June 28, 2013 9:09 pm

Paris menswear show: runway report 3

Fashion labels have either legions of devotees or are in the process of cultivating them

A cult following is the dream of fashion labels: a flock of customers who buy whatever is produced, no matter its worth. Such was clear on Day Three of the Paris men’s shows, anyway, which was marked by the performance of brands that either have legions of these devotees, or are in the process of cultivating them.

Right now, Givenchy has the fiercest global community of followers in fashion. Stores can’t keep it’s printed T-shirt’s and sweatshirts in stock. It feels like a mania, especially on the day of its show, when many of its fans dress head to toe in the clothes to pay homage.

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This impression was only reinforced on the catwalk, where creative director, Riccardo Tisci sent out what looked like a relentless parade of the faithful, as if each model had obediently bought themselves full looks in all-over prints, mostly naive colour images of ‘80s computer circuit boards, or differing bands of coloured stripes. The majority of the prints were symmetric, mirrored as if a vertical line had been drawn down the body (and not unlike the work of a couple of London womenswear designers, Mary Katranzou and Holly Fulton).

As each look came out, you could practically hear the buyers hyperventilating: these were no-brainer hits. Wherever Givenchy does its digital printing, that factory had better stock up on ink. But the clothes remain very much pieces of fashion, rather than anything greater. It could be because of this obsession with symmetry: anyone who’s stared in the mirror too long knows that every single human is in some ways wonky. Our bodies are not even, so to impose symmetry on the top layer makes it seem – well, superficial.

One of the themes also on display was Africa, represented mostly in graphic renditions of tribal face painting. Tisci sent out a few women’s looks, which makes sense at labels such as Givenchy that like to play with gender – except that one of the women was made to walk the long catwalk in a distressingly tight corset, her breasts compressed and barely contained, her gait hampered. She was black. There was no positivity or purpose in this message, at a menswear show or anywhere else.

Tisci’s models often had nylon cagoules tied round their waist creating the effect of a skirt, a look popular at the moment in Paris as men prepare themselves for the June showers. And this idea – of the varying lengths of menswear – also made for a captivating show by Comme des Garçons Homme Plus, many of whose long-term fanatics could open museums with their archives.

This was one of those shows designer Rei Kawakubo filled with a whirl of ideas. Out from underneath jackets of different lengths and styles came sheer long layers of plaid or a cartoon print. Some jackets had an additional entrail at the back, such as a panel of sheer polka dot, but this was just one of many themes. Leather tops were cut at the back and held in place by a buckle. Some jackets had an extra sleeve on the arm that looked like it was peeling off. Buckles became decoration in themselves, like some sort of new epaulette.

Amid all this, what stuck out was the quality of Comme’s tailoring. Its shoulder shape is excellent, ensuring the body is framed in three dimensions (it sounds stupid to say, but so many designers don’t think about density). The brand may be committed to providing its followers with uncompromised ideas, but it also knows to make the basics the best they can be.

A nod too, to Junya Watanabe, a designer from the Comme stable who has become over the past few years the leader of the huntin’, fishin’ tribe: you know, those men in Shoreditch or Williamsburg dressed like they’re about to go shoot deer when they’re really just brewing your single-origin espresso. Here, Watanabe’s show was devoted to a new collaboration with a heritage bag brand. The label featured on the outside of the outdoorsy clothes and bags, but couldn’t quite be read. At the end, a clutch of writers crowded around Watanabe at the entrance to backstage. What’s that brand? Watanabe thought it best to just go get one. He held it up for all to see: Seil Marschall. “From Good Old Germany” the label said beneath. So there you go.

Berluti, in its classic incarnation as a shoe brand, always had its followers, but in 21st century conglomerate terms, it was pretty much dormant. Now, however, owners LVMH are executing a quick steer to change all that. Still, the shoes appeared first on entry to their Paris event, via a long letterbox opening peep-show-like onto a human centipede of a tandem, with twelve pairs of Berluti-clad feet, all in slip-ons of aged patina, pedalling away. I peered under and up: there were real life models up there, though given the amount LVMH is investing in the brand, some expected robots of artificial intelligence.

No matter: the goal for creative director Alessandro Sartori is making clothing with the same idiosyncrasy and eccentric luxury as its shoes. To wit: a dapper and raffish three-piece cotton herringbone suit actually rewoven from denim that had been bleached, with half its yarn left raw, the other half dyed. Sartori is obsessed with lightening the wardrobe, with coats that are like jackets and jackets that are like shirts. One cotton trench of matt cloth was completely devoid of construction. “It’s just fabric,” the designer said.

Sartori was particularly proud of a leather jacket that wasn’t actually leather. It was made from silk that had been given a ceramic surface, rendering it waterproof. It was light, malleable, and frankly looked like it was made of material that had come off the hide of a cow. Berluti has just finished its first season of selling Sartori’s work, and it’s these outerwear pieces of exceptional development that are finding a new loyal following: few go to Berluti for just a basic knit, understandable when you consider Berluti has never sold a basic shoe in its existence.

News to accelerate such buyers’ devotion: following LVMH’s acquisition last year of tailors Arnys, this September Berluti will start offering its customers a full bespoke service for both tailoring and sportswear. Whether they will also start a fan club is still TBD.

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