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Blurring of the gender lines at London Fashion Week

It is a new year and already it is back to business on the big runways with London Fashion Week Men, in a season that is experiencing a complete shake-up in the schedule, with more designers combining their men’s and women’s lines into one presentation.

Missing from the line-up are Burberry, Coach and McQueen, while Paul Smith, who often hosts an event in London, will add women’s designs to his long-standing slot on the ­menswear roster in Paris.

However, London’s autumn/winter 17 menswear season has gained a few stars, including Vivienne Westwood and Belstaff, who have elected to show womenswear now rather than next month. A number of younger menswear designers, including Agi & Sam and Katie Eary, are also incorporating women’s fashion into their lines. The industry is worth £28 billion (Dh125 billion) to the British economy, and there is no doubt Brexit and the slowdown in fashion exports to the Far East has proved to be a double whammy, so it makes economic sense for designers to present their seasonal collections as one.

The decision has been whether they do it now or, like Burberry, at the women’s ready-to-wear shows next month.

It all makes for a confusing time in the fashion world.

Joe Casely-Hayford, a womenswear designer in the 1990s before setting up the Casely-Hayford menswear label with his son, Charlie, has reintroduced women’s designs to celebrate his 30th anniversary as a label, and there is a clear blending of the genders in inspiration, fabrics and some amazing patchwork scuba shoes.

London has also gained rap-star Tinie Tempah as a designer. He debuts his What We Wear label on men, but says it will be a unisex collection. Also from the music world, Carl Gilliam, will.i.am’s older brother, has a range of luxury sneakers under the MCCVII MCCVIII Twelveoeight label.

Sharjah-born Khalid Al Qasimi used to design women’s fashion as well as men’s before being lured to Paris in 2009 to focus on menswear. He relaunched his collection a couple of years ago and is considering reintroducing womenswear in the future.

The London-based designer says his menswear, is partly self- referential but also expresses sociopolitical beliefs, so although his concept was inspired by Room 702 in the Amsterdam Hilton, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono held a “Bed-In” protest in 1969 (with references to beds, fluid loungewear and robes in the presentation), there were also sleeves and long sashes embroidered with Arabic calligraphy.

“‘There is a sky inside of me’, or ‘Dust from dust’ and ‘If I knew who was listening to us we wouldn’t be writing on walls’,” says Al Qasimi. “It’s very poetic isn’t it?”

There were more political and social messages in other ­collections. Liam Hodges showed camouflage and khaki puffa jackets and workwear jackets emblazoned with slogans such as ‘”Ideology is a myth’”.

Other slogans were emblazoned on denim and suede surplus garments at Christopher Shannon, worn with shredded face masks inspired by the national flags that football supporters often paint on their faces.

Vivienne Westwood, the outspoken doyenne of British fashion, is also deeply political, campaigning to save the planet.

That message was printed in slogans along with photomontages of herself and tribal-mask prints in her collection. She playfully approached the gender issue as well, a topic that has dominated fashion in recent seasons. In combining her MAN and Red Label collections as one eponymous label, she occasionally put a male model in a frothy skirt or gold dress, while the knitwear could be described as unisex. Nevertheless, there was lots of tailored check suiting for men and women that revisited some of her signature shapes, such as a small-fitted jacket with slouch pants.

The shows by Craig Green and J W Anderson are a big lure for press and buyers. Green’s travellers’ themed show encompassed sailors on the high seas in sou’westers and loosefitting rain gear, with carpetbaggers in strips of Moroccan-inspired ­carpet ­constructed as coats.

Anderson’s colourful autumn collection had overtones of the 1970s, with lanky youths in saggy knits and tabards trailing long scarves and super-stretched sleeves. Homespun crochet patchwork was a recurring theme, along with prints from stained glass windows and heraldic badges. The crochet patchworks on sleeves, aprons and shoes, he said backstage, reminded him of iPhone Apps.

J W Anderson, who also designs for Loewe, is one of the linchpins of the menswear shows in London, but maybe in the future he might consider combining the collections into one seasonal show.

Next up on the men’s fashion-week schedule is Milan, which runs from Saturday to Tuesday, followed by Paris, which kicks off on Wednesday and runs until January 26, and then the season wraps in New York, which runs from January 30 to February 2.

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