Menswear goes Retrosexual

Feature by Laura Sutherland | 08 Nov 2010

When it comes to fashion, the humble male has a tendency to get overlooked – one look at the High Street’s slim pickings is evidence of this. However, things are gradually starting to look up, and S/S 2011 should reflect the improving face of British male style. As (some might say) slightly predictable ladies’ trends were being debuted at London Fashion Week (for the record: sheers, nude tones and 70s silhouettes), it was the normally low-key Menswear Day that triumphed this season, showcasing the diverse visions and impeccable taste that defines British style. Despite the eclectic selection of looks for the boys on offer, it is clear that the designers and labels are unified in their belief that the future of menswear is in the retro details.

J.W. Anderson’s fey take on masculinity has made him one of London’s highlights for the past two seasons, and his most recent, and first unisex, collection didn’t disappoint. A romantic yet grungy style is realised through an LSD-laced spectrum. Taking inspiration from the honesty of William Gedney’s photographs and youth sub-culture, Anderson’s conceptual tale of a pair of young lovers on a voyage of self-discovery could have just as easily been set amidst 1960s psychedelia as the forthcoming Spring 2011. Whilst some elements are the season’s staples – turn-up trousers, hooded sweaters and shearing jackets – his statements are made through the embellishments: hand-crocheted doilies, Swarovski crystals, bleached floral Liberty prints and patchwork.

Topman Design's mod muse is described as ‘a boy found hanging around the record shops of Brighton, rifling through the vintage stores for authentic pieces and secondhand finds.’ This starting point could easily have steered the collection into a costume wardrobe of multiple identities fit for Mr. Benn. However, with some irreverent styling (circa 2010), the clashing eras and influences are pulled together well. Taking in a broad gamut of 20th century menswear trends, pieces ranged from paper-bag waist shorts to cheery vintage motif sweats, and from vibrant floral shirts to canvas pilot pants. The collection is anchored with a selection of traditional slim fit 60s-inspired suits, although the majority of the garments have a sharp 1940s silhouette, with a short body and high-belted cinch waist. Even “modern” accessories such as the Lennon glasses have an evocative past.

While it’s inevitable that the best in fashion will recur infinitely (fashion is cyclical after all), the identities of those who first sported the pieces are rarely explored in any meaningful way. New menswear curation label Arckiv has successfully tempered the design world’s current nostalgia-fest with a collection that is as rich in concept as it is in artefacts themselves.

Founder and East-Kilbride native, Fraser Laing, who already runs the cult vintage eyewear emporium in the same space, says that this new venture is about something deeper than a reminiscence of the past. “Objects and possessions lift you above anonymity, and connect you to what you are and what your culture is. Clothing is like a home, keeping you together.” Ranging from Napoleonic and World War military wear to Victorian dress wear, the collection is uniform in its non-conformity. “The clothing belonged to the non-bourgeoisie outsiders of the world, bohemian figures, and soldiers, people on the edges of society. These items of clothing would have been the only garments they owned.”

Inspired by the philosophies of Surrealists such as Matisse, and his own loathing of office wear (“It just makes me think of uniforms and middle managers”), Laing took on the role of archaeologist, sourcing the items from undisturbed sources in France and Italy, such as bunkers and warehouses, before bringing them back to London for restoration and modifying. Mix and match aesthetics applies to the Arckiv bohemian as well as it does to the Topman Design gent. Although categorised into three separate lines called Nomadic (military), Ceremonial (dress wear) and Protective (labourer and work wear), there are no set guidelines for putting the clothes together. “I like things to look a bit askew, as if there are some fault lines. The nature of Arckiv is about being radical and not accepting what’s been imposed on you.”

So, whilst next season is about taking inspiration from bygone eras, it all needs to be thrown together with some youthful chutzpah and impudence. With quirky modern motifs, retro shapes, and classic vintage pieces at their disposal, it would seem churlish for guys not to take this opportunity for a major style overhaul, even if it only extends to digging around in your grandpa’s wardrobe.