Commerce or artistry? That was the central debate on the third day of the Paris menswear shows for spring/summer 2015. For most of the buyers in town, it was their big day: Givenchy showed, the LVMH brand that stores around the world cannot keep on their shelves (or in the case of online stores, in their warehouses). Before the show, I asked one store how big their budget was for their Givenchy buy. They would not give figures, but said it was one of their biggest spends, and that they would happily double it if only Givenchy would lift their cap. In retail terms at least, if you want the heart of menswear right now, it is here.
This season, creative director Riccardo Tisci showed a maturity in his top-selling prints, which were limited to florals that at first looked like paint splats. The initial print looks were black flowers on white. The mind raced to think of a black flower – maybe chocolate cornflowers? Then came out other garments with white flowers on black – the first looks must have been reversals.
These florals appeared on blousons, tops, jackets and the like. At other points, Mr Tisci focused on large white stripes placed on black garments, such as a zip-up. Sometimes the garments were remarkably basic, such as a white polo shirt worn with white jeans. The catwalk mood veered from being forceful to repetitive. It picked up towards the end though, when the florals came out beaded, sometimes beads replacing the flowers entirely. There was a sense that it was all not particularly relevant to the buyers anyway; put a Givenchy label in anything these days and they could sell it.
LVMH is taking positive action with one of its other brands, Loewe, where Jonathan Anderson made an impressive debut. The Irish designer, known for his London-based label JW Anderson, darted around his presentation to show off a suede trench, a black ribbed sweater with an intarsia grid of little squares, a white T-shirt with an off-kilter leather patch or a suede bag that sat slouchy at the hips. “This is the starting point,” he said, in the showroom of the brand’s new offices in Paris. This last point is crucial. Previously, the LVMH-owned Spanish brand had kept its design team in Madrid. It is where Mr Anderson’s predecessor Stuart Vevers, now of Coach, worked. No matter how good the Mr Vevers collections were, the label still felt removed from fashion’s central discourse. The shift to Paris is a sign that LVMH wants to push the brand with renewed vigour.
Mr Anderson is fond of the word “wardrobe”, and here he uses it to describe a collection of clothes he says will evolve each season rather than radically change. Nice fashion moments came from grey trousers with a large white turn-up; a fringed cardigan that is like a sleeved wrap; and zip-up hooded parkas made from waterproofed nappa, which he said was a “nightmare” to perfect. He says further developments with leather will be a focus.
“Is it what you expected?” asked Mr Anderson. Actually, no. Dotted around the room were blankets. One was white with black stitching. Another was a fuzzy weave of mohair. They added an immediate fullness to the new idea of the brand. I told him I was obsessed with blankets. “I’m obsessed too,” he said. “When I got to Loewe, I found out in the 40s that blankets were one of the biggest selling things. I was like, why did we get rid of them?” Connecting them with clothing is a clever move.
Although the collection is called spring/summer 2015, much will be available immediately on the brand’s website, and soon at stores such as Dover Street Market. And so it begins. One proviso: some pieces were decorated with forms inspired by Meccano, particularly a shoe with a yellow flap over its laces. It is not that long since Nicolas Ghesquière showed shoes inspired by Meccano while he was at Balenciaga. It is too soon for this idea to be used in fashion as one of originality.
On a busy day, two brands founded by now-absent Belgian designers made a good fist of presenting a commercial idea of the house that was also respectful to its now absent figurehead. At Maison Martin Margiela, the best pieces were the fine flyaway technical coats, while at Ann Demeulemeester, art director Sebastian Meunier did well to steer away from the sloping asymmetric shapes that Demeulemeester used to cut. There was a commercial eye at work here, with sheer parkas, long unstructured black jackets and long tops with frayed edges making a convincing case for why stores should continue to stock the brand now that Ms Demeulemeester herself has stepped back from.
Then there are the designers who put artistry above all else (but who also have very healthy businesses). At Junya Watanabe, the concentration on colour and cloth was exceptional. His interest was in the indigo dyes of Japan. Blues went from inky to grey, cornflower to uniform drab. Some garments were intense patchworks of cloth, like patchwork jackets and trousers. Others were printed, such as jeans with a Japanese floral pattern, or a hoodie with diagonal and horizontal lines formed to create stars. Backstage, the array of work on the rails was luscious.
At Comme des Garçons the powerful message, about the futility of war, was clear from the opening look. Designer Rei Kawakubo sent out a model in a pinstripe jacket with military buttons, its front slashed with an X of leopard print. With it were worn shorts held by naive braces attached by Velcro, and extreme winkle-pickers so extended they could almost have picked the models nose.
Following were a succession of military jackets made purposefully redundant by Ms Kawakubo’s interventions, with cloth disrupting the garments, or, at the end, the scrawling of slogans: “Soldier Of Peace”, “Strong Lover”, “Peace, Love, Empathy”.
Previously during these shows, I have written about the redundancy of literal catwalk themes, especially those involving military clothing. Ms Kawakubo’s work was a masterclass in how to take an idea and create message. But there was something else going on too. The collection seemed to question not just the futility of war, but the futility of clothing itself. Jackets were cut as if camouflaged military tarpaulin, turning once-functioning jackets into a decorative outer layer. Black knits came out like oversized string vests. They led to thoughts about the false importance we put in clothing itself, and how we take from it matters of rank and status that in the end matter for nought. And it is a brave fashion designer who can suggest that their field could be of irrelevance.