The last time I had seen Peter Mandelson had been at a dinner given by Evgeny Lebedev. This was at Evgeny’s apartment near Regent’s Park about six months previously. The dinner was a bit like a media version of Cluedo, full of famous people (and me) who had, at some point in their lives, probably tried to knife one of their fellow diners in the back.
There was Mandy, along with Stephen Fry, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Janet Street Porter, London Evening Standard editor Sarah Sands, Jemima Khan, Rupert Everett and Nigel Farage. Ah yes, dear old Nigel. The Ukip leader was actually exactly as I expected him to be, a saloon-bar Charlie with a good line in tailor-made anecdotes and witty asides. His most endearing trait was trying to convince me what a naughty boy he was, telling me that he hadn’t been home for so long that his wife was going to send him out to the doghouse as soon as he did.
‘The little old lady’s not going to be too happy to see me!’ he claimed, as though he had just spent the month with a gaggle of Victoria’s Secret models.
He also didn’t hold back when discussing the Prime Minister.
‘My biggest problem with David Cameron is that he simply doesn’t tell the truth,’ he told me. ‘He needs to own up to his party, and to the country as a whole… he needs to own up to the fact that he doesn’t have the courage to follow his convictions. If he has any convictions, that is.’
As for Mandelson, he spent most of the evening deep in conversion with Jemima Khan, with the pair of them laughing aloud as though they were recently reunited lovers (unlikely that, obviously). So it was with some surprise that I saw one of Jemima’s tweets the next morning, telling all and sundry that Mandy was ‘one of the most odious, self-satisfied, misogynistic men I have ever met. Compellingly, fascinatingly horrible.’
The Peter Mandelson (or Colonel Mustard) I met at the Richard James fashion show on London’s Park Lane in January seemed unperturbed by Jemima’s outburst, and was far more interested in the rather lovely array of brightly coloured suits he’d just seen come down the catwalk in the BMW showroom. ‘Richard really is the very best at this kind of thing, isn’t he?’ he said. It was a rhetorical question.
‘This kind of thing’ is the 90 or so fashion shows, presentations, events, dinners and parties that make up London Collections: Men, a four-day extravaganza that happens twice a year, showcasing the very best fashion designers in the world. The edition earlier this month featured shows from the likes of Tom Ford, Burberry, Alexander McQueen, Paul Smith, Hackett, Dolce & Gabbana, Moschino, Jimmy Choo and Gieves & Hawkes. The British Fashion Council asked me to help launch LC: M just over two years ago, as a platform for British menswear designers. I knew that in order to attract the required calibre of journalist and buyer to London for the event, we needed to make it fun — so much fun, in fact, that people simply couldn’t afford to miss it.
Which, I think, I hope, we did.
For the past few years, the menswear element of London Fashion Week had been tacked on to the end of the women’s shows, almost as an afterthought. But there had been increasing interest from designers wanting to show, and so much interest from the press and consumers alike, that it was decided by the British Fashion Council to create our own Men’s Fashion Week, and to move it to a more relevant time in the calendar.
Which is what we did, moving it so that London’s Men’s Week now precedes Florence, Milan, Paris and New York.
And why London? Well, because we have such rich heritage, and so much diversity, that’s why. Not only do we have the greatest tailors in the world in Savile Row, not only do we have the best youth culture and street style in the world (we invented everything from the teddy boy to the punk), we also have some of the world’s most high-profile fashion designers in Paul Smith, Christopher Bailey and the Alexander McQueen brand, as well as some of the most commercially savvy young designers of this or any other generation.
Our first week, launched by Prince Charles in June 2012, was far more successful than we expected it to be, proving that there was not just great enthusiasm for this project, but a genuine need as well. David Cameron launched our second week, the following January, while our third week had the support of Boris Johnson almost as soon as it was announced. ‘London is to the suit as Parma is to the Parmesan cheese,’ he said at the time. London Collections: Men came about because we felt that menswear was suddenly becoming more interesting than womenswear, because for the first time in an age, British menswear felt as though it had the ‘big mo’, as though it finally had some serious traction.
Today, men’s fashion isn’t so much a lifestyle choice as a huge business, and one of the things we have prided ourselves on at the sharp end of the organising committee for London Collections: Men is our ability to inject some juice into the economy. After all, fashion is a business, and it always comes down to money. London Collections: Men has become a platform for the menswear industry in this country, but one which we hope the designers can use as a shop window. It’s all about celebrating our ingenuity, our zest, our spark, while taking the pejorative out of the word ‘creative’. London has been portrayed as a creative hub since the Swinging Sixties, but often in the most patronising way, as though we might have been very good at producing pop stars and trousers but rather less good at exporting them.
There is a new sensibility in Britain, a sensibility that uses creativity as a springboard, but which uses business as a harness. And so we’re driven not only by an ambition to make London Collections: Men work, but by an appetite on behalf of the people involved, and of course of the industry at large.
So far — fingers crossed behind back, rictus grin — it appears to be working. If you happened to be anywhere near the West End of London any time from 14 to 17 June, and saw the likes of Elton John, Tom Ford and — no doubt — Peter Mandelson wandering around with a purposeful look in the eye, they were probably on their way to some kind of fashion extravaganza.
And Nigel Farage? Well, he would probably have been in the pub. In an ill-fitting, beer-stained suit.
Dylan Jones is editor-in-chief of GQ and chairman of London Collections: Men.