A few years ago, the design duo behind Meadham Kirchhoff told me: “we are trying to make a world, it is not enough of a statement for us just to make clothes.” Somehow that notion entered a new realm yesterday, when many of the London menswear designers, Kirchhoff included, rejected the traditional white show space and replaced it with complex installations, elaborate sets and placed their garments into endearing narratives.
The function of a show space has always been challenged by designers. However, it is not often that you enter a private building owned by the Queen to find a greasy spoon cafe and a space ship with a model inside. That was the case yesterday at the Fashion East Menswear Installations, where Kit Neale's “skewed look on Britain” manifested in his own 'Kit's caff'. Complete with real pie and mash, the set acted as a backdrop to a print-heavy collection of puffa jackets and boiler suits. “My past collections have been more commercial,” he explained. “I wanted this season to be more conceptual, so that is why the set was so important. I wanted to look back at those great British establishments – the local cafe and the local pub.”
Upstairs, Meadham Kirchhoff enchanted us with their dark and almost post-apocalyptic set, which was co-designed by Jermaine Gallacher. Models sat on the floor, laying on top of one another and stood next to bin bags, broken mirrors and candles, in an almost surreal act of ritualism. For Meadham Kirchhoff, it has always been about realising their fantasy world through complex set designs. Last season they placed male models in a squat, and in the past, their women’s runway shows have been covered with masses of candy coloured balloons and elaborate flower displays. “We were looking back at the set of last season and putting a sense of order in the chaos,” explained Ben Kirchhoff. “Moving from the youth of last season and making it a lot more strict. Not more grown up, but playing with this idea of severity and devotion.”
Another point of difference between a static presentation and a runway show is the proximity viewers are given to models – making way for those awkward moments of eye contact. However, that was something Nasir Mazhar toyed with when he placed his male models in the corner of a empty room whilst rave music blasted through the speakers. It almost felt like a teenage house-party, where one is left unsure of how close to get to his masked, tracksuit wearing models. This level of interactivity, or lack of, stirred up something interesting – almost verging on performance art meets a grimy rave.
The potential and limitations of the contemporary show space has always been in a constant state of flux. Yesterday, with the Fashion East installations, it really felt like it was approaching a new realm and more importantly was given a new relevance in menswear. Allowing designers to generate theatrical narratives, place their work a context and instantly create a world full of references, sounds, close-proximities and even scent. Perhaps, in the Royal setting of 3 Carlton Gardens, it even allowed designers to comment on the British institutions that menswear has always been so inextricably linked to.
Follow Isabella Burley on Twitter here: @ISABELLABURLEY