Out with the obvious: this season you have to pay attention to find the most potent statements
When the first model walked onto Matthew Miller’s SS16 runway yesterday evening, you had to smile. Hair slicked back, he wore a grey business suit, shirt and tie, and for the most part, looked like the kind of clone that spills from the city every evening to stand outside a pub, laughing with the kind of gusto that only someone who knows they’ve got a sizeable bonus on the way can.
For Miller, whose last collections saw models don patches bearing the phrases ‘RESISTANT’ and ‘anti war’, ‘anti social’, ‘anti you’ it looked surprisingly sober, clean, above-board. He was playing with his audience’s expectations, using a fashion trope so familiar it was subversive, especially considering the outcast refrain of Savages’ “Fuckers” that provided the soundtrack (“don’t let the fuckers get you down”). But the proof that this was a statement, not just a suit, lay in the details – when the model turned, he revealed a slash of blood-red paint across the back of his jacket. If this yuppie asks you about Huey Lewis and the News, run.
“It needed to be sober, it needed to be dry, it needed to be straight, it needed to just be fucking suit and tie, that’s it,” Miller said backstage of his decision to open the show with the look, adding that his psycho was more “London” than American. As the rest of the looks unfolded, suiting became crumpled, edges frayed. Concepts were expressed more through fabric than giveaway graphics; you had to think about the meaning behind a jagged strip of cloth or coat of lived-in linen. “It’s not as direct as I used to be,” Miller admitted. The only graphic statement came in the form of luggage-label tags around models wrists, stamped with a tiny word you had to strain your eyes to see: “CONFORM”.
Miller’s show reflected a sense of subtlety that has pervaded key menswear shows so far in London. While some, like Sibling, Christopher Shannon and Rory Parnell-Mooney are opting to flash the flesh, other designers are stripping back, not stripping off. Nasir Mazhar, who showed a pared-back procession of almost entirely black looks, spoke of how his show felt like “the end of a chapter.” He’d toned-down the logos that have come to define his collections and focussed on exploring silhouettes and new fabrications. His fans, instantly recognisable for their outfits stamped with his name, might not all like that – but this turn away from logomania showed a sense of maturation: it made you look closer. “We’ve done a lot of repeats of things we’ve done before, adapted and changed them a bit and created new versions and variations,” Mazhar explained.
J.W. Anderson also played with blink and you’ll miss it messages. His boyish space-exploration theme was there in the prints (“orbital”) and in harder to glimpse word-search graphics (follow the red line and you get – “FLIGHT”) and coded numbers snaking their way across jumpers. Look closely, and you could see the tiny tools hanging from safety pin badges on models’ chests, which Anderson said represented “the idea of... adding value to something that has no value.” They were “things you can find in the shed, you kind of arrange them into something that means something to you.” This was reflected in the accessories models carried – wire frames hung with kitchen-drawer ephemera – bottle openers, Eiffel Tower keychains, hinges and spoons. It was about elevating the ordinary, beautifying the mundane.
There’s been a lot of things to catch the gaze at LC:M – from Mean Girls style boob cut outs (complete with fabric throwing through them at Craig Green), bared behinds at Sibling and painted faces at Agi & Sam, nevermind the peacocking crowds. But designers are also challenging the idea of the runway Instagram moment, showing that sometimes, it’s not all about “look at me” – a sober suit can be just as subversive as a slogan, so long as you keep an eye for detail.