This past men’s fashion week was marked by a sense of schizophrenia more than anything else. Half of the shows in Paris were held in opulent palatial spaces and the other half in basements stripped of everything but their concrete foundations. The reactions of critics and buyers were similarly split. The editors I spoke with mostly shrugged shoulders and talked of consistently lowering expectations, while buyers thought the season more than solid.
And this has been the leitmotif of the week – conceptually and aesthetically, shows left you wanting more, while in the showrooms plenty of good garments awaited.
Let’s begin with the shows then. My first was Haider Ackermann, held in Hotel de Ville. The venue brimmed with gold and so did the collection. I usually don’t mind Ackermann’s indulgences, but this time he went overboard with the ornament that bordered on crime. Typically, Ackermann offsets the gold brocade and velvet by the black striking a well-tuned balance, but not this time. Partly this might have been the fault of styling, as models were sent out in full bling mode, followed by a full monochrome look that couldn’t quite refocus your attention in time.
Taken apart at the showroom, however, the collection had plenty of desirable items. I love Ackermann’s shade of olive – he gets it just right, and there were several garments in that particular hue that spoke to me – a smoking jacket and an oversized coat.
Then it was off to Raf Simons. At his best, Simons makes you think, whether you like or dislike the collection, which is more than can be said about some other shows. Simons’ inspirations were quite obvious – moreso because he spelled them out for you on a sheet of paper. David Lynch, Martin Margiela, his own past collections. It was all youth, youth, youth – with over-oversized varsity sweaters, some worn as capes, and so on. Was it good? Was it bad? I still can’t make up my mind.
Next day I started with Rick Owens. His show, in the basement of Palais de Tokyo was a letdown. The super-wide pants (and it was the season of wide pants, didn’t you get the memo? Lucky, you who don’t subscribe to trend reports) were silly, too close to the raver pants from the 90s. The abbreviated double-breasted jackets didn’t help. The long hairy parkas were fine, and if you have always dreamed of being a purple yeti, you can pair them with some other hairy tops.
When I got to the showroom, things brightened up but not by much. There were fine knits and those hairy parkas and what not, but I know you know that I know you will be buying the greatest hits from the pre-collection come next fall. And this has become Owens’ thing – he can afford to go wild on the runway because he has built a stellar body of work that he has shifted into the pre-collection. Hurray for that – let the man experiment. Good or bad, it’s interesting.
Dries Van Noten’s show later that night was on point. The man seems to be on a winter-on, summer-off cycle, and this winter show, held at the Opera, was glorious. The audience was seated on two sides of the backstage. Before the show the curtains went up and we were treated to the jaw-dropping view of the opera proper. Instead of actors, there were the photographers waving at us.
The show was classic Van Noten – lots of military details, jewel tones, and winning color combinations. Some of the garments were over-embellished, others were just right. There was a softness and gentleness to it all, making it quite impossible not to like.
After Van Noten, the needle has shifted to the other end of the fashion spectrum at Boris Bidjan Saberi. No surprises in the collection that was masterfully executed. Saberi has settled into an aesthetic that is uniquely his own and he showed it here in structured jackets, long heavy knits and long zippered boots. The snowy shade of gray might have been a continuation of the last season’s white mountaineering theme of his 11 line.
At the BBS showroom there was plenty to want – not only in that color, but also in black. The leather jackets with extended lining were a particular hit, and so were the long boots, if you have the height to pull them off.
Friday morning I schlepped across town to the 10-a.m. Junya Watanabe show. I don’t know why. I keep hoping that Watanabe will put his formidable technical prowess to an aesthetic different from the workwear/suiting direction he has taken in what seems like forever. My heart went aflutter when the show opened with a thumping Joy Division soundtrack. Could I see an expertly cut up perfecto or a pair of artfully destroyed black jeans? Nope. Instead, out went a bunch of checkered Mod suits and jackets with solar panels on the back (WTF?). The entire thing was incoherent, not to say (again) schizophrenic.
