He may not be monarch for a while yet, but for the next four days he is undisputed king of the front row. With the first ever week of men’s catwalk shows in London falling hot on the heels of the jubilee, Prince Charles is the man charged with leading the British menswear industry into battle with the titans of France and Italy.
Tonight Prince Charles will host several hundred representatives from the fashion industry at a reception at St James’s Palace, in celebration of the menswear shows that begin tomorrow.
Whether the prince will adopt Anna Wintour’s trademark sunglasses for the duration is not known; what is certain is that the lure of a gold-embossed palace invitation is a significant coup for the British Fashion Council as they strive to fill the London front rows with the world’s most powerful buyers and editors.
Despite stiff competition from parties hosted by Tinie Tempah (featuring crazy golf on the roof of Selfridges) and retailer Mr Porter (with DJ Alexa Chung), the St James’s Palace invite the week’s hot ticket. Menswear by Margaret Howell and Claire Malcolm of Hardy Amies on display during the reception, alongside designs by Christopher Raeburn, the winner of the emerging talent in menswear award at the most recent British Fashion Awards.
But the prominence of Prince Charles signifies more than simply a wish to capitalise on jubilee fever. The rich Savile Row tradition of British tailoring and a drive to promote quality British craftsmanship are a key part of the message of this fashion week. Those steering the event are keen to move the image of British designer menswear on from the creative-but-crazy label and into more commercial territory.
This is a shift which has been successfully made in womenswear, where the London collections are now a slick and respected element of the global industry rather than the eccentric afterthought they once were.
Writing in Vogue two years ago, Prince Charles demurred from being labelled “fashionable”, but acknowledged that “there have been those generous enough to call me ‘well dressed'”. The Prince is a longtime customer of the shirtmakers Turnbull & Asser, whose shirts are made in a small factory in Gloucestershire, and the distinguished Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard.
“Clothes have to combine style with sustainability,” writes the prince in the current issue of GQ magazine, “and I find British-made tailoring more than meets that challenge – much to the amusement of my staff, who are sometimes surprised to find that what I am wearing turns out to be as old as or even older than they are”.
This week’s showcase for British designer menswear hopes to capitalise on new findings which show that while women are cutting back on luxury fashion and spending more on high street purchases, men are prioritising luxury purchases.
Research by American Express shows that in 2011, men’s year-on-year spending on luxury fashion grew slightly by 1%, while spending on mainstream fashion fell by 1.2%. In contrast, women cut back slightly (0.7%) on luxury fashion spending, while increasing spending on mainstream fashion by 5.2%.