January 17, 2013 1:57 pm

Paris Menswear: day one

Raf Simons and Valentino impress in Paris

When Raf Simons, Dior’s (relatively) new womenswear designer, makes his own label menswear, he gets to play. His autumn/winter ’13 men’s show, held on day one of the Paris menswear collections, was Raf’s first since he made his couture and ready-to-wear debuts at Christian Dior, and it was clear that though at Dior he has codes to follow, under his own name he is free to toy with fashion. When he’s on form, as he was in Paris on Wednesday, this sense of liberty gives each look an unexpected jolt.

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Simons opened with long, full coats that fastened with a tie at the neck and had a swing in their shape: purposeful and pleasing. Another experiment came with suit jackets that had a T-bar of cloth about two inches deep running across the chest from shoulder to shoulder, like a barrier restraining the body. Backstage the designer said the T-bar attached with a simple system on each side. It’s a visual trick, since the accessory provides no function, but so what? It’s nice to see a designer enjoy himself.

Besides, Simons also has a healthy business for men who want a touch of fashion, and there was much for them here. Of note were patterned knits that took odd emblems and repeated them until they seemed normal. One sweater sported the word “vote” over and over again, while a silhouette of Puss in Boots multiplied on what’s known as a tank top in the US, and a vest everywhere else. Skinny knits were shown with elbow-length knit cuffs; shirts came in bold colours and, as at Prada a few days before, with wonky collars. Many models wore multi layers of knit, shirt and coat. It was quite a sight, especially after the safeness of Milan.

Especially when you consider Simons has just 113 hours and 30 more minutes until his second couture collection for Dior.

Meanwhile, earlier in the evening Valentino brought its men’s collection to Paris for the first time under creative directors Maria Grazia Chiari and Pier Paolo Piccioli. It was immediately clear that they have established a clever silhouette for their menswear, with a slender cut to their suits and coats that were devoid of unnecessary weight. The designers also hit gold with the fashionable cloths of the season, combining in one garment a print of both Prince of Wales check and houndstooth.

Though there were some dispensable catwalk tricks – ie tailored capes – Chiuri and Piccoli’s strategy for creating a brand of longevity and gradual change is succeeding. They know how to compete in this game.

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