The show of Ann Demeulemeester was a further disappointment. It is now clear that Sebastian Meunier has been gradually preparing Demeulemeester’s audience for a departure from her signature aesthetic. But this show felt like a disarray of ideas. There was buffalo plaid and orange velvet and other things that, while breaking away from Demeulemesteer’s aesthetic have failed to build its own. Meunier told me that it’s a tricky balance but at the end he has to do what he feels right.
Anne Chapelle, the owner of Demeulemeester (and Ackermann) had another concern on her mind. She sees Demeulemeester’s audience aging and she wants to attract a new generation. The risk, of course, is alienating the old hardcore fans, but it seems one she is willing to take. I am not sure why, as I meet young people who love Demeulemeester’s work. And if the signature is gone, are we not looking at merely some nice clothes? But there are a lot of nice clothes out there, from companies with much deeper pockets and with marketing and advertising budgets.
Oddly enough, in the showroom the women’s abbreviated collection, shown along men’s, looked beautiful. Perhaps the company thinks that Ann’s men and women want different things. But in my experience, Demeulemeester works like no other designer for a couple. Demeulemeester has always designed for a man with his woman in mind, and vice versa. Regardless, I look forward to the women’s shows.
Of course for men everything will be available in black and it seemed like buyers had enough to fill their budgets with. But a larger point remains – will a fan of the brand even bother to look at the individual garments if Demeulemeester’s ethos is gone? We are back to the dichotomy of the aesthetic runway statement versus the individual garment.
There was the Comme des Garcons show that night, where Rei Kawakubo once again proved that she doesn’t care what you or I think. Which is kind of awesome. The show was suit-happy as usual. The jackets came in two categories – weird and desirable. The weird ones had multi-colored inverted shoulder pads and sleeves, and the desirable ones were in black boiled polyester that has become Kawakubo’s signature material. I say keep bringing it.
Saturday I had only one show by Sacai. It was pitch-perfect. Chitose Abe is known for her color and fabric combinations that deftly combine the heavy and the light, the colorful and the muted. And while in her womenswear she consistently hits it out of the park, in menswear her garments usually come out just a touch too fussy. This time, however, everything seemed just right. The combinations seemed a bit more toned down and perfectly hit the spot, mostly because this time Abe favored solid color over patterns.
After Sacai I went to the showroom shared by Undercover and TheSoloist by Takahiro Miyashita. The Undercover collection, under the theme phrase “Instant Calm,” had all the flashes of brilliance that Jun Takahashi is capable at. A particular standout was a parka printed with paintings of the Belgian artist Michael Borremans. To say that it was the piece of the season is an understatement. Start saving. But if you can’t afford the jacket, there is also a sweater with the same graphic.
Other Undercover outerwear was excellent, the several tailored coats and a shearling jacket in particular. Another stand out was a structured blazer with notched edges and a discreetly printed (in gold) lyrics by Patti Smith, “I haven’t fucked much with the past, but I’ve fucked plenty with the future.” It was a piece perfectly subtle in its subversion.
At TheSoloist, Miyashita has once again proved that he is the last hippie in fashion and that he can do whatever the hell he wants, in the best sense of the word. There were long coats in double-faced cashmere, price-wise squarely aimed at the Hermes customer, and other things like that. They were masterfully constructed and full of details, some subtle and some not so much. It was all music-themed, as music is central to Miyashita. I couldn’t help but think that Bowie would’ve loved this in his dandy days.
Yang Li is another designer who mines youth culture for his purposes. The gesture is genuine, but it seems again that his execution in menswear falls short of his inspiration. To wit, this season was all about industrial music, Genesis P. Orridge, and William Burroughs. It was about “chic dark intellectual youth,” as the press notes stated. But I could not connect the former with the latter. Maybe it’s the “chic” part that has no place next to the hard-hitting culture Li references. There were great bits and pieces in the collection – the oversized coats and shoes emblazoned with Temple of Psychick Youth slogans. Still, the concept had little continuity with its execution outside of Li’s mind.
