Paris menswear show: runway report 5

Thanks to Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent, the menswear shows ended with a question: how does fashion work?

What Slimane is doing at the house the Yves built challenges the very nature of fashion itself, especially fashion as backed by a luxury conglomerate (in this case the newly renamed Kering). His menswear show, which closed the entire spring/summer 2014 season, was uncompromising and unsettling. Intentionally so. It provided no easy conclusion to the season – if anything, it made the rest of the shows seem like they happened a few years ago, even Lanvin and Thom Browne, both of which took place only a few hours previously but neither of which had any lasting impact (unconvincing product for the former, costume for the latter).

Slimane just steamrolls over the old system of editor approval and validation through coverage. His spring/summer Saint Laurent collection was an ever more extreme vision of a singular young man with intent. Consider the skin-tight trousers, often vinyl, always belted uncommonly high: Because they were paired with cropped jackets, the crotch was in focus. The models were young and thin, so this exposure was no power play.

This was probably the most extreme vision of masculinity seen during this entire season, including the young designers of London. Yet it had the glossiest front row, including François Pinault and his wife Salma Hayek, plus US Vogue editor Anna Wintour at her only menswear show (which sounds superficial, but since menswear can still feel like a backwater, it means something).

The secret is to look through the distraction of the uncomfortable to the pieces themselves, which are surprisingly accessible. Baseball jackets came in bold colours, and jeans were introduced in a great pale blue. There was an army parka, like those worn by many at this weekend’s Glastonbury, as a topper; the kind once probably bought at vintage stalls for not much, but today a garment the new breed of luxury consumer will find palatable at a four figure sum.

Most looks involved a tailored jacket which was short, fitted and louche, a shape that exacts a sharp silhouette and gives the impression of youthful menace. It’s a powerful effect, and one that gives buyers glee: for all its surface antagonism, this was a super-commercial show, especially when it comes to the jackets, the striped tops, and the bandanas, which will fly out of stores.

But in menswear, the role of the tailoring itself is under question, as consumers move away from the white collar world of the 20th century. The most interesting question is what happens beyond the tailored jacket (because if men had been wearing these jackets at Glastonbury, they’d probably have thrown them in the corner after their fourth shot of whatever)?

It is clear that Slimane is presenting a new model for a conglomerate fashion label. He is creating an all-encompassing world which is provoking an insatiable appetite for its product. All well and good. But his designs at former employer Dior Homme were radical and advanced. It would be a master stroke if he can adapt this evocative Saint Laurent world for how men live in the 21st century. However fashion mutates to changing commercial realities, it still needs to offer something new.

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