Vogue Editors React to Paris’s Spring 2018 Menswear Shows
Four down, one to go, with Independence Day in between—New York’s menswear shows get underway on July 10. With the Paris shows still fresh in their minds, Vogue’s reviewers Sarah Mower, Luke Leitch, Amy Verner, and Nick Remsen discussed their highlights via email. Read on for their Paris takeaways.
To get to the and from the Paris menswear shows, I drove to and from over the Westway in London, close by the appalling sight of the charnel house where more than 79 people died in the Grenfell Tower fire. The week before, on the way to catch a plane to Florence to see the Pitti Uomo shows, it was still burning: a violent funnel of white smoke, which we now know contained lethal hydrogen cyanide from cheaply procured cladding, spiraling hundreds of feet into the air. It feels impossible to push this fact into the background of consciousness, just as it’s not possible to be unaware of the present danger of terrorism, and the rising death toll of fellow citizens throughout Britain, France, Germany, and the Middle East.
What the hell has that to do with men’s fashion shows? The reaction of creative people cannot be unconnected to the times—and fashion, which moves faster and more visibly than art, movies, or theater, is the quickest response medium of all. On one level, it was all right there, the second I arrived: the celebration of the ordinary, the tender, and the human in Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga dads and kids’ walk in the woods. It was more complicated than that—there was an unnerving look about some of the childless men—but some of the clothes, commonplace hangovers from the ’80s and ’90s, were about as non-fashion as high fashion can be. Nevertheless, Gvasalia said, not disingenuously, that he saw hope in the children and their potential to think big about the future, as one of his slogans read.
It won’t have the slightest effect on the price of things, but this round of collections was really not a showcase for the power of old elites. Rick Owens literally elevated his proud alternative tribe of freaks to a grandstand walkway in the air above the Palais de Tokyo: a vast piece of theater that sent emotional chills even in the melting heat. His elegant tailoring had formality and presence, but the suited man from Owens’s civilization could not be further from a banker, hedge funder, or corporate titan.
Owens has a messianic ability to message hope in humanity in the midst of the apocalypse. That is exactly the kind of leadership young people are looking for now. While we were in Paris, the British Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, took to the main stage at Glastonbury, his every phrase about social equality cheered to the skies. In France, Emmanuel Macron, the unheard-of outsider turned 39-year-old president just swept the ancien régime of the old left and right. Neither was ever taken seriously on the way up by what Corbyn called, jeeringly, “the commentariat.”
I was constantly into news feeds while I was away, anxious to know what was happening on the ground in London in the midst of the chaotic absence of government assistance for the Grenfell homeless and bereaved. One thing has struck me powerfully: Out of this tragedy, ordinary people, young and old, are being seen, heard, and respected in a way I have never before witnessed in mainstream media. Even during the recent election campaign, young and working-class people were never asked what they thought. Big surprise: They voted and knocked back Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May’s government from a majority to a minority.
Now, fashion is suddenly listening to a new generation, right enough. After the surprise emergence of the international teenage boy club fixated on buying Gosha Rubchinskiy, Vetements, and Supreme, the big houses are visibly waving to them in the hopes they’ll come up with items the kids will stage a run on. Kim Jones at Louis Vuitton already did it by collaborating with Supreme last season. Triggering them with logo fonts and trainers is one line: Both Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino and Kris Van Assche at Dior took that tack. Others too numerous to mention seem to believe that teens will be dying to pose in tiny tailored gym shorts next summer. Of course, anything can happen these days, but it looked more like a case of middle-aged fantasy projection to me. It’s athletic heroes who dictate the length boys will wear their shorts, not fashion designers.
It was Rei Kawakubo who went with the realistic short—the wild and baggy basketball shape in which her bunch of teens had a great night out loping around her disco floor. Her pitch to the mood of kids was perfect: glitter escapism against the gloom. Fashion does a valid public service that way when things are down.
