Lasting luxury beats fleeting fashion at Paris men’s fashion week

Size matters in fashion — but bigger isn’t always better. The autumn/winter 2024 menswear shows in Paris demonstrated that amply, with brand positioning oscillating between rock concert-worthy spectacle and close-enough-to-touch intimacy, with varying degrees of success. The shows were aided and abetted by the fact that, near universally, the clothes felt desirable, relevant and luxurious.

“If you’re going to spend your disposable income at a time like this, it has to be for something that’s going to last,” said Pharrell Williams, creative director of Louis Vuitton menswear, backstage after his show. If there was one message for the season, it was that.

The notion of something lasting is easily applied to clothes. Many designs were timeless: big coats and sharp leather, and a broad return to formal footwear that can be polished and refreshed in a way jacked-up sneakers simply cannot. But it’s also applicable to the idea of a lasting image — and that is something Williams excels at.

In a children’s amusement park in the shadow of the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Williams staged a grand-scale show dedicated to the American West, featuring careful collaboration with artists from the Dakota and Lakota nations and a lot of rootin’, tootin’ product, such as ruffled denim shirts and turquoise-studs, Colonel Sanders ribbon-ties and fringed leather chaps. The latter duo will be hard sells, but the former — and most of the rest — will fly, as will a collaboration with the New Hampshire boot company Timberland. 

Pharrell Williams dedicated the Louis Vuitton show to the American West . . . 
 . . . including a collaboration with artists from the Dakota and Lakota nations

For scale, Vuitton was only matched by LVMH stablemate Dior, which invited about 1,000 guests to witness the unveiling of Kim Jones’s collection devoted to ballet impresario Rudolf Nureyev. His oft dance partner Margot Fonteyn was a Dior client, and Jones’s photojournalist uncle, Colin Jones, shot Nureyev for Time Life magazine in 1966.

Take a leap, pirouette that out into a collection of achingly beautiful clothes, of softly swirling tailoring and sporty balletomane flats and tonsured berets, and haul in Baillie Walsh — the director behind the phenomenal ABBA Voyage experience in London — to choreograph a stadium-size show with elevating platforms and rotating stages and booming Debussy galore.

To differentiate from pretty much every other menswear house out there, Jones also debuted 20 haute couture looks for men — aimed at Dior’s beyond-VIP clients with six figures set to spend on embroidered kimonos and sleeveless crocodile tunics. If this Dior show inspired an emotion, it was awe.

At Dior, artistic director Kim Jones was inspired by ballet impresario Rudolf Nureyev, with embroidered kimonos . . .  © Yannis Vlamos
. . . and more obvious references such as berets and ballet flats © Yannis Vlamos

LVMH’s other Parisian couture house, Givenchy, is taking a breather between creative directors after the departure of Matthew M Williams in December, meaning the design team pulled together the collection. Normally a recipe for groupthink disaster, paradoxically it was a highlight.

Shown in the salons that have been home to Givenchy’s couture since 1959, it managed to pull an identity out of the heritage of this house that has often seemed ungrounded and nebulous. The white lab coat worn by couture technicians — and by Hubert de Givenchy himself — became a neat jacket with a ’60s feel, while archival fabrics, pillbox hats and a scarf-print from 1953 reappeared. Forget the fashion geekery though, and the classic coats, suiting and pocketed flak-jackets spoke to the now.

Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino was also thinking salon, showing his collection to a few hundred guests tugged in to properly appreciate hand embellishment and sumptuous tailoring. The air, he said, was to challenge toxic masculine ideals — he did so by softening traditional tailoring, scissoring open the shoulder of coats and scrolling them with self-fabric embroideries that managed to be both extravagant and subdued. It walked the season’s razor-fine line between silent and show-off with aplomb, and the outerwear was the very best of the city.

