The view that most men will never spend time on their appearance, by virtue of their XY chromosomes, is still bizarrely entrenched in British society. So hurrah for the artfully arranged hair, precisely trimmed beards and January tans of London Collections: Men, the four-day fashion circus that arrives in the capital on Friday.
Though the menswear crowd looks sharp, Esquire’s senior style editor Teo Van Den Broeke says the atmosphere is relaxed. “Menswear is a relatively small industry,” he says. “We all need each other, even our competitors, to survive, and there’s a real sense of camaraderie.” As for getting in shape before the shows: “Standards are pretty low on that front in January. It’s just after Christmas, which everyone moans about, and there are a portly few among us.
“Personally, I might have a bit of a panic on the 28th, when I realise I have put on 6lbs and can’t do up my trousers. So I might see my trainer and go to the gym, but only once. I’m more likely to embrace the muffin top and wear big coats. That’s key. Your ankles are always going to be slim.”
Matchesfashion.com’s men’s style director Simon Chilvers is also thinking about clothes “that hide the Christmas cheese. A new Craig Green jumper is suitably swingy, so that will definitely be getting an airing.” Craig Green shows a fashion awareness that his menswear peers will appreciate. “His collection was last season’s big talking point with its bare-feet models in tonal looks,” says Chilvers. “But off the runway, there is something rather easy and flattering about the clothes – the navy cotton tie-front kimono jacket doubles a shirt and works brilliantly layered with knitwear.” Chilvers has also “bought a lot of new socks, hacked off the hems of some jeans, road-tested some wide trousers and decided I might wear a cardigan at some point. I think the men’s crowd of course notice what other people are wearing – I definitely do, it’s all part of the fashion week circus.”
Van Den Broeke thinks that most menswear attendees fall into one of two camps: those who love classic pieces and are obsessed with provenance, and those who enjoy experimenting with the latest designers and trends. Falling into the former camp, he makes getting dressed easy by wearing exclusively navy. “There is one pair of trousers from Gucci that I rebuy every year. I get a couple of jumpers for Christmas, then I might buy one statement coat. It’s pretty foolproof.” At some point, the street-style photographers are likely to pounce. If they do? “I always look terrible. The only advice I could offer is try to have it taken in a dark corner where they will use the flash.”
In the age of the divisive beard, grooming matters. One salon with a client guest list like a menswear fashion show seating plan is Trumpers, a Mayfair salon whose exquisitely trimmed ambassadors wander round LC:M looking hirsute and marvellous. Van Den Broeke’s barber is another big name – Carmelo Guastella, also in Mayfair. “He is fantastic” explains Van Den Broeke. “He treats my hair like a sculpture. I have a lot of hair – I once went to one of those £6 places in Piccadilly and halfway through the woman just gave up, saying: ‘I can’t do this any more. I’m tired!’ So I don’t do that any more. I know what I like. I try to go at least a week and a half before [the menswear shows] so it can bed in a bit. Although he is so good, if I tell him it needs to be at its best in three days’ time he cuts it so it is. It’s extraordinary.” Guastella has also taught Van Den Broeke the formula for the perfect facial fuzz when using an electric razor: 0.2mm at the bottom, 0.4mm on the top and 0.5mm on the moustache.
Model and front-row stalwart Jack Guinness recently went to hairdresser Larry King “for a trim and tidy up, so I don’t let the side down” and has a simple pre-show skincare routine. “Moisturise. Especially after a night on the town. Kiehl’s is awesome. One of my pals who has lots of early-morning starts – let’s call him ‘Gick Nimshaw’ – swears by their Midnight Recovery Oil.” He’s not averse to wearing makeup, either – or at least not taking it off. “If I’m coming from a shoot then I won’t bother to take it off. That’s me being lazy rather than vain. The male grooming industry, even products like makeup, has exploded recently so this is something we’ll see more and more of.”
At the shows, nobody would want to seem to have tried too hard, so front-row maintenance chat is at a minimum (“That only comes out when people are really drunk,” says Van Den Broeke). It is sometimes noted, though, that certain members of the Frow will always book a holiday to Goa or Tulum straight after Christmas, arriving each year blissed-out and sun-kissed. Clever.
Beyond that, the prep is rather prosaic: a lot of hand-washing, for all that navy cashmere. Ensuring you have the one LC:M accessory that will trump even a fresh-from-the-catwalk sweatshirt: an external charger for your phone. Charlie Porter, the FT’s male fashion critic, describes the process as “like preparing for a really weird holiday: lots of little bitty things to do. I’ve bought a new notebook and refills for my pen; washed all my Uniqlo thermals; been to the osteopath to prepare for two weeks of terrible posture and, most importantly, made sure the series link is set for Celebrity Big Brother, for some sanity when I return from it all.” Porter also has a new bleached blond hairdo this is season, which is sure to fuel some of his front-row chatter, but, he says, “The new hair’s for life, not just LC:M.”
The key to it all, says Guinness, is “being at your best but still feeling relaxed”, as you would on a date. “It’s like a hot date,” he says, “but with the fashion industry!”