Brits Abroad! British designers take UK heritage to Milan Fashion Week
Martine Rose, Charles Jeffrey and JORDANLUCA bring the sporty sleaze of UK subculture to Italy
image Pietro D'Aprano/Getty Images
words Sophie Lou Wilson
Between Brexit, the Queen dying and Harry’s chaotic memoir, it’s fair to say the UK has been going through a bit of an identity crisis. At times, it feels like we’re living on a grey, miserable island where everything’s too expensive, but then a wave of creatives come along to remind us that it’s not all doom and gloom; that Britain actually has a rich, vibrant cultural history.
From coal mining and club culture to Lonsdale and London hardcore, designers at this season’s Pitti Uomo imported some of the best of Britain’s diverse subcultural heritage to the historic streets of Florence and Milan. Since London scrapped its men’s fashion week in 2021 in favour of a coed schedule, British menswear designers have been leaving for Paris or Milan en masse.
This season, Martine Rose, Charles Jeffrey and JORDANLUCA presented their sporty, subversive designs for Autumn/Winter 2023, proving that London’s upstarts set the pace, even when they’re standing next to the giants of Italian fashion. If the migration of these British menswear designers ever felt like a betrayal, they made up for it by experimenting with an exciting melting pot of influences to marry British subculture with Italian glamour.
The city’s tram tracks, nightlife and can-do spirit drew Charles Jeffrey out of London and into Milan because they reminded him of his hometown, Glasgow. Right off the bat, Jeffrey sent out a grey tweed blazer emblazoned with tongue-in-cheek slogan: “THE SCOTTISH BASIC.” The usual punk-infused tailoring came through strong, but not as strong as the dirt smudged faces and paraffin lamp that made models look like they were on their way back from a long shift down the mines.
Inspiration came from the Scottish playwright and artist John Byrne, particularly his The Slab Boys trilogy exploring the lives of young, working-class Scots in the 1960s. Elsewhere in the collection, Britain arrived more literally through knitwear embedded with stones and sundries sourced from the Thames. Newspaper prints from the fictional title, "The Scottish Basic", felt like a nod to British tabloid culture. Brightly coloured tartan echoed Scotland’s national dress while surrealist art prints started to usher in a more European aesthetic.
Laddish British boxing brand Lonsdale made its first ever play for high fashion this season at JORDANLUCA’s AW23 show. The British-Italian duo brought together the upbeat spontaneity of London’s youth and queer subcultures with the studied craftsmanship of Italian fashion.
Lonsdale’s branded grey sweatpants were twisted into men’s skirts, a modern, subversive play on the sportswear brand’s history with UK lad culture. A hybrid grey hoodie was stitched with a leather jacket while an off-the-shoulder navy sweater came with matching leggings. Houndstooth coats alluded to the formalities of Savile Row tailoring while silk bomber jackets and pink camo print would make sleek rave attire.
Tottenham-based Martine Rose also looked to nightlife for her first non-London show. The designer, who’s known for drawing from '80s and '90s subcultures, looked to Italo disco for her AW23 collection. Italo disco and house music swept across the UK in the ‘80s where it collided with British rave culture, creating a sporty sleaze look that Rose channelled with sports jackets and multi-pocket cargos.
Low-slung bumster pants harked back to the controversial Y2K moral panic around low-rise men’s trousers. The show’s music also expressed the British-Italian cultural exchange, transitioning from Italo disco to London hardcore. Indeed, Rose’s collection could well be a capsule holiday wardrobe for young Brits living it up on Italian city breaks.
British lads don’t exactly have the best reputation when it comes to holidaying in Europe. There might be some truth to the Brits abroad stereotype, but at Pitti Uomo, UK designers brought much more to the continent than heavy boozing or badly spoken Spanish, reclaiming Britishness through cultural exchange rather than post-Brexit patriotism. In spotlighting the fashion, music and nightlife of their hometowns, each collection was a love letter to British heritage and the diverse overlapping youth subcultures that helped create it.