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James Long (Classic Dialogues)

Just why is London at the forefront of menswear? SEB LAW meets menswear designer JAMES LONG to find out 

“I Love London!” James Long tells me, halfway through our meeting. “My team is in London, my inspiration is in London, why would I go to Paris or Milan?” He’s got a point. Over the last ten years, London’s place as the radical younger sibling to the established cities of Milan, Paris and NYC has become more and more instrumental in the global fashion market. London’s place as a hotbed of radical, independently-minded talent combines the reputation of British fashion colleges and massive investment from high street retailers like Topshop.

It’s easy to take this freedom for granted, but for James it’s something personal that makes London his home. “It’s the people that support London menswear, like Charlie Porter and Luke Day who are special,” he explains, “I don’t know if there’s a one of them in Milan or Paris, but I very much doubt it.” The idea of fostering an environment to nurture talent like James is what London’s focus has switched to, and it looks like it’s worked: “the magazines that are into nurture, the stores are into nurture, there’s just a real involvement and a real push to make it happen.”

Further evidence of London’s talent was inextricably woven into the inaugural London Collections: Men. The 3-day series of showcases – of which James’ was undoubtedly one of the centrepieces – back in June highlighted British design talent, and finally aligned the innovative menswear scene with the global fashion calendar, and buying seasons. James sums up seemingly everyone in menswear’s feelings when he says: “I’ve waited so long for it to happen!”

While James’ show was memorable for many reasons, his SS13 collection will be remembered for the shorts. Cut loose across the knee, with stark panels and innovative pleating, these shorts were the talk of the attendees. “I wanted them to be really different;” he says, “not so strange that you couldn’t wear them, but enough that they become a signature on their own.” The collection of course includes trousers, but it’s the bold approaches like this one (“we just decided to edit everything else out to make the statement stronger”) that characterise the London approach. Designers at James’ level are not as shackled by global commerciality, and capitalise on their innovative thinking at a catwalk level through brand collaborations and design consultancies.

James is a consummate professional when it comes to this. His collabs serve not to dilute his brand, but to enhance it and draw in new customers while keeping the central core of what he does as free as possible. It’s a blueprint that many of London’s creatives are following; and after ten seasons of showing at LFW, now’s the time for the essential Topman collab. And it’s no simple line of T-shirts; James has been working with one of the top menswear talents, the brilliant Gordon Richardson. “Gordon just said do what you want,” says James, frankly “so there’s pieces of every bit of knitwear that I’ve ever done; all of the things that you’d associate with my collections are in there.”

The very existence of James as an independent entity ten seasons on is a testament to the rapid evolution of the British fashion industry. Not lured by international design houses, or even the bright lights of foreign cities, and not forced onto a commercial treadmill of jeans and fragrance, James embodies what British design says about Britain to the world.

–Seb Law

Field Notes

  1. James’ collab with Topman will be in selected stores worldwide and online at www.topman.com from October 6th
  2. Invitations to James’ shows are printed on a slice of leather from British factory Pittards
  3. James is now ten seasons into showing menswear in London, and three into his similarly fabulously-received womenswear

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