Just last night the British Fashion Council announced it will launch a new menswear calendar in London this June, renewing a focus on British menswear designers, tailors and businesses, that traditionally was allotted the last day of the women's shows during London Fashion Week. Menswear designers are being taken seriously again, the general consensus is the menswear industry is booming and the appetite for design and innovation has never been this high.
The autumn winter 2012 shows kicked off in mid January in Milan and Paris, arguably the most important calendar cities for menswear.
Like womenswear, there is a wide spectrum for what we will see in the shops come July, but there is always that common thread that passes through the main collections, where elements of the current zeitgeist in fashion become apparent. In Milan, for example, we saw a formal silhouette emerge, the return of the suit and topcoat, but not always in it's classic glory. At Prada the double breasted tailored coats stood out, and colours such as rich burgundy, plum and micro checks reminded of the 1920s, but they felt revived and modern and thus cut a powerful figure on the catwalk. Gucci, on the other hand went retro glam, no doubt catering to its core Asian customer base, but formal items such as a turquoise smoking jacket stood out as new and fresh.
Two of the best shows to come out of Milan were British designer Neil Barrett, who is one of the few brands who's consistent rock & roll silhouette remains modern and desirable, season upon season. His strength in cutting a fine trouser and cool outerwear makes him a surefire commercial hit. His palette is always a seductive combination of black, white and grey, with a splash of colour, but never gaudy. The other stand-out show was newcomer Andrea Pompilio, who sent a collection of modern sportswear down the runway with looks that were full of texture, silhouette and utility inspired pieces, like parkas and combats. The cheetah print tees were fun, but also commercial, showing us a successful show doesn't need to only comprise of suiting and formalwear.
Z Zegna was another show to watch, with its new creative director Paul Surridge who left his post as head of menswear at Jil Sander. Surridge, who studied at Central Saint Martins, showed an array of technical fabrics and outerwear, including hoodies and knitwear amongst its more formal looks, like a double breasted jacket over narrow-cuffed pants.
British designer Kim Jones did a stellar job at Louis Vuitton, showing there is as much mileage in its menswear as in its luxury travel pieces. Travel, of course, remains at the heart of the Vuitton heritage. The collection was nothing if not eclectic: a trench with crocodile patches, a coat cut from a Vuitton travel blanket, jumbo-size scarves and fur-line parkas can all be considered desirable pieces in their own right.
Yves Saint Laurent by-passed colour and opted for glamour. Sending mostly black looks down the runway, something Ricardo Tisci is also fond of at Givenchy. The YSL collection featured sharply tailored suiting undercut with a punk-deluxe spirit. Leather was a key feature, seen detailed in sleeve, collar and biker jacket style, but it was never gauche.
Not all the shows in Paris were as sleek. Japanese designer Junya Watanabe was inspired by worker's clothing and labourers uniforms. Enter the farmer's market, a collection of polished parkas and barn jackets in tweed and denim, paired with overalls and leather patchwork pants, all in clean, unwashed finishes.
Paul Smith's AW12 show perhaps lacked a newness that so many other designers aim to push forward, especially in Paris. A collection befitted of quirky Britishness it wasn't, or as Tim Blanks wrote: "clothes slotted into a generic international style" thus presenting nothing new. Perhaps the most interesting looks were those of technicolor sweaters layered over a neon t-shirts. But all the same, Sir Paul Smith was the recipient of the prestigious City of Paris award this week. He must be doing something right!
Photos: Neil Barrett, Andrea Pompelio, Gucci