If the Paris men’s shows last week were a mixed bag in some ways, pitting soaring highs against doubtful "hmmms," there was at least one thing that provided near-universal unity: shine. Perhaps it’s because, for most fashion-conscious males, everything that can be done with menswear has been done, and most of what the edgier, off-off-off-Broadway designers are proposing may never see the bright light of commercial day. Therefore, fun with fabric is the only remaining way to push fashion into the future.
The future is something that’s gripping the fashion world right now, especially since Balenciaga‘s android collection last October and Lanvin‘s unexpected take a few days later. The designers that are reaching forward are primarily doing so via fabric research, and some more blatantly than others.
Raf Simons, take a bow. As the leader in the fabric-research field, Simons has had his finger on the pulse of what’s modern for a long time, and the world is finally catching up. His ingeniously bisected suiting, juxtaposing curving panels of shine with matte or varying darkness, dense lead basket-weaves, precise knits, and shirt-and-pants looks were never overwhelmed by the long, techno gloves that accessorized the models’ arms.
Austrian designer Ute Ploier is a student of Simons, and it shows. But by mining a dark future in an incredibly focused collection, she’s successfully set off in a direction that’s starting to bear sure-footed and suitably Stygian fruit — and she has a knack for making capes totally believable. At Number (N)ine, Takahiro Miyashita worked a Western theme, producing dark grungy layers of plaids, wools, and velvets, while keeping shine to a minimum in the wrinkled and waxed leather jackets.
At Dior Homme, Hedi Slimane, who said he was partly inspired by the Jim Jarmusch film Permanent Vacation, sent out shades of Teddy boy, mod, Romper Stomper, Jackson Pollock, and grunge. It made for a disorienting mix until the finale of boys in pleat-waist sarouels with skinny jackets and trailing undershirts condensed the main message: this is Slimane’s new silhouette. By sampling foreign cultures in a modern way, and a mix between fitted and bulky, the designer captured a new aesthetic. His sense of shine came through in a sparkling silver jacket, in another with cobweb tracery, and in an explosion of candy-colored beads.
Without a show or a single designer heading it (Ozwald Boateng’s role has changed, which means no longer having to witness his excruciatingly pompous bow-taking), the Givenchy selection was small, sharp, and dark. Furry goat made an undercoat beneath tailored black whipcord, alongside a hooded patent parka.
With fresh money in his pocket, Bruno Pieters‘ first proper men’s collection was the well-thought-out affair we’d hoped for. Copper skinny suiting with interesting cummerbund action was on Future Boulevard, but with bloused smocks, shortened trousers, and knitted gaiters, there was also a rather enchanting notion of Brueghel. Pieters’ technique is sharp as a tack.
Louis Vuitton required a second look to get past the colored hair and lipstick-holder bags. It was about plays on tone, from pearly nylon parkas and contrasting coat facings to color-blocked zipped blousons and leaching hues running beautifully through shirts and suits. For those looking for a lighter touch of color, a double-faced cashmere trench could be offset with classic derbies ringed with neon stripes.
Lanvin’s was a color story as well, and designer Lucas Ossendrijver, along with Alber Elbaz, did some exquisite fabrics. Colors like midnight blue, garnet, and forest green met fabrics including duchesse satin and cashmere, producing silhouettes that veered between a welt pocket, collarless poor-boy jacket and a trench with a soft, scrunch-rise collar. An ultra-fine hoodie in breitschwanz was exceptional. Oh, and there were silver pants, too!
Hermès designer Véronique Nichanian has a way of making fabric research seem anything but laboratory-like. Her way with fabrics and skins is legendary, and although she caught the season’s shine bug, she showed it as glossy vicuna — the noblest, most expensive fabric of them all. Likewise, at YSL, Stefano Pilati’s universally lauded collection was clearly designed by a grown-up for grown-ups. Nipped-waist cashmere jackets and soft, full trousers (some with severely dropped crotches) combined with sheared mink sweatshirts and casually tied scarves in a collection that celebrated ’80s oversize without any of the decade’s ugliness. Quilted gilt lining and a glossy trench added that all-important shine, but Pilati also reminded us of the arresting power of the colored sock.
John Galliano has never been a stranger to mixing his own line’s look with that of his work at Dior, so after his spectacular couture show for the French house, one might have hoped for the same clarity when it came to his men’s show. That was not to be, as Galliano’s visual imagination ran the gamut from Attila to Mad Max (with some past Dior-esque armor thrown in). Yet this time it was easier to see beyond the horned helmets and padded crotches to yummy leather jackets and embroidery-daubed tailoring.
When one US editor said to another, upon exiting the Dries Van Noten show, "That’s going to be the collection for everyone to beat," he expressed a widespread view. But looking past editorial interest, this was quite an unexpected Dries outing, especially after the jazzy reception that preceded it. It made for a Ray Petri Buffalo moment (Neneh Cherry’s "Buffalo Stance" was on the sound system) as equestrian prints and oversized shapes were mixed with sheer jacquard knits and full, pleat-front satin pants. Shine came through in silver shoes, quilted outerwear, and shimmering rainwear in changeant fabrics. As a whole, it was jarring, but there were so many great pieces mixed in there; faithful followers will have reason to cheer. Ditto for the offering at Number (N)ine. Tabahiro Miyashita did not disappoint with his usually rock ‘n roll parade of understated layering in the crumpled, yet impeccably tailored multi-pocketed jackets, long knits and knee-high boots sent down the runway.
Combining Gieves & Hawkes and Gieves in one decadent presentation made sense, for designer Joe Casely-Hayford has a magic eye attuned to the subtleties of classic menswear, and knows how to make it modern. No silver suits here, although a sheepskin coat had a bronzed glaze and accessories — from buckshot boots to raspberry velvet slippers and weighty gold tassels — provided luxury with a backstory.
Rykiel Homme and Véronique Branquinho seemed to operate outside any urgent fashion trends, which is no bad thing. Rykiel’s lumberjack skier owned the slopes in his swakara-style knits and coyote collars, much like Branquinho’s man lost in thought on empty, wet streets with a (as always with this preternaturally talented designer) wardrobe of corduroy jackets detailed with cable knit inserts, slim sheepskin coats, and wide, wool flannel pants. Branquinho understood that the padded gilet is an important part of next fall’s layering, but Kris Van Assche, who went astray showing badly-accessorized menswear and womenswear side by side, went a bit overkill on the down-filled front.
Raf Simons a/w ’07-’08
Ute Ploier a/w ’07-’08
Dior Homme a/w ’07-’08
Louis Vuitton a/w ’07-’08
Lanvin a/w ’07-’08