Day Four of London Collections: Men had a high bar to clear after the display of finesse yesterday, and the British designers brought their A-game by innovating within the bounds of their expertise. Running through their designs was a common struggle with popular culture: how should the fashion world react to the trends of our time?

Burberry tackled the season’s prickly experiment with gender codes as only an old hand can – making the most delicately feminine of fabrics, Viennese lace, squarely viable for men. In response to LC:M’s ethos of setting the trends of the future, E. Tautz reclaimed the familiar futurism of the fifties and set the reincarnation wheel of fashion in motion once again. Katie Eary and Bobby Abley each selected pop cults to explore; the former fetishized My Little Pony to explosive effect, while the latter championed a vulnerable geekdom on the much-too-grown-up runway.

With three up-and-coming Chinese designers on today’s roster, the question of exoticism’s role on the European runway was unavoidable – and handled with varying degrees of skill. Most noteworthy was Xander Zhou, who with 33 looks successfully mounted a display of his understanding of Western clothesmaking, a glimpse into the possibilities of East-West apparel, and a parody of his success as an Asian designer.

BURBERRY PRORSUM

In an open-air tent bathed in warm summer light, Christopher Bailey’s collection was sumptuously presented with a live string orchestra and an exceedingly long runway aisle, all as though to say – take your time and savour the season. As always, sharp British tailoring played a big part in Burberry’s summer offering, this time lending shape to a creative use of lace.
Almost never associated with menswear, lace became such a natural partner to iconic trench coats and formal suits, having been rendered in deep earth tones and faded white and pale beiges. Understated from a distance, the intricacies of the handwoven material gradually emerge as you pay closer attention; the effect somewhat similar to coming upon Cordovan wall mosaics. Not one bit girlish, the soft, slightly see-through material accentuated the finessed figures of the models without any sexualization (like Christopher Shannon or KTZ), delivering a sensitive yet confident masculinity – much like that of Bailey himself.

SEAN SUEN

Beijing-based Sean Suen, who established his eponymous label in 2012, made clear his design ethos this season – combining the masculinity and structure of the European suit with the elegance of the Chinese robe. A mix of hits and misses more heavy on the latter, the designer delivered tabards, pinafores, and aprons all lacking in both the masculinity and elegance he wished to convey.
Notable pieces included a lightweight rice-white long jacket draped over a loosely-fitted pinstripe ensemble with a henley neckline, and an unstructured boxing robe/hakama hybrid cut from ticking fabric that achieved a blue-collar manliness (or perhaps it was the model’s exposed abs?). As China attempts to make inroads into the established runways of Europe, Sean Suen’s SS16 effort may at best be forgotten, or at worst seen as a sign that there is still much distance to be caught up on.

E. TAUTZ

Under the direction of Patrick Grant, this 118-year-old British brand revealed a breezy collection today that reinforced the inevitable cycle of fashion – that past looks get revived, and sometimes brilliantly so. Relaxed, roomy tailoring from the fifties got an update with weightless synthetics dyed in potent primary colours from head to toe.
Without any fancy prints, Grant’s vision of a minimalist, futurist “Skylon” aesthetic worked beautifully to channel a active yet slow-paced energy associated with summers spent “taking it in”. While scarlet and limoncello jackets stood out in the collection, it was the very first ensemble that stole our hearts – navy high-waisted tailored pants, soft crew neck black tee, completed with a featherlight long jacket and thin leather belt in the palest shade of pastel pink. Such effortless vitality!

XANDER ZHOU

At first glance, Xander Zhou’s collection could easily be thrown out as another Asian token – Chinese silk jacquard, stylized renderings of clouds, bamboos, and fire seen in Chinese painting, even handbags shaped as a Taoist symbol. Yet that is only one part of the story; the other looks were solid experiments on familiar tropes in Western menswear – patent leather biker jackets, denim dungarees, bomber jackets, even button-tabbed pants. Jackets sported mandarin collars; thin ribbons emblazoned with calligraphy or Chinese painting, seen in dynastic costumes, get appropriated as scarves.
Zhou’s dialectical offering can perhaps be understood as a conversation about the place of exoticism in fashion design, asking what exactly a Chinese designer – or Moroccan, Ethiopian, Israeli, Columbian – is expected to bring to the European runway. At one point he even dresses a model in a traditional bib that the sons of Chinese Emperors once wore, investigating his status as the golden boy of Europe’s runway circles.

