Going underground

In Milan last week the autumn/winter men’s wear shows delivered the kind of high luxury that theoretically appeals to wealthy consumers from the Bric countries. This week, in Paris, it was all about fashion with a capital F and for the aesthetically adventurous. There was radical tailoring, theatrical staging, and the invention of completely new garments, which may sound alarming but will probably prove influential as it filters down, especially when abstracted to a few big themes: nostalgia for the cultural underground, prison motifs (yes, really, and no, not balls and chains), and the military.

Setting the agenda for the underground look – with a whiff of the perverse thrown in – was Yves Saint Laurent, where designer Stefano Pilati’s inspiration came from a 1980s jacket by the house’s founder complete with leather lapels, asymmetric zips and dramatic buckles. Biker chic came on mess jackets, dandy boleros and topcoats with bonded leather exteriors and felt wool linings.

“There was a real decadence and transgression back then. Sadly, there is no underground anymore,” says Pilati, himself sporting a creation that resembles a leather surgeon’s vest. He wasn’t the only one, however; another stroke of innovation came from Paul Smith (recently awarded the Médaille de la Ville de Paris from Mayor Bertrand Delanoë), who showed a slick, sea-inspired collection of mould-breaking tailoring that included revamping a conventional puffer jacket into a cool new courtier’s vest.

Meanwhile, one of the most anticipated shows of the week was the “launch” of Berluti – a bottier dating back to 1895 whose legendarily expensive boots can retail for more than €3,000 – as a fully-fledged men’s brand, and the collection amounted to a new sort of men’s wear that employed the methods of women’s haute couture.

An autumn/winter design from Berluti

So double-faced techniques were applied to lean, sharp-shouldered, three-piece suits in a faded chalk stripe deliberately eroded for a quirkier finish, and the cappuccino-hued lining of the suits was gathered in to create a new fit that shaped the figure. The result was a patrician cool for a brand in which LVMH apparently intends to invest €200m in the next half decade.

Then there was Dries Van Noten, where the eponymous designer dubbed his collection of colourful patterned suits, inspired by the Dutch artist Gijs Frieling, “psychedelic elegance”, with more extreme challenges to convention taking the form of tights with kilts at Givenchy and schoolgirl’s skirts under posh public school punk blazers at Comme des Garçons.

Also conceptually challenging, though in practice easier to wear, were Lanvin’s three-piece suits with redingotes in Chain Gang stripes, a theme echoed at Givenchy, where designer Riccardo Tisci evoked American imagery because, he says, “I’ve always been obsessed by the stars and stripes”. The show featured a trio of inmate lookalikes, with Sing Sing banded tops, albeit paired with kilts and leggings. Finally, at Galliano, now designed by Bill Gaytten, the criminal references came in the form of models resembling gangster bosses in chalk striped suits, fedoras and a beaver skin coat.

Contrasting with the loss of law-and-order were military looks that played on the imagery of maintaining control. See Lanvin, where designers Alber Elbaz and Lucas Ossendrijver offset their prison prints with a new “bomber coat”: an American Air Force bomber jacket cum long, tautly tailored, coat in moleskin.

Or see Dior Homme, where the show was entitled “A Soldier On My Own” and designer Kris Van Assche showed border guards’ parkas, officers’ mesh jackets and naval slickers, mostly in shades of khaki green, and the whole cast marched out at the finale. Military capes, admittedly made of Bordeaux-coloured patent leather, also appeared at Mugler’s collection, overseen by Lady Gaga’s stylist Nicola Formichetti; Kenzo showed felt Mao jackets; Yohji Yamamoto revamped cavalry officers’ tunics; and buzzed-about newcomer No Editions proposed mega-computer camouflage prints on hooded naval rain gear.

Not that everything in Paris was novelty and aggression. There were echoes of the opulent looks popular in Milan, most notably at Hermès, where designer Véronique Nichanian defined her show as “easy luxury” and translated that as a wrap coat in astrakhan. Indeed, astrakhan may have been the season’s defining prestige material, even seen on boots at Louis Vuitton. Perfect for those who prefer self-indulgence to fashion bootcamp.

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