Thursday, 2 August 2012

London Collections: Men Roundtable

In a week that welcomed the announcement that London Collections: Men would build on the success of its debut and return for a second season in January (despite the slight overlap of dates which saw Pitti release a statement airing their grievances), I thought it about time I transcribed the fruits of my roundtable on the final night of the inaugural event back in June. Held in the luxurious surroundings of St Martins Lane Hotel, I saw down with a few of my favourite designers and industry friends to reflect on the London Collections: Men 's glorious debut. Joined by Lou Dalton, William Richard Green, Matthew Miller, Amber Siegel, Daniel Jenkins, Nick Bain and Dan Hasby-Oliver, we chatted for over an hour on a range of subjects but always with a keen and measured focus on the platform itself.
Over the course of three full days of shows, presentations, previews, installations and exhibitions, LC:M showcased the breadth of design talent that uniquely exists in the capital. It was a treat of design diversity and showed just how far London menswear has come. Over the lifespan of this blog I've seen its influence evolve from a reimagined Townhouse thanks to Fashion East to Menswear Day and now on to this three day showcase. Having toiled both in and out of the spotlight over the last seven years or so, London menswear finally has the platform that it deserves and we cannot wait to see it continue to grow. Before we sit back down at the table and read back the discussion, I'd like to remind you of just a few pictorial highlights from the long weekend to help whet your appetite...


From top to bottom... William Richard Green, Craig Green, Astrid Anderson, Agi&Sam, Shaun Samson, Christopher Shannon and Aitor Throup.

SS: Now that we can sit back, relax with a beer and reflect on London Collections: Men, how has been for you guys?
William Richard Green: It's been awesome.
Style Salvage: Now that is succinct. Let's all go home now! In what sense has it been awesome for you?
WRG: In terms of the Fashion East Installations, where I sent most of my time it was great. From having the time to put real thought in to the installations to having a full day to get everything set up, it was great to have that level of creative opportunity around the clothes, it helped elevate them.
Amber Siegel: Exactly, this platform helps us show the collection in a way that makes all of our jobs much easier. It can be a much more visual introduction rather than excitedly talking up a plain rail.
WRG: Today, I had all of the international buyers visit and they could see the clothes presented in the way I wanted them to be presented and it was just a great environment to help introduce them to the collection, come Paris it would have received some press already and then we can talk business. For me, London Collections: Men was all about showing and then Paris will be where the majority of orders will be made. It's a far better way of doing things, previously we were showing collections on rails in Paris and gearing up to a big show in London months later. This makes much more sense.
SS: Rather than London being an afterthought, it is now an introduction. As great as Menswear Day has been in raising all of your profiles, from a buying perspective at least, it has always come far too late in the season.
Lou Dalton: Much, much too late. Most folk who were coming to Menswear Day in September and late February knew that we had missed the slot in terms of them putting their money down, certain buyers might have some budget left but the majority of business had already been done. It made trying to court a new buyer extremely difficult, the Showrooms helped but it was still a little late. London Collections: Men is a great incentive for real business to be done.
AS: When you speak to buyers this early in the season, it's important that they feel as though they've seen a lot of offerings pre-showroom situations. It's important to show early on and to give the buyers a comprehensive overview so that we can bubble away in their thoughts as they carry on with the season.
SS: I was particularly surprised by the calibre of international press that made the trip over. I normally find myself in a queue of a few for backstage interviews but this season I was joined by the likes of Tim Blanks and Suzy Menkes, seeing those guys take an interest, must be great...
WRG: You're right, the calibre of people here was really strong. It wasn't just a case of a few hanging over from the womenswear schedule, they were here for us. Even at Fashion East, we had such great people come to see us and to take the time to talk to us.
LD: The BFC did a great job in getting everyone here and the GQ team played their part in that as well. From great international press to buyers. A few of us had been to New York earlier this year and met some of them and it was great to see them visit us over here. Most of these people are now en route to Milan. We are part of the season. It's a great starting point and hopefully we can maintain that. I did feel a bit of pressure this season from a realisation that this could go one way or the other, both in terms of what their expectations were of us as designers and making sure we could deliver, not just as individuals but for everyone on the schedule. Thankfully everything came together.
LD: The BFC are happy, attendance has been good and the designers have stepped up to the mark.
AS: I think all of the surrounding elements, in addition to the collections, really helped make everything cohesive as a true landscape of London menswear. There was no segregation, everything overlapped.

