During this week’s London Collections: Men, more than a few menswear designers have been raiding girls’ wardrobes for SS14, using traditionally feminine codes of dress to great effect and making much-needed stands against what mainstream society deems acceptable for a man to wear. But while the boys are getting excited about girls’ clothes, the opposite effect is also very much in full swing. London menswear is on fire, and girls want in on the action, too. There was so much to desire this week from a woman’s point of view, not only in the pieces that spoke a delicate, feminine language but also in the more traditionally boyish stuff.
It’s not hard to imagine that girls will be picking up sheer, glittery jumpers or oversize organza t-shirts from Shaun Samson’s accomplished collection or buying Jonathan Saunders’ standout yellow silk bomber or James Long’s incredible stripy mesh sweatshirts. I had a major case of wardrobe envy at all those shows, and I’m not the only one. Most female editors I spoke to were eyeing up pieces, and in her round-up of the London shows, Susanna Lau of Style Bubble commented on all the brilliant clothes “that made this menswear-stealer sweat, as I considered how many personal orders I could get away with and whether these menswear designers minded that a mere woman wanted to wear their togs.”
While it’s not exactly a new thing for women to buy men’s clothes, London’s menswear designers are getting more and more women buying their work. “We get girls buying smaller sizes. They always buy the bomber jackets,” Christopher Shannon tells me. “And I love that type of girl anyway, and I think she gets those bits. It’s nice because it means that girl is making a leap, you know? She’s not just buying the thing that’s aimed at her. She’s seeing something else and she’s picking up on it.”
Parallel to girls buying boys’ clothes, a growing number of London’s menswear designers are also responding to the interest from women by branching out into actual womenswear and applying their distinct points of view to the female sex. Like last season, Matthew Miller sent out a small edit of womenswear looks at his SS14 show this week. When Dazed & Confused’s fashion features editor Isabella Burley interviewed Miller at his studio in the days leading up to LC:M, he spoke of his casting and how he wants “the girls to fit in with the men and be equal to the men, so they’ve got to have that attitude”.
And for many London menswear designers, this idea of the girls being an equivalent to the boys seems to be central to their adventures in womenswear. Aside from the fact that they were in skirts, Miller’s girls this season mimicked the rest of the collection’s deftly minimalist nineties vibe, and they could easily have slipped into any of they boys’ looks. Sister by Sibling, which grew out of menswear label Sibling, is another example of a womenswear line that’s intrinsically linked to its menswear counterpart, and girls happily shop from either of the two.
Last season, Christopher Shannon sent out six women’s looks loosely based on girls he knew and worked with. “They know their own minds and they’re not gonna be forced into a body-con dress if they don’t wanna wear it,” he told Dazed’s Dean Mayo Davies. Shannon tells me he wants to do more womenswear, but the timing has to be right. “I don’t want to just roll into the hype of London and have a womenswear show. I don’t know if it would be good for us as a company. Sometimes it looks a bit grabby if it’s not the right time, you know what I mean? I don’t like it when it just looks like a money grab. And that’s the same with womenswear designers doing menswear. But some do it really well, like Richard Nicoll.”
In an industry that’s governed by brand building, does a label today need to have both a menswear and a womenswear presence? “No, not at all. Not at all,” Shannon says. And while James Long shows both menswear and womenswear on schedule, he’s not too fussed about categories either. “A design is a design. The box it is put in is sometimes irrelevant,” he tells me. “Just design, enjoy it, have a voice, a vision and ideas. It's all about ideas and execution, man or woman. I believe any idea can happen with strong enough belief and knowledge.”