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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Paris Men's Week: Bernhard Willhelm

Conceptualism gets a rough ride, and deservedly so, but this show-installation hybrid was a real piece of theater. As people—including Willhelm's former tutor, Walter Van Beirendonck—were seated, no one seemed to know if the show had begun or not. Why? Because the models were being dressed in full view, amid the baroque magnificence of Paris' old Bourse. When the show finally began in earnest it became clear we were looking at a kind of mad artist's studio and the models were his works of art, slowly transforming into something more and more extreme. Some grew a giant Brothers Grimm-like dreadlock, others had lampshades or buckets on their heads, and all were given crazy prints and folksy patterns.

But strip away the heavy, clowny accessorizing and the main pieces were clean and sharp enough to work in the real world. Silhouettes and cuts were slim variations on tracksuits and pajamas. Willhelm is still meditating on ways to bare flesh, with increasing success. He himself looks hot, not silly, in his little shorts.

The show ended as it began, with the impression of chaos. Art and weirdness that resist the authority of menswear, with its rules about luxe and snobbery, are Willhelm's humanistic approach. The free-thinker is back.

—Daryoush Haj-Najafi



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