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Should the spectacle in fashion come from the clothes, or from the show? That was a question that emerged from Paris’ spring/summer 2024 menswear week, where the weather was mostly good and the season was generally great. I say that not because of the big, flashy shows but because of the abundance of clothes that made you think.
Yet, the big shows matter. It’s impossible for me to look at them and not think of the pageantry surrounding the coronation of Charles III, upholding the institution of monarchy through pomp and circumstance. Paris has been staging them since the 1980s, to reiterate the fact that the city is the centre of fashion and does it better than anyone else. And also, today, to emphasise the heft of individual brands, the power of money. That was the message behind Louis Vuitton requisitioning a bridge in the centre of Paris, gilding it, and marching the first collection of men’s creative director Pharrell Williams down the middle.
The best of the best managed to team noteworthy show sets with fantastic clothes — such as Dior, where Kim Jones erected an aluminium silo outside the École Militaire and played jack-in-the-box by popping his models up out of the ground in military synchronisation. It was spectacular — even Bernard Arnault raised his phone to record the theatre — but it was also an ode to Christian Dior, who dubbed his women “femme fleurs”. These were the male equivalents, dressed in neon brights, jewelled embroideries and specially woven bouclé tweed (which has emerged in Paris as something of an odd trend for men). Lots of the show was criss-crossed with the cannage the brand quilts into its best-selling Lady Dior handbags, inspired by the caned backs of the chairs in Dior’s salons. It was a marriage of today and yesterday that Jones is adroit at producing, marking his five years at the house.
Rick Owens set off smoke bombs of bright colour over his show, raining charcoal down on his long-suffering but ever-faithful audience, who have been choked with fog and sprayed with water in the past. We keep coming back because Owens makes clothes that are utterly exceptional. This collection, entirely executed in “drama queen black” (his words), they were attenuated silhouettes against cobalt blue and red flares of pigment, high-waisted, flared in the leg, with a fluttering T-shirt, tightly swathed tank-top or a billowing cagoule. Owens’ take on a sandal — hefty lumps of padded leather that resembled walking casts — may be for his hardcore devotees only, but his silhouette had legs (no pun). There was a bit of ’70s Bowie there, a touch of the ’30s. It also says a lot that the clothes were powerful enough to pull your attention away from the literal fireworks overhead.
That silhouette was reiterated a few days after by Jonathan Anderson at Loewe, who pushed the waistband even higher and, sometimes, seamed the hems of his trousers into the shoes as if the hem was permanently caught underfoot, that habitual hazard with flares. He installed fountains by the American sculptor Lynda Benglis, tinkling away as models emerged in everyday clothes completely bedazzled by Swarovski crystals, as if soaked with water and glittering in sunlight. Everything here felt weighted, exaggerated, amplified — a few models emerged wearing swatches of brocade, blown BFG big and affixed with a foot-long dressmakers’ pin. Those were funny but, despite the extreme silhouette, there was a sense of reality here. Raise the waistband a little lower and this, again, felt like the future. It also epitomised how, during his tenure, Anderson has anchored Loewe in a tradition of craft, artiness and kookiness that has given this often-fledgling LVMH brand a discernible identity. It’s a remarkable success story on how to reboot a brand, outside the usual perimeters of archival investigation.
Junya Watanabe showed the best menswear collection of his career in a concrete shell of a building — the Comme des Garçons brands, in whose stable his business sits, don’t really do big sets, don’t play that fashion game. Here, nothing distracted. Watanabe is big on collaborations — we get a screed detailing them every season, usually with specialist companies such as Levi’s, Mackintosh or New Balance. This season however, Watanabe said he wanted to collaborate with himself, namely his own womenswear line, and breathed life into this hackneyed fashion trope.
If Watanabe’s menswear often looks at American workwear, easy shapes, jeans and trainers, his womenswear is often sculptural, extreme. Translating that to menswear was extraordinary and invigorating. He has a taste for patchwork and bricolage, so crafted together dozens of trenchcoat belts into a sleeveless trench, bits of biker jackets into a calf-length overcoat, shards of pinstripe into an elongated gilet. It doesn’t take much description, but it took work, and the results were sensational and apt in a season where menswear seemed intent on grabbing the spotlight.
Then, there’s Hermès. Véronique Nichanian doesn’t seem interested in grabbing anything — except, maybe, her men grabbing armfuls of her clothes. Her collections are resolutely quiet, confident, beautiful in a way men’s clothes rarely are. This was full of grey and beige alongside eau de nil, big bridle-leather belts double-wrapping trousers, layers of fine fabric like tracing-paper, lots wrinkled and see-through. It was easy — to watch, to wear, and far too easy to see yourself shelling out to look like this. Which is the great and not-so-grand point of a fashion show.
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