As we've said countless times in recent posts, Menswear Day has evolved to become a truly spectacular spectacle. The diversity of menswear design talent on show is both staggering and exciting. However, despite the theatre of the shows and presentations, we've not really seen the success of the day translate all that well commercially. This could all change with the digital revolution that is sweeping through the industry. Live streaming has enabled consumers to watch the action unfold for a few seasons but now retailers have reacted by offering an instant click to buy option. How this will affect the industry is any ones guess but one thing is for certain, the concept of fast fashion is evolving.
ASOS have now entered London Fashion Week. The continued rise of ASOS is nothing short of remarkable. Launched just over a decade ago as a small online retailer catering for people who wanted to dress like celebrities, the store has evolved in to an online retail powerhouse. The unique selling point has always been fast, affordable fashion but it has taken a distinctly more directional approach in recent seasons. For SS11, ASOS have amassed the best menswear design talent of London Fashion Week and selected key products to sell the moment the shows finish. Katie Eary, James Long, Carolyn Massey and Tim Soar are all taking part. From runway to wardrobe in a previously unheard of space of time. To mark the launch, we sat down with two of our favourite designers to learn more about the project itself, the role of digital on their labels and what to expect tomorrow...
Tim Soar's inspiration wall for SS11.
“Mr. Newton” is the second part of Tim Soar's reworking and re imagining of classic menswear. For SS 2011 the mid-1970s come into focus. Soar's signature minimalism is applied to new longer/flared silhouette, garments are stripped down to their basic components. Masks are removed and the unalloyed form within is revealed.
SS: What can you tell us about ASOS' London Fashion Week promotion?
Tim Soar: ASOS have ordered three SS11 designs which are ready for purchase straight after the show. So people can see the show and have the immediate opportunity to buy. There are a total of six items for each designs. This really helps ASOS have a real presence during London Fashion Week.
SS: How did the project arise?
Tim Soar: I've been with ASOS now for a couple of seasons and Adam suggested this opportunity to me and a selection of their designers. A few stores have tried something similar but nothing as coherent as this across a good number of brands. Moving forward, I think this is something we are going to see more and more of in coming seasons, Burberry are a good example where you can see the collection and then order it for a seven week delivery. The idea of fashion is evolving.
SS: How has digital impacted your business?
Tim Soar: The obvious way is the rise of ASOS and their ilk. I'm in no doubt that this is going to become a bigger part of the market. ASOS are now getting their hands round to how to sell designer wear and how to sell an expensive brand, as the products are certainly different to that of a cheaper brand, this will only improve further and will become a big deal.
SS: Following your well received AW10 collection, “Mr. Newton” is the second part of your reworking and reimagining of classic menswear. When you were designing AW10, did you have a strong idea that you wanted to continue the themes through to SS11?
Tim Soar: I've come to see my collections as offering my take on the greatest hits of menswear because it is not about the exploration of a unique silhouette for the season and then moving on but rather it is about taking different elements and putting them together in a way that is a coherent whole while exploring a number of different references. With AW, that process became a little more overt. I think there is probably something in the air or in the wind if you'd like, that for the next few seasons it is about making that process quite overt. It is about saying that these are interesting things, don't shoe horn them in to modernity but accept them for what they are. You don't have to reinvent the wheel, especially not with menswear. The wheel exists, we just have to polish the spokes.
SS: I was particularly taken with your silk dress shirts. For me, they embodied the greatest hits message perfectly. For SS11, you've taken them one stage further and introduced digital prints...
Tim Soar: Those dress shirts were fascinating and represented a good part of the inspiration behind the entire collection because they were from the 70s but they felt Victorian at the same time. There were equal influences within them, two periods. For this season, I'd love the silhouette and the mood and softness of them and a print just took them one stage further. It makes them slightly trickier, it takes them out of themselves. The length and the volume of them means that they are caught somewhere between loose snide fitted which is really interesting. As an aesthetic going forward, I think an area between loose and fitted is a good place to be.
SS: How have you developed the themes explored within AW10 for the new season?
Tim Soar: Definitely the 70s silhouette, a longer silhouette with a wider lapel with a slightly flared trouser. That is something I never thought would interest me but it really seems right again now. There's a strong military theme in the trousers, cargo pants and shorts, I've always collected and worn military uniforms personally. I wanted to create something inspired by these items that still kept their integrity. Normally when fashion designers copy military clothing, they feel too much like fashion and not enough military, so I really tried to stay true to the original while still making a fashion garment. Again, I'm going to be exploring this over the coming seasons. Of course there was the print element that was very strong this season, I wanted an abstract, colourful, strong, bright print. Being in the CofE, surrounded by digital print, I wanted to do something that wasn't just about an all over digital print. There is something of a digital print explosion at the moment but I wanted to do it in a different way.
SS: Lastly,you've recently been awarded a place at the Centre of Fashion Enterprise, how has this affected the label?
Tim Soar: You have an experienced team of mentors on board with the scheme. An opportunity and a challenge. It is a challenge because in the sense that there is a great deal of information at your disposal and you have to sift through it to see what applies to your own label. Before, I was working out of my bedroom and it was great but you exist in your own bubble. Here, you feel like part of the community and I can see people. It is a good place to be and I'm pleased that it exists. The fact that you are embedded makes it a bit different from NEWGEN where their is a mentoring system and money but essentially you are left to your own devices. One thing about a small fashion designer is you need always to be challenged not to repeat the same mistakes, it is very easy to do that as a small business. In here you can't really do that because you always have people challenging you.
SS: Has there been a direct influence on the collection itself? A more commercial aspect demonstrated by the addition of affordable fabric...
Tim Soar: There is of course the commercial aspect. It is the Centre of Fashion Enterprise, It is about being commercial. By the time that people come here, they've done it by themselves for long enough to realise that if they don't make it a business, it ain't a business basically. Part of the process of coming here meant de-mergered my fashion and music business, previously I ran them together. Taking the music side of it, really focused things quite rapidly. So having to do a more affordable price offer. I certainly wouldn't have been working with Daniel Jenkins if that hadn't happened. It presents its own challenges too but it is away of working with different people.
For SS11, Carolyn Massey has continued on the successes of recent seasons (SS10 in particular) while experimenting with a rich season friendly colour palette. These are clothes you and I will want to wear. Many of the garments have an aged and lived in look which is something that I really love. This comes from Massey's interest of handing down garments from generation to generation. In addition to the delicate detailing and beautiful craftsmanship we have come to expect from the designer. The collection has evolved from her usual quest for perfection with military references, to one that refrences the evolved elegance catured within the portaits of Jackie Nickerson's book, Farm. This Middle Easternand tribal evolved elegance has taken a real importance for the presentation and this has only been enhanced with her collaboration with Justin Smith for the headwear.
SS: What can you tell us about ASOS' London Fashion Week promotion?
Carolyn Massey: I was approached by ASOS to produce a selection of SS11 designs for sale the moment they are shown at London Fashion Week. I opted to put forward three printed t shirt.
SS: Prints have certainly had a growing importance within your collections in recent seasons...
Carolyn Massey: I just love amassing images and using them to tell stories, one person might read one thing in to them, another might see something completely different. I can put together a narrative but leave it up to the wearer to take what they want from it. It is a lot of fun. Also, it is something that is quite quick, off the cuff almost. Sometimes you can spend such a long time on a project that it can feel over laboured, the joy goes out of it, but this type of project just feels so exciting.
SS: How has the work of Tibor Kalmans, the toureg tribe and the portraiture of Jackie Nickerson influenced the collection?
Carolyn Massey: I just love portraiture and I love the honest photography. I think the collection has taken more of a styling element from this than the shape or anything. My shape is pretty much continuous throughout each season, I don't think they should change massively, but I just the honesty of it. This image comes from a Tibor Kalmans book, Unfashion. The people shot here are consciously going out and wearing this to look cool, it is how they dress. It just feels so honest. So much of street style has become a pastiche of itself and for me, this is a backlash against that. Hopefully the styling of the show can really channel this feeling.
SS: For this season, you have opted for a presentation rather than a show...
Carolyn Massey: Unless you are making some sort of statement that could sit well within the pages of whichever fashion magazine, then something a bit quieter like the presentation format is ideal, people can engage with the clothes a bit more.
SS: You mentioned that you'll opt for a sculptural format, what can we expect?
Carolyn Massey: The sculptures of Antony Gormly and Emperor Qin's Terracotta Army primarily. Also, last year on a visit to Sandhurt, I was driving and were confronted by a solid group of men marching. I ended up reversing and managed to get out of their way. I asked one of my friends what would have happened had I not reversed and apparently they would have continued marching. A pool of men marching. A catwalk show comes and goes but with a presentation there is the physical element and visitors can walk around and explore it at their own leisure. I'm really exciting. Our film will be playing on the surrounding walls. Plus it is great to be able to talk to people as they see the collection, as opposed to being mobbed backstage after it.
SS: How has the growing importance of digital impacted your business?
Carolyn Massey: Massively. We have a problem in London still, where we don't have many independent stores and department stores. However, we've seen the rise of digital independents, who can buy in to something in quite a small but specific way. That for me is really exciting, digital has leveled up the playing field. This is my first film, I probably should have done one years ago but it is great that I am doing this now. It is quick, it is viral. Brands like Burberry have really embraced digital and it is exciting to see the possibilities. it is taking fast fashion to the nth degree.
SS: Has digital altered you design approach in any way?
Carolyn Massey: It is exciting from a design aspect. In theory I design something, six months later it gets sold and then twelve months later it is in store so I am living with something in my head at least, for a year before it hits shop floors. The Internet can and has changed this. From my creative head it just means I can take on more exciting projects. In regard to fast fashion, it is all about the PR story, what we are doing lately, what's new, always what's new. There is always a thirst for the new, whether or not that is a good thing I'm not sure but it could be.
As a special treat, Carolyn Massey has sent through two spectacular stills of her SS11 fashion film. Last week Massey and her team explored the coast of Sheppey to help bring her latest collection to life. Previews are rarely as beautiful as this...
Tomorrow cannot come soon enough now. I hope to see a few of you there tomorrow, if you can't make it make sure you take advantage of the ASOS preview. With stocks limited, these special pieces will not last long.