Paris Men’s Fall-Winter 2018: Dress For Your Tribe

by Long Nguyen

“Skirts, corsets, capes, and wide coats. The designer wants to combine with more "practical" pieces which come close to what we would traditionally define as hunting clothes,” was what the printed program notes said of Alejandro Gomez Palomo’s extravagant and dressed up Palomo show in the Marais that opened the Paris men’s fall/winter 2018 season. Palomo's first Paris adventure evoked the clothes of the court of Felipe IV and the men portrayed by the painter Velasquez. 

That meant juxtaposing bright red velvet sleeveless cape-coat with ruffled shorts, a green corset with chaps cutout pants and underwear shorts or that chain mail dress with leaf green taffeta capelet with more reasonable wardrobe proposal like a purple-blue stripes, a wool patch pocket mock neck jacket with matching flare pants or a light grey safari jacket.  But what would fashion be without that extra nudge in the form of a sparkling grey and light blue extravagant brocade jacket with ruffle layer and round matching shorts worn with ivory thigh-high heels fold over boots? 

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The voice announcer of a monologue by Charles Bukowski at the start of Virgil Abloh’s Off-White show about what to wear for "Business Casuals" asked what kind of clothes would be right for a creative worker who isn’t a lawyer or banker.  Mr. Abloh’s answer with a firm array of choices grounded in reality rather than fantasy. He opened the show with a broad '80s style shoulder stripe two button suit with closures on the pants and logo on sleeves to such staples as sweatshirts now with seaming contouring around the body to Beasty Boys prints tees and the new collaboration with Goretex in a tracksuit worn adorned with logo under a black wool felt tailored coat.  The cool kids will surely find their wares in those pink and bluish tie-dyed jeans and tracksuits.

Both Hermès and Vetements catered to their specific audience with collections that each customer of the respective houses will no doubts adorn themselves with next fall. Inside a sumptuous courtyard in the posh 7th arrondissement with fire burning logs along the models’ path, Véronique Nichanian assured that men’s clothes are about subtle changes in proportions coupled with an intense search for new fabrics--wraparound coats, blousons with ribbings, padded jackets, staggered topstitching pants or wide trousers with elastic waist and leather bottom cuffs made with combed mohair, 180 compact wool, rubberized lambskin, patinated calfskin or reversible toilovent. A light brown sweatshirt with zigzag patterns is actually a rubberized lambskin made with sabré technique, something the Hermès consumer is accustomed to.  

On the outskirt of Paris at the Marche Paul Bert Serpette, next to the Paris flea market, Demna Gvasalia and his team at Vetements clinched the attention and devotion of the devout fans of the brand and their hipster customers with an ode to Martin Margiella’s oeuvre about breaking the rules of clothing and about appropriation with pile on of garments turned inside out like a black coat reversed to show the inside of the polyester lining and label outside and various tribal tattoo prints on sportswear clothes at times resembled what one would find a chic thrift shop, not unlike those behind the series of old chairs trotted out for the occasion. The collage of looks as the all done up models walked included the '90s sneaker brand Swear had a sense of rawness as well as signaled the joy of that fashion can bring and less a rigor about intellectual discourse.

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However at the Dior Homme show, one can feel the dichotomy at the heart of this and in Kris Van Assche’s previous collections – how to bring forth the heritage of the house in a manner relevant to young consumers whose ways of dressing have radically changed over the past decade.  Van Assche’s focused embrace of both the luxury heritage of Dior and of providing a luxury streetwear ethos this season produced a vision on the runway that was less clear as a convincing fashion narrative. 

Going way back to the iconic Bar jacket from the 1947 New Look collection, the designer crafted a series of tight and A-line jacket pantsuit that formed the base for promoting the men’s atelier crafts where the handwork DNA of the house now incarnated in the wasp waist jacket and coats, some with attached leather belts for greater effects and had white horizontal seams on the side to denote the Bar cut.  These suits came with the requisite large black Christian Dior Atelier label in the bottom of the right sleeve and to be worn as such. At times, the Bar design for men seemed too forceful and more of an intellectual endeavor – a black three button single breasted to a four button double breasted jacket or a ten button double breasted jacket with two buttons double breasted lapels for example.  But the bread and butter of the show lies in the luxury sporty clothes anoraks, jeans and color polos, brown wool loose coats, hooded blousons, and the various logoed sweats and tees as easy pieces and perhaps also the looser stripes single-breasted suit that closed the show.

Speaking of great sportswear, Lucas Ossendrijver presented a great show for Lanvin where he has been the sole designer and where the multitude of outerwear pieces dominