It’s 2 PM on a Tuesday, and we’re analyzing men over coffee. But seated across from me, Colleen Allen is far more interested in discussing their dressing habits rather than their dating ones. “I think it’s a really exciting time for menswear because men are more willing than ever to experiment and genuinely like clothes,” she says. Currently on her placement year as a menswear design student at Central Saint Martins, Allen challenges the traditional suit-and-tie aesthetic by incorporating into her work silhouettes and fabrics not typically associated with masculinity.
Before transferring to CSM from Parsons last year, the 22-year-old Chicago native had been exploring the idea of the suburban American man, “This boy who grows up in the suburbs and the only thing that he knows about dressing is maybe based on his father or these other kinds of American men around him,” Allen explains. “How does he interact with clothes? How can he subvert something from his dad’s wardrobe into something that’s maybe more rebellious?”
When Allen moved to London last fall, her focus shifted to his English equivalent, who is both similar and different. There are still those tough utilitarian elements present in how he dresses, yet he lives within a hyper-feminine setting. “English florals are such a big part of the culture, men are surrounded by these of wallpapers in their homes,” Allen says. “In their presentation of themselves they still have to be so masculine even if they live in a very feminine space.”
Her most recent lookbook for Spring/Summer 2018 reflects this ongoing fascination with the conflicting male identity. Lavender floral prints and transparent nylon lend a welcome ethereal quality to an otherwise broad shouldered raincoat, while graphic knits and drawstring waisted trousers are more form fitting and feature a distorted print of the omnipresent Queen’s face. “A lot of my silhouette is kind of questioning these traditional shapes or ideas of masculinity,” Allen explains. “If I’m using something that’s traditionally a womenswear fabric, I want to do this hyper-masculine shape, but then if I use a super utilitarian menswear fabric then I use something that’s a bit more feminine.”
In addition to pulling together an entire lookbook, Allen has wasted no time while on her placement year. She spent the last semester assisting Vogue contributing editor, Jorden Bickham and will be interning this spring for the design director at Calvin Klein. Unsurprisingly, she cites Raf Simons as one of her biggest influences. “Without him, I don’t think menswear would look like what it looks like now,” she says.
And while she appreciates the fast-paced energy of New York, Allen looks forward to returning back across the pond later this year to start work on her final collection. “American men are less willing to play,” she laughs. All jokes aside though, she remains very steadfast about what she wants as a designer, with her main focus right now on bringing her designs to life and just getting them out there. “I want to create this world that I want to be surrounded by,” she says. “And I think that the people who want to be a part of that world will also be attracted to it.”
Words Alice Bell
Photography Tanner Abel