SANKUANZ

If Astrid Andersen’s SS16 offering on Saturday was a lopsided experiment in bricolage between Oriental sensitivity and the tough urban streets of Harlem, Sankuanz’ collection today was the balancing touch. The brand was born as an underground rebellion against elitism, expressed clearly in the layered shapes of hip-hop streetwear. Peel back the layers, however, and you get Zhe Shangguan’s native references – “man-skirts” and oversized pant legs that conservatively obscure any hints to the physique, robe-ties freely flowing, and traditional Northern Chinese drums as ornaments. Are the looks particularly Chinese or Asian? Perhaps not. But with some 8-bit designs, comic doodles, and whole skulls thrown in, it is clear that Zhe’s navigation of the Sino-Caucasian gap isn’t some serious meditation, but tongue-in-cheek fun.

KATIE EARY

Readers following HSD’s ongoing coverage of London Collections: Men know we are partial to colourful summers. Katie Eary gave us just that in unbridled generosity, sampling the full spectrum of My Little Pony’s neon rainbow in the ultimate Pop collection – and we couldn’t help but suspect a glittering, spray-painted unicorn was waiting to emerge from the wings for the grand finalé.
Having worked with Lady Gaga and Kanye West, Eary stayed true to her edgy-pop roots once again, securing her position in the running to become this generation’s Andy Warhol. Instead of using one neon colour for each suit, there’s a tie-dye quality that bleeds electric blues into hot pinks, working perfectly with cardigans tied casually over the hips and open shirts to conjure up a new free love era of fantasy ponies.

BOBBY ABLEY

Earth to Naboo. Star Wars take centerstage in Bobby Abley’s geek-fashion repertoire, as Chewbacca, Yoda, Darth Vader, Storm Troopers and even Bobby Fett make appearances on cut-off tops and joggers. Statement T-shirts with “CHEWY”, “Super Duper Storm Trooper” and “Bobby Abley” in Star Wars font are no less tributes to the sci-fi epic, but on a runway these ordinary-looking tops become little nods to the runaway fashion we’ve become so numb to in recent years – just printing KARDASHIAN on a tee can make you money.
But let’s not get too serious; Abley’s deft hand reveals glimpses of themed pyjamas boy-geeks wore in solidarity with their favourite franchises, cartoon teddy bears that provided comfort, but also what boys eventually grow up to next obsess over – sport. You get the feeling, though, that Abley never forgot where he hid all his action figures.

TIGER OF SWEDEN 

Supplanting the trend of ending shows in bright colour set by Kit Neale, SIBLING, and KTZ, Tiger of Sweden wrapped up Day Four with a 48-look collection that explored the darker side of things like a natty noir crossed with a 007 film. Set in a black-and-white background of ominous clouds rising, close-cut single- and double-breasted suits came down the runway in midnight shades of blue, oxblood, black, and creamy white, paired with panama hats and raincoats.
But it wasn’t all gloomy. These formal numbers were punctuated by models moving freely in less formal looks, sometimes sporty like a country club tennis player or a urban skateboarder, other times recognizably Western or Ibizan. With a Scandinavian faithfulness to functionality, every single look was wearable, organized in all fastidiousness: first by color, second by pattern, and then by degree of formality.

It might not have amounted to an explosive finalé for the first of Europe’s runway seasons, but it did cover all the bases of what modern men want to wear – a good way for the industry to move in, if its ultimate goal is to remain relevant.

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All photos by Guillaume Roujas, Gio Staiano, and Catwalkingcom, via NowFashion.com