Paris Menswear Wrap-Up: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

“The world is getting worse and worse. My message is: let’s be happy!” Coming from the usually gloomy Yohji Yamamoto, the statement sounded both wise and uplifting—after you got over the initial shock of hearing it from him. In fact, Yamamoto’s message perfectly sums up the mood of the Paris men’s collections for summer 2009. The byword of the moment is “lightness,” in both literal and metaphorical terms. Gone are the days of dark romanticism, it’s time to welcome the era of casual dressing up as a way to lift the spirit.

This shift in moods was nowhere as dramatic as at Yohji and Comme des Garçons. The first embroidered silly little slogans and loving phrases on the sleeves and collars of loose, deconstructed jackets; the second decked a cast of skinny, punky boys in shrunken jackets and flowing aprons, suggesting a priest-like but eminently funny look for the summer to come. Ann Demeulemeester, too, was feeling oddly sweet—well, as sweet as a Belgian designer can be. She switched from her beloved poètes maudits to the calmer Hermann Hesse, pairing long jackets with loose, ankle-length pants and putting the results on a lovely cast of elderly men of all races and sizes, as if to suggest that wisdom and serenity belong to those who have lived a full life. For Number (N)ine‘s Takahiro Miyashita, optimism meant setting aside his usual Kurt Cobain references, instead and embracing madness with a method. The shy Japanese sliced brocade into hybrid pieces that were then layered to the nth degree.
The result was at once chaotic and coherent—and ultimately fabulous.

Elsewhere, lightness meant weightlessness: deconstructed tailoring is very au courant. It also makes layering a lot easier. In fact, as a response to our increasingly mad weather, outfits were often piled in strikingly non-summery ways. At Lanvin, the airiness turned to the rural, with the requisite chic French touch. Designer Lucas Ossendrijver zeroed on the ultra-copied bow ties and imagined a flowing, loose, bucolic wardrobe made of airy dusters, boxy jackets, skinny pants and t-shirts with trompe l’oeil necklaces. At times, it felt a bit too femme but was convincing nonetheless. Dries Van Noten sung an ode to blue and necktie jacquards, delivering an endless series of seriously tempting double-breasted suits with the ease of a pajama. At Blaak, it was layering with an urban-tribal feel, and at Hermès sandals landed even under a tuxedo. At Louis Vuitton, everything was so light and simple it bordered on just plain boring, save for the curious shoes covered in anti-slip rubber grids.

Escapism was another aspect of the season’s light spirit. The young antiheroes over at Junya Watanabe, never to be seen without their giant suitcases, wore double-faced blazers with Barracuda blousons hidden inside, looking ready for any situation. A dash of exoticism surfaced at John Galliano, who was in India-punk mode, and at Kenzo, it was time for color, dreams and A Thousand and One Nights. In his first foray into men’s wear at Givenchy Riccardo Tisci scored with a mix of rock and Latino Catholicism, strong on layered Bermudas—the best in leather or lace—and loose shirts, while Kris Van Assche’s experiment in prism-like cutting and new volumes over at Dior Homme felt like he was trying too hard.

Finally, it took master Raf Simons to wipe away all the season’s lightness with a strict, obsessive exercise in sharp tailoring. Taking the tuxedo as his starting point, Simons focused on long jackets and shorts, and put an accent on texture. Sure, it wasn’t light, but it was certainly challenging. At the end of the day, fashion is all about contradictions.

—Angelo Flaccavento

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