And so to the future of fashion. Saint Laurent ended the Paris menswear with a fierce, full collection of pieces that referred to the past in the cleverest possible way. Anyone with an ear to the radio at the moment will hear the sound of guitars and noise encroaching on the territory previously held by everything electronic. Here were the clothes that move in the same direction as that sound. I can think of few shows we have seen the past couple of weeks – Nasir Mazhar in London, Gosha Rubchinskiy in Paris – that connect with youth culture in such a genuine way.
Of course, there are many who hate the fact that young people want to wear a style, nominally from the 70s, which they think is over and done. At Saint Laurent, creative director Hedi Slimane sent out pieces that looked familiar, but which were actually cut with extreme sharpness, their brevity and line made them immediately contemporary. Military jackets came with either frogging, or pocketed in a similar fashion as those at Comme des Garçons a couple of days ago (compliment rather than slight intended). Denim jackets were worn with a shearling vest over them. The odd pair of slender jeans had a slight flare. Many of the looks were accessorised with wide fine scarves. On their feet were slight heels.
Often his looks were challenged, such as a black dress decorated in gold around its hem, or a model in just a crochet blanket. Backstage, Slimane said he sent out so many looks because there was so much product to show. Notice he said “product” – there was no hint of nostalgia, but stuff that will sell right now. Saint Laurent is one of the biggest sellers in menswear. It is the future of fashion for a couple of reasons. The first is crass: this is the look that fast fashion brands will be copying to get in their stores quick sticks. The other is more game-changing: Slimane is cutting out the old fashion status quo, creating best-sellers without the approval of the old guard. And that is what makes it so different and exciting from everything else seen this season.
Earlier in the day, Thom Browne’s show was extraordinary whether you liked it or not. Such was the work that had been put into the garments that alternated between origami exaggeration sort padding like sinews. I liked it immensely, especially because the models walked round a grid of 20 models sitting on plinths dressed in Browne’s bread-and-butter: variations on the neat grey suit that made his name. Call me pedestrian, but I like a little reality to ground the outlandish.
Browne is one of the few designers who says to hell with it all. His was a catwalk of design for the sake of it, regardless of wearability. The idea here was a contrast between square-shouldered, pointed limb tailoring, and those garments with muscled lumps. When I say pointed limb, I am being bashful. What I really mean is a pointed tailored codpiece, and a point at the back for each buttock. Try getting a seat on the Paris metro in that.
It is easy to make cheap jokes. I am sure Browne meant for his experiments to be laughed at in some way. His bravery and chutzpah is often overlooked. If pleasure is taken in garments, there should be room for wild imagination away from the commercial, especially when his core work away from the catwalk is still one of the most recognisable silhouettes of the 21st century.
At the beginning of the show, two pointed shoulder sentries walked out with Browne’s version of light sabres. The models in the grid had been sat there for some time, and they were blindfolded. As the other models came out, the sentries undid the blindfolds one by one. Occasionally, the music was interrupted by the sound of light sabres themselves. Browne sure does live in a funny, strange world.
It was only after I left Lanvin that I realised how little I had seen for spring/summer. Sure there was one tank and the occasional T-shirt, but catwalk was dominated by tailoring. It was that rare thing this season: a show without shorts. Leather jackets looked warm rather than a light layer. True, some of the tailoring had a gauzy back, but it was not the norm. At the time, it did not seem that unusual because it was pouring with rain outside, feeling more like a Sunday in March not June.
And maybe this is savvy, since these clothes will first enter stores in January 2015. But you wanted a bit more sense of the imminence of spring. Black, grey and navy dominated. Nicest pieces were the wide trousers, which like elsewhere this season were verging on a flare but not quite, and a leather jacket which was cut to a long line. Some of the zip-up blousons had split hoods which sat against the back. Some experiments, such as a jacket cut into short tails with naive white stitching around the hem, did not work. I wonder if the next autumn/winter collection, which will deliver in June 2015, will be full of summer clothing? That would be truly radical.
Backstage after Paul Smith’s lively and jolly show, a journalist asked him some obvious questions about the collection. He said what was already apparent from his catwalk: that the mood was relaxed, that he had used soft satin for loose suits to make them fluid, that there was colour but it was darker than usual, and there was a variety of pop art-like imagery.What made it all work was the confidence of the ideas. They were many and varied, each one allowed to develop distinctly. The navy satin suits were convincing and felt elevated, especially those that had the satin as just panels; loose check trousers and shorts looked lovely for vacation, and those pop images were great. One was of a face with a cactus for hair, another a hidden cartoon character carrying a large soda can with a straw, yet another had nail-varnished hands. Each was woven matt so the image was never too shiny on garments such as zip-up blousons and tops.
At the end, a model came out with a T-shirt printed with the word “Yeah”. The journalist asked Smith, why that word? “Why not?” Was his reply. When the writer had gone, Smith was more interested in talking about the pot plants that had decorated the catwalk. He had noticed that many of the young staff in his headquarters had started to have indoor plants on their desks. He was impressed by this. He thought it was hopeful for the future that the twenty-something generation were engaged in activities that were homespun. “Everybody just relax,” he said. Which, at the end of the European shows for spring/summer 2015, are fine words to live by.