Givenchy’s AW 24 collection was pulled together by the house team, which used archival fabrics and prints . . . © Alessandro Lucioni/Gorunway.com
 . . . as well as reworked versions of the white lab coat worn by couturier Hubert de Givenchy © Alessandro Lucioni/Gorunway.com
Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli challenged traditional ideas of masculinity with soft tailoring . . . 
 . . . and extravagant but elegant outerwear 

It would be very easy for Véronique Nichanian to show off — both because Hermès is a powerhouse in the truest sense of the word, and because she’s probably the best designer of luxury menswear in the world. Note that I separate that from fashion, because its demands are very different. Fashion is about newness and innovation, luxury is about longevity, continuing, but also about igniting the urge for rich men to buy a softly belted buttery leather coat that costs as much as a studio flat in Cirencester when they have four others at home already.

It’s a tricky proposal, but this collection was a masterclass in eliciting collective desire. “It was good, no?” said Pierre-Alexis Dumas, scion of Hermès’ controlling dynasty and artistic director of the brand, modestly. No, it was great.

At Hermès, the focus was on timeless style and longevity, with traditional silhouettes . . .  © Filippo Fior/Gorunway.com
. . . and top quality materials, including buttery leathers and knitwear © Filippo Fior/Gorunway.com

It’s a bold word, “great”. But plenty of other things were great too in six strong days of standout shows. Dries Van Noten was great, filled with knits and rich colours, and the best-cut trenchcoat in Paris (in camel gabardine and washed-out denim).

Jonathan Anderson’s Loewe was great, with clothes fused together to create single garments — a belt was stitched to dangle off the waistband of a pair of jeans; a cardigan, shirt, trousers and coat became a jumpsuit — shown in front of kitschy video montages of the actors Manu Rios and Jamie Dornan like homoerotic sinning saints. Which nevertheless didn’t distract from the great knitwear and tailoring and shearling and ginormous cargo-trousers that scaled-up a recurrent trouser trend.

And the British designer Martine Rose presented a great collection too, in Paris for the first time to show her artfully twisted tailoring and sportswear to a homegrown crowd of cheering fans.

Dries Van Noten showcased the best-cut trench in Paris . . . 
. . . alongside knitwear in earthy tones
Loewe’s Jonathan Anderson fused together clothes to create single garments . . .  © Daniele Oberrauch/Gorunway.com
. . . and presented an extra-large version of the popular cargo trousers © Daniele Oberrauch/Gorunway.com

There are greats, and then there’s the greatest. In my opinion, the master of Paris this season was Rick Owens, and I suspect most other designers would agree wholeheartedly. He decided to show his collection in a series of small rooms in a building that acts as the designer’s headquarters and home. My room was a white salon, its boiserie depicting braces of gutted pheasants, which fits Owens’ dark and often dystopian vision of menswear. There were a handful of guests.

And into that small space came something big — big silhouettes, big ideas, big drama. Big fashion. Owens proposed blow-up boots and blown-out silhouettes, and thumped-out shoulders so wide his men almost got wedged in the narrow door they filed out of. He called them “grotesque and inhuman”. Some pieces were made from recycled rubber bicycle tyres by a Parisian BDSM practitioner, alongside brushed alpaca capes warped on silk, vegetable-tanned leather, and cashmere and merino. How about that for a mix?

At Rick Owens, silhouettes were exaggerated to the extreme, from shoulders . . .  © Valerio Mezzanotti
. . . to feet, as models walked in blow-up boots © Valerio Mezzanotti

This Rick Owens show was, frankly, astounding. It reminded me of the couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga, whose mid-century silhouettes were revolutionary — and often somewhat unwearable. But they watered down wide, and they changed fashion. I’m not saying anyone, bar Owens’ cadre of impressively hardcore fans, will be wearing inflatable boots that make your calves resemble a frotting pair of giant, bloated toads, but perhaps they will have an impact on our notions of volume as other designers begin to look at what Owens is doing and, slowly but surely, shift under its influence.

And, if you have the good fortune to cross the threshold of one of Owens’ ascetic, mausoleum-esque stores around the world, invest in his wearable knitwear, or his down jackets, or his supple leathers. Rest assured you’re wearing clothes invented by the master of them all.

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