Thinking back on this past Paris menswear season, I realize that it held few surprises. This is not a criticism. Lately, I have been thinking that as fashion increasingly becomes driven by celebrity and hype, the only thing left to do is to support those who produce genuinely creative work. This season they unanimously delivered strong collections, work that was strong in expression and full of conviction that they must stick to their guns as the world around them grows increasingly coarse and cynical.
Speaking of which, let’s get the gross spectacle that Louis Vuitton put on to celebrate Pharrell’s coronation as the new creative director of its menswear. To be fair, there were actually few cool looks in there – I, for one, was not mad at the Minecraft print. But most of it was exactly what Louis Vuitton wants, logo-driven drivel, the kind of lowest common denominator stuff squarely aimed at the masses consumed by conspicuous consumption.
The clothes, however, were not the most off-putting part; the cabaret show with which they were presented was. It was a pure power exercise; power over Paris, power over the fashion industry, power over its media, power over contemporary culture. For half a day a private company closed Pont Neuf, a major Parisian public bridge in the city center, so it could put on a celebrity-fashion industrial complex circus, bringing attendees to the show by boats, and essentially keeping them hostage for four hours. Perhaps in Louis Vuitton’s opinion everyone craves to be at a private Jay-Z concert, and considering the number of the blurry I-WAS-THERE! pictures of the rapper – taken in the hope that celebrity pixie dust will rub off – they weren’t entirely wrong. But they weren’t entirely right either. In the next few days I spoke with more than one editor who was quietly angry that Louis Vuitton simply assumed that they had no better place to be. What the brand signaled, I told them, is that they own them, and so the editors are expected to kiss the ring.
But onto much better things. The first show I attended was that of Christophe Lemaire, who in tandem with his design partner Sarah-Linn Tran, has increasingly cut out a space for himself with a certain idea of Parisian chic that is young and sophisticated without being full of itself. Such deceptively easy, I-just-threw-it-on style does extremely well in Japan, and Lemaire’s Tokyo-via-Paris play is also commercially clever. Until about three years ago I put Lemaire’s collections into a category I call “there’s-better-stuff” that I reserve for perfectly nice and unexciting clothes; but he has mastered a certain layered elegance that now looks more unique and less Uniqlo, and this collection was perhaps his best one yet.
The rest of the Wednesday I had all to myself and I stopped by the 1997: Fashion Big Bang at Palais Galliera. It was a brilliant fashion detour, and its only drawback was that it made me feel yet again how lacking much of today’s fashion feels. If you find yourself in Paris before end of July, do go see it.
After the show I popped into the Ziggy Chen presentation. It was more of the same – vaguely historical clothes with lots of stripes and shades of olive. We’ve seen it all since season one, and I wondered why designers who work via tweaks rather than changes need presentations at all. I feel like a showroom and a lookbook would be totally fine, as Chen’s strength lies in materials and details that call for a closer look and a touch.
My Thursday opened with Rick Owens’s customary Palais de Tokyo show. This time pyrotechnics accompanied the clothes, and the clothes made a fine progression of the look Owens has established over the past six years. There were extreme shoulders and huge pants, their tiny high waists highlighting the impossibly thin waistlines of the models – no size inclusivity there I’m afraid. The silhouettes tended to be extremely skinny or extremely voluminous. Backstage Owens talked about determined, grim elegance, framing it as a duty in a world in which elegance is in short supply, decency is on the wane, and the culture of entitlement has breached all barriers of propriety. I was excited to hear that I’m not the only one who thinks this way, and when Owens told me, “We don’t deserve shit,” I enthusiastically nodded.
At Dries Van Noten later that night, the Belgian grandmaster struck the same note during his explanation backstage, talking about a “distorted elegance.” It was music to my ears, and so was the collection that was at times sharp and at times fluid, at times constrained and at times unfettered. It was Van Noten at his best, and what fascinated me was how designers as disparate in their style as Owens and Van Noten can express the same ideas using stylistic signatures that sit at virtually polar opposites. This type of stuff makes me giddy; in the land of the bland we need unique voices that can filter the world through their creative lens more than ever.
