At the far end of the Bayswater Road, just behind Kensington Palace, there’s a large expanse of green lawn known as Perks Field. It’s a quiet, calm piece of parkland, scattered with joggers and picnicking families. Twice a year, for the last few years – once in January, and then again in June – it’s been taken over by Burberry’s vast show tent. But this week, for the first time in six seasons, it lies empty.
When Burberry moved their Prorsum menswear shows to London in 2013, it was seen as a major coup for the city’s fledgling LC:M event, and a definitive confirmation of its arrival on the international schedule. To have the country’s most visible, most internationally-recognised luxury label as its main attraction gave LC:M a hefty dose of star power and commercial momentum. Other headline brands followed suit in the seasons that followed – most notably Alexander McQueen, Dunhill, Pringle of Scotland, Tom Ford, and Moschino. So Burberry’s withdrawal, as part of a far-ranging new strategy which folds menswear into the womenswear shows in February and September, provoked a cascade of panic press. The concerns were compounded by the announcement of several other big-name no-shows; Moschino decamped to Los Angeles, and Tom Ford to New York, whilst McQueen – where designer Sarah Burton is currently on maternity leave – opted to sit the season out. Given the volatile, crowded state of the fashion system in 2016, would LC:M even survive without its star acts? And if it did, would anybody come?
“Yes, there’s been a lot of chat about it all!” the BFC’s Caroline Rush acknowledges, laughing. “And there’ve been a LOT of conversations. But, at the end of the day, brands have to look at what makes sense for them. For some showing makes sense, and for some it just doesn’t.” LC:M’s response has been to adapt, and to look increasingly outward. This season’s line-up has featured 33 shows (against 32 last season) and 25 presentations (also against 32). “When we started out we were being very patriotic, and flying the flag for British design and manufacturing. And that’s still really important. But we’re also working with a lot of international brands – and for those labels, London is a brilliant platform to reach a global audience from.” So this season, among homegrown arrivals Kiko Kostadinov, Luke Stevens, and Per Götesson, there have also been debuts from brands who have historically shown in Paris, like Miharayasuhiro, Songzio, and Ximonlee. As Rush points out, this isn’t just about bolstering London’s line-up; “It’s also a brilliant gateway to Japan, China, and South Korea, all of which are big markets for our British designers. So for us, being able to work with the local teams in those countries builds great brand awareness for British fashion too.” Speaking after his show, in the final slot on London’s schedule, Korean designer Zio Song offered a brand’s perspective: “I used to always show in Paris; I studied there, and also lived there for a long time. But I wanted to make a change, and my team were also keen to change the label’s dynamic. Of the different fashion weeks, Seoul is very calm, and Paris is more delicate, but London has a really strong energy, which is exciting for me.”
There’s a wider reality, too. It’s not simply the case that fashion weeks take up too much of the year; it’s that fashion itself has become an unending, year-round cycle. Brands release new ideas and new products every day, not every season. And this current LC:M comes, not just at the start of a new menswear season, but after a packed month that began with the Met’s Manus x Machina Gala, continued through Louis Vuitton’s Rio odyssey and Karl Lagerfeld’s Cuban extravaganza for Chanel, and culminating in spectacular one-off shows staged in Oxfordshire (by Dior) and Westminster Abbey (by Gucci), both of which celebrated British fashion’s enduring global influence. Within the four days of LC:M itself, meanwhile, there’s been competition for headline space from Los Angeles, where Tyler the Creator made his runway debut, and Jeremy Scott unveiled his latest Moschino collection.
Many years ago Alison Settle, one of British Vogue’s first editors, said that fashion was the only true form of internationalism; increasingly, it seems she was right. These days, labels can seemingly choose to show whenever, and wherever, they please. Look at Cédric Charlier, stealing a march by showing his S/S 2017 womenswear in New York in the midst of the resort season, or at Sibling, who combined their womenswear into their London menswear show on Sunday evening – a bouncy, buoyantly spirited show drenched in cheerily retro West Coast razzmatazz. Even McQueen and Pringle, both technically absent from LC:M, seized the moment, releasing lookbooks for their SS17 collections via social media in the midst of yesterday’s shows. And in Burberry’s absence, accessories giant Coach – an All-American label, which ranks higher than either Chanel or Prada on Forbes’ 2016 countdown of the world’s most valuable brands, and which has made LC:M its’ home for the last four seasons – staged a sleekly produced, celebrity-packed show which provided an eloquent demonstration of Britain’s pulling power.
And as of next season, it’s been announced that London Collections: Men itself will be no more. From January, the event will be rebranded as London Fashion Week Men’s. “We’re very proud of what we’ve achieved in the last few years in London,” Rush reflects. “We’ve built the best menswear club in the world here. But we also took a bit of a reality check, and the reality is that the consumer audience doesn’t necessarily understand what LC:M is about. London Fashion Week Men’s will make things a lot clearer, and help us to connect to those primary consumer channels.”
So that’s the name sorted, at least. What happens during those four days in January when the spotlight returns to London menswear remains to be seen. Do designers still need fashion weeks, or is it the other way round? Or are the big fashion weeks more important than ever, as ways to cut through the industry’s 365-day-a-year noise? Zio Song, at least, has placed his cards firmly on the table: “Oh, I want to show in London forever! I’m just getting started…”