By rights, the afternoon of the third day of London Collections: Men should have seen a gradual winding down – the inevitable consequence of three days of overload and newness, piling high on the brain. But Sunday was a day of first (and, in some cases, second) comings; of Richard Nicoll’s menswear debut, of Meadham Kirchhoff’s return to the fold after a six-year break from menswear design, and of Aitor Throup’s tantalisingly intimate presentation (more a preview of coming attractions than an actual showcase) at the St Martins Lane Hotel.
Throup’s career is a measure of the absolute divergence between a designer’s presence on the runways, and their impact on a city’s fashion identity. He’s shown only once before (in London) – an eerie, suspended room of wire-mannequin trumpeters in densely articulated trousers which provided one of the highlights of the first ever Menswear day back in 2009. And where the rest of that day’s names – Katie Eary, J.W. Anderson, James Long, bStore, Martine Rose – have tracked a path which has built up, season on season, show on show, into a recognisable identity, Throup seems to inhabit a completely different world.
It’s a route helped in no small part by his collaborations with Umbro and Stone Island, which have allowed him to apply his intense, spectacularly anatomical discipline to performance sportswear; and his conspicuous, patience-straining absence – broken by occasional international showcases and short-run bursts of mainline production – have only whetted the market’s appetite for more.
It’s not hard to see why – it’s the same combination of obstinate meticulousness and vivid imagination that’s kept both Azzedine Alaia and Hussein Chalayan on the radar despite their prolonged absences from the seasonal calendar, instilling audiences with ravening hunger. And Throup’s work, in particular, has always been tantalising – those dynamic, scrunched-up illustrations of figures in frozen motion which dominate his website have long been his sole representation in the real world.
So the St. Martins Lane show was significant, less for what it actually contained than for the promise it insinuated – that Throup was finally readying for the launch of a commercial range for SS13. And whilst it was more of the same (those exquisitely detailed stop-motion trousers and coats, those lines of skulls, those again-suspended wire ghosts) it was a fascinating summation of an aesthetic which has already seeped deep into popular culture. Hooligans, gods, horsemen, heroes and victims; these are the archetypes who’ve suffused the designer’s voyage through the psyche of modern menswear, evolving an armour which – instead of concealing and formalising an idealised, impervious strength – instead hunched and sheltered and warped around the body’s own deformities and oddities. The sole representative of next season’s actual collection (a range of 22 individual pieces) was a skull bag, which – strapped onto the body – got straight to the core of Throup’s uniqueness. Where the rest of menswear is streamlining and simplifying, playing with surfaces to conjure up identity, his strange-fruit protuberances come dangerously close to embodying the kind of internal, anguished masculinity which no amount of print, or colour, or structure can disguise.