Making a sustainable business from idiosyncrasy: that was the theme of the first day of the Paris menswear shows.
The biggest hitter was Raf Simons, who showed so far out of town, it may as well have been in Belgium, his birthplace. The venue was the new Gagosian gallery, set by a private airfield, apparently so clients can hop off their jet, drop a few million on art, then fly out again. Fashion’s a hype industry, but showing at Gagosian is a bit of a leveller – there’s no ateliers set up by landing strips.
Raf has genuine connection to the art world – he has bought art on behalf of private collectors for years. At Gagosian, his models walked around constructions by Jean Prouvé and Alexander Calder mobiles. The clothes were a similar mix of levity and substance. How often, for example, have the words “men’s drop crotch romper” been published on FT.com? There’s a first for everything. This was Simons being provocative, playing light with menswear’s supposed codes.
The substance came from the multitude of prints, composed of deftly obscure combinations of ad slogans (”SUPER NYLON”, “SO GOOD”) and images of an idealised life: open top cars, healthy divers etc. These will sell. And this is the admirable state in which Simons now finds himself. After years of flux and instability, he seems to have finally found a sustainable trajectory. The radical ideas keep him interested, while the clever sellers finally lay the foundations for a long-term business.
A couple of hours earlier, Haider Ackermann showed a menswear debut that wasn’t entirely a debut. He had produced a one-off collection of menswear a couple of years back, but this was the official launch of his men’s line, and it was an alluring one. “It’s just a few men,” he said afterwards, and indeed he did well to have models just mooch about, looking real-life in clothes made of the most sumptuous cloth. Zip-up bombers were jewel red, while luminous tux pants came in a pattern of blue and black, the stripe down the leg wider than the norm.
Tuxedo jackets were golden, and the silhouette had made no real shift from womenswear – statuesque shoulder, aided by an upturned collar, and a tightening at the waist. It’s a look that’ll likely never change, but why should it? It works. And so Paris menswear welcomed another individualist to its already swelling ranks.
Valentino is turning out to be a nifty product engine under the stewardship of Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli. Suits were cut in differing panels of denim, with denim coats fitted at the front with concealed buttons but with a nice bit of swing at the back. Military jackets connected to the designers’ continuing love of camouflage (here in a thin knit sweater), but were more interesting to think about in terms of length: cropped so they sit on the hips, smart but informal.
The show, only their third at Valentino for men, wasn’t the trailblazer of last season, and it’s still unclear whether Valentino menswear will set agendas or just provide sellable product. If it’s the latter, no problem, because the product looks good. (Some decisions were questionable though, especially flip flops were made in collaboration with Havaianas, with a rubber sole and a crocodile thong. You read that right.)
Because their autumn/winter 13 show had been so dynamic, however, there was the sense that perhaps this new show could have been so much more. Maybe it was because the denim of this season couldn’t match the tension they created last season with their play on sartorial cloths. Too many decisions here felt safe. They have shown that they can mine deeper. And Paris has shown that idiosyncrasy in menswear can pay off. Put the two together …