But what about the realistic, normal man? My favorite sightings were the men of all ages, builds, and races, who wore durable blue-collar workwear elevated as eternal classics by Junya Watanabe. They were the kind of clothes that give fashion a good name: non-disposable, non-trendy, built for purpose. Otherwise, what I remember most coming out of this “everyman” set of collections is the Hawaiian shirt and the chino. It’s the uniform every dad lighting up a barbecue at the weekend this summer will relate to. In our times of trouble, it’s the super-ordinary, safe domestic life of a dependable man that has become the fashion fantasy. Over to you, Luke. How did it look through your eyes?
Hi, Sarah. Well, I’m still here in Paris, lingering to finish up a Resort appointment or two, so the bubble that is being at the shows hasn’t quite yet burst for me. Staying within that bubble, one thing I think that ran through them was tension between fit and discomfiture: Are masculine clothes a tool for reinforcing masculinity or reassessing it? Could they even be a catalyst for breaking it down and building it up anew and improved? That kind of depended on which designers you paid attention to, but the most interesting collections were about clothes that prompted men to untether their assumptions about their place in the world.
Chief among these was Rick Owens, who took menswear back to its rudest, most basic state before building up an alternative paradigm of tailoring—these were suits for Yeats’s rough beasts, not so-called masters of the universe. Similarly, sort of, Thom Browne cast convention adrift by questioning the way we allow clothes to shore up gender roles. He imagined a world in which one’s gender does not dictate the colors and the clothing you wear from birth, dressing his models in heels and skirts and dresses. This was not just a theoretical exercise—all of it will go on sale—and it was fascinating to observe.
At McQueen, Sarah Burton sent her initially buttoned-up, martially inclined man upriver to a Scott of the Antarctic confrontation with paganism, pattern, and the tree of life. Particularly atmospheric, at least to this former newspaperman, was a Dries Van Noten show set in the sold-off office of the French paper Libération. They’d clearly left the offices in a hurry: There were still old PCs and desks and clocks and a picture library and manila files full of information carefully collated by long-gone specialists in an age when certain jobs gave you certainty. This, I confess more than the clothes, made me reflect that the traits most needed for working life today are flexibility, adaptability, and multiplicity. To be willing to do lots of things rather than assume you will spend your life doing one thing. Lucas Ossendrijver touched on this in a Lanvin collection that spliced and grafted many different forms of male uniforms together to create an attractive kind of camouflage for now: clothes that send out so many signals that it’s impossible to categorize the wearer.
Other collections seemed to be about escaping it all. At Louis Vuitton’s Archipelago collection and Acne Studios’s Swedish summer house collection, both Kim Jones and Jonny Johansson seemed to be pining to get away—not so far away that they lose their bearings only to discover new ones, as at Owens, Browne, and McQueen—but just to somewhere chilled and loose and beautiful. To me, that sounds just the ticket—so I’ll punch mine for another season and hand it over to you, Amy. Hey, it was good to finally bump in to you at Y-3 yesterday: Did you learn anything new about men at Paris menswear this season?
Luke, you’ve segued perfectly because I learned that Yohji Yamamoto takes hour-long walks with his Akita dog, Rin! Don’t we also want to know master designers are just like us? But he actually did say something after his show that put so much into perspective: “Men need a shirt, jacket, and pants, but there are many things to do. We need to put air between the fabric and the body—how big or how tight, how long or short.” From these elemental considerations comes fashion, and the fact that so many labels took an anti-fashion stance this season intrigued me. The irony, of course, is that each time I hear a designer say they “just want to make clothes,” especially when they’re speaking French, they’re saying they just want to make vêtements (lowercase), which even though they’re not referring to Vetements (uppercase), is kind of how we landed here to begin with.
