Up until the 1960s, menswear was a very formal affair with classic suiting silhouettes and a muted colour palette of black and grey standing firm as the signature city man’s uniform, whether for work or play. But then came Michael Fish, the menswear entrepreneur with a burning desire to shock people with his garish designs. We take a look at how he influenced the men’s fashion industry and contributed to what is now fondly remembered as the Peacock Revolution.
When Michael Fish first started working in the fashion industry, he was positioned at men’s outfitters, Turnbull & Asser whose aesthetic was consistent with that of the time… conservative. His first collection of ready-to-wear shirting featured something new, bold and unconventional which not only gave the retailer an edge over its competition but encouraged a shift in the consumer’s mind set – could getting dressed in the morning be fun? Bold prints, a statement colour palette and oversized collars set the tone for what was to come, and for those less taken with this new eccentricity, there was the option of a wide tie, a flourish of colour in a handkerchief or embroidered detailing on accessories.
In 1966, Mr. Fish, as he called himself, opened his own boutique on Clifford Street in Mayfair which presented its clients with bags emblazoned with the slogan ‘Peculiar To Mr. Fish’. How fitting. Here, the designer really exhibited his vision and sparked what soon became known as the Peacock Revolution. Rich velvet, velour and silk designs came adorned with statement ruffles, rich brocades and intricate embroidery, all of which referenced the more impactful aesthetic of 18th century fashion. In essence, this was a look of unashamed exhibitionism and it encouraged a change in the how men’s clothing was viewed.
Whilst the frills, the bow necklines and the dandy-esque prints were a celebration of design elements previously perceived to be too feminine for men’s clothing, Mr Fish had something far more revolutionary up his sleeve. He is reported to have said that men ‘weren’t physically designed for trousers’, and thus, the dress for men was born. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is a look that garnered itself a celebrity fan-base almost instantly with rock’n’roll legends Mick Jagger and David Bowie embracing the look. In fact, the skirt that Bowie wore on the cover of his album – The Man Who Sold The World – was a Mr. Fish creation. But his celebrity following didn’t stop there. His clothes were also famously worn by fashion photographer, David Bailey and he joined forces with the likes of Mary Quant and Valentino to curate some of the era’s most credible and coveted runway shows.
And so, whilst Fish’s collections were steeped in historical reference, they too presented something wholly modern that shocked and shaped the industry (in a good way, of course). Still now, he is credited as being one of modern fashion’s most influential menswear designers; one who redefined dandyism and introduced creativity where it was undoubtedly lacking. You just have to look at Gucci and JW Anderson’s most recent runway collections to realise the impact of his work. Which is perhaps why it has since been resurrected and presented within the walls of London’s iconic Victoria and Albert Museum. And for a British artist, is there really any greater achievement?
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