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Phoebe English S/S17Phoebe English S/S17, Photography by Dham Srifuengfung

The Alternative Masculinity of Phoebe English’s S/S17 Boys

Eddy Martin and Eva Gödel reflect on the new wave of male models exhibited in the unconventional casting for Phoebe English's inaugural menswear presentation

TextOsman Ahmed Photographic EditorHolly HayPhotographyDham Srifuengfung
Lead ImagePhoebe English S/S17Phoebe English S/S17, Photography by Dham Srifuengfung

Phoebe English is softly spoken and has a gentle touch with her handmade textiles, so it’s little wonder that her debut presentation of menswear at London Collections: Men would echo her taste for thoughtful beauty. Collaborating with casting director Eddy Martin and Tomorrow Is Another Day, the world’s leading agency for unconventional male models, her line-up of boys for S/S17 brought her billowy collection of brushed cottons and striped linens to life. Each of the eight models sat in canvas-draped mise-en-scènes with an embroidery hoop to hand: a tribute to the men in English’s life. “Maybe it’s not a side of men that is often portrayed, but every man in my life, from my dad to my boyfriend and the men that produce my menswear, sews,” she explains. “If I’m honest, my menswear always begins with Sam, my boyfriend, and I wanted the boys to have an essence of him – he’s gentle and kind and not really masculine at all.”

Tall and slim, with a slight slouch and plenty of warmth, these boys were a far cry from the tropes of buff, hard-edged masculinity. “We wanted our boy to be romantic and real, a bit of a nerdy art student,” says Martin, who has worked with English for over two years, casting her womenswear presentations and lookbooks. “It’s not your high school heartthrob kind of guy; they were geeky and lanky, and that really comes from [Tomorrow Is Another Day] because they were the first to cast unconventional boys like that.” What was also notable was the lack of Euro-centric homogeneity in the group, which managed to steer clear of contrived diversity. “I think that is what feels really right at the moment, especially in London. It’s not just about ethnic diversity, but diversity in gender and sexuality, too. There are more designers exploring these ideas and, I’m not sure if this will filter into the bigger brands, but six foot two models with long blonde hair is not really what everyone wants any more!”

Every one of the faces in English’s presentation was first spotted by Eva Gödel, the Düsseldorf-based founder of Tomorrow Is Another Day, who has mentored boys into unparalleled success for the last 15 years. “I look for someone that I’d like to spend time with, and how they behave and move... the best place to scout is on the street or in a crowd because I prefer to see them walking,” she says. Her explanation as to why men’s fashion weeks and the male model casting process seems somewhat more relaxed, or “chilled out” as English puts it, than the female counterpart is enlightening. “Most boys are not full-time models and they don’t do it for long, so they have normal lives. Usually they’re doing it because they want to see the world, they like hanging out with the other boys and they want to earn some money for a car or college or their first flat. They know that they’re not going to become millionaires and marry a film star.”

When Gödel got a call from English last season about a shoot for her A/W16 lookbook, it provided an opportunity to introduce a new face to the camera. “I found this really nice boy outside a heavy metal concert called Kieran, and he honestly thought I was joking when I first approached him and was really unsure if he wanted to do it,” she explains. After working with English and her stylist, Ellie Grace Cummings, Kieran decided he wanted to go to Paris for the collections. “He tried it and liked it and went there open. Now, when he walks into a room he’s still that sweet kid, but he has so much more confidence.” Another one of Gödel’s discoveries, Yusuf, was equally dumbfounded by her interest and has since become an elegant model in Wales Bonner’s tableaus. “I went to Goldsmiths and nobody was there because there were exams. He had just come out of a four-hour politics exam with his glasses on. He’s incredibly intelligent and I think he’s going to do great things.”

Backstage at the presentation, all is remarkably calm and the boys are in and out without the flurry of bright, flashing lights that often follows the girls. Despite the ephemeral nature of a fashion show, their presence really is what carries the designer’s vision from drawing board to realisation. English is careful to stress that casting is just as much a part of her process as the hand weaving that goes into her laboured textiles. “As a process, it happens very quickly at the end, right before the show. It’s terrifying because just by one wrong choice it can go awfully wrong and miss what you’re trying to say, or it can really transform and heighten everything else and really complete the collection. It really can make it or break it.”