Christopher Shannon Spring 2017 Menswear on Bessd

Christopher Shannon Spring 2017 Menswear

Christopher Shannon is a dazzling, ingenious, infuriating, and unpredictable designer. He’s possibly one of the best menswear designers in the world; he’s certainly high up there in London. What Shannon does is astoundingly clever—using the humdrum, the everyday, the plain naff, to create something inventive and progressive. He generally uses the language of streetwear—T-shirts, sweatshirts, his signature tracksuits—rethinking both appearance and function, making things that are complex and simple simultaneously.

For Spring 2017, Shannon turned his attention to denim—you can’t get more humdrum than that. After seasons experimenting with tech textiles, he said backstage, he wanted to get back to something more basic, in terms of fabric but certainly not design. Denim isn’t just a textile, but a loaded cultural talisman. Think of denim and you could wind up anywhere from James Dean to Elvis Presley to Jason Priestley, with a swerve into the machismo sexuality of Marky Mark in his Calvin Kleins. Today’s outing reminded this reviewer of no lesser talent than Dame Vivienne Westwood, who in the early ’90s used denim as a proletarian palimpsest to express her cultural affiliations at that particular moment. A Trojan horse, to not only get the message to the people, but to get the idea on to their backs, printing pieces with rococo masterpieces, or shredding them in imitation of Renaissance dress. There were shades of all of those in this show, but for Shannon himself, denim took him back to his 2008 Central Saint Martins MA graduation collection, to rethinking some of those propositions with almost a decade of experimentation behind him.

Shannon did just about everything imaginable with denim, except what you’d expect. In four hues from palest chambray to deep indigo, he patched it into tightly fitted sweatsuits or cut it into generous track jackets, and made lots of pairs of jeans and jean-jackets that were worn to tatters about the crotch and rear or dissected with riveted buttons to detach into shorts or a bolero. A couple bristled with belt-loops, like a denim-fur hybrid. Mutation was an underlying theme, in the cotton T-shirts (a rare denim deviation) that, as models turned, revealed an entire additional garment dangling from the hemline as decoration, or via drawstrings weaving through seams to enable the wearer to distort and distend the clothes as they wish. Jeans came with layered waistbands (more Marky) and a hop-along wide-skinny-leg hybrid.

Twisted normalcy is a good summary for what Shannon does. His desire this season was to “get back to focusing on the design and fabrication of garments.” In short, he stripped off gimmicks, so we could see what Shannon can really do, and what his label really stands for.

What was on good display this season was Shannon’s acerbic wit. A series of graphic sweatshirts, toying with the logo of British activewear retailer Sports Direct, were an in-joke that plugged into the culture-jamming logo appropriation characteristic of Vetements. Shannon was cleverer. He had a message—“No Ideas Guaranteed” was plastered down one sleeve, which could be read as a succinct critique of so many other designers’ approaches.

Or maybe it was a sarcastic, paradoxical label Shannon chose to affix to this innovative, excellent collection. A mark of his breathtaking confidence. Maybe Shannon was just taking the piss—because he knows the one thing that we can expect at a Christopher Shannon show is ideas. Lots of them. Great ones.

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