John Alexander Skelton Fall 2023 Menswear Collection

Whenever conventional wisdom would have told John Alexander Skelton to take a certain path, he’s gone the other way. Despite the launchpad promised by his prize-winning Central Saint Martins graduate collection in 2016, he instead chose to scale his brand up slowly and modestly, primarily working made-to-order and with a carefully-managed list of around two dozen stockists. And over the past few years, his presentations—more like happenings, in fact, involving as they have everything from a lock-in at a 350-year-old pub, to a roof-raising recital from Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, to an eerie procession through a church crypt—have garnered him increasing buzz as an under-the-radar talent within London’s menswear ecosystem. This season, he decided to scale things back a little, opting for an exhibition of photographs and a film.

Still, there was plenty of Skelton’s innate flair for storytelling (with his shaggy, shoulder-length hair and mustache, even the designer’s rakish appearance feels plucked straight out of a 19th-century novel) to be found. Staged among the crumbling plaster and exposed brick walls of the House of Annetta in Spitalfields, the intensely atmospheric images by photographer William Waterworth captured the collection on a motley crew of locals around the remote Orkney Islands, an archipelago off the northern tip of Scotland that houses some of Europe’s best-preserved Neolithic sites. In fact, the photographs were displayed in frames etched with motifs inspired by Neolithic carvings, which also cropped up across Skelton’s signature fabrics of flannels, linens, tweeds, and wools, largely sourced from across the British Isles.

For while Skelton is a masterful storyteller, the clothes are always the thing. And here, in Waterworth’s crisp, moody pictures, every detail was able to fully shine. There were shirts crafted from hand-woven, block-printed Indian cottons featuring elaborate motifs inspired by books Skelton dug up on the art of Stone Age Britain, worn under cardigans of speckled Donegal wool and pulled together with swirling, cosmic metal brooches and clasps crafted by jewelry designer Slim Barrett. Felted British wool hats, lined with antique French linen, were made in collaboration with historical handicrafts expert Rachel Frost, while boots made from deadstock leather were produced in partnership with the Berlin-based zero-waste shoemaker Matthias Winkler. Every meticulously-crafted ingredient spoke not just to Skelton’s almost scholarly approach to building a network of makers and manufacturers who can bring his exacting vision to life—alongside the small team in his studio that finishes all his pieces by hand, that is—but also just how cohesive that vision truly is.

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