Luxury doesn’t have to be about ostentation. Sure, it helps if the materials are fabulous, but what matters most is what is done with them. For his fourth collection as men’s designer of Louis Vuitton, Kim Jones sent out pieces of extraordinary technique (needle punched cashmere and mink, yarn shaved from under a yak’s chin), as well as a major league artists commission (a print by the Chapman Brothers exclusive to Vuitton) and yet still managed to stage a show that presented luxury with, in his words, “a quieter voice”.
For research, Kim took his team on a trip to areas of Bhutan that can only be reached by invitation, a place where there’s no currency in showing off. The result was clothing more about personal warmth and protection than hierarchical codes. Oversized padded jackets bomber jackets came in soft reindeer, while the shearling used in a parka was of such high grade it was almost reversible. The models often wore flopped beanies pinned with a pearl, which Jones called a nod to the famous grunge collection of Vuitton’s overall creative director Marc Jacobs, as were jackets of felted yak.
Unlike Jacobs’ recent collaboration with Yayoi Kusama for Vuitton’s womenswear, however, Jones’s work with the Chapman brothers, his favourite artists, was a straightforward commission. Their work first appeared on a sweater that featured the image of a malignant-looking snow leopard, while towards the end, a Chapman print called “Garden In Hell” was embroidered on to a tufted bag and then appeared on dressing gowns and evening jackets. A whole range of accessories, including key ring eyeballs, will be available in store.
Everything was considered, even the tailoring cloths that are versions of Bhutanese fabrics woven especially in British mills. With these sharp suits teamed with padded sportswear silhouettes and livened up with the art injection, what Jones achieved was a neat amalgam of the way men dress today. “Things have to be real,” he says, “and everything must be able to be worn.”
Another designer who has long taken luxury on his own path is Rick Owens. For autumn/winter 13 he continued to evolve his design language of coats and jackets that wrap and cocoon and may look like they have come straight off a skate kid’s back, but are often rendered in shaved furs. Backstage Owens sited quite possibly the best inspiration of the shows so far for his work: biblical carpenter’s aprons, as worn by Joseph. He smiled as he said it, but he meant it, and it was interesting to see his gritty interpretation of religion, rather than the perfection often used in Milan by Dolce & Gabbana, or last season in Paris at Givenchy.
But let’s not dwell on whatever happened 2000-odd years ago, especially when Owens’ show came with 21st century music so loud it made the ribs shake. Look instead at his innovations, like a smock top with a back-to-front collar he let fly upwards at will, or a woven cloth that looked like interference (horizontal lines coming in and out of focus) that was used on trousers and also a coat. After the show, Owens seemed – well, quietly content.