Tomorrow two men will face off on centre court at Wimbledon – winner to be determined – but earlier in the week two kinds of men already faced off against each other on the runways in Paris. On one side was the modern dandy, with his sharp tailoring and unadorned chic; on the other, a gender-bending sportsman. At stake was the male identity for spring/summer 2012.
The opening salvo at Givenchy, where designer Riccardo Tisci said he had been inspired by Hawaii and surfing, was an outfit consisting of sandals, skirt and sweater shirt emblazoned with a bird of paradise hyper print – a tropical flower that also covered sequined trousers and kilts. By contrast, at Yves Saint Laurent, designer Stefano Pilati offered gentlemanly deconstructed shoulders, low waists and frock coats. “It’s about new city style, urban sportswear and leisure,” explained Pilati.
And so it went, with power shot being returned by power shot.
Dior Homme’s show was so focused on tailoring that the first five looks were almost toiles – patterns made as the basis for a suit – though in reality they turned out to be ecru felt cottons with trousers trimmed above the ankles with turn-ups. Roland Mouret’s debut men’s show was anchored by multi-pleat, wide-leg trousers with waistband, and jackets with generous shoulder padding; think matinee idol with forgiving fit. Even mid-price brand Agnès b. focused on a fifre jacket in a cutaway style, though with reduced proportions.
Cheers greeted Alber Elbaz’s vision for Lanvin, where a mix of sport and military styles gave models the look of returning soldiers: parachute-fabric trench coats with front zips; tunics and wide-sleeved bomber jackets in microfibre so fine it looked like liquid metal; tie-dye leggings, pyjama-fabric shirts and elongated gunners’ jackets. Similar microfibre fabrics underpinned a natty Paul Smith collection, with faux denim jackets in contrasting panels of colour or rainproof tunics in marbleised nylon.
Tailoring was served again at Comme des Garçons, where biker bomber met classic jacket in cool anthracite wool with flap pockets, shoulder loops, studs and front zip, and at Raf Simons, where shirts were composed of contrasting finishes and prints. At Hermès, cotton poplin trousers were pyjama-wide; ditto Kenzo, where they also came in a tropical print. At Cerruti, in a powerful collection designed by Aaron Sharif and Sachiko Okada from Blaak, the coolest look was a navy silk pyjama suit with a rope print.
Dries Van Noten hit an urban sportswear ace, adding thermal sealing to semi-sheer Mackintoshes with black tape, and reinventing sailing cabans as chic microfibre and silk clubbing jerkins. The game changed a bit at Yohji Yamamoto, whose kendo-inspired pleated shorts reached samurai-style to the ankle, and at Thom Browne, the New York tailor known for his truncated suiting, who nonetheless attired his cast in tuxedos cut like floor-length evening dresses with exaggerated lapels, bugle-beaded trousers and pearls.
It wasn’t until the debut of UK designer Kim Jones at Louis Vuitton that tailoring and sportswear teamed up, as blood-red and pink Masai print scarves, shirts and tops mingled with Happy Valley jet set shawl collar tuxedos or silk pyjama suits. As a doubles match, its only competition came from John Galliano (the brand, not the man), where massive paisley print silk pyjamas contrasted with a finale of slick toreador tuxedos, complete with metallic embroidery down the leg and beaded sleeves.
“My initial inspiration was a photo of David Hockney and Peter Blake as art students. I wanted similar optimism and think we achieved that,” explained Bill Gaytten, creative director at John Galliano. Sometimes, everyone’s a winner.