January 21, 2013 10:38 am

Paris Menswear: day five

Saint Laurent, Lanvin, Paul Smith and Thom Browne close the Paris collections

It’s like he never went away. Six years after he quit Dior Homme, Hedi Slimane returned to menswear by presenting at Saint Laurent a collection of attitude, focus and, once the sizings have been made more commercial, desirable product. Since his days in the late 1990s as the YSL (as it was then called) menswear designer, Slimane has stoked his collections with a mix of provocation alongside updated versions of wardrobe staples. On Sunday night, it meant that next to some insanely skinny jeans, ripped to the flesh and embellished with chains, there was the perfect neat duffel coat or a Prince of Wales check coat of a defined line.

Rumours had been swirling all week about models rejected by Slimane because they didn’t display the required skinniness, and indeed, the catwalk jackets were cut so slim they would be unwearable by the average older man. But before the show I spotted a Saint Laurent employee of strapping height and frame and asked him who made his jacket; he said it was new, from Saint Laurent by Slimane. It fitted him beautifully, and made him look slender without it being tight. These are clothes that can work for the body.

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The mood was of young men both smartened and dishevelled at an endless music festival. It’s how many young men dress today, as well as those who think themselves still young. Yes, we’ve seen much of this before, when Slimane was at Dior Homme, like the long scarves looped around the neck and the cutaway tails. But then, he invented the look of Dior Homme from scratch. He should be allowed to continue it again.

There were no bags on the catwalk, but lots of biker jackets. Implication: Saint Laurent has the ambition to create a new high-volume category for itself by treating leather jackets as if they were bags. It’s an interesting and ambitious idea. Backstage, Slimane himself was in a biker jacket. As it happens, in 1960, it was couture biker jackets of the Beat collection that got Yves Saint Laurent sacked from Dior. These things connect.

Meanwhile, Lanvin owns another major accessory category: Sneakers. They make up a major part of the Lanvin menswear business, and on Sunday the brand paired some cool new styles with its radicalised formalwear. To the non-discerning eye, they might look like the running sneakers that sit in the closet as a taunting reminder of the exercise you’re not doing. But actually these sneakers look as detailed as a ready-to-wear brogue or Derby. Welcome to the 21st century.

The clothes that sat above it were confident in their difference. The buttoning came low on a double-breasted coat, while a double-breasted jacket was cut wide and cropped short. The challenge of Lanvin men’s has always been to echo the whipped-up lightness of womenswear, and here it was achieved with a billowing parka, the hem gathered in and under, creating a cloud effect behind.

There were nods to what have developed as themes of the season, including quilting and panels of fur used as decoration, which also showed up at Paul Smith, who featured oversized houndstooth coats, Prince of Wales double-breasted coats and vivid angora sweaters and shaggy shearling on leather jackets. Thom Browne, however, broke some rules.

After all, don’t most local French authorities ban building work on a Sunday? For about an hour both before and during Thom Browne’s show, nine blindfolded models banged at a wood house frame in the middle of the catwalk. In case any of the models rebelled, they were chained to the structure. What’s the pay for that? Who knew a model’s rate card had a carpentry clause?

Honey, I’m home! The first model to enter this domestic harmony was dressed in a box-shouldered cropped fur coat over a patchworked suit, with a bowler hat that had been turned into a cube like it had been frozen square in an ice tray. Throw similar words in the air to describe the rest of the collection. The best clothes were obviously the signature Thom Browne grey cropped suits worn by the hammering models, who obediently banged away through the whole affair.

It was absolutely maddening; but I kind of loved it. Which pretty much sums up the autumn/winter ’13 European men’s shows, which are, now, over.

For the final analysis of all the Paris collections, see the Life & Arts section in the weekend edition of the Financial Times

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