January 17, 2014 12:48 pm

Paris Fashion Week: Men’s, report 2

What happens when you soften the shoulder in menswear? It is going on everywhere at the autumn/winter menswear collections in Paris, driven mostly by the soft, unlined coats that are ubiquitous, often with a raglan sleeve. Think through the consequences: it would look strange to wear these soft coats over a strong-shouldered jacket, so the silhouette of tailoring has to change too. Sometimes fashion is all domino effect.

This was the story at Louis Vuitton, anyway, where the show was not just about next season, but the look of the brand’s menswear in general. The catwalk was total elegance, with soft-shouldered coats of various guises appearing atop most looks.

When suits came out, they were cut to sit easily beneath: constructed, tailored, but without any padding on the shoulder. It is a neat, flattering suit that can be scrunched in a travel bag but still keep its shape. According to the brand, from next season it will be the only cut sold in Vuitton stores. Permanently.

The decision speaks to the success men’s style director Kim Jones has had at Vuitton: he can now direct the whole menswear output. Mr Jones bases his work there on travel, to coincide with the brand’s origins in luggage, and from far flung trips he takes inspiration for fashion.

“You have to go and visit the places,” he said the day before the show. This time round it was South America, particularly the Atacama Desert, the driest hot desert in the world. Peruvian stripes trimmed coats and were woven through scarves. “It’s the local ways of weaving,” he said. “You go to the source to get the best.”

Methods may have been traditional, but the look was modern. Blousons came needlepunched, with the stripe from a check pulled through and made visible on the outside. A burgundy parka came on technical silk that is naturally waterproof. Mr Jones referenced a chunky cable knit sweater as something a ’90s rave kid used to wear, but crucially, to an older customer, it is just a great sweater. You do not need to know the hidden subcultural meaning.

Towards the end came some matching ensembles of tops and elasticated waist lounge pants. Mr Jones said these were made from not just vicuña, but extreme vicuña. What’s that? “It’s vicuña, using only their chin hairs,” he said. Obviously an expensive process, and available only through Louis Vuitton’s new made-to-order service.

Also debuting was the famous Damier canvas bag rendered in cobalt blue, and to order straight from the show. Mr Jones said he has always wanted to do a blue Damier since he joined the house: in fact, he suggested the idea in proposals when he was interviewing for the job. Better late than never.

In a few weeks time, Nicolas Ghesquière will make his womenswear debut as creative director of Louis Vuitton. It is an interesting time at the house, with Mr Jones demonstrating just how the brand can profit by combining fashion and function. Mr Jones wants his pieces to be worn and carried by real travelling men. Marc Jacobs favoured flights of fancy for his womenswear at LV. Maybe Mr Ghesquière would do well to follow Mr Jones’s lead, and explore some fabulous reality.

The expression of the domino effect among devotees of Rick Owens is simple: once they start buying his stuff, they cannot stop. Radical and uncompromising he may be, but Mr Owens is a designer in tune with his customers’ desires. For autumn/winter 2014, that will mostly be a three-layered look, with a long tunic or jacket reaching to mid-thigh, then some wide shorts to just below the knee, and the rest of the leg covered by baggy leather boots.

As always with Mr Owens, it was a display of conviction and individuality, with commercial pieces in the mix: a long single-button jacket, a coat with shearling trim over the shoulders and down the spine.

Sounds simple, but of course, there was perversity. Cashmere knit balaclavas had long veils extruding from the back of the head, like a nun’s habit. And then there were the opening looks: big sleeveless rompers with a huge zippered-up opening in the posterior. Is that language a bit too Downton Abbey? OK, a bum flap. Backstage, Mr Owens gave his explanation, which if I were to say it to my mother it would make me blush. “I’m nothing if not practical,” he said, with a serene smile.

You know those record breaking attempts at knocking down dominoes? A Dries Van Noten show is similar: start him off, and away the ideas spill. This was Mr Van Noten at his excellent best, riffing off a mix of utilitarianism and colour. Little bombers were cut away at the front, with a zip running across the back and halfway down the arms. Trousers had patches and trim à la a fighter pilot. Often pieces were naively dyed, such as tie-dyed trousers, or a dip-dyed sweater. Worn fabrics and loose shapes softened the looks, as did a couple of barely seen shirts with a collar high on the neck, complete with a little frill.

As the models went by, it was clear there was a specific colour idea at play. But it was not until the finale that the message was apparent: the collection was split into four distinct tonal groups. Each section marched out in formation. Which was the most disciplined? The pink section held their two-by-two form well. The blues had a strong front line, but got dishevelled towards the back. The lime greens were the most discordant, perhaps in reaction to their allotted colour. The blacks at the back thought they could hide their lack of discipline in the shadows. It was a bravura display.

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