LONDON: In the world of women’s fashion, London often plays second fiddle to other style capitals – it lacks the allure of Paris’ haute couture or the polish of Milan’s luxury labels.Yet when it comes to dressing the gentleman, no city can rival the British capital’s prestigious heritage.
Alexander McQueen Monday led the new season’s menswear catwalk shows in London, a four-day fashion display that mixed trendy labels such as Tom Ford, Burberry and Moschino with traditional tailoring houses that have been perfecting their craft for decades.
Organizers want to highlight both new talents and London’s status as the historic home of men’s fashion – the city has dressed a long list of kings and the world’s wealthiest men and invented classic items such as the tuxedo jacket, the bowler hat and the three-piece suit.
McQueen showed stark white lab coat-like jackets accented with sporty prints and squiggle shapes, and punk-influenced outfits in red and shiny black leather – clothes that at first sight appeared anything but traditional. But many of his looks, such as the waistcoat worn over an untucked shirt and the fitted double-breasted suit worn with sneakers, were clever takes on the best of classic English tailoring.
It’s no wonder the brand keeps reaching to the past for inspiration. Its late designer trained for two years at Savile Row tailor house Anderson & Sheppard when he was just 16 years old, and many have attributed his success to his ability to fuse subversive designs with excellent tailoring.
Many young design students continue to apprentice at London’s pedigree tailors, learning the foundations of cutting and sewing from the best in the business.
“When we talk about work placements, the first thing a lot of my students mention is Savile Row, because it’s so classic,” said Chris New, who teaches menswear at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins college.
The central London street, lined with more than a dozen tailors, is a living museum of the English love affair with luxury menswear. It’s a long-standing tradition that’s closely tied to a history of royal dress, military uniforms and gentry sports like horseback riding and hunting.
One example is the tailcoat, whose cutaway front was originally designed for ease of movement when worn as an equestrian coat. And the brogue shoe, which came from rural Scotland, became fashionable as urban wear after Edward VII – a fashion trendsetter in his time – sported them on his golfing trips.
Henry Poole & Co., the first to open shop on Savile Row in 1846, still proudly displays records of orders dating back to the 1850s. Its impressive client list includes Napoleon III, J.P. Morgan, Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle, to name just a few.
“Men in this city have always made a point of dressing well,” manager Simon Cundey said. “We’re very lucky in London – no other city in the world has a suiting street like this.”
London shops had a big role in inventing and popularizing many trends. Lock & Co., founded in 1676 and said to be the oldest hat shop in the world, helped create the bowler hat – called a derby in the U.S. – in the 1840s. And Henry Poole, who worked closely with Edward VII, helped the dandy royal develop the tuxedo jacket to wear during “informal” dinners.
Burberry, which showcased its designs Tuesday, is one of the savviest in capitalizing on British tradition. Its signature trench coat, first worn by soldiers during World War I, is still a best-seller, and the brand continues to launch modern versions of it for both men and women every season.
Like many other brands, Burberry says menswear is a fast-growing moneymaker for them.
London’s menswear week has expanded impressively since it broke away from the main womenswear fashion showcases in 2012. This year it started Sunday and ran until Tuesday, followed by men’s fashion shows in Milan and Paris.
Still, there’s no denying that designer or bespoke menswear is far from accessible to the average man. Asked what sartorial advice he could give to those without deep pockets, Cundey said: “Invest in quality, not quantity.”
“There are three things you need in life. A good day-to-evening suit, a tailored blazer or coat and a tuxedo.”