As I am being airborne back to New York, I wanted to share a few thoughts on the menswear season that just ended.
My adventures started at Pitti Uomo in Florence, where I go every season to report for Diane Pernet and other media. I’ve been coming here for six years and when I began doing so I would have to look far and wide to see another person dressed in black at a place where suit is king. This has been slowly changing, and I begin to see “people in black” among the sea of color of Pitti Uomo’s attendees. There is also a steady trickle of exhibitors mining the goth aesthetic. Several of them suggested that they should be in the same pavilion in order to make a statement, which is not a bad idea.
Coincidentally, the guest of honor at Pitti was none other than Marcelo Burlon – a Milan-based DJ and t-shirt entrepreneur who came to the fair to present his expanded offerings for the first time. In a way this was symbolic for two reasons.
First, it showed that the whole street-goth aesthetic popularized by the likes of Hood by Air and KTZ is growing beyond the teenagers that congregate in front of show venues during the fashion week hoping to get noticed by street style photographers.
Second, it cemented the idea that what is called fashion today is no longer the provenance of designers. There is now a formula for making money off of apparel. It goes something like this – attract a following, take a basic t-shirt, put some Instagram-friendly graphics on it, get your influential friends to wear them, and presto – you have a money-making venture. To his credit, Burlon does not consider himself a fashion designer, which is, depending on how charitable you want to be, either admirable for its honesty or clever for its skirting of criticism.
The Burlon experience seemed to continue seamlessly in Paris where one of the first shows was by Gosha Rubchinsky, a Russian Marcelo Burlon (not of the DJ, but of the artist variety). Rubchinsky also started out with tees and sweatshirts, flinging nostalgia of the Soviet/Russian variety. This might be exotic and therefore desirable to the Westerners, but as someone who grew up in the Soviet Union I find this exploitation of symbolism tired and tiresome. And as his insipid show proved, perhaps if you are not a designer by trade it’s better to stick to basics.
But, onto real fashion. The Paris shows were decidedly mixed and so were people’s reactions. More and more I find that for all the hoopla about democratization of judgment when it comes to fashion shows – everyone can see the pictures online – there is no substitute for seeing the shows live. There is the side view, the back view, the motion that work in favor of making a more informed judgment. There is the music, the hubbub, the smiley PR people, the feeling of belonging that may actually work against it. Thus, I wonder if I thought that the show of Dries Van Noten, a perennial favorite, was weaker than usual because I did not attend it, or because I find the pajama-aesthetic disagreeable. The color combinations were lush as always, of course.
Speaking of lush colors, I thought Haider Ackermann, whose show I also missed due to the air-controller strike in France, created another strong collection. There is an indisputable mastery and confidence in the way he handles fabric and in the richness of the hues he favors. And though the more decadent of his offerings can feel over-the-top, I was strongly drawn to the shade of olive he used. There were several tailored pieces in his showroom (where, coincidentally Charlotte Gainsbourg was browsing the collection as well) in this color that were quite impeccable.
Boris Bidjan Saberi also meditated on the olive color in his show that was true to his roots without feeling repetitive.
I was disappointed in the Rick Owens collection, which felt underdeveloped and narrow, with endless variations of several garments. The stand out would have been the long bomber jacket, were it not attached to a cheesy harness. Usually, in times of doubt Owens’s showroom proves me wrong, but not this season, and were I a buyer I would be scratching my head.
Ann Demeulemeester’s collection, now officially headed by Sebastien Meunier, however, was a major hit. And though it felt strange not to see the familiar petite figure emerge for a bow at the end of the show, one must give credit where it’s due to a man who has been actively involved in the brand’s menswear for four years. In the showroom the collection looked as confident as on the runway, and both cuts and choice of fabrics were beyond reproach.
The other honorable mention goes to Lanvin, for its sheer strength of design talent, its impeccable tailoring and interesting proportions. My last show was Thom Browne, though it too felt unfocused in its concept. This is not a knock on Browne’s considerable talents, as I do not expect a designer to come up with a brilliant idea season after season.
The last show was Saint-Laurent. The clothes are not worth commenting on, because in the last few seasons Slimane forced the fashion world come to terms with his shtick. There is no point in critiquing the fancy thrift store finds he sent down the runway any more than in demanding that Thom Browne stop making gray suits. What the show summarized, however, was a certain feeling that most designers this season stuck to their guns. This could either be interpreted as strength of conviction or paralysis in the face of uncertainty about where the global luxury market is headed.
I encountered the same mood at the showrooms of the smaller designers who do not put on shows or presentations. With the exception of Lumen et Umbra, it seemed that most designers were rather comfortable with the tried and true than with innovation.
But, back to black. It seemed like every other showroom in the Marais was serving up knock-offs of the knock-offs of Rick Owens, Boris Bidjan Saberi, and Julius. Black, drapey, drop crotch, long tops, etc, to the point where the clothes seemed completely interchangeable.
They were worn and presented by people who probably have never listened to an industrial song in their life and were wearing DSquared only a few years ago. This bandwagoneering is dispiriting and it’s safe and sad to say that goth has become a trend. It is no wonder then that designers like Individual Sentiments and Forme d’Expression have slowly been moving away from black. Perhaps it’s the right move, though I, for one, am planning to stick it out.