Sarah Burton, who as Alexander McQueen designer headlined the second day of the London menswear shows, had already been thinking about Japanese kabuki theatre before she visited the Matisse Cut-Outs exhibition at Tate Modern this spring. The two came together in a colourful, upbeat McQueen catwalk show on Monday that expressed renewed optimism and a forward-looking attitude for the brand.
"I wanted it to be less period than usual, without so much historicism" said Burton back stage after the show. "What I got from the references was an idea of scale and proportion, and the impact of the simple shapes on a clean background."
Under Burton's four-year watch, the McQueen brand has grown in profitability and fame, with the Duchess of Cambridge serving almost as an unofficial brand ambassador.
Yet the brand has at times seemed hobbled by its own shadow. The suicide of the founding designer, and the darkness of the identity he left the brand, have given the company a back story that sometimes overshadows its future.
The upcoming Savage Beauty retrospective of McQueen's work made this a great moment for Burton and her head of menswear, Harley Hughes, to show a vision for the future of McQueen that does justice to, rather than pays homage to, its past. Blue, terracotta and mustard looked fresh and summery; white trainers sported a lick of navy at the ankle which winked at the Nike swoosh.
Shoes were, naturally, the star of the Jimmy Choo show as the brand made its catwalk debut. Spray-painted monk-strap shoes, desert boots and tasselled loafers paraded on a catwalk raised to audience eye-level in order to give a an ant's-eye view of the main event. Trousers were cropped or rolled at the ankle, a styling trick that is emerging as a trend across the shows.
The ability to anticipate the zeitgeist is a key skill in design, and while a few designers leaped on the World Cup bandwagon – the Oliver Spencer show featured samba dancers and Brazilian drummers – most had the foresight to steer the focus sensitively away from sportswear this week. The sweatshirts and ironic-tinged hipster sportswear, which have been a mainstay in recent seasons, were largely jettisoned across the board for a more urbane – even, dare I say it, Italianate – take on summer menswear. Loafers were worn sockless, with a few inches of tanned ankle. Jackets were softly structured in linen.
A silk scarf tied as a cravat was a recurring motif, appearing at shows as diverse as Margaret Howell and JW Anderson. Casting showed a preference for mature models with smart, barber-fresh haircuts rather than the alternative youth-culture types who were once so in demand.
JW Anderson and Christopher Kane have both recently made the leap from shoestring outfits to players with serious financial backing (LVMH for JW Anderson, and Kering for Christopher Kane.) At JW Anderson, there was a clear hike in production values and in the slick finish of each look. Fortunately commercial considerations have not dampened his enthusiasm for experimental gender-play. The silk pussy-bow blouses for men must have raised a few eyebrows in the LVMH boardroom.
At Christopher Kane, the target seemed to have shifted to a more sophisticated, less casually-dressed menswear customer. Tailoring and outerwear were the focus, along with the bags and shoes on which luxury labels traditionally rely for profit. Retailers were immediately impressed.
The fashion director of menswear at Harrods, Jason Broderick, admired the "bold colours and geometric printing" but said also that "it was wonderful to see an enhanced offer of shoes and accessories".
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010