Men’s style is now as influential and important as women’s, thanks to new creativity and money flowing through the city of its birthplace.
Even if the sequel wasn’t right-turning into cinemas this summer, Zoolander would probably still be the universal cultural touchpoint for men’s fashion some 15 years after its release. For many people, there’s something at least faintly risible about the whole concept.
But men’s fashion is serious business: while interest rates are flatlining, menswear is on a vertiginous upward trajectory. According to market research firm Euromonitor International, global sales amount to £298m and will hit £325bn by 2019 – growing at a faster rate than womenswear. Another, Ibisworld, found that online menswear sales grew on average 17.4% annually between 2010 and 2015, outstripping all other categories – including our stereotypically beloved gadgets and beer.
If you expressed an interest in fashion as a man in the Nineties then you’d be labelled a “metrosexual”. But in these more enlightened times, men can buy clothes with less fear of ridicule – and if any trepidation lingers, then they can do it in secret online. The internet is itself a key factor, helping guys to Google-search out alternative ways of dressing and get hold of them. In emerging markets like China where the husbands hold the purse strings, they’re increasingly treating themselves to a “man clutch”. Then there’s the not inconsiderable influence of international showcases like London Collections Men.
It’s great to see guys wanting to wear a suit, rather than being forced to because of their job
Previously, menswear was relegated to one, almost apologetic day at the tail end of the womenswear-dominated Fashion Week. Now LCM, as it is hashtagged, is a four-day event in its own right: a seemingly endless – for those who attend it – succession of catwalks, presentations and networking (read: parties). Those who do attend it include journalists, retail buyers and celebrities such as rapper Tinie Tempah and real-life male model David Gandy, the latter two forming part of the committee tasked with stimulating interest in men’s fashion. If any of this seems slightly frivolous, rest assured it’s not. Even the “networking”.
“LCM has most the heavy-hitters supporting it: both media and designers,” says tailor and entrepreneur David Newell, who appeared in Investec’s Restless Spirits campaign. “This in turn creates awareness.” There’s the tangible benefit: buyers take British-designed (and sometimes British-made) clothes back to sell in their stores in, say, Korea. Then there’s the more intangible: Instagram shots of Tinie, Gandy et al suited up have helped reboot formal attire, giving what previously felt stuffy a fresh relevance in our era of relaxed dress codes and casual Fridays. “LCM has turned wearing a suit into a trend,” says Newell. “It’s great to see young guys wanting to wear one, rather than being forced to because of their job.”
Like Newell, who was trained on Savile Row but left to set up something more contemporary, London is ideally situated between the traditional and the more experimental, establishment and punk. “LCM is a platform to showcase well-known designers but, more importantly, to shine a stoplight on new talent,” he says. Where east mashes up with west, the capital is a cultural melting pot of what’s, in fashion parlance, “hot right now”. It’s also an educational hotbed: top-class fashion school Central Saint Martins is practically a conveyor belt, while the likes of Topman provide vital funding to help fledgling designers to take off. All of which reinforces London’s position as, in Newell’s opinion, “arguably the creative powerhouse of the world”.
Even for those not ready to wear catwalk fashion, the shows still exert an inextricable trickle-down effect in the form of colours, fabrics, pieces, silhouettes and “moods”. (For further explanation, see Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada.) “With bespoke, I focus on something that will transcend time and still be stylish in 20 years,” says Newell. “But with my ready-to-wear line, fashion bleeds into my design process.” Trends that he is tipping for spring/summer 2016 include “smart” bomber jackets, “casual” denim tailoring and yes, pink. It’s the new blue (steel).
Jamie Millar is a Freelance Contributing Editor at Men’s Health Magazine, specialising in fashion and male interest. Formerly features writer at GQ.com.