When Paris is at its best, its menswear shows boast of work with the clear hand of an individual rather than the consensus of a design team. Often it is at shows by independent labels, but it can be at those of conglomerate brands too. It is the great skill of Kim Jones at Louis Vuitton to create work that expands the idea of menswear at the house, while also staying true to his roots as a London designer.
For spring/summer 2015, he travelled to India for inspiration. The day before the show, he said that it started from Kim by Rudyard Kipling, the book that he is named after. In India, he found tie-dyed cloth once owned by a Maharajah. This is not the tie-dye of adolescence done with rope and a bath tub but an extraordinarily precise grid of dyed dots. He showed me the original cloth, and then how he has recreated at Vuitton. He was also proud of an Aertex, woven from silk and cotton used for rollnecks and vests. It sounds like it should be simple to make. It is not.
The look was proud, especially with the suiting, where the lapels of double-breasted jackets were cut wide on the body. Trousers sat high at the waist. Organza shirts of a large zigzag sat with light form around the body. Then came the Kim twists. Navy satin bomber jackets were an obvious banker for Louis Vuitton. Rendered in orange, it was a look that connects right back to the London subcultures in which Mr Jones is so immersed. Same for the elaborately mirrored jacket, the mirrors a dégradé of colour. There is a client in the world who will see this through the prism of ultimate luxury. Clubbing history obsessives will see a different story. Mr Jones shows how both can coexist.
A word on the trousers. They were almost, and I mean almost, kicking out into a flare. Not quite. There are many in menswear who are toying with the idea of flaring the trouser once more. Acne had a wide straight leg trouser this past season. Prada’s spring/summer 15 collection teetered on flare. It is a tantalising game to watch: who will tip over to flare first? Or maybe I have been watching shows for too long.
Wait a minute. What is that at Dries Van Noten? Is it . . . a flare? Actually no, another wide straight leg with enough cloth to be able to flap in the air. It was not his only trouser, with skinnier legs and trackpants also part of the hard and fast mix, but those almost-flares had the most allure. Every once in a while, a Dries show feels hyper-sexualised, which was the case here with its straps across bare flesh and black ribbed shorts that looked as if they might fall off. The straps held in place panels of decoration that sat over the left chest, the panels sometimes a separate item, other times attached to pieces such as a zip-up blouson.
Does this sound overly complicated? Among it all were moments of quietness, like the hand-drawn oversized houndstooth on a shirt, or an unstructured suit with a hand-drawn hexagon print. Spring coats were ultra lightweight, with a pinstripe back billowing behind a model. Satin bombers in red or gold were standouts. Mr Van Noten, one of fashion’s great independents, always offers ideas in abundance. The work on his catwalk both disarmed and pleased: a fine combination.
Earlier in the day, Rick Owens was in haywire mood. His was a show one of relentless experimentation. Shorts were rucked up by wide bands of cloth, which wrapped in and out of the front before flowing free. Long tops had panels of nylon attached. Jackets hung off the body by wide bands of fabric. Some models were caged in harnesses of webbing. It was thrilling to watch.
It is an instinct with this sort of show to point out the approachable stuff: lovely black double-breasted coats; a black jacket. But let us concentrate instead on the embroidered pieces at the end. They were of faces looking in blissed anguish. Backstage, Mr Owens said they were taken from works by the artist Benoit, a friend of his and his partner Michelle Lamy. Apparently Benoit leaves paintings of the artist and Michelle at their house. Rendered in embroidery on sleeveless tops, they were mysterious and romantic. Mr Owens is an extraordinarily successful designer. He is also entirely independent. Long may he continue.