(All catwalk images taken from www.vogue.com)
(black look – Xander Zhou AW17 // blue look – Ximon Lee AW17)
I haven’t been that keen on London’s men’s fashion weeks for the past few seasons because once you go to enough of them, you start to realise how cyclical everything truly is. Though it’s no new truth that trends are regurgitated again and again, actually making an effort to see it in front of your very eyes is rather tiring. It’s not just the clothes on and off the catwalk, there are the same posers and ‘yes-people’ recycling the same hyperbolic buzzwords like a pull string Ken doll. Maybe all I needed was a break away to moan about things in solitude, because this season I felt a little refreshed, having experienced a few magic moments that echoed my first time discovering Paris men’s fashion week.
I am by no means a fashion ‘guru’, nor widely respected critic with decades of catwalk knowledge, but I know what I like about a show. I believe the purpose of a show is for you to experience the designer’s world as much as you can within its 8~ minute duration. The story of the collection and their inspirations should be depicted to you through the casting and the clothes they wear, and if budget permits, a set or venue that paves the path they walk. Music is always important as well, as I’ve learnt to appreciate after going to a talk held by show music producer Frédéric Sanchez, as it’s another one of those senses that can envelop you in whatever world you’re being taken to. There’s a lot going on, and a lot that can’t be expressed simply with pictures, which is why we go to shows rather than “just look online”. Shows might be short, but 8 minutes is plenty of time to create something unforgettable.
I originally just wanted to write about the Chinese talent that has entered London’s schedule, but I have to give an honourable mention to Mihara Yasuhiro. The Japanese designer returned to the London schedule last year, and for autumn/winter 2017, he presented a breathtaking show within the Barbican conservatory, featuring a beautiful collection that mirrored that of its surroundings. The simplicity of the layers paired wonderfully with the live musical performance from Maïa Barouh and Leo Komazawa, with each element combining to form an environment of complete serenity. The only thing that got on my tits was the stupid fool sitting next to me going through their Instagram stories mid-show, like they were sitting at the fucking bus stop waiting for the 243 to Shoreditch. Back to serenity…
I love that each season there seems to be more and more Chinese designers entering the schedule. I made a big rant (how uncharacteristic) in my post ‘Red’ about China’s wealth of creativity & culture not being given enough attention, and I know that that is something GQ China have aimed to change since presenting Chinese designers at London Men’s Fashion Week. I’ll never forget the look on people’s faces when Sankuanz pulled out giant claws at Victoria House, or the strobe lighting of Kay Kwok’s show that left spectators both physically blind and blind with admiration (I loved it, even if it was a little too much for 9am on a Sunday). Sadly, I don’t think Chinese designers tend to do very well in the British market. The clothing might be a little too different to what people have seen here in England’s typically safe tailoring world, and as a result it’s rarely ever bought, by both buyers and consumers in the West. As much as I might have enjoyed pearl encrusted shirts and velvet coats, for the majority of people you’ve got to be pretty fucking brave to walk the streets of London in that get-up. Luckily in most parts of China and the Far East in general, you can dress however the hell you want. The bourgeois of China reek of brands for the sake of brands, so when different comes along, I’d like to think it’s welcomed.
I thought I would break down some of the shows and presentations I saw from three talents Xander Zhou, Ximon Lee presented by GQ China, and Wan Hung. I’ve also added in my pronunciations in brackets, since I’ve noticed people mumble it when they say the designer. And then they look at me awkwardly, because they realise I’m “Asian” (Chinese) and might judge them for it. Don’t worry, I don’t, in fact so many people say it a certain way I’m actually starting to doubt myself…
Xander Zhou (sounds like ZANDER-JOEL but without the L)
The great thing about Xander is he seems to do something different every single time. There’s undertones of his Chinese roots throughout his collections, and perhaps a sense of youth with his explorations of gender. I think the designer has certainly become more consistent in recent seasons, proving he can make wearable pieces that still very much surprise you.
I haven’t been to a Xander show since autumn/winter 2015, of which I really enjoyed. This season opened with a soundtrack that sounded like someone getting pocket dialled, walking through a heavy rain. The models stormed out onto the runway as if they were carrying a gun and an agenda. It was aggressive, and somewhat villainous. Everything about the show felt quite neo-noir, with eccentric looks composed of metallic trench coats, diamond-shaped sunglasses and shirt & tie combinations Patrick Bateman would be proud to wear – while slicing someone open. With their slicked back hair and pale faces, the models reminded me of Jude Law’s robot gigolo in A.I, or Beetlejuice living in the world of Michael Keaton’s Batman era. It felt sinister, and right out of Sin City. God damn it was good.
Ximon Lee (sounds like SHE-MON LEE, though I tend to say Simon)
This marked the second season of Ximonlee presented by GQ China, and therefore his second season presenting in London. Having won the H&M Design Award in 2015, the Hong Kong designer seems to be very good at presenting a definitive collection, as opposed to running wherever the creative wind takes you. Considering he’s only in his mid twenties, that’s pretty promising…
I believe Ximon called the collection ‘SHAME’. Shame, in Chinese, is written 羞 (xiu), which as Ximon has highlighted, consists of the two characters 美 (mei) and 丑 (chou). Chinese characters can be broken into radicals, and the meaning of the word can often be derived from what radicals form these characters. In this case, ‘shame’ is formed of ‘beauty’ and ‘ugly’. Crazy, right? The language is filled of little surprises just like that, but it’s ‘shame’ in particular which inspired Ximon’s collection. The relationship between ugly and beautiful, which could really be expanded on so many levels due to its subjective nature. I thought the collection was very well put together. There was a clear story throughout the clothing that felt consistent, which started with something grey and somewhat bleak, ending with vibrant corals and blues. While I’d unlikely wear any of the cuts myself, the craftsmanship was noticeably good, especially the flow of the varied fabrics. It was intriguing, and there was certainly a level of beauty to its presentation as well.
Wan Hung (sounds like…WAN HUNG…)
Wan Hung hails from Hainan, one of the more exotic locations within China. While I believe Wan has previously shown during London Men’s before, I think this might be his first on-schedule presentation.
I knew little about the designer (and apparently still do) other than they were scheduled to come on after the presentation I was dressing for Tourne de Transmission. The ticket arrived at my house in a Chinese red envelope, which though contained no money, it did however pack a cheque full of good tidings. Knowing little can be a good thing, as expectations can often be let down. Stumbling along to Wan Hung after a stressful morning of dressing (models, not myself), I was pretty knackered. Walking into the presentation space however, I was pleasantly surprised with a tonne of red Chinese decorations and some eye-catching looks near the entrance of the venue. On the screen played Wan Hung’s fashion film titled ‘Good Fortune’, where his models sat round in their looks digesting the odd combination of macaroons and Maotai Chinese booze. The dimly lit space was filled with Tang Dynasty-inspired looks, an era when men had long flowing hair and gender-ambiguous attire was rampant. It was prosperous, and a very apparent inspiration for Wan’s theme and designs. I thought the casting was great, and the rich display of textures told a good, fun story. I wasn’t crazy about the set, but it’s a minor thing when you’ve got an opportunity to see the decadent fabrics Wan has utilised up close.
I suppose why the clothing Chinese designers produce can seem a little odd is because the cultural references are completely different. I find it interesting in that as diverse as we may seem in London/England, a lot of our clothing can seem “classically trained”. From my work at tradeshows I have heard often “you need to make more blues and blacks, drop the greens and browns”, and I’m sure that can be disheartening for new brands/designers. Hopefully over the years we’ll open our palettes a little bit and embrace the global world we’re becoming. Er, well perhaps not politically.