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“Much darker,” said Sarah Burton, creative director of Alexander McQueen, after her taut spring/summer 19 men’s show. It had the tension and danger with which the label has founded, facing off strict tailoring with the chaos of an artist’s studio. It was a welcome heightening of mood, and a return to a more compelling point of view.
The tailoring skills of Burton and her team are unparalleled. Opening looks were cut and spliced, like the top half of a coat attached to the bottom of a trench. A double-breasted jacket was slashed to the length of a bolero. There were regular pieces too: a sharp camel coat, a long-line frock coat over a slim tailored suit.
Then it took a turn. Suits came in a jacquard of the graffiti by John Deakin, the lover of Francis Bacon. A model came out in a tough leather jacket and pants. Then came the jumpsuits. The first was of black leather with a blue lining, the top half off the body and the model daubed in paint. It seemed it was a direct reference to a nylon jumpsuit in an earlier McQueen collection, autumn/winter 2007, which was based on futuristic dystopias. I remember it so vividly. This new version was a sign that Burton was digging deeper to explore what makes McQueen fierce.
Knitwear came out colour blotched and roughly finished. Finale suits were embroidered with thread to create the effect of a broad brushstroke. It is great to have McQueen back as part of the menswear conversation.
An hour before, Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons addressed menswear’s current tailoring dilemma head on. You know, the one that despairs the lack of tailoring on the catwalk, and hopes for a swing away from sportswear. Kawakubo seemed to be saying, instead of moaning, why don’t you do something about it?
Her Homme Plus show, “crazy suits”, was a riot of ideas and audacity. Suits were cut away to a lattice, ruched like they’d been shrunk in the wash, covered with a sweater or slashed into vertical strips like a maypole. The only untouched black suits were finished with polka dot lapels, like a clown going for a job interview. Final looks came with extraordinary necklaces that combined heavy chains with plastic eyeballs, or plastic animal jaws ready to attack.
Kawakubo has no interest in solving the tailoring dilemma, perhaps because there is actually no solution. Her purpose is agitation, to change our perceptions of the suit and show that tailoring can only progress if it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Fifteen years ago, I wrote mainly about womenswear. It was the early oughts, and certain couture shows made me angry. Their view of women was so archaic. First they’d show looks for ladies who lunched. Then, some daywear. It went through to cocktail dresses, and ended with evening gowns. It used to drive me crazy. How dare they define women in such repressive terms?
Of course, those brands were only catering to its clientele. Today those definitions have disappeared. In women’s, everything is more blurred. Maybe the same thing is happening right now in tailoring. Suits used to be considered sacred. No longer. Tailoring has to lose its old presumptions and become part of the mix. Suits are great, Kawakubo was saying, but treat them the same way you’d scuff a sneaker.
Earlier in the day, Junya Watanabe made a further case for the utility vest. It’s like a waistcoat covered in pockets, like a hunter would wear, or, in modern-day terms, someone out walking their dog. Watanabe showed a whole load of them, some more like harnesses, others as cross body bags. They looked great. Why would anyone want to carry a bag in their hand ever again? Especially now one hand is always carrying a phone, the other a coffee cup. Modern life. Isn’t it great?