What do luxury customers want? Ease. Decisions made for them. An assured lifestyle. And fashion customers? A jolt. Escapism. Acceptance into a gang. Note that the two, luxury and fashion, are not the same. Sometimes they are mistaken to be the same thing. The result can be unfortunate.
Hermès is at its best when it gives pure luxury, and this was the case for spring/summer 2015, on the penultimate day of the menswear shows. Its opening look, of a sand one-button cotton and linen suit was immediately covetable. Zip-up blousons were a constant, either in soft leathers or technical cottons. Windbreakers, that lightweight outerwear piece seen so much this season, were either of one pale shade or printed with disparate lines and watercolour smudges. On their feet were sandals. It was all deeply convincing.
Ever wondered what an orange at Hermès is called? Out came a blouson close to the Hermès orange. In the show notes, its shade is described as “pumpkin”. So now you know. What was exciting about this show was how its air of youthfulness and experimentation, particularly in its outerwear, could feel appropriate for the natural clients of this house.
Oh for such an innate feeling at Dior Homme. The label was founded by Hedi Slimane back in 2000, when luxury was highly fashionable. It is now under the command of Kris Van Assche, who tries to steer a path for this luxury brand through fashion. The result, like a navy suit fastened by a duffel coat toggle attached to grommets, was awkward. It was neither desirable as a luxury product, nor as a creative idea that pushes menswear forward. The suit block itself was regular. There was no attempt to define the house by silhouette, which with this many suits on the catwalk was a problem.
Suddenly some faded jeans came out, worn with a striped top and sun yellow outerwear and the look snapped into place. For the next few outfits, the models looked great. But then the jeans had writing all over them. And then paint scribbles. A model came out wearing grey suit, with a cropped sweatshirt over a shirt beneath. That was a cropped sweatshirt. These days, we do not expect brands to link back to their original namesakes – just look at Givenchy. But you want some element which feels like Dior. More refined, more exclusive, more special.
Paris gives the opportunity to go visit some brands who are fashion through and through. For the first time, Jun Takahashi brought his Undercover label to Paris for menswear. Undercover is one of fashion’s big cults: during the day, Kim Jones of Louis Vuitton posted a photo of Takahashi, labelling him one of his favourite designers. In the evening, Thom Yorke of Radiohead was the surprise DJ at a small evening gathering. These things do not happen by accident.
It was a pleasure to be able to see Takahashi’s work at the same time as his contemporaries (he usually presents his menswear to buyers only during the women’s shows). Zip-ups were printed with the cover image of the album Marquee Moon by Television. The image was shot by the late Robert Mapplethorpe, whose retrospective is one of the must-sees in Paris this summer. Other lyrics and images from Television appeared on jackets and sweats. Television is a band whose work I do not know. Such is the cleverness of the Undercover cult that I want to go listen to it immediately, just to feel involved.
I loved all the T-shirts, like a cartoon goblin with its eyes blacked out holding the word “noise”. Sometimes in fashion all that is needed is something inexplicable that just feels right. It was the same over at MBMJ, the label formally known as Marc By Marc Jacobs, where the star piece was a blouson illustrated with an imagined landscape from Mars. The illustration was by Fergus Purcell, and had a dreamland air of defiantly infantilised adulthood: some fashion customers just want to stay kids forever. And at Comme des Garçons Shirt, the ultra-colour graphic prints had an addictive intensity.
Fashion is not always so fluid. There were a few attendees of these shows who wished they were at this weekend’s Glastonbury Festival, which always clashes with Paris menswear. For them, Kenzo provided some solace, staging its show outside and in the rain, with music so loud it could shatter the glass in the nearby Grand Palais. The open-air show was set down from the Alexandre III bridge, the idea being the models first crossed the Seine before coming down the steps to hit the catwalk. Cute in principle. In reality, those young models on the bridge looked just like the many other adolescents being dragged around Paris on a wet weekend in June.
I will try and make out what I wrote about the clothes themselves in my rain sodden notebook: large polka dots; ribbed knits; graphic stripes. Nicest look was a pale denim polo shirt. As often with Kenzo, some of it was diverting, much just looked like a lot of stuff. Kenzo had great commercial trajectory when Humberto Leon and Carol Lim took over in 2011. They created a strong new identity for the brand. That sense of novelty could now do with some substance. On the wet catwalk, models slipped and slid. At the end, no one clapped. Apt.