This deep into the shows, you can start to wonder: what do men actually wear? Friday’s shows at the Paris menswear provided some kind of answer, though the men they were talking to varied widely.
Givenchy has built a wildly successful menswear business by providing entry-level fashion: the digital T-shirts that are many young kids’ first big purchase, paid for with the money that is meant for their rent. For those of us longer of tooth, however, see too many of these prints on the catwalk, as we did last season, and it can get a little grating.
Perhaps that is why, with A/W, creative director Riccardo Tisci went more complex, and more lux. Tailoring was important, with a long black coat opening the show, and a similar length jacket closing. Pieces often had bands of colour added to their backs, which on outerwear looked like a neon version of a donkey jacket, and occasionally felt like a restriction, especially with one long stripe of yellow that extended out to wrap around the arms. There was much fur in evidence, from a full fur coat to a fur scarf held in place by a large band of white to fur-trimmed parkas, the hood a purposefully imposing construction. There is a male consumer who will drool at the idea of wearing a Givenchy-labelled pelt (note: Mr Tisci’s friend Kanye West was front row. In a full fur coat).
In reality, however, it is the rail of prints that will draw buyers when they come to make their selections in the next few days. That is why the show felt a little cold: set in a mock-up of a basketball court, the prints took imagery from the sport, lacking any visceral pull. Previously Mr Tisci has tapped religion and animalistic violence: a close-up of a basketball does not have quite the same transgressive appeal.
While Givenchy’s business is bottom-up, its LVMH stablemate Berluti is top of the heap, and then higher. Five hours before his show, artistic director Alessandro Sartori talked me through the collection, which was innovative, accomplished, luxurious and, surprisingly, modern. Until this point, Mr Sartori’s work has focused on fleshing out the eccentric and raffish character of the house’s original product: its patina-rich shoes. No more. “Now I want to go to the next level,” he said, “without nostalgia.”
But still, with charm. A lightweight suit of wool, cashmere and vicuña seemed like it had no pockets. Actually they were there, barely visible, and cut on the diagonal, so the hands could be placed in the same relaxed way as they would in the pockets of a trouser. Buttoned up, the suit had a lean shape. Unbuttoned, the jacket was like a short caban coat. The shoulder was Neapolitan-soft, but with a rope finish to give it shape. The suit was worn with a tonal shirt and tie, the collection in clear shades of petrol blue, wine, violet and the like.
Outerwear was a pleasure to touch, like the oversized robe coat of double-faced cashmere and vicuña, blue inside, grey out. Mr Sartori said a boxy coat was of “triple cashmere”. I’m afraid he lost me on the layers, but the result was a coat that was light, water and wind repellent, and kept its shape. Mr Sartori said such innovations came from working on the garments with the tailors of the house, as opposed to outsourcing them. “It means we can push the boundaries of what you can do with design,” he said.
According to Mr Sartori, men are snapping up the results. He says the brand did some research on how much time men spent in their store versus those of rivals: typically, the answer is 15-18 minutes, but at Berluti, it is 50. “Our customer doesn’t come to us for a simple two-button blazer,” he says. “They want the special pieces.”
Special is also a word often associated with Comme des Garcons, where every so often designer Rei Kawakubo does something that will shift the rest of menswear. It does not happen always – she’s got too many ideas to always be thinking them up for others – but her show for autumn/winter felt like one of those moments. The game-changer? Wide trousers. Bear with me.
Trousers for men for most of this century, thanks to the work of Hedi Slimane during his time at Dior Homme, and also to Thom Browne and his body-hugging suit, have been shrinking ever-narrower. Here, Ms Kawakubo presented a wide and straight tailored trouser. After so many shows the past couple of weeks where the trousers were slim, the look was radical, and appealing.
The trousers were worn with suit jackets which had various areas cut away. It was a slick look, because the interventions did not alter the line of the silhouette. Some of the cuts were rounded, some rectangular, some trimmed with zips and others surrounded by borders. At one point, models came out wearing black sweaters with holes, as if attacked by voracious, yet neat, moths. It was vintage Comme: trousers that spoke to the future.
Of all the designers in Paris, meanwhile, Junya Watanabe has had the most genuine link with what young urban men have been wearing the past decade or so. He has been the master of making country clothing look city desirable, appropriating and recontextualising every style of waxed or quilted jacket there is. Others followed him, but most have now moved on. How does Mr Watanabe react? By subverting the very look that most have been avoiding: namely the suit and tie.
It was a canny, clever move. The jacket line was lean and snug, the tie almost comically wide. Both were often paired with a men’s version of the patchworked jeans that have sent women’s fashion editors into a frenzy this past year. It is basically a shortened pair of jeans with patches of other cloth placed seemingly randomly. Did it matter that men were getting them way after women? Not on your life. Expect to see these jeans in all the street style shots come the next round of shows in six months’ time.
Mr Watanabe still did country-to-city, but here the quilted and utility-pocketed pieces were cut like tailored jackets, and had real zip. Towards the end, models came out wearing plain, unadorned jeans, which looked particularly fresh. Then for the finale, Mr Watanabe stripped the models of their jackets, and put them all in a variety of sloppy knits. Cue mass salivating from the men in the audience. And the female guest next to me. Sometimes at menswear, it is not just what men wear, it is what women want.