July 6, 2012 9:10 pm

Liberté, egalité ... transparency?

From see-through to surreal, the Paris menswear designers put everything on show

Just as David Cameron’s Conservatives are hardly cosying up to Europe, so there was a certain distance between the menswear looks seen in London, and the shared mood of Milan and Paris. In Milan last week the emphasis was on colour, sport and Mediterranean exuberance, and in Paris designers took this more daring tone and added an experimental, at times wacky, element. Take the Paris trend for “crossover” – mixing camouflage with fine mohair coats, or jogging pants with redingotes for a smart but surreal effect – and rarely has the distance between British and Continental European fashion seemed so great.

In an era when lack of corporate transparency is under attack in Europe, it was interesting to see how many semi-sheer fabrics were on Paris catwalks. Take Lanvin, where linen blazers had partly opaque organza sleeves and rain-gear came with transparent arms to show off the interior garments. Given this emphasis on inner workings over superficial detail, the brand logo was almost completely absent in Paris, with the possible exception of Kenzo. At Hermès, the house’s menswear designer Veronique Nichanian showed naval blazers made with see-through panels and rain-gear created in what she called “spinnaker” canvas.

At Dior Homme, designer Kris Van Assche sent out a quintet of matinee idol-like models in suits and coats made from semi-sheer mesh that revealed the tailor’s cuts, darts and otherwise hidden seams. Tailoring, mixed with off-duty safari jackets and bombers, was on offer at former luxury shoe brand Berluti’s ready-to-wear collection. Amid an elaborate series of tableaux vivants such as a cigar room, library and boot-room, highlights included a perforated blouson jacket in light glove-leather re-embroidered by hand, and Japanese denim trenchcoats, trimmed and piped in nubuck and glimpsed on models through “windows” cut into a custom-made maze.

Where athletics was a theme in Milan, Paris’s nod to action came from mixing leisure with military. Combat chic mixed with the “crossover” technique was in evidence at Comme des Garçons via a pale linen dressing gown-cum-coat worn over a camouflage pyjama suit, and at Yohji Yamamoto, where models sporting fake Fight Club-like bruises wore drawstring samurai pants with a new trench coat-redingote hybrid. Dries Van Noten joined the see-through brigade with an anorak in semi-transparent camouflage fabric, and every second look had the army print: on double-breasted blazers, hipster duster coats and exotic spy trenches.

What to wear on your feet for the fashion fight? According to Paris designers, the must-have footwear for next spring is the gladiator running sandal. Van Noten’s had protective ankle covers; Lanvin’s came with green soles and upper straps in contrasting colours; and Kenzo showed high-tech patent leather river runners. At Givenchy’s “Holy Communion” show, the saintly sandals had straps covered with miniature gold chains.

Religious ecstasy rippled through Givenchy as designer Riccardo Tisci presented suits and tunics cut like priestly vestments, and many looks featured old master oil paintings, icons and church frescoes of Christ or suffering saints. It was the most theatrical show in Paris thanks to vapour machines wafting out a medieval church fragrance and organ music.

A dreamlike feel suffused the week, from Raf Simons, who showed smartly cut redingotes with clean fresh wool on the front and Alpine floral prints on the back, to Sir Paul Smith’s witty yet threatening shirts in prints of magnified scissors. Then there was Martin Margiela, where the collection climaxed with rocker jackets where the heads of Bruce Springsteen and crowing roosters were juxtaposed. Most playful was John Galliano, where creative director Bill Gaytten showed a Magritte-like, cloud-print bowler and a shirt emblazoned with an appliqued shell that recalled a Man Ray still life. Taking the wackiness even further were the wetsuits made of cashmere at Louis Vuitton that appeared alongside more practical bright yellow parkas and other wet-weather gear. Given the rainproof theme, maybe they were thinking about London after all.

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