January 19, 2014 2:05 pm

Paris Fashion Week: Men’s, report 4

Hermès and Dior swap roles as Comme des Garçons affirms its position

And so to the penultimate day of the Paris menswear shows, and two tentpoles of the industry – Hermès and Dior – that seemed, oddly, to have swapped roles for the season.

At Hermès, after all, what you want is ease, self-assurance, excellence. But when the fourth look of the show, a khaki cashmere cardigan with a spider’s web embroidered on the left shoulder, appeared, it was clear the brand had something else in mind. Gimmicks to try and liven up the catwalk? Isn’t that Dior’s menswear thing?

The spider, which hung plump from its web, appeared nowhere else in the collection. Why was it there at all? Perhaps Hermès is planning to introduce a new category this autumn: luxury Halloween? And that was just the beginning of the questions sparked by the show: why did the cable knit in another sweater turn to normal ribbing, as if the stitch had come undone? Why did a neat peacoat have diagonal patches across it?

When one model came out in a slouchy cashmere sweater of ice blue, finally he looked happy. This is what Hermès should be: confident luxury without tricks. Yes, the model was also wearing leather jogging pants, but with the sweater, they worked. There were other such pieces dotted through: a windcheater or a parka, both functional and desirable; a drop-shoulder wool coat. There was also the rare sight: suits worn with ties, appropriate for business. In the latter case, it felt right for Hermès to be directional, with a run of three-button single-breasted suits, a style not often seen. They gave a convincing argument it should.

Meanwhile, over at Dior Homme designer Kris Van Assche seemed to have abandoned his usual singular conceptualism, wherein he often drags out an idea that shouldn’t have been on the catwalk in the first place, in favour of actual, desirable clothes. Not all of them – suiting had embroidered lilies of the valley sticking out of the pocket, or the odd pinstripe, pointlessly enlarged. But a denim duffel of a lovely washed shade, neat and slick? Parkas and worn denim jeans? They were pleasing, in every sense of the word. It felt like Van Assche had loosened up and embraced the idea of clothing as opposed to theory. Would that more designers took the occasional breather, and did the same.

Finally, a brief word about a twice-yearly favourite of mine: the mini-show held dead on 9.15am for Comme des Garçons SHIRT.

Few are invited, mostly because at that hour few would attend. But the purity of the work, with Rei Kawakubo focusing on shirts, trousers, sometimes sweaters, makes it a compelling draw. This season she collaborated with Nicolas Buffe, a French artist who lives in Tokyo, for the old-world drawings that dotted over various shirts. Many of the shirts had scalloped hems, those hems with soft, languid frills. Comme is nowhere near the size of Hermès and Dior, but in its own way, it is one of the most crucial tentpoles of the entire Paris fashion scene. The city would be bereft without it.

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