The Women Shaping British Menswear
It's often said that London’s menswear industry is a boy’s club – but reality paints a very different picture. As the worlds of menswear and womenswear grow ever closer, more and more women are striking out and putting their stamp on the category. As London Fashion Week: Men’s gets into swing, we celebrate 10 women who are making it happen.
The Shropshire-born designer has become the poster woman for homegrown British menswear talent, and with good reason. Her 13-year-old eponymous label expertly straddles the divide between Fashion with a capital F and clothes that work for real men’s wardrobe, whether on the Tube or halfway up a mountain. She honed her expert cutting skills as an apprentice to a bespoke tailor when she left school at 16, going on to study menswear at the Royal College of Art. “For me, it was never about womenswear,” she says. “Menswear is all that I’ve ever known.”
After setting up a PR and creative consultancy with partner Ashley Smith in 2011, the 32-year-old founder of The Lobby quickly found her niche championing and nurturing new designers, especially those who mesh high-end fashion and streetwear. In fact, her client list has become the go-to when it comes to unearthing menswear’s next big thing. “I’ve worked with Astrid Andersen since the beginning of the brand and it’s still Astrid who excites me most today,” she says. Fashion East alumni Liam Hodges and Edward Crutchley are also on her books, and this season her much-lauded client Art School will make its debut on the MAN catwalk.
The 26-year-old’s impact on British menswear has been swift and decisive. In 2015, just one year after graduating from Central Saint Martins, Wales Bonner was awarded Emerging Menswear Designer at the British Fashion Awards, and in 2016 she received the LVMH Prize. Her ascent might be unprecedented, but it is not undeserved. She deftly addresses the politics of identity, sexuality and race through her designs, transcending the confines of traditional masculine clothing, especially when it comes to pushing black male identity in fashion beyond streetwear. As a menswear designer Wales Bonner is rare because women covet her designs as much as men. In fact, MatchesFashion.com’s buying team wanted to wear her clothes so badly that they asked her to recut pieces from her first collections for their womenswear customers.
The 36-year-old designer is one of London menswear’s most original – and unsung – voices. Her nine-year-old label neatly combines impeccable tailoring with a subversive take on masculinity, and has won over international retail heavyweights including Barneys and Dover Street Market. In addition to running her own business, Rose also consults for Balenciaga menswear.
Often called “fashion’s fairy godmother”, Kennedy is the founder of designer support and showcasing scheme Fashion East, and a tour de force when it comes to championing emerging designers. In 2005 her not-for-profit organisation launched its menswear platform, MAN, in partnership with Topman. “I was at CSM’s MA show seeing all this fantastic menswear talent that had no platform, so I decided to make one,” she says simply. As well as a show on the London Fashion Week: Men’s schedule, participating designers receive a financial bursary, a Paris sales showroom, plus intensive mentoring. Recent recipients include J.W, Anderson, Grace Wales Bonner and Charles Jeffrey Loverboy.
Kingori may have fallen into menswear “unwittingly” (her words), but the publishing director of British Vogue made an indelible mark on the industry during her tenure as publisher of British GQ, sponsoring London Fashion Week: Men’s via the magazine and helping young designers evolve a creative vision into a financially sound fashion business as a fellow of the University of Arts. Kingori started out as a personal shopper at Matches, dressing the likes of Mick Jagger. She was awarded an MBE in 2016, and serves on London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s Brexit business advisory panel.
The Starworks Group PR director is responsible for an impressive and eclectic talent roster, spanning WAH Nails, Kenzo and Ivy Park. But it’s the 29-year-old’s work with emerging menswear talent, including Charles Jeffrey Loverboy and the highly influential MAN/Fashion East young designer showcase, for which she is best known. “The best thing about this industry is the unpredictability. I mean, I met Charles Jeffrey on a dance floor,” she says. Prior to Starworks, Jewes headed up the fashion PR team at Selfridges.
The Finnish stylist is one of the most exciting creatives working the menswear scene in London. A frequent collaborator with London Fashion Week: Men’s brands Xander Zhou and John Lawrence Sullivan, her approach merges subcultures past and present, with a fluid vision of male identity. She routinely contributes to the likes of Man About Town, Dazed, Interview and T Magazine. A recent project with Dutch photographers Anuschka Blommers and Niels Schumm features a pot-bellied middle-aged male model looking resplendent in Raf Simons and Vetements. And that’s the thing about her work: she makes you look at menswear in a completely new way.
A woman who proves there’s more to menswear than a sharp suit and tie, since launching her brand in 2011 Andersen has played a fundamental role in reimagining sports luxe and challenging gender norms. Drake, A$AP Rocky and Rihanna are fans, and when the Danish designer needed a model for her Topman capsule collection, A$AP Ferg obliged. To dismiss her work as upmarket streetwear is to miss the point. She approaches menswear as an intellectual, and the results are often radical, sometimes jarring and always visually arresting.
Responsible for a mind-frazzling 400 brands, MrPorter.com’s buying director oversees the online luxury retailer’s total offer – and her impact on British men’s wardrobes is significant. Since taking the reins in March 2016, Firth has been quick to reflect the shifting menswear landscape. This includes launching an exclusive capsule collection with Gucci, and adding British designers spanning Craig Green, Stella McCartney, Connolly and Kent & Curwen. As a junior buyer, Firth says she favoured menswear because “I found that I could be more objective with male customers.”