SS: Given that you were showing in June as opposed to September, did you find it difficult turning this season around?
WRG: With menswear and how most labels work or at least mine, you do continue designs that you've already worked on from season to season so that helps. It is a process of re-contextualisation as opposed to starting from scratch each season. From this perspective it wasn't too much of a struggle this season.
SS: Having London Collections: Men so early on ensures that everyone is ready - it's a real focus to work to.
LD: Most of us are in it for the long haul and want to make it into a business. London is amazingly creative but we do get a little stick internationally for churning out these designers and very few make it through.
SS: There's been little infrastructure to support them beyond a show.
LD: Exactly. You can go to an institute and take a graduate, put them on a plinth and sponsor a show but there needs to be some insight given in terms of production and the business side of things.
WRG: It's a steep learning curve for designers.
LD: But this will help, this is an amazing incentive. If we can keep on getting the same traffic.
DJ: In a sense, the first one might be easier because this is an exciting city to be in at the minute with the Olympics and Jubilee. The real test will come in the next season or two. That said, this season was great so hopefully we can continue it. From a buyers perspective, trade shows and showrooms tend to look the same and London menswear designers found it difficult sitting alongside them because they are so different but this platform enables designers to show on their own terms. It feels new and makes you question your buy and I'm sure it will provoke a few more risks. There is certainly a feeling among some of the international press that London menswear designers struggle to deliver and collections used to change from what we saw in Paris to what we ended up seeing in London as part of Menswear Day. London Collections: Men forces designers to be ready.
Dan Hasby-Oliver: In terms of next season and the potential (but now confirmed) timing of London Collections: Men do you think you could struggle?
LD: It's an interesting one because we could be casting as early as the 2nd January but we just don't know. We would be delivering this collection in store in December and January as well, so it will be tight.
AS: More and more stores are asking for stock to delivered earlier and earlier.
LD: The large stores dictate it and the independents follow suit. I drop Autumn/Winter in July and Spring/Summer December and January. It does help with sell through.
SS: In a sense it goes to show just how far the industry has evolved, we are talking about production and the logistics of business rather than just putting on a show. There is potential for a real industry.
LD: The media have helped to lead that, especially on menswear. It is hard to crack and get your feet under the table and a lot of the menswear press are pushing for longevity.

SS: I'd like to talk a bit about the evolution of London menswear. Blogging over the last five years, I've covered it from a Fashion East afternoon showcase to London Collections: Men. Lou, as the elder statesmen of London menswear, what are your thoughts?
LD: I was talking to Tim Blanks last night and he was saying, "Look at how far you've come Lou." From that townhouse by the Natural History Museum on to Somerset House where myself, Matthew and Martine all had a room and beyond. You've got to think about your own aesthetic and driving your own business forward, it has evolved but it has taken a lot of work from all of us. I've had to up my game in terms of production and delivery because the focus is on growing the stockist list. It's alright having one or two retailers but we have to build a strong stockist list to have a global profile and for us to sit alongside the big boys of Burberry and Paul Smith. I've always said, if I can do this and be self financed, it's a bloody good achievement. I've just kept my head down and worked at it. It's great to see others doing the same. From Lulu (Kennedy) and Gordon (Richardson) seeing the promise all those years ago, the BFC have taken it on is great and we should be grateful for that. A few of us have been around for a while and it's great to see things continue to move forward.
SS: That's a good point. As great as London Collections: Men is as a platform, it is important to remember all of the effort, work and support.
DJ: Over the course of Daniel Jenkins as a business, we've seen so many designers come and fall away. From initial meetings, I think we've been quite successful in spotting the talent that can produce - it's hard work in building it up.
(Matthew Miller walks in, grabs himself a well deserved beer and readies himself to join the discussion)
SS: As the evolution of London menswear plays such an important role in your collection Matthew and you researched the designers that have played their part in its various incarnations, what are your thoughts?
Matthew Miller: It has been driven by designers and their ideas since 2005, before even. I found out so much and was surprised along the way. I encountered names that I didn't really know and names I recognised but have since moved on to other things, Benjamin Kirchhoff from Meadham Kirchoff started out in menswear and Lotta Skeletrix, who was bought by DSM were both awarded MAN. The list of designers that have played their part is a long one, some of whom have fallen away and moved on to other things. With London Collections: Men, I wanted to help people remember them. One of my suits has all designer's names lasercut in to it, from MAN to NewGen to Fashion Forward. It's celebratory in a sense but it's also darker than that.
AS: It's hard work and not everyone can make it. Thankfully, there's a lot more support now and all of the designers have played their part.
LD: Some people think fashion is easy but it is anything but. The hours have to be put in and it can be blood, sweat and tears.
MM: Out of everyone who has shown since 2005, who do people miss the most?
SS and DJ: Carolyn Massey is one.
SS: Her last collection for SS11 was one her strongest and I hoped she would kick on so it was a shame to see her take time out but she is doing well now at Lyle & Scott.
LD: Siv Stoldal is another.
(Further agreement around the table)
MM: Deryck Walker is another, he's now teaching in Scotland.
SS: I miss Kim Jones but he's doing alright for himself, isn't he? Ha!
JD: The good news is that Siv is coming back.
MM: The thing we have to remember is that no one has yet gone through the system of London menswear and made a successful business.
JD: True.
SS: I'm sure looking around this table that it will be one of you.
WRG: The difficulty is that with wholesaling clothes just twice a year there's very little profit in it, people have to do stuff in between.
LD: Absolutely. I think all of us can say that. We can't base our businesses around being able to do a show or presentation on a given that cash will be supplied by the BFC. I'm totally grateful for all of the amazing support but in the future if I'm purely dependent on that support then I would have failed. For practically all of us, everything we make goes straight back in to the label.
WRG: And it's such hard work.
SS: What people don't realise is that most of you work on other things to support your labels, be that teaching or consultancy work.

