And so the Paris menswear shows came to end, with designer after designer marking his own territory with mastery.
For the final show of the season, for example, Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent did something very interesting, and very clever. After two seasons of antagonism, in which his collections felt like an affront, tearing down what had gone before, he broadened things out. The clothes were roomier. The styling more approachable. The atmosphere was warm. It was like a textbook lesson in how to relaunch a brand: be ruthless in setting out your stall, and when that is done, show them what you can do.
The message was tailoring, and outerwear. Suit jackets were long in the lapel, as if their lower two buttons were an afterthought. Tailored trousers were belted high, but came pleated, a relief after last season’s show of unilaterally tight blue jeans. Many of the models wore ties, signifying that formality is pretty much a styling device for the young. Coats, and there were many, played on houndstooths and tweeds. I have talked a couple of times this season about pieces that will look good on the product pages of online stores. These coats are the epitome of this new world of fashion design: attractive cloth cut in strict, definable lines.
Because his everyday pieces were so strong, Mr Slimane could then play around with shimmer and decoration. Tuxedos came out in a blur of pink shimmer. A black long jacket was cut away at the front to make modern tails. Shoes were low brothel creepers, at one point in gold. A model in black sunglasses and a scarf looked just like Mr Saint Laurent himself, which must have been pleasing for the eponymous designer’s former partner, Pierre Bergé, who sat front row. Backstage afterwards, Mr Slimane was relaxed. It felt like this was no longer a house on to which he is trying to impose his vision, but somewhere which is, finally, home.
If the Saint Laurent show served to position the brand at the heart of menswear, the Lanvin show earlier in the day used cutting to reaffirm its position, and take it somewhere new. The house has long advocated the soft coat with a dropped shoulder, and in this season, where almost all are playing a similar game, its versions excelled. Consider the opening look: the shoulders cut to sit as if they were in a state of permanent floating stasis, the sleeves pushed high to exaggerate the effect. Throughout, the cut of garments was decisive and deft, creating shapes that played positively with form. Suit jackets created the appearance of an elongated trunk, particularly pleasing in a double-breasted jacket fastened with a hook and eye at the lapel.
Meanwhile, menswear designer Lucas Ossendrijver let loose. The first hint of colour came in a covetable crewneck sweater of baby pink. Next up: pinstripes in electric blue, hot pink leather jackets, shirts decorated in pink and blue geometrics, a naive print of a pink hand on a top, and so on. Such colour has been rare in the men’s collections this season, and it was welcome – especially since the very strong first half of the collection was comparatively sober.
The position of Paul Smith in menswear is individual and unassailable. Such is the loyalty and trust that men have in his work, he does not need a catwalk show to prove his merit. As a result, he has room on the runway to be playful, evinced this season by a lightness of touch. A shimmer knit sweater was decorated with a flamingo. Black trousers were in a jacquard leopard print. Musical notes were part of the pattern of a long, tapestry-like coat. Suits were loose, with wide trousers. Long jackets had one single button around the navel. Shearling abounded, and was especially good in a hoodie. It was an effective mix.
As for Thom Browne, his position in menswear has, for the last few seasons, been devil-may-care. This can make for uncomfortable viewing, but for autumn/winter his mood had softened. The set was a woodland scene, like an idealised Disney world rendered in tailoring cloth. Models wore a variety of animal head hats, and made their slow progress in various tufted-seam suits and coats. Mr Browne has a thriving business in suits and shirts of a comparatively normal silhouette, which he rarely shows on the catwalk. Here, the shapes were wearable. It was not too much of a leap from the real world into Mr Browne’s.
But wait. Halfway through, it all changed. I mean that as no insult. Mr Browne wanted to show what he could do with shape, creating curved and pumped up arms and legs, part Bauhaus-designed Triadic Ballet, part Oompa-Loompa. Again, no insult. When Mr Browne does a whole show of impossibilities, it can make you want to tear your hair out. But when he does so alongside wearable pieces, it reminds you of the privilege of this job, getting to see work of such accomplishment, that connects theory to reality.
Indeed, though in this age of Instagram applause at shows has become muted, because the audience is preoccupied with trying to get a shot that is a) in focus b) not blurred, and c) not exactly the same as everyone else’s (most fail). At Thom Browne, the applause started even before the finale. It was a fitting ending.