Friday, 31 December 2010

British menswear in 2010 and beyond


Now, I had started to embark on an epic review post and spent a few hours revising bookmarks and admiring saved images. I began reminiscing over the colour rich Jil Sander SS111 show which was held in the elaborate garden of a spectacular villa in the far hilly reaches of Florence, the dazzling lazer display at the culmination of JW Anderson's SS11 show, experiencing the making of Harris Tweed in the Outer Hebrides and my numerous retail discoveries throughout the year. The last twelve months have been fruitful and have seen us enthuse, reveal and discuss a myriad of menswear subjects over the course of three hundred and eight posts. However, having seen the gluttony of 'Best of' lists clogging the arteries of the blogosphere, I have decided to take a different stance. Yes, 2010 has been a good year but how can we make 2011 a great year?

Having given the subject more thought than any of the other aforementioned volume of posts, I decided to look at the state of British menswear. Menswear Day during London Fashion Week has certainly  continued to grow over the course of two schedule packed days in 2010. Presentations, catwalk shows and film screenings have all celebrated the exciting diversity of menswear design talent which uniquely exists in this capital of ours. It has been hugely exciting to see stalwarts of Savile Row sit so comfortably alongside high street regulars, established designers and enthralling new talent alike. Both  days helped cause a sartorial stir or two whilst collectively flying the flag of menswear and tiring me out in the process. Dense, exciting schedules and flag waving aside, I have found myself with more questions than answers when I come to give British menswear design the once over. Have these ever evolving moments really pushed British menswear design forward as far as they can? Is Menswear Day enough? Are retailers really supporting the talent? Can the design talent that I celebrate forge viable and successful businesses? Are we, as consumers, doing enough?

In moments of questioning, it is always helpful to turn to a different voice.  As I have enjoyed so many discussions with menswear retailer Daniel Jenkins this year, it was fitting to hear his thoughts on the subject... 
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"What is the point of British menswear? Now I must confess to being redhanded and place my cards upon the table. Anyone who receives a Christmas or birthday present from me is accepting ill gotten gains funded by British fashion.

Confession aside I have no interest in using this article to promote the labels that we already sell and those that we will sell in the future. I believe in what we buy and therefore if it doesn't sell I take full responsibility. This leads into my main point, Steve mentioned the end of year review to me a few months ago. I'll admit I was slightly wrapped up in finding the best flat white in London (Woman in Present if you are interested always go for the 6oz). Dalston cliche aside it made me think. So much so I had a rant which I have managed to slightly temper. Two days later I was fortunate to be invited to take an economist around the Whitechapel Gallery with the aim of ignoring the art and discussing the future of British fashion. The question was should British fashion be 'saved' or not. I spent two hours arguing for its survival then received a text message about something far more important and realised the charade was up. Perhaps it shouldn't be 'saved'. 'Saving' as it currently stands could in fact damage it further.

I see it like this. I understand that many within the industry disagree with me and think me a fool for expressing my views however, I simply cannot go on any longer labouring under the pretence that this situation is adequate, normal or acceptable. Despite this year having spent more time with my head in books than look books trying to figure life out, I have seen enough to realise that in terms of sheer design the industry in the UK is in rude health. I don't care who you are or what you do I simply cannot understand any argument claiming that there is better design talent outside of the United Kingdom. Yesterday, Steve and Eliza ran a feature on Joe Casley Hayford, a sublime talent who along with Charlie is changing how the world dresses. This is what we do in the UK. We set the parameters. Yet the press discussion about the best labels, the most exciting stores, the items that men truly would sell their girlfriend for always includes items predominately from outside of this sceptred isle. Why is this? The power of paid for advertising or a deeper and more dangerous issue? We are in real danger of losing a lot of talent which if given a little bit more of a push could really achieve something.

We have a dedicated 'Menswear' day at London fashion week. This I applaud for its intention and execution - this year it was highly professional, but it isn't enough. I'm bored with the conversation that the menswear industry in the UK will simply never be profitable enough. This is sheer nonsense perpetuated by those unwilling to take a risk. We need to ask ourselves why isn't it working. Why are labels having trouble cementing themselves? Each time I read an article about how rosy British menswear is I'm reminded of John Le Carre's words in 1963 'men condemned to death are subject to sudden moments of elation; as if, like moths in the fire, their destruction were coincidental with attainment'.

Please don't confuse me with someone wishing to do damage to the industry. Yes my suit may be painted black and I might admire and enjoy  Auden's poetry noir whilst taking a wistful glance through memories but, I just want to give those with talent in this country a fair and level playing field. If they fail then so be it. They would always have done so. To deny them the opportunity to succeed or fail because they aren't immediately commercially viable is criminal. I understand the financial implications better than most. We are funded solely by sales. If we do not sell we cannot continue operating. I believe that we have a duty to promote those that perhaps would not be given the chance elsewhere. Yes we profit from it, I run a business and I attempt daily to challenge Tony Wilson's mantra regarding history and money  - failing probably on both counts - because someone once took a chance on Ralph Lauren, Alexander McQueen and anyone you could care to mention. Yes, these were business decisions but they were also seven inch leap's from heart to head.

There are those making a difference and there are solutions which have been proffered from greater communication between independent stores and the BFC, increased presence at Paris fashion week - London falls outside of the majority of foreign buyers' schedule each season. An understanding that talent in this country does occasionally need guidance in making sure that they aren't let down by manufacturers, stores and other parts of the 'fashion chain'. If these steps were undertaken I'd be part way to happiness and if the BFC or anyone with ideas regarding how we can turn 2011 into a watershed, wishes to contact me then I'm ready, daniel@danieljenkins.co.uk"
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I don't know about you but I found myself nodding quite a bit throughout this rant. More, on a number of different levels, can be done. For me, one of the real positives of the year has seen the real gems of British menswear take important steps towards Paris. The LONDON ShowROOMS have been successfully running for five seasons now but SS11 saw it extend to include some of the best emerging menswear talent in the UK. The scheme, a joint collaboration by the British Fashion Council, Fashion East and The Centre for Fashion Enterprise took fourteen designers to show in Paris. The likes of Bernstock Speirs, Blaak, BOYOstudio, Carolyn Massey, Christopher Kane Men's, Christopher Raeburn, Miharayasuhiro + Husam el Odeh eyewear, James Long, Katie Eary, KTZ, Lou Dalton, Omar Kashoura and Tim Soar were all present. Their designs showcased at a time in line with the real buying season. Regardless of talent, in order to survive, our favourite designers require sales and even though Menswear Day is wonderful theatre, I'd love to see the very best of our talent continue to charm the world. Here's to British menswear design talent winning over buyers and consumers in the same way that it has won critical plaudits in recent seasons.

2 comments:

Rollergirl said...

Well said, I couldn't quite get my head around why menswear day existed, seeing as it was out of whack with the menswear buying calendar. Hopefully things will get better in 2011. Happy New Year Steve and Eliza!

Style Salvage Steve said...

Rollergirl: Happy New Year! For me, menswear day is a nice way to end LFW but for British menswear to develop, there really needs to be greater opportunity for designers to showcase their collections during the menswear buying calendar.

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