London sets out to be the capital of menswear

by Lauren Cochrane

The Observer

Bring on the boys. London Collections: Men autumn-winter 2014 brought with it a new message to promote and a new voice to shout about it.

BBC Radio 1 DJ Nick Grimshaw was appointed ambassador for the menswear catwalk showcase, and the event — now in its fourth season — is re-branding Britain’s capital as “London, Home of Menswear.”

Fashion editors and buyers watched 2014 shows from more than 50 designers and brands, but the British Fashion Council, the nonprofit trade group for British fashion designers, also made a point of involving consumers. Grimshaw, 29, who presents the radio station’s breakfast show, and roadtests foppish tailoring on nights out with TV presenter and British model Alexa Chung, is the ideal posterboy.

An advertising campaign seen around London, highlighted classics associated with the menswear heritage of the capital — including brogues and three-piece suits. And it is hoped that “The Anatomy of a Suit,” an exhibition at the Museum of London that will run through to July, will also spark interest in the history of menswear and tailoring in the capital.

On the less traditional side, central London stores including Harvey Nichols and Browns had window displays themed around the event and in-store offers on participating brands for the duration of the show.

Social media, too, was targeted. The hashtag #londonmenswear was set up for men to send in their own style snaps.

This was all a bid to nurture a community of fashion-savvy men beyond the niche of the fashion industry. The strategy mirrors that of Natalie Massanet, new chairwoman of the British Fashion Council. In September, just before the first round of womenswear shows under her watch, she proclaimed that, as in New York, everyone should know when fashion week is. Menswear in Britain is also increasingly worthy of attention in a business sense. Market research company Mintel estimates that the sector is worth £10.4 billion ($17 billion), and has grown by 12 percent over the last five years. Such growth is expected to continue until 2017, with a rise of 11 percent predicted. Despite still being in its infancy, London Collections: Men also already generates £40 million ($65.5 million) of media coverage.

“It has already become a staple of the menswear calendar and is a fabulous way to kick off the season,” said Dylan Jones, chairman of London Collections: Men, who is also editor of monthly men’s publication, GQ magazine.

Even though the autumn-winter event opened just days after the Christmas season, press and buyers from 37 countries attended. Jones puts this down to an optimistic mood coming through. “We have all been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm for the project,” he said. “The scale and ambition of all the many designers who are now showing here is incredibly infectious.”

Tom Ford has made London the home for his men’s collection, and Burberry brought its menswear show back from Milan last season, after 10 years away.

This season, new talent, tailoring labels and high-street stalwarts were are all represented. British multinational retailer, Marks & Spencer also had its first full show at the event.