We trace the 10-year history of one of London menswear’s most nurturing and on-point initiatives; Lulu Kennedy’s MAN.
From the 10th Birthday Issue of Wonderland.
Lulu Kennedy is a force to be reckoned with. The founder of both the Fashion East and MAN initiatives, Kennedy has been championing emerging British designers for over 15 years, carving a path that prides independence within the fashion landscape. Bringing the underground to the forefront of the industry and celebrating the youths shaping the future, Fashion East has seen Kennedy pioneer the likes of Marques’Almeida, Martine Rose, Gareth Pugh, Roksanda Ilincic and Louise Gray. This year Fashion East’s younger male counterpart MAN turns 10 and Kim Jones,
J W Anderson, Astrid Andersen, Christopher Shannon, Benjamin Kirchhoff and New Power Studio amongst others, can all count themselves part of Kennedy’s fast-expanding MAN gang.
Born in Newcastle and raised in Devon, Kennedy spent her youth working at art galleries and organising raves (a few years were spent living in Naples doing just that), before landing a job at the Old Truman Brewery straight out of college in 1996. “I basically ran wild as a kid and as a teenager, so I was never going to be much use at a ‘normal’ job,” quips Kennedy. “Being surrounded by creative people kind of puts you in an alternative mindset too. My heroes were usually people in my family or close friends rather than distant celebrities, which gave me the feeling that anything is possible.” Kennedy is right. Tasked with turning the then derelict 11-acre warehouse into a creative hub for east London’s designers, artists, photographers and all-round visionaries, rather than spending her time overseeing extensive restorations, Kennedy was loaning runway space to emerging designers and renting out cheap studio space to friends in similar industries. “I suppose in a way you could say my ‘career’ – I feel funny saying that word – started at the Bricklayers Arms, when I met Hazel and Pablo of House of Jazz,” recalls Kennedy. “They were the first designers I’d ever known, and became a massive inspiration to me.” It was shortly after that that Kennedy turned her show-space favours into the Fashion East platform, and luckily the owner of The Truman Brewery hopped on board to bankroll it.“I jumped in headfirst – quite unaware of the politics of the industry – with a desire to help look after designers, and the rest kind of looked after itself,” says Kennedy. “I’m very lucky I’ve ended up in fashion. I love what I do.”
Having already paved the way with Fashion East, which was becoming a mainstay on the London womenswear circuit, it was at a CSM MA show that Kennedy had a revelation. “The menswear students were so strong,” she recalls. “I was like, ‘Why aren’t we doing anything with these designers?’ They’re all going off to get jobs, which is great on one hand, but also a shame.” Realising that the talented designers in question needed a support system in order to reach their full potential, Kennedy approached Topman with a plan. “We were on the same page and they jumped at the idea when I went to talk to them,” says Kennedy. “We just clicked right away.”
At the time, Kennedy was inspired by the work of Kim Jones and Christoffer Lundman. Back then, Jones was sending silver-haired boys down an industrial metal runway wearing oversized trousers, strung in at the waist, teamed with deconstructed sweatshirts said to be inspired by “Russian Prisoners”, with what Tim Blanks referred to as “the energy of an 80s Body Map show”. Meanwhile, Lundman’s boys were clad in powder-blue denim co-ords and rich velvet garms with platform brogues. “They’re the main reason I got so into menswear, they’re really very excellent designers,” says Kennedy. “I also loved what Raf Simons and [Martin] Margiela were doing, but that was about all I knew or followed.” Openly admitting that her knowledge of menswear was “basically zero”, it was by attending college shows, speaking to lecturers or friends and generally scouring the London fashion scene, that Kennedy was able to scout out her cream of the crop – those with “intelligence, creativity, spirit, energy, humour”.
With the help of Topman, the debut MAN show held at the Atlantis Gallery next to The Truman Brewery in September 2005 featured Jones (who screened a fashion film by Will Davidson), Lundman and Topman Design (who showed under the umbrella for the first five seasons). “Everyone we wanted was there, it was buzzing, the reviews were good. I seem to remember it being quite boozy…” laughs Kennedy. “I had such an amazing sense of happiness that it went down so well.” The list of designers Kennedy has nurtured currently ranks at over 40. They’re more interested in pioneering their own label, she says, than getting a job. “My biggest fear [if it wasn’t for MAN] would have been being forced down a more commercial route in order to survive,” explains Astrid Andersen, one of Kennedy’s crop. “The opportunity to grow slowly allows you to truly build a brand, that’s otherwise very difficult and costly.”
Looking back on the decade, we really have seen it all. Remember the time New Power Studio sent models down the runway on a mobility scooter, wearing full-size bass drums as headwear and
a real life child – Roman – in favour of a backpack? “I think that was my highlight, just for sheer exposure,” says NPS’s Thom Murphy. “We had half a page in The Sun, and illustration of us
in Private Eye, and all the other usual cool mags. It was a special moment – totally terrifying as it could have all gone wrong, but we made it.” Meanwhile, we’ve witnessed Cassette Playa’s Carri Munden dance down the aisle hand-in-hand with Sonic the Hedgehog (kitted out in custom CP); Astrid Andersen lead a gang of gold-lipped-guys down the catwalk in velveteen tracksuits; and Agyness Deyn steal the show draped in Henry Holland’s studded leathers. The venues have spanned from the Old Truman Brewery and Holborn’s Old Sorting Office, to Topshop’s disused Eurostar station and everywhere between. Then when it comes to the after-parties, suitably wild affairs have seen Kennedy herself play barmaid and designers switch to DJs at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club (whilst the real DJ was spotted serving himself generous helpings behind the bar). Elsewhere, as Kennedy blogged on her namesake site back in 2009, Katie Hillier whipped her heels off “leading the troops into full on dancefloor combat” at east London’s Bistrotheque.
The most recent showcase – June’s MAN Turns 10 anniversary event – saw Royal College of Art graduate Liam Hodges and Central Saint Martins-educated designer Rory Parnell-Mooney present their SS16 collections at Topman Design’s space during London Collections: Men. Having only been on the fashion week circuit as a standalone event – separate to women’s fashion week – since June 2012, it’s safe to say fashion’s fairy godmother Kennedy was the catalyst. Now she’s leading the way not just in London, but on a global stage, with New York hosting their first stand-alone men’s fashion week this summer. Kennedy is quick to shrug it off when I ask, “Did you ever expect to have such an influence?” “Nope,” she says. “I just feel my way through things; it felt right to start menswear, so that’s what I did, without overthinking it.” For Kennedy, acting on instinct has sure payed off. “It seems like the whole world is into supporting emerging talent all of a sudden.” She’s right, and why wouldn’t it be? The future is shaped from the bottom up. The rest of the world just isn’t able to kill it at Kennedy’s pace, that’s all.
“I don’t know where I would be without MAN… I wouldn’t trade my experience for the world.” Shaun Samson
J W ANDERSON
AGI & SAM
“We were part of something that felt so big. Very surreal.” Astrid Andersen
“Lulu was full of energy, advice, encouragement and fun. She was a trailblazer – fixing, sorting, organising and laughing, always.” James Long
Photographer: Jesse Jenkins
Fashion: Madeleine Østlie
Words: Brooke McCord