Courtyard Show Space. “When I was designing for A/W 12, I had a young Lucian Freud in mind,” he explains. “He’s such an iconic figure and he has this persona that I rather like.” The resulting collection is playful in palette “and with a definite Seventies arthouse feel,” says the talented tailor.
Then there’s E Tautz’s Patrick Grant, who this season took Richard Serra’s monumental sculptures as a jump-off point. “I visited his exhibition at the Met in New York in the summer of last year and was drawn to these vast dense forms absorbing all the light from the room,” he recalls. That, in turn, got Grant thinking about “not only the form and fit of clothes, but equally about the mass and the malleability of the materials we use to build them”. Expect a collection that’s big on texture and even bigger on ideas.
Taking a similarly earthy approach to the season, James Long has drawn inspiration from art photographer Edward Burtynsky’s striking images of quarries. “It’s all about these immense geometric scenes,” he says, “like the work of a giant human hand.” For his afternoon show, the winner of Fashion Forward’s first- ever menswear award will be mixing “soft, warped marbles and linear, graphic shapes” and throwing in a bit of David Lynch oddness to create “a narrative between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear”. Oo-er.
Over at Topman Design, Gordon Richardson has the New York art scene on his mind, specifically the deliciously dark relationship between Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith. Layering exotic prints of feathers and flowers against rich, textured fabrications, Richardson hopes the show will invoke “the experimentation and carefreeness that was inherent in [Smith and Mapplethorpe’s] style and swagger”.
The Topshop-sponsored BFC NEWGEN talents Christopher Shannon and JW Anderson also have arty inclinations this season. For Shannon’s much-anticipated show, Derek Jarman is a key reference point; and Anderson is getting crafty for his intriguing-sounding ‘Rain Man meets Miss Marple’ collection, using “hi-tech, man-made fabrics with traditional, time-consuming craft techniques”.
Over at Gieves & Hawkes, the space itself is key. “I wanted to show in a gallery-like setting where you can really view the garments and the cloths,” says Gieves & Hawkes’ fabulously monikered Design Director Barry Tulip. Showing this morning in the Navy Board Rooms, Tulip is also chuffed to be using the former offices of Admiral Nelson. “He was one of our most famous customers,” he explains.
Clearly, not everyone got the art memo this season, however – for her LFW debut, RCA graduate Astrid Andersen has another kind of artist in mind. Showing alongside Shaun Samson and Agi & Sam as part of the MAN line-up, her street-influenced collection of cropped puffas and basketball tanks is heavily influenced by the ultimate hip-hop collective – the Wu Tang Clan. “They seem like they’ve created their own universe and have this amazing group mentality that is really powerful,” she says. “I want men who wear my clothes to feel 1,500 times more powerful than other guys!”