More about concepts that probably seem great in the designer’s mind but fell flat – later on at Deepti I saw a collection that hinged on one detail, a zigzag hand-finished seam. The theme was Cronenberg’s film “Crash.” As I ascended a staircase, walked through three rooms, and descended a staircase into a claustrophobic space where I walked on cracked glass to examine the collection, I couldn’t help but think that there was something self-indulgent going on here. So it was with the collection. The zigzag seams looked cool in some instances, and plain awkward in others. The larger point is that this detail couldn’t carry a collection, moreover one that Deepti aims to show only once a year.
Deepti is often hailed as the spiritual successor of Carol Christian Poell and Carpe Diem. Which she might well be. But this all seemed like a lot of navel-gazing that does nothing for fashion except to satisfy construction geeks and those people who define themselves by owning something rare. This school of thought – the self-perpetuated mythologies, the tortured concepts, the treatment of garments as art – feels like stale bread today. If you have patience for such things – knock yourself out. I want beautiful, interesting clothes, too, but I am not going to walk five hundred (pseudo?)intellectual miles for them. Who has the patience anymore, in the world where there is so much beautiful clothes for which you don’t have to crawl through sewers in secret locations to see something displayed in freezers on meat hooks. The Marais, where most fashion showrooms are located, is full of this stuff now, made by younger designers who are eager to explain to you their tormented seam-work and present esoteric concepts via dungeon installations. And I can name-check every detail – here is Aitor Throup, here is Poell, here is Carpe Diem, and so on.
But back to beautiful, interesting clothes – Thamanyah did just that, without any drama of the nude descending the staircase. It was perhaps Ahmed Abdelrahman’s strongest collection to date. It was rich in materials, with details done just right, and designed thoughtfully enough to make it stand out. They were elegant clothes for those of us who dread being mistaken for a bourgeois. The garments were elongated just so, oversized just so, and perfectly cut at the shoulder. Sign me up and my lady, too, because Thamanyah showed womenswear as well. Only cuts and sizes were different, so if you want to be matchy-matchy, this is your chance.
But, I got ahead of myself. Before Thamanyah, there was Song For The Mute, which also showed its strongest collection yet, more formal, more grown up, and utterly desirable. They, too, will introduce the women’s collection, and I am confident that you will want his and hers. Without drawing comparison in the slightest, I can say that it will sit very well somewhere in the spectrum between Yohji Yamamoto and Forme d’Expression, which also showed a stellar collection. Not much has changed in terms of cuts in Koeun’s Park’s work, but if she continues on the path of reincarnating her work in those otherworldly fabrics that she gets from some secret well in the bowels of Italy her fans will just continue buying one of each every season.
There were also no surprises at m.a.+, Lumen et Umbra, Individual Sentiments, and Daniel Andresen (I didn’t go to Julius, and I haven’t been to a Label Under Construction showroom in two years). All were solid collections, full of desirable pieces. They are not moving the fashion needle forward, but perhaps it’s not really their goal in any case.
GUIDI, on the other hand, went ahead and introduced a new collection; just when we all thought they are happy with tweaking their soft and distressed greatest hits, they unexpectedly produced a line of structured, dressy footwear. Cap-toe derbies and ankle boots and they were dandy in the best sense of the word.
My last appointment was with Leon Emanuel Blanck – a young designer who has been able to grow his work slowly and steadily, building on his strength of anatomic construction. There were intricately made trench coats, his signature leather with extended, removable lining that you could wear separately as a light coat, and a pair of boots that looked genuinely new in the world where everything seems to have been done.
And that’s about it. Something that Sebastian Meunier mentioned during our long conversation has stuck with me. He said that he was frustrated that in fashion we no longer inhabit the world of design but the world of product. This rang true, and I’ve spent quiet a bit of time thinking about it up to the last morning when I visited the Celine headquarters (but that’s another story). We can see it in the way flagship stores are merchandised, in the rise of the pre-collections, and in collections like Saint-Laurent and Givenchy. There was plenty of product on display during this past men’s fashion week. This is fine, but I could not help to wish for more design.