July 5, 2013 6:19 pm

From boys to men

Paris menswear shows suggest a sense that men are increasingly interested in looking better – or even older
Paris menswear©Catwalking

From left: Raf Simons; Louis Vuitton; Hermès; Saint Laurent

Now that the Paris menswear shows are over, along with the entire spring/summer 2014 men’s catwalk season, what remains isn’t so much trends but matters of age – not the age of the designers themselves or the brands they head up, but the projected age of their target customer. Which is not what you would expect (youth). Instead, what was apparent was a growing diversity in menswear and a sense that men are increasingly interested in looking better – or even older.

Four houses in particular presented viable wardrobes for a grown-up consumer (ie, a man who’s earned the money to afford this stuff).

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Berluti is only in its fourth season making clothes, but it has quickly established a signature louche wardrobe of functional separates made from enlightened cloth: a jacket that thinks it’s a shirt; a trenchcoat devoid of construction so that it can be packed up in a ball; a silk jacket with a ceramic coating that renders it waterproof and gives it the appearance of thin leather. Berluti’s clothes, designed by Alessandro Satori, are impressive enough but most striking of all is the strategy of owners LVMH, gunning hard for an older, wealthier but style-hungry customer.

At another LVMH house, Louis Vuitton, the models who wore the neat collection sent out by designer Kim Jones were all young lads. But it wasn’t hard to imagine these check jersey jackets and zip-up blousons worn by the sort of older man you see in Vuitton stores. Jones satisfied his desire for youthfulness via bandanna print shirts, varsity patch zip-ups and tie-dye jackets.

If Jones’s collection was all about travel, Hermès was for those who have already arrived. Its show was full of some of the most appealing clothes of the week, including a boat neck long-sleeved top in washed and striped linen: simple and covetable.

Meanwhile, Haider Ackermann presented his first full men’s collection, which transposed his womenswear signatures to the male body: jackets and blousons of statuesque shoulder and neat waist, all of the most sumptuous jewel-coloured cloth, all made for a refined middle age (that is meant as the highest compliment).

It’s an interesting move, because fashion has traditionally been skewed towards youth, in the hope of selling to the gullible old who wish they were still young. Now it feels like menswear is finally comfortable talking to its natural audience (as seen so excellently at Zegna in Milan), giving their older customers relevant clothes, rather than looks that make them feel like also-rans.

Such age diversification makes the brands that trend young stand out. Hedi Slimane’s designs at Saint Laurent continue to confront, with thin young men dressed in a variety of slender, shortened or cutaway jackets, their tight trousers hitched high with belts. Still, under (or over) it is very desirable clothing, from an army parka recut to Slimane’s slender code to some great pale blue jeans. As with Berluti, Slimane has rapidly created a complete and convincing new world at Saint Laurent.

Raf Simons is on a clever psychological trip, either recalling the complexity of his adolescence or observing that of men today. The juxt­aposition of imagery and words in his large printed T-shirts, with open-top cars, athletic divers and the naive language of advertising, says much about the continued optimism of the young. Or, at least, it says more than Givenchy’s relentless mirrored prints of naive technology, which will please very young fans, sure, but felt targeted at the bottom of the food chain. This wasn’t innovation; more like capitalisation.

Of course, Paris has for decades been a haven for committed sartorial radicalism, no matter what one’s age, and this hasn’t changed. The black shorts and singlets offered by Rick Owens looked as sharp on the models as they did on Estonian Eurovision losers Winny Puhh, whose catwalk performance featured two drummers strapped to a vertically turned spinning board, a screaming man with long grey hair and beard, and three Chewbacca-faced noisemakers being winched to the ceiling by their feet in a storm of feedback. No joke.

Comme des Garçons Homme Plus gave a bravura performance of tailoring and layering, its jackets occasionally pristine but usually sliced and altered by added panels in the tail or by extra layers buckled on. This December, the brand plans to open one of its Dover Street Market alternative fashion mega­stores in New York, and it is in the market for new talent. Comme des Garçons founder Rei Kawakubo, a hero to many, caused palpitations during the week when she visited young London designers in Paris to see their collections. Among those she met was Craig Green, whose tie-dye show was one of the best of the season.

Not all shows were so laudable. But there was a sense of optimism about the season; of designers realising the possibility of what menswear could be: less kempt, more intuitive, more relevant. Of course, many men will proclaim their allegiance to the same old stuff. But the rigour of the work shown over the past three weeks will have an effect. And like ageing itself, male consumers will one day wake up and discover that they have entered a whole new wardrobe stage.

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For reviews and slideshows of all the men's shows see www.ft.com/fashionweeks

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