One of the most interesting displays of sartorial ingenuity and competence exhibited during the menswear showcase London Collections: Men (the British capitals’ equivalent of a men’s fashion week) is the collective show MAN. Organised by Fashion East and Topman, the initiative has been running for 16 seasons with the intention to champion the best and brightest new menswear talent in London by funding three promising and emerging labels (for up to three years each) in order to enable them to produce and display their collections in a runway show format. This form of support has allowed for young and gifted designers (such as James Long, Christopher Shannon, and J.W. Anderson) to have a springboard platform to showcase their work, garner exposure with journalists and develop a profitable critical mass of buyers, leading to the creation of their own standalone presentations during London’s calendar of fashion weeks.
The labels selected for the Autumn/Winter 2013 showcase (shown on 7 January 2013) were selected by a panel of industry experts presided by Lulu Kennedy (Fashion East director and founder) that comprised Tim Blanks (Style.com), Andrew Davies (Wonderland), Luke Day (GQ Style), Nicola Formichetti (Vogue Hommes Japan), Sam Loban (Mr Porter), Alister Mackie (AnOtherMan), Charlie Porter (Freelance writer), Ben Reardon (GQ Style) and Gordon Richardson (Topman). Astrid Andersen showed her designs first, followed by newcomer Craig Green, but it was the third collection, by duo Agi & Sam, that stole the show for its playful concepts, bright and intricate prints, and proficient tailoring that went beyond mastering basic techniques to revel in trompe l-oeil innovations such as deconstructed suit jackets fastened not by buttons but by zippers on the back (making them look like smocks), formal coats with padded sleeves and double-breasted jackets with the rows of buttons positioned at an unusually wide distance.
Agape (Agi) Mdumulla (who hails from Yorkshire) and Sam Cotton (from Stratford-Upon-Avon) founded Agi & Sam in January 2010, and had produced three collections (two of which shown at Fashion East Menswear Installations during past editions of London Fashion Week) before being selected for the MAN show for the first time in February 2012. Agi studied Fashion Design at the Manchester School of Art and Sam studied Illustration at the University of Lincoln. They worked for designers including Alexander McQueen, Karl Lagerfeld, J.W. Anderson, Armand Basi, Blaak Homme, and Carolyn Massey before deciding to venture into the fashion world on their own. Their talent has been recognised by both journalists and buyers and their designs are currently available in stores in the UK, USA, Asia, and Middle East. In late 2012, they were nominated for Emerging Menswear of the Year at the British Fashion Awards.
Under the name ‘To the Peak, and Past it – Memoirs of a Duke’ (a chapter title in the autobiography penned by the seventh Marquess of Bath), Agi & Sam’s Autumn/Winter 2013 menswear collection intended to bring together images of the Farmer and the landlord Aristocrat to engender a contemporary British masculinity that embraces high and low cultural social constructs. This was achieved not only by reinterpreting diverse menswear influences but also by explicitly revealing divergent cultural references; an example being the show’s soundtrack that alternated Antonio Vivaldi’s 1723 ‘Four Seasons’ violin concertos with Blur’s 1995 pop song ‘A House in the Country’. This combination of opposites could equally be found in the models chosen, with older men sporting rugged bushy beards and sideburns contrasting with the clean shaven look of young groomed models.
The blending of contrasts continued in the decision to mix fabrics such as boiled wool and crisp cottons with duck down-filled technical nylons, and in the juxtaposition of conventional and casual colours such as midnight blue, cobalt, banana yellow, grey, camel, rust orange and white. In prints, traditional patterns that featured paisley designs, and foxes, pheasants and badgers were redrawn and resized to micro scales in a somehow postmodern process that, on close analysis, questions menswear traditions.