I started my Friday morning at Junya Watanabe, who must have finally gotten sick of me whining that his women get all the good stuff while the men only get workwear (stellar workwear, bien sur, but workwear nonetheless). In order to shut me up, this time he literally “focused on Junya Watanabe (womens) as the main collaboration,” and to excellent results. I was happy to see Watanabe use his masterful construction skills in the service of creating a collection with a punk edge, and I was not mad at the Pink Floyd “Animals” soundtrack either. During a re-see at the showroom I realized one thing though – this is going to be one heavy Spring / Summer collection. I’d qualify it more as Winter/Spring, which kind of makes sense considering the whack delivery schedule that has S/S clothes land in January.
At Comme des Garçons, Rei Kawakubo finally articulated what she’s been doing for the past ten years, going beyond reality. I was glad to see her fess up like that – we can now finally hold her accountable for bending our minds with creations that have a tenuous relationship with wearability, and can only be called garments if one is willing to significantly expand the definition of the term. One pet peeve that I continue to have with the entire Comme family is the ungodly amount of synthetics they use; the work would benefit from using more natural materials, and so would the planet.
Saturday morning I went to see Undercover’s men’s collection, which featured a collaboration with the Dutch artist Helen Verhoeven. I liked the prints, but I also liked the tailored coats (surprising myself, I gravitated towards a cream colored number with black pinstripes). There were also some stellar leather pieces, including a leather-jersey perfecto reminiscent of the ones Jun Takahashi did for his gloriously goth “T” collection, and two footwear styles done in collaboration with GUIDI.
My first show on Saturday was Kolor, and in this collection Junichi Abe went back to his kaleidoscopic sportswear. Once again it was impressive to see how he blends colors and fabrics, creating startlingly unexpected and thrilling combinations. My one complaint, and this goes not only for Kolor, but also for other brands, was the prominence of logos. The pull of logo mania must be so strong that even designers who didn’t bother putting logos on their clothes even five years ago, now do. That makes the clothes decidedly uncool. Whatever happened to quiet luxury?
Speaking of which, true luxury is not quiet. To the trained eye it sings through fabric, construction, and fit. Few brands know this better than Hermés, where Veronique Nichanian sent down silk cardigans and perforated leathers that positively oozed luxury. And though I am not usually the one to champion clothes reserved for the world without issues most people struggle with, I’ve been so demoralized by the drop in the quality of clothing in the so-called luxury fashion sector, that I can’t help root for savoir faire wherever I see it.
My last show was Sacai, and Chitose Abe delivered with a bang. Abe has been going from strength to strength without getting bogged down in an esthetic that is as clearly defined as a post-thunderstorm rainbow. Such progress takes true talent and that she has in spades. The proportions of her signature combines were elongated here and shortened there, chopped off sleeves on a long pleated coat was quiet drama, and her reworked bombers continue to be utterly cool – Abe has a knack for turning the functional into the elegant, which is a totally modern way of making clothes. Her second collaboration with Carhartt was all Sacai, including a t-shirt/painter-jacket dress that was one of the closing looks
My last visit of the day was Setchu, whose designer, Satoshi Kuwata, recently won the LVMH prize. After seeing his work I can say without a doubt that he deserves it. I have not been impressed by a new brand in a while. Kuwata is a true designer – every single garment is carefully considered in terms of esthetics and functionality, from sweatshirts to tailoring. Kuwata has apprenticed at Givenchy under Riccardo Tisci, but most tellingly he also spent time at Huntsman on Saville Row, and boy does this show in his construction methods. There is his signature origami blazer, in which edges of lapels are not stitched but folded over, as is the rest of the blazer, which allows it to be folded along the crease lines like a t-shirt. Dress shirts and poplin dresses can be worn in multiple ways, as can be a deceptively simple sweatshirt that completely unzips at the sides, turning into a cape. Setchu was my best find this season.
A few more notes on showrooms – at Forme d’Expression, Koeun Park was back with her subtle twists on mens classics, her tailing is absolutely brilliant in both silhouette and fabrication. Geoffrey B. Small was also back in Paris for the first time since Covid, with an intimate presentation at L’Eclaireur, where he showed several racks of lush sartoria, this time unabashedly going for color. Issei Fujita, who previously designed Lumen et Umbra, was also back for the first time since the pandemic, now showing under his own name, combining his Japanese roots with the clothes-making skills he has honed in Italy.
Last but not least, I closed my fashion week Sunday night by unveiling a StyleZeitgeist collaboration with GUIDI. More on that soon!