(Now lets take a few questions from Twitter...)
NB: Lou, were you nervous being the first designer to show?
LD: Yes! It was interesting because I tried really hard to not think about it because it frightened the life out of me. When I was at the palace on Thursday night, which I really didn't want to go and I even tried to get out of it but had to go, people kept mentioning it and I got quite emotional. It wasn't just about what I put out, it was about setting the tone for the platform. I was slightly overwhelmed but it was an amazing compliment.
MM: It's interesting that you talk about it being a fearful thing, it brings about this idea that we are driven by our fear of failure rather than merely striving for our own success.
LD: For me, the best form of revenge is success and that's something I do think about. It was tough and it was hard but this weekend wasn't just made up of one or two designers, it was about a collective of kids proving a point and to be taken seriously.
MM: I think everyone smashed it.

NB: Matthew, urban design often influences your work. Is there any secret space in London that inspires you  most?
(Before Matthew even has the chance to answer)
LD: At home and your bedroom probably, ha!
SS: Judging by your Twitter feed, I'd say it has to be the brothel that's opposite your studio.
MM: I am fascinated by that brothel. I haven't got a TV, I just watch people going in and out, judging them at all times. Business is booming at the moment. There isn't a recession over there. Actually, it's Hackney Wick in general. In my square there's a mechanics, a call centre, a place that makes coleslaw, a brothel, a church.
SS: You don't have to leave with that offering, what more could you possibly need?

SS: This one is also from Twitter and is for you Lou... how does being a Shropshire girl influence your work?
LD: I spent most of my life trying to get away (not from my folks who were hugely supportive) because I left school at sixteen and work with a tailor for three years. It is heavily noted that I come from quite good working class stock, where if you wanted something you had to work at it. I enjoy going back to Shropshire now because London is so fast and what we do is just so quick, to be able to take a breather is a rare thing and it's nice to take the time out to see my folks and briefly live at a different pace. It keeps you on the straight and narrow.
DJ: You've always made English sportswear that is grounded in the countryside.
LD: That's true and this season, although it was quite clean and simple, it was personal. In a way it was about this obsession with fashion and how it take over your life and sacrifices have to be made. It'll be interesting to have this discussion in five years time and see who is still around the table.

SS: Right, last question and this comes from the lovely Colin of Sharpened Lead... what influence do you think fashion blogs might have and how does this compare to mainstream press?
LD: I don't really see the difference now. The interesting thing is that certain international press are told from the powers that be who to cover and who not to, often London menswear is overlooked. There was a lot of concern around certain larger brands being part of the schedule and taking the focus away from the emerging designers but my take was that, as long as we put on a bloody good show we will get a mention. Blogs have really helped elevate us far more. it is so fast.
MM: Blogs have given the mainstream press a kick up the arse. Old school journalist don't exclusively own the right to write about things anymore. They have to be relevant now.
DJ: Away from the regurgitated press releases, there are interesting menswear blogs out there that actually comment and put things across in a far better way than any magazine could.
SS: There's a freedom to blogging which can be exploited, be that post length or volume of images.
DJ: When you've posted about things before Steve, we've seen sales and for me that's influence.
LD: I think magazines have had to up their game because you guys are so quick, knowledgeable and vast.
MM: I went to Nike recently and they produced an internal pamphlet that documented everything that I had done and what I was doing, based on online features. It was crazy.
SS: The thirst for all things 'new' is being both satisfied and intensified by online media, both blogs and mainstream sites.


Huge thanks to Lou DaltonWilliam Richard GreenMatthew MillerAmber SiegelDaniel JenkinsNick Bain (who helped organise everything at St Martins Lane Hotel) and Dan Hasby-Oliver for all taking the time to speak so honestly about London Collections: Men and the evolution of London menswear. Despite the obvious design talent that resides in the capital, it's not been an easy process hauling the industry to this position and there's still a lot of work to do but it will be done. Here's to the future of London menswear.


Guy Overboard said...

There are some interesting pieces like the outfit of the 2nd photo and the "grunge" of the 3rd

Jennica said...

I love the shot! 5 stars for that. Thumbs up!

Scott Davidson said...

I would like to give 5 star for your knowledge sharing, I would be waiting for more in future

Marcus White Lisdoonvarna


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