But then, when Pierre Mahéo wrote in his preshow letter to guests, “Officine Générale promises total devotion to the clothes and their quality,” I absolutely believe him. In the photos, you see the direct appeal of his approach, if not all the fine details. For the time being, what he does remains as relevant and as values-driven as anything out there. I also remain impressed by Luke Meier at OAMC, who continues to embed his collections with codes—these ones happened to come from Ginsburg—in way that never feels arbitrary. As in, he seems hyper-aware of the challenges that come with using clothes to both stand for something and to stand apart from everything else. I suspect all of this is starting to sound similar to my thoughts from last season, which leads me to Études, which I was glad to finally discover—not just because I always hear people praising the collective, but because I sensed their passion for Paris at a time when the city exists in a sensitive space between vulnerable and re-energized. The public transport system’s color scheme has never looked as good!
Lastly, when I asked Jean Touitou in what way his low-key presentation featuring low-key clothes were a reactive statement against fashion itself, he replied, “I’m totally reacting to the fact that there is too much fashion victimism [sic] in men’s fashion. To me, fashion victimism is as bad as testosterone, so I’m trying in the menswear to incorporate femininity; I just want something a little delicate in the guys.” I suppose this could relate back to Sarah’s point about dads at the barbecue—how much are guys trying to measure up to expectations of fashion today, no longer just expectations of masculinity. Nick, you took in an insane number of shows. Where do you stand?
I loved Paris. And I loved it not necessarily because of the hard product—the clothes, and there were lots of good clothes—but because it finally felt like fashion overall was transportive again.
Fashion shows have not of late held the gravitational pull that they once did. I don’t think this is because of any waning personal interest in the subject matter—I still want to go to the shows, and if I can’t make them, I click through Vogue’s slideshows as I did with Style.com’s slideshows back in my freshman year of college, now over 10 years ago. I do think, rather, that it’s because the separation between the catwalk and the crowd has narrowed to the point that the specialness of witnessing fashion has eroded (blame social media, blame see-now-buy-now, blame a lack of innovation by the designers and their producers, blame “influencers”—I’m not the only one who thinks the game has become too familiar). But where once the dream was to step into luxury, it’s now about experience, and the experience doesn’t need to be luxurious at all. There needs to be some space—a distance, really—that stirs in the watcher a want to traverse it. The runway should represent a getaway. And Paris was a composite paradise.
Rick Owens’s show, as you’ve read in the paragraphs above, was straight-up fucking excellent. His rogue-tailored sylphs spun downward into the Palais de Tokyo’s courtyard, their big pants and their bony chests blurring in the heat wave against the polished chrome scaffold. I have Luke to thank for reminding me that this show was happening—I’d otherwise have stayed writing in the lobby of the Prince de Galles up the street. I’m happy I ran: It was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen—and it didn’t take a far-flung destination or even something all that elaborate to make it so. This was Owens putting his ever-creative muscle to work, turning something intrinsically fundamental, really, into something utterly fabulous. It made me want to step back, swim back, soar back into the freakiness of his singular world.
The same goes for a number of others—and it extends to presentations, where, despite the physical closeness of the audience to the garments, there can still be wanderlust apparent. This was true at Heron Preston, who was inspired by the chintz-drab decor of model homes—it made me want to explore cookie-cutter suburbia. Louis Vuitton, a show, spurred thoughts of jetting west to Hawaii, like, right now, so that I might post up at the Royal Hawaiian in Waikiki, headphones in, listening to Drake, drinking a mai tai (or four). Kim Jones’s Spring was more appealing than the hype (and, in my opinion, flame out) of last season’s Supreme drop—the Louis Vuitton–text printed Hawaiian shirts induced more of a euphoric, giddy reaction. In a much more ridiculous vein, newcomer SSS World Corp. also made me think of Hawaii, with its aloha-apocalypse theme, and in a more serious channel, Balenciaga did, too, with Demna Gvasalia’s anti-fashion, more-normal-than-normcore island shirts. That Balenciaga’s show was held in a park, mimicking day-to-day life, only compounded the wish—it put paradise within reach, stripping the rarefied and stepping up the real. Now, everyone get out of here and go hit the beach.