At 5pm on Sunday, the front-row chatter at London men’s fashion week wasn’t centred around the upcoming Christopher Raeburn show, a fantastical trend to channel next season or the Golden Globes red carpet. Instead, it was something that everyone could relate to: the tube strike starting at 6pm. Sexy? No. Fashionable? Hell, yes.
This isn’t an anecdote to show how fashion people are just like you. Actually, it’s more a segue into the fact that mundanity is now a trend, where the memes of reality – what you see on your commute to work, in the supermarket, in the cupboard reserved for the camping stuff – are being mined by designers as inspiration. From Craig Green’s sleeping bags and carpet coats to Raeburn’s security-guard yellow, it was a proper, January-appropriate jolt back to reality on the catwalk. For the mood, think EastEnders market stall set rather than an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
Notably, none of these designers referenced anything on social media – this is very much about an IRL, no filter rather than #nofilter view. Christopher Shannon was inspired by what couriers and builders wear – hence dungarees, faded neon and clothes to survive a day on a London street. “I’m not in the mood to be a fantasist,” he said. “All I have seen is builders and couriers, so the clothes I see are hoodies and trackies and worn-out neons. Everything is a staple … I’m interested in clothes and not drama.”
Wales Bonner, designed by 26-year-old British designer Grace Wales Bonner, has quickly become a cult menswear name in London after only two shows. She focuses on the kind of ideas more often reserved for PhDs – blaxploitation and black male identity, Haile Selassie, Joseph Beuys – but manages to make clothes that win her prestigious prizes and high-end stockists such as Selfridges. Her show on Sunday was astonishing, largely due to models walking at a pace familiar to city dwellers late for work, around a stack of speakers borrowed from the Notting Hill carnival. The clothes were everyday staples with retro styling: smart trousers with rumbled shirts, a shirt untucked after work, a leather jacket slung over a summer dress.
“This show was really about looking at the street and elevating it,” said the designer, “and bringing this sense of richness and depth to street language.” Wales Bonner’s inspirations were typically academic – Renaissance friars, street preachers – but the principal inspiration hung on the wall for all to see, a 2002 photograph by Patrick Cariou of boys in crumpled suits, patterned shirts and robes taken in Dakar, visited by Wales Bonner in 2016.
Martine Rose perhaps took the downbeat reality the furthest. Rose’s studio is in Tottenham, north London, and she had her show in nearby Seven Sisters Indoor Market, a place that has not come across the high-fashion crowd much before. Still, late on Sunday night, they sat, with barbers and food sellers around them, to watch the show. “I wanted people to have an experience as close to the real market as possible,” said Rose. Models with Phil Oakey-like hair wore ties, cagoules, suits, silk shirts and – notably – the kind of money belt that bus conductors used to have. “It was fun playing with male archetypes, like the banker but also the bus driver, estate agent,” said Rose. “It’s not like a certain amount of fantasy isn’t essential to fashion – it is – but it has to feel authentic, otherwise what’s the point? It has to be rooted in reality.” Something a bit retro, such as that Oakey haircut, adds a crucial element of “off” to make it clear this is actually fashion, not what might be found in your local Foxtons.
Fashion traditionally flips between very expensive romance and fantasy – for example, Marc Jacobs’s Louis Vuitton train in 2012, which reportedly cost £6.58m – and cringey takes on reality (Mugatu’s homeless-inspired Derelicte in Zoolander comes close). However, in the past few years more authentic life beyond the catwalk has become a thing: at the autumn/winter 2014 Dior show, when Raf Simons had models sling their jackets over their arms as commuters might, and the DHL T-shirt that Vetements made fashion’s biggest thing last year.
The 2017 version isn’t just a bit of street for added authenticity. It’s more like coming down to earth and looking around – fashion’s response to a tumultuous 12 months. Both Wales Bonner and Rose emphasised the diversity of the city streets. Shannon – always a bit of a rabble rouser – made his collection explicitly a study in post-Brexit Britain, with models wearing shredded EU flags on their faces and one sweatshirt turning the Boss logo into Loss International. After the show, he said: “I was so proud of Liverpool being remain when the rest of the north wasn’t … I wanted it to feel inclusive, but also a tiny bit aggressive, and a bit pissed off.”
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