Spencer Hart on the runway

In the run-up to Singapore’s Men’s Fashion Week 2012, I happened to talk to a Singaporean menswear blogger about the usefulness of a good bowtie. They are elegant, don’t require a coat to complete the look, and can be calibrated for rakishness or solemnity. Above all, the bowtie is an enduring expression of classically masculine neckwear.

So imagine my surprise when my new companion informed me that he, too, enjoyed bowties immensely and had, in fact, just ordered one made of python skin from Paris.

Like python-skin bowties, menswear shows for men can often seem like extravaganzas put on mainly for the benefit of the designer and a small circle of adventurous individuals. Where are the clothes for the average straight male with a stylish bent?

So my focus for this year’s Men’s Fashion Week was wearability. British tailoring brand Spencer Hart’s suits, sportcoats and safari jackets are eminently wearable — if the average temperature isn’t 30 degrees Celsius with 70 percent humidity. Hart does make concessions to tropical weather, rendering many garments in lightweight tropical wool or porous kid-mohair blends, but sometimes it’s simply still too hot to wear a suit without sweating profusely.

Incredibly, the Week’s opening show was also the first time Spencer Hart’s designer, Nick Hart, had ever sent models down a runway. After a montage touting the celebrities Hart has dressed (Becks, P Diddy, and a bunch of other people I’d never heard of), a video of the Rat Pack in full flow in the Copa Room is played, weakly trying to connect that golden era of American dressy masculinity with the show that would take place.

Hart seems to like black, because that’s the colour most of his models wore. The rest of it didn’t deviate much from the menswear silhouettes currently in fashion, namely: ungenerous lapels in the 2″-2.5″ range, uncuffed trousers with no break that show a bit of ankle, plenty of waist suppression, and sleeves cut close to the body. Done badly, the overall effect is that of a shrunken suit left too long in the dryer — only without the novelty that Thom Browne brought with him when he forced the trend on us years ago.

But Hart’s pedigree comes through, and he doesn’t skimp on the coats’ length, keeping the garment at classic proportions — well below the models’ posteriors. The coats’ skirts remain obediently flat and the buttoned coats don’t bow at the chest despite the skinny-seeming fit. Hart’s detailing tips its hat to current classic menswear trends, with wide patch pockets, a minimally padded shoulder and chest, and one-button configurations on show.

The Japanese label Factotum comes close to topping the wearability stakes for the Week. Its blend of streetwear, Americana and classic menswear means that the pieces are just familiar enough for the wearer, but imbued with sufficient newness to persuade the wearer to part with hard-earned money for it.

Factotum on the runway

Take Factotum’s ‘stadium jumper‘ a Japanese take on an American varsity letterman jacket. It’s rendered in soft, shapeless, cotton and nylon, with monochromatic accents. Or its ‘check shirts mix‘, a cotton-Rayon number made up of three Tartans that looks like Factotum’s version of a Boston Brahmin’s “go-to-hell” shirt for the weekends.

While Factotum may lack the mischievousness of, say, Junya Watanabe for Comme des Garcons, its rugged yet playful looks would do well with Southeast Asian crowds used to gritty streetscapes.

If only it wasn’t such a chore to get to the wearable pieces. The Week’s theme was fashion and music, and festival boss Frank Cintamani (that’s Sin-tamani, by the way) opened the proceedings with the battle cry, “Where would Madonna or Lady Gaga be without fashion?”. Well, the Material Girl may owe fashion something, but it wasn’t apparent how the assorted Korean rappers and Japanese chanteuses assembled for the Week, which cost a reported SGD8 million to produce, were connected to the business of getting dressed.

On opening day, each show was followed by a performance by an East Asian performer. While the Guardian found the format refreshingly laid back in contrast to stuffy London events, this reporter saw dozens of people sneak out during the performances to buy more white wine or ogle the V8 Vantage parked in the pop-up Aston Martin showroom outside the hall. By the time the second performance began, it looked like a third of the audience had successfully slunk away.

Ironically, it was the musicians and singers who were called upon to boost the hastily assembled collection of designers and labels at this year’s Men’s Fashion Week in Singapore. Cintamani spoke of the rapidness with which he had to produce this year’s event in his opening speech, and well, it showed. There’s always next year, though. If nothing else, it looks like Men’s Fashion Week in the Republic is here to stay.

Factotum is available at Tangs Orchard

Image credits: Fide Productions