Often in fashion, the work of designers gets taken for granted. It’s only clothes! Of course, there’s the endless false ballyhoo of air-kissing and empty congratulation rained on even the least talented in the industry. But the menswear shows in Paris today have centred on designers who put genuine care and effort into their work, often to extraordinary extremes. It sure shuts up those who would dismiss it – and shows up those that are just coasting.
Twelve months ago, Kim Jones did luxury sportswear at Louis Vuitton. Cut to the present, and similar sportswear was all over the catwalks of Milan – but Jones has moved on. His Vuitton collection was instead steeped in the idea of the American road trip. For this read check tailoring, zip-up blousons, trinkets as souvenirs and (this is Vuitton, after all) lots and lots of luggage.
Jones is a designer who goes beyond just a superficial theme, however. Some of the check suits were actually jersey, based on a jacket from the ‘60s that Jones found in Austin, Texas. This gives the jacket a snug, relaxed fit and a certain lightness. Backstage, Jones grabbed at the jacket and scrunched it. The jacket fell back into shape. A canny piece for the actual Vuitton customer/traveller. “Everything we make for the catwalk can be worn in real-life,” Jones said.
His visible enjoyment of the process of design is clear in cloths both basic and almost beyond comprehension: see the closing monogram tuxedo jacket, the repeated LVs made from tiny slithers of mother of pearl. The women’s couture shows take place next week. Some of the techniques utilised by Jones would be just as fitting there. Of course, it wasn’t all serious: Vuitton is a house where things can be playful, like the bandanna print oversized shirts, the varsity patches on Harrington jackets, or the metal travel cup hanging off a bag. Then there were the bags, focusing on multipurpose pieces of luggage that could be carried in multiple ways. The bosses at owners LVMH should be very happy indeed.
Meanwhile, before the models appeared at the Rick Owens show, a small plinth was carried out centre catwalk. On it was placed a microphone, and out walked a figure in a long floor-length gown, his face covered with grey hair. He started screaming, feedback rang out, and the figure was joined by three guitarists in singlets, their faces covered with hair like Chewbacca. At the back of the catwalk, a contraption was wheeled out with two drummers strapped to chairs facing each other and tipped on their side. They were spun at increasing speed. Not a single model had appeared, and it was already a show in itself.
How to concentrate on fashion when this is going on? Easy, when the clothes fit so well in this uncompromising, extreme world. New here were elongated bombers turned into summer coats and worn over skinny black jeans. The look was simple, hard and direct, the pumped up trainers the first fruits of Owens’s new collaboration with Adidas. Towards the end, the guitarists were winched up by their ankles and hung upside down from the ceiling. Viewers on the front row checked their own ankles to make sure the same wasn’t about to happen to them. Backstage, Owens was as serene and smiling as ever. “They’re called Winni Puhh,” he said. “They’re Estonian Eurovision losers.”
“Eurovision’s loss is our gain.” Over his shoulder was a board pinned with photos of all the looks. It was labelled with the show’s title: Vicious. Sounds scary. But here’s the thing: the clothes were just like those you see young men wear in the city. It had total authenticity.
Coincidentally, Dries Van Noten also had a live drummer on the catwalk, but she and her kit stayed firmly in place. Her beat was more consistent rhythm than wilful chaos, and the clothes marched out accordingly. Van Noten’s theme was a further exploration of florals – no great surprise, but always a welcome sight, here tightened by sports references, like print of a number 9 on an athletic vest, or a cuff on a navy pant. His excellence lies in how he veers between youth and elder statesman. The florals on a western shirt made the model look like he was desperate to get to this weekend’s Glastonbury Festival, while a long floral coat made its wearer seem he only wanted to get back to his garden. Such is how Van Noten’s business thrives: by pleasing many.
At the Balenciaga presentation, the first menswear collection under Alexander Wang’s direction, nothing was really jumping out from the rail. It felt a bit uneventful, the attempts at interest unresolved. Tailored jackets had a loop ring fastening that punctured one side, and looked as if it would have to undo in some satisfying way, but in fact was just the front for a popper, had no purpose in itself, and therefore added nothing except trickiness. Indeed, often the way two elements joined seemed unfortunate, like the way a leather splatter panel, attached to a cotton T-shirt, pulled at the cloth below.
In the accessories, there was a new leather backpack style with a hinged and magnetised flap top. I opened it up to have a rummage for all the technical spec that you expect in backpacks: pockets for iPads and laptops, padding against the back etc. There were none, just a flimsy pocket in the lining that would hold keys, a phone, a wallet, and not much else. Will men care more for a complicated outside than genuine functionality? Unlikely. More care, please, to maintain the status of this line, and the legacy of a name that stands for so much precision and passion.