Some of us have been waiting all season for an elegant response to the Charlie Hebdo terrorist actions that left the world in shock and united France. During the demonstrations, which saw two million people take to the streets of Paris, one could hear comparisons to the 1968 student demonstrations. The most unexpected of responses seemed to be there on the runway of Saint Laurent.
The usual jaw-dropping staging launched the show, with a sort of mirrored unfolding puzzle box revealing the first exit. The show notes defined the collection as Paris Sessions 1, the first in a series dedicated to a talented new generation of French musicians, stating that the project began in September 2014. But it was the uniformed aspect and the proliferation of berets and Bretons that emphasized the French roots of the iconic brand, embodying the swell of national pride pervading the streets of Paris since the assault earlier this month.
The glamour was, of course, turned up to eleven, with glittering couture-like application in pieces like the red and black zig-zag bomber, and the fully embellished long blazers. Yet it was the defiance and belief in France instilled into every piece that really struck a chord. The stereotypes of Frenchness could have been lacking in taste in lesser hands, but they felt genuine here. Hedi Slimane's evocation of youth was invigorating. Simple touches like the berets covered in metal pins will surely filter down to the sidewalk immediately, as the army of uber-fans both outside and inside of the venue watch his every step.
The atmosphere at Lanvin was convivial and relaxed as ever. It’s one of the only shows that you can rely on for pastries and coffees before the action, and one of the only shows where people sit and talk to each other.
The opening exit was prefaced by a puff of soft smoke to announce the boys, who seemed to effortlessly glide through the space. This season, the silhouette was softer than usual with a loosening up of the form. Add to that some very unexpected layering, like an exotic skinned bomber jacket on top of an oversized blazer, a topcoat over a leather three-quarter length, and our favorite, a Mongolian lamb-trimmed suede jacket atop a Prince of Wales Harrington. It was this effortless, late-60s look that seemed to embody the Lanvin man this season.
With giant square mirrors tactically placed around the venue, ensuring that none of the looks were missed, we saw every bit of the show in triplicate, reinforcing the strength of this quiet, confident collection.
What makes Thom Browne such an interesting designer is the fact that despite his extravagant runway gestures, he himself has a fascination with routine, banality, repetition, and spare spaces. His notorious shrunken suits actually reflect his obsession with the uniform-like bureaucratic tailoring of the Kennedy era. He even has the same black coffee and white toast breakfast regimen, generally consumed at the same restaurant, and a glass of champagne at night — never in flutes, although he collects them.
He started his fall show with a silent play of sorts that echoed that regimented, uncluttered lifestyle. The white set was divided into three equal parts. On the left was a chair and a table, on which lay a teapot and a cup. On the right was a desk with an old-school typewriter. In the center slept a model dressed in a white suit. He arose from his sleep and meticulously made his bed. He had his 'breakfast' in the adjoining room before moving to the third space, where he sat in front of the typewriter, apparently suffering from writer's block. He then stood up, which brought down black curtains that darkened all the walls. He doffed his angelic suit in favor of a black equivalent and slipped back into the bed's crisp linens, which, of course, were black.
The suspenseful, ominous strains that accompanied the actor's automated moves gave way to Handel's majestic yet subdued Sarabande. Models in dark, mostly black outfits solemnly stepped out, each stopping in front of the sleeping beauty the way they would at a wake, then continued their mournful procession as black snow dusted their dimly lit path. And just like that, the amusing daily routine turned into a deeper allegory about the cycle of life: sleeping, waking, eating, working, sleeping again. Birth, celebrated in baptismal white, and death, symbolized by darkness.
As for the clothes, they were truly beautiful, the kind of dignified attire a gentleman — and, at times, a lady — would don to a funeral. Coats and suits had the abbreviated shapes we've come to expect from Browne. Shorts were also a major story, and recurring skirts added a dose of gender-bending frisson. The accessories, too, were exquisite, starting with the headgear, which included a beekeeper hat, veiled coquettish confections, and a showstopping number topped with ostrich feathers. Leather bags were in the shapes of turtles or whales.
The show's somber theme reflected a current trend in menswear. Two days ago, in his Givenchy show, Riccardo Tisci showed make-up and accessories that brought to mind Halloween fare. John Galliano, in his first Margiela outing, also displayed masks that conjured images of decay, while the British magazine Hero tited its latest, doom-themed issue Darkness Falls. Thom Browne's remarkably produced performance, too, symbolized a clenched fist for the survival of formal wear in a fashion world invaded by sportswear, and singled out the designer as one of the few to make shows an experience.
The Tennis Club on the Périphérique — that serves as the Dior Homme venue each season — was in total darkness, with a floor-to-ceiling black curtain flanked by security. The great reveal saw the curtain lifting slowly to the strains of an orchestra that sat along the full length of the runway, playing a specially commissioned version of Koudlam’s Landsc Apes. All of the musicians wore tuxedos with white sneakers, as if they were ready to make a sharp exit at any moment. It was an unusually theatrical twist for Dior Homme designer Kris Van Assche, and a refreshing break from the norm at the men's shows.
The collection was more formal than we’ve come to expect. "I started with an idea of the sartorial with hyper-formality of the evening tail suit and the dinner suit," stated Van Assche. "Here, I wanted to bring formality into the world of the technical and utilitarian, to produce a techno-sartorial collection." This is a familiar game for him to play, but one that he always manages to dazzle. The exquisite tuxedos are sure to be all over the red carpets, and the collection’s evolution — that saw leather jogging bottoms, full-length duster coats, color-blocked soles on the chunky sneakers, and some clever detailing with ruched waistbands on pinstripe trousers — will keep the customers' appetites sated.
Monsieur Dior’s own presence was felt in the floral touches on badges pinned to the fronts of jackets, the floral jacquards, and the flashes of bright color here and there. "He's the Homme Fleur," said Van Assche backstage, in deference, even if his 21st-century man likes to get his hands dirty at times.
To the blistering sound of Koudlam’s Negative Creep, Kris Van Assche’s urban warriors stomped down the runway at high speed. At first glance, the collection felt more dressed up than usual, with a proliferation of suiting and the ubiquitous pinstripes that have made a tremendous comeback for fall. But, as is often the case at Van Assche, things weren't what they seemed. His chalk stripe was hyper-real, and suit collars sported polo-shirt trims, while overcoats had curious pocket details.
A camouflage pattern, echoing the autumnal leaves littering the runway, was particularly successful, enlarged to emphasize its presence rather than disguise the wearer. He also used the individual camouflage sections as collaged pieces on suits, coats, shirts, and jackets to great effect, referencing technical bike wear. In the show notes, he said he wanted the collection to have a new wave, post-punk attitude. His warrior fighting for his place in the city, weaving in and out of traffic on his bike, was a perfect analogy for today’s fashion-conscious city man.
The anticipation before a Dries Van Noten men's show is becoming legendary, as he consistently surprises and reinvents his man every season. Spring was an exercise in sexuality and romanticism, while this season he explored men's quintessential dress codes. Backstage he described the collection as "a lot of pieces that I really feel for" and it was exactly that, the Dries Van Noten wardrobe, reimagined and carefully updated.
The codes were mixed, often within the same garment — clearly Dries refuses to be pinned down. Ethnic met punk, military collided with evening, and our understanding of the individual associative elements was turned upside down and, literally, inside out. Classic men’s overcoats were reversed, exposing color-blocked interiors and Batik prints, fastened with Asian ribbon ties to create entirely new mutated forms. Punk was unexpectedly soft, with the kilt in silk, and plaids decorated with delicate metal discs informed by the Miao people of China, creating an all new way of looking at studding. Western men’s workwear was explored throughout the collection with high-vis striping across several pieces, often replaced with grosgrain silks, and a standout Batik version of a fireman’s protective duffle coat.
The soundtrack for the show was a cover of The Ronettes' Be My Baby by DM Stith, which Van Noten used because he wanted a love song, but in its stillness and the closeness of the guitarist's fingers sliding across the strings, it became so much more personal. With his beautiful, ingenious handling of menswear's sartorial standards, we watched a very personal declaration of love for the male wardrobe made physical.
Kim Jones, artistic director of Louis Vuitton men’s, wore his heart on his sleeve at the fall show, writing in the show notes, "I think Christopher Nemeth is the most important designer to come out of London alongside Vivienne Westwood." In my own youth, I sold the late designer's wares in a shop in London’s Covent Garden, and was immediately filled with nostalgia at the sight of the frayed rope prints. Indeed, they were as iconic as the Westwood squiggle in their heyday.
It was somewhat of a departure for Jones, who usually bases his collections around travel (to highlight the important bags at the luggage house). This was travel of a different sort, time travel, with a team of Nemeth’s circle on hand — his friends providing the music, Judy Blame on accessory duties, and the full cooperation of the Nemeth family. Of course, it was filled with the jaw-dropping attention to detail that we have come to expect from the Vuitton studios. Denim became needle-punched indigo cashmere and the rope print was re-imagined as laser-cut shearling. This is a collection that will undoubtedly sell itself, appealing to a broad range of clients, young and older.
With all of the rumors floating around that Jones may be leaving Vuitton menswear, the collection could have been interpreted as an ode to his roots, that yearning for home. Those London roots were evident, as Kate Moss bopped along in the front row to Soul 2 Soul’s Back to Life. Back to reality indeed.
Certain Italian designers routinely send out models wearing skimpy beachwear that leaves little to the imagination, and the cult, now-defunct French underwear brand Shirtology once staged shows so erotically charged that they bordered on porn. Well, Rick Owens, the ultimate iconoclast, went further for fall 2015, showing models in long tunics with a circular cutout that revealed their bare bits. Talk about glory hole dressing — or bathroom problem-solving.
Oddly, the effect wasn't porny or raunchy, maybe because of the constant game of hide and seek between the cloth and the nether regions. The nudity looked more like a way to express the idiosyncratic fearlessness of the Owens man, rather than his desire to attract sexual partners with his genital assets.
But reducing the show to that peep moment wouldn't do justice to this terrific collection, titled Sphinx. "It was about the strain to preserve reason under extreme pressure," read the show notes. Inspired by a forgotten black and white French movie, set in a military submarine, Owens came up with a vast array of excellent pea coats in black, beige, or cut in berber-dyed wools.
They were often worn with drop-crotch shorts, knee-high socks and hi-top suede sneakers. The monochromatic outfits were sometimes broken with a touch of white, reinforcing their graphic effect. Other standouts included wondrous, chunky cable-knit jumpsuits, jackets, 'body bags' with a peel-away look that erotically revealed the torsos, and a finale of zippered tunics adorned with geometric patterns based on Suprematism, the Russian art movement of a century ago.
It was pure Rick, aesthetically strong, uncompromising yet commercially viable, with surprises popping out here and there. Although that surprise will go down as a landmark in menswear history.
Yohji Yamamoto was in a pensive mood, his quintessential blackness pervading most of the looks on the runway. The invitation itself was a crumpled piece of paper, as if had been discarded in a mailbox instead of a trash can. The clothes, too, had a feeling of rip-it-up-and-start-again, as if he'd made a collection, hacked it all apart, then pieced it together in new combinations.
Seemingly operated on as well, the models sported cuts, bruises, and Frankenstein stitches — perfect for his sartorial deconstruction. There’s something truly Yamamoto in this ability to create poetry and beauty out of chaos. The layering in the suits was masterful, with raw reversed seams, hanging threads, and asymmetrical edges decorated with tone-on-tone black badges. And, the knitwear deserves a special mention, too, cable knits color-blocked in blacks and grays with loose chunky knit at the hems and collars.
Recently we’ve become accustomed to a section of print on the runway, and this time was no exception. Four suits exited in all-over print that reminded us of those infamous 70's liquid-light shows — another image of total chaos that produces mesmerizingly beautiful results.