Passion Before Profit
Hailed on more than one occasion as menswear’s “working class hero”, Christopher Shannon’s CV reads like a dream.
Shannon studied a BA which was followed up with an MA at the illustrious Central Saint Martins. After graduating, Shannon established an eponymous menswear brand in 2008 which was launched and sustained with the support of the MAN and NEWGEN schemes. Years later, his designs are stocked in the likes of Harvey Nichols and Opening Ceremony, and his collections have earned him critical acclaim as well as a wealth of industry supporters.
On top of all this, the Liverpudlian designer is a brilliant interviewee. He comes across as intelligent, thoughtful and, above all else, likeable. No topic is left uncovered – from unisex fashion weeks (“I tried it but felt like it diluted the message of both collections, but sometimes it’s just a business decision and you need the images”) to the pace of the industry (“Raf Simons [who left his creative director role at Dior] had, I guess, the dream job in fashion and even he didn’t want to do it with all that support and financial gain”), Shannon offers a well-considered point of view.
Perhaps the best example of this is his AW16 collection, shown in January at the biannual London Collections: Men. Eschewing the traditional runway format, Shannon instead created a static presentation in the Alison Jacques Gallery. “Presentations are maybe more efficient,” he says of his decision, “you can say more in a way. You can curate the space and the clothes can be viewed close- up; it’s somewhere between catwalk and a retail environment, which I think helps buyers understand your vision.”
Entitled The Comfort and the Horror, the collection itself was a sartorial exploration of British suburbia. His work is often labelled as a commentary on class – tracksuits are reworked and updated, teamed with zip-up jackets featuring collars branded with “SHANNON”. Also in the same collection were PVC coats in shades of charcoal and inky blue as well as gingham shorts and gold coin earrings – a variety which is commonplace in Shannon’s collections. Asked if he designs with a message in mind, he’s quick to reinforce that his work is not deliberately ‘conceptual’. “I think when people decide to be ‘conceptual’ that’s when the work looks pretentious and cold – although I think there is a big market for that. I always had ideas so I don’t think I have ever formed a concept; for me it’s an ongoing narrative, there’s no stop point. It’s a dialogue between my personality and interests, and making clothing I think people will find desirable whilst affording myself a lifestyle and access to other creative experiences.”
"I think the biggest shift in fashion is the lack of desire for so-called luxury. I find that really inspiring."
This straightforward, honest tone has become characteristic of Shannon. “I still don’t really think of myself as a fashion designer,” he says. “I do like clothes though, and I like making images. And I like drawing.” Shannon’s uncorrupted passion for the creative process is evident in the originality of his individual designs, a far cry from the side of the industry which he explains “copies other garments and gets stylists to copy references, mashing them up into something that looks like fashion – hardly inspiring, is it?”
You could argue that Shannon represents a breed of designer that prizes creativity ahead of commerce, deliberately ignoring outdated notions of ‘luxury’ to make clothing which is desirable but also functional. He points out the homogeneity that still reigns supreme in the realm of commercial high fashion – “if you take a quick glimpse at the mens’ shows internationally, it’s still all mostly about tailoring and trench coats. I just don’t relate to that way of dressing or find anything sexy about it. A simple, well-cut suit, yes. But any sort of dandyness I find really tragic and pretentious. But I’m glad that other people supply that and I don’t have to think about it.”
Shannon’s work is the antithesis of mass-produced luxury and, if anything, his success is testament to the fact that a new generation is redefining desirability in fashion – a new kind of man more likely to fall in love with a high-end tracksuit than a Savile Row creation. “I think the biggest shift is the lack of desire for so-called luxury,” he argues. “I find that really refreshing, especially when the ‘luxury’ on offer is so standardised and uninspiring. Nobody needs more monogrammed bags – or they need a break from that at least. It’s time for something else.”
Maybe this is why the tracksuit is experiencing such a ‘moment’ – it used to be intrinsically linked to the working class and was, in many ways, the antithesis of luxury, but now designers like Shannon are elevating its status and redefining its place in society. In Shannon’s own words, he “has always used the tracksuit as a vehicle to explore different ideas”; considering its social perception, even the initial act of showing a tracksuit on a runway was, in some ways, subversive in its own right.
As well as using the tracksuit as a vehicle for exploration, Shannon has previously used slogans to communicate his message – more specifically in his AW15 show, which featured jumpers emblazoned with “Thanks 4 Nothing” and “Broke”. Although Shannon clarifies that the designs weren’t some overblown political statement, he does acknowledge that “you’d have to be totally mindless to notice that things aren’t great… I live in Hackney, you can’t live somewhere like that and not be faced with the reality of London. It’s a hard place and fashion is a really difficult industry.” On a more personal level, the collection also came at a turbulent time where the designer had recently come out of a seven-year relationship and been awarded with the BFC/ GQ Designer Menswear Fund. “I had all this cash while so many designers I knew were closing down. It wasn’t a great feeling… I suppose how I was feeling came out in the work more than I realised.”
With regards to finance, Shannon is quick to acknowledge that his own successes would never have been possible without a series
of grants throughout his education, as well a scholarship from the late, great Louise Wilson which supported him throughout his MA. Following the recent abolition of government grants, Shannon’s story and his sartorial explorations of the working class seem even more essential.
“I had to do unpaid internships, so did my friends,” he explains. “It’s easier if you have family in London and don’t have to rent, I know designers now who still live with their parents and are nearly 30 years old. I never had that option.” His honesty regarding his own upbringing makes his work both more authentic – this isn’t a rich kid appropriating a working class aesthetic – and more crucial in a country where class prejudice is shockingly prominent. Something of an anomaly in an industry obsessed with profit, right now Christopher Shannon’s refreshing outlook is making anything seem possible.
For more information about Christopher Shannon’s latest collection, visit christophershannon.co.uk