With Paris comes clarity. That has been the mood on the first day of the spring/summer 2015 menswear season in the city, with a series of shows that excelled by expressing a clear message. At Raf Simons, that clarity was eerie. There were no seats, his catwalk instead was a random path marked out by tape. As the show began, the lighting switched entirely to red. Then came models in clothes of force and complexity.
The main idea here was the flap that comes from the collar of traditional sailor’s uniform. This grew out of the lapels of jackets and coats, and were decorated with a patchwork of imagery – Hokusai-like waves, Japanese script, old photographs. Jackets and coats and an extreme row of five buttons on a single deck. Vests came woven with a Japanese mountain scene.
It was that intense. But there was also purity. One of the earliest looks was a simple, lean white shirt, worn with white slender jeans. There was a lean black jacket of a single button. Shirts came with a new RS logo at the chest, the letters reversed beneath. The shirts also had imagery on them such as a photo of a shark’s fin emerging from the water at sunset. Such was the mix of menace and pleasure. The models walked round repeatedly, coming back and forth and wending different ways. You were often looking at the same pieces. Suddenly a model wearing something new would turn up. I have no idea how many looks he showed. The release from the norm at a show was a thrill.
Then there was the footwear. If you are a parent, you may have felt jealousy for your kids’ light-up sneakers. I am not being flippant, I covet the ones worn by my nieces and nephews. On some of the models’ feet were sneakers which flashed lines of blue, like a neon attached to the ankle. I am guessing that was the reason the lighting was specific. The models continued to wander round and round. It was only when the lighting turned back to white did they disappear. And that is how you stage a fashion show with power.
At Valentino, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli presented their loveliest, and best, menswear collection yet. It is strange the effect that layering of print can have. It pacifies the mind. Here, the prints were austere things, the kind that if someone told you they were by a member of the Bloomsbury Group, you would believe them: tight tulips, dandelion seed heads, poppies. Through a variety of looks, they were alternated and layered with different garments: jackets, shirts, blousons, trousers. There were pieces of single colour, like a sumptuous and simple brown coat worn with pale blue trousers, or a navy sweater. And then came pieces of more elaborate flair, such as a jacket woven with images of a whole zoo of animals. Fashion direction came from the oversized polo shirts with a purposefully long placket, while their sneakers in jacquards of those floral print are a contender for footwear of the season.
There was more gorgeousness at Haider Ackermann, where the layering of pattern was more dishevelled, but just as desirable. A jacket was woven with an optical of shifting size squares in gold and grey, like a Bridget Riley (it is not the first time this season I have thought of Ms Riley, who currently has a show at David Zwirner in London: I thought McQueen was reminiscent of her wave works). Waistcoats were in herringbone, day dressing gowns in florals. As with Valentino, the patterns were interchangeable between garments. One glorious piece was a zip-up blouson in golden green velvet, a totally innate mix of old and new.
It was a pleasure to see such garments, as it was to witness the latest show by Walter Van Beirendonck, who was in the mood for experimentation. Jackets came cut up in morphed panels of various specially woven jacquard, some with panels with paintings of angst ridden faces by Scooter LaForge. Halfway through came some Lycra pieces that harked back to his much heralded W< label of the 90s. Headpieces looked like beaks. So many designers owe him a debt. It was great to see him on a lively, adventurous form.
Earlier in the day, the young Russian designer Gosha Rubchinskiy showed for the first time in Paris. He has staged shows in Moscow a few years ago, but had stopped his label because of the prohibitive cost of production and export from his home country. Adrian Joffe, the CEO of Comme des Garçons, is a big fan of Mr Rubchinskiy, and wanted to stock the line at his Dover Street Market. They reached an agreement, and though while Mr Rubchinskiy remains independent, Comme des Garçons produce his clothes in Europe, allowing him to show once more.
It is a worthy move. Mr Rubchinskiy is a designer who knows how to transpose the unspoken codes of youth culture into garments through cut, fabric, colour and cultish illustration. Here his trackpants were cut high and lean, while jackets came with a patchwork grid of squares at the back. These squares, of camouflage, fake fur and coloured plastics, were like some strange semaphore. Many garments had a triangular logo that read in Cyrrilic “Arctida”, which was apparently an island from before the Russian landmass formed, giving a sense of Russian character that goes deeper than the current tensions. I spent some time in St Petersburg with Mr Rubchinskiy earlier this year. He is proud to be a Russian, and is optimistic of the positive changes that his generation can bring to the country. After his show, someone wanted to ask him some questions. They held out their Dictaphone. Mr Rubchinskiy said that all he wanted to say was, “hello from Russia!”. And then he ran backstage.