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The age of peacocks: British men get serious at last about looking good

From Beau Brummell’s commitment to dandyism in 1790s Mayfair to the safety-pinned punks stalking Camden in the 1970s, London has a long history of creating attention-grabbing menswear.

London’s male fashion shows, however, have traditionally been understated affairs – particularly when compared to their women’s counterparts. But this season, something has changed.

At parties and dinners in the run-up to this season’s London Collections Men, talk was of wardrobe crises, borrowing clothes from magazine fashion cupboards, and the optimal deployment of that recently acquired piece by cult designer Craig Green.

LCM’s opening Topman show, on Friday, demonstrated the results of those endeavours: leopard print jackets vied for attention with silk pocket handkerchiefs, floral scarves and haute hoodies. Sunglasses were worn, unapologetically, inside. A scrum of street-style photographers captured every raw seam and naked mankle.

“People are definitely making more of an effort,” says Shortlist style director Adrian Clark. “The biggest change I’ve noticed is that a lot of designers contacted me this season to ask if I wanted to borrow clothes to wear to the shows.” Lending clothes to much-photographed editors has long been the drill in womenswear, but in menswear this is new.

Clearly London Collections Men is in the midst of a growth spurt. Only four years ago, menswear was judged to be such a poor relation to womenswear that there was no formal male equivalent to London fashion week. But since LCM’s launch, in 2012 the number of designers showing has mushroomed from 46 to 77, while the market has boomed.

Globally, menswear is growing faster than womenswear, with sales worth £298bn in 2014 – a year-on-year growth of 4.5% – compared with 3.7% for the women’s market, now worth £448bn worldwide, according to Euromonitor. In the UK, menswear contributed £12.9bn to the UK economy in 2014 – an annual upsurge of almost 5%. Mintel predicts that figure will be £16.4bn by 2018. (Mintel estimates the 2014 value of womenswear to be £26bn.)

LCM’s newest ambassador, Lewis Hamilton, is a living embodiment of this shift. The F1 driver has recently undergone a style evolution, experimenting with ever more esoteric outfits on the red carpet – such as Louis Vuitton menswear inspired by cult 1980s designer Christopher Nemeth – and wearing geek chic glasses and quirky hats. He joins a lineup of suit-wearing emissaries briefed with promoting British fashion to their fans around LCM, including musician Tinie Tempah, model David Gandy, presenters Dermot O’Leary and Nick Grimshaw and Chinese actor Hu Bing.

“Fashion is no longer just a girls’ thing – those days are over,” says Grimshaw. He believes Kanye West’s love of fashion has helped men to get on board. “I love that he is so vocal about it. Fashion can be seen as fluffy, or throwaway, but when you look into the work that goes into collections and the references, you see that it is an art form. I can’t think of another man that is as vocal about it as [West] is,” he says.

So what’s the look for menswear’s finest this season? “They tend to fall into one of two camps,” says Clark. “Those who look like they don’t give a shit, but actually everything’s really considered, and those who look like extras from The Great Gatsby.” Clark believes the divide echoes the reality of London menswear: “Cool street culture but also Savile Row history – that separation is what marks us out from womenswear.”If anything, says Clark, it is the artfully scruffy attendees who make the most effort. “That tailored look is actually a formula – you just need the right shape of beard, the right suit and shoes. The dressed-down look is more difficult to achieve. It’s about getting the right type of vintage.Levi’s are a thing among that crowd at the moment. And you can wear an APC sweatshirt but it can’t be this season’s – to show you were there at the beginning. It’s about the fine details.”

“You can wear whatever you like at the shows,” says Grimshaw. “You want to look stylish, but not styled.” For Simon Chilvers, style director at Matchesfashion.com, it’s all about Craig Green, the menswear designer so beloved that – as the fashion myth goes – critics weep at his shows. “I’m expecting to see the Craig Green jumper with the hole in the middle, and the padded utility stuff if it rains.” Another key look, he says, will be the “bohemian nerd cool dude thing” spearheaded by the new creative director at Gucci.

In womenswear the peacock has been absent for a few seasons, as many designers have favoured the androgynous, minimalist styles most famously backed by Céline over attention-grabbing designs. But for Chilvers, it’s not a case of that bird taking flight and landing in menswear. “The mood in menswear is actually quite lo-fi and pared back,” he says. “You’re more likely to see that than anything more jazz hands.”Rather than a peacock then, what we’re seeing is experimentation and confidence. As Hamilton told the Guardian, when his appointment was announced on Friday: “I’ve spent a lot of my professional life trying to fit in and prove that I can do my job. This feeling of uncertainty has faded as I’ve been able to prove myself … It’s that feeling that hasprobably influenced my style.” Hamilton, like the menswear industry, is stepping into the spotlight – in ever more wonderful shoes.

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