Paris Menswear: Whimsical Fantasy

It may have been hidden behind charcoal grey and somber pinstripes, but there was a distinct element of fantasy at work during the Paris menswear collections—made all the more poignant by its darkness and restraint.

Some designers combined simple silhouettes with ultra-lavish materials, letting the fabrics take center stage. The Louis Vuitton collection was filled with practical, travel-ready pieces, but we were particularly seduced by their tantalizing color palette—rusty pumpkin, chocolate, plum—and luxurious textures of alligator, mink, silk and wool moiré. Dries Van Noten created even more traditional pieces in sleek techno-fabrics—from peacoats and trenches to crease-front trousers and pinstriped shirts—while YSL used cashmere, croc and leather to sex up voluminous jackets and cropped pants, reportedly inspired by hip-hop culture.

Others took the contrast theme to even greater heights, mashing up wildly divergent influences in one look—at times even in a single garment. Comme des Garçons juxtaposed feminine elements (jeweled leopard print flats; veiled, feathered headpieces; knee-length man skirts) with traditional pinstripe trousers and severe jackets. Raf Simons jolted his sleek, slim black suit jackets with hot pink and electric blue contrast sleeves in sporty neoprene.

Elements of sporting gear were found in other unlikely places as well. In his first dedicated menswear collection, Gareth Pugh debuted a puffy vest fit for his signature galactic warrior: long and shiny, geometrically quilted, styled with black leather gloves and knee-high studded combat boots. Meanwhile, Paul Smith put neon bike shirts under traditional pinstriped suits and Junya Watanabe channeled the dapper outdoorsman, cuffing skinny camo pants and patching together a tweed and leather blazer with a raincoat hood. Rick Owens’ collection had a similarly outdoorsy feel, but with a far more primal edge: fur bandanas and boots, an alligator coat and gilded breastplates that resembled antler or bone were worn with a “trapper hat” and series of hooded parkas that wouldn’t look out of place in the Alaskan wilds.

The fantasy of lazy, languid comfort, was most strongly championed by Yohji Yamamoto, whose models looked like they’d been locked out of the house while getting the morning paper. The collection featured fuzzy blue slippers, silk pajamas with robe-style wool coats and boxers worn over pants. The comfort stakes were raised with layers of oversized sweaters, deluxe sweatpants, quilting, leg warmers and suits that appeared to be swallowing the models whole.

Henrik Vibskov and Frankie Morello were also inspired by PJs, with the former sending out striped long johns, and the latter combining matching silk shirt and boxers with a bow tie, hat, suit jacket and patent shoes. Viktor & Rolf paired a morning jacket with sweats, while Lanvin spun a more wearable world of comfort, which included a jersey suit, billowing, silky pants, sweater vests in place of waistcoats and a general aura of slouchy ease. An Obama lookalike who closed the show—our favorite of the week—seemed to enhance the sense that, yes, now we can finally relax.

On the opposite end of the fantasy spectrum was a more traditional interpretation. Surrealism and trompe l’oeil detailing were rife, from Martin Margiela’s “rain-soaked” jackets to Viktor & Rolf’s packing tape pants and pipe-print suit. Number (N)ine’s inspired collection was based on a hotel room in Alaska where designer Takahiro Miyashita was once stranded—all brocade and bows, velvet and tassles, with a hint of the huddled refugee.

A more dramatic, stage costume version of fantasy was also at play, with references both historical and modern. The former category encompasses Givenchy’s dramatic capes, John Galliano’s variations on a pirate theme and Ann Demeulemeester’s rock star-worthy mix of 19th century costume, sequins and burnished metallic fabrics, while the latter counted Jean Paul Gaultier’s ’70s New York-inspired punk-funk parade of afros, zipper-festooned black jackets, checkerboard, plaid, argyle, bondage harnesses and silver lame. Similarly, Kris Van Assche turned to the ’80s for Dior Homme, combining sequins and geometric palettes with voluminous harem pants tucked into combat boots, structured funnel collars, asymmetrical lines and a series of groan-inducing slogan tees in the vein of Henry Holland or Katherine Hamnett.

And yet, Van Assche’s own collection brought us back to today, combining Middle Eastern element (tunic-length tops, hooded cloaks) with cargo pants, combat boots and a clever vest with a cross-body sling. Although the color palette was cloudy and the soundtrack dire, the collection had a light, dreamy quality that released some of the tension. It perfectly summed up the Paris collections as a whole: tough as things may be right now, we can still dream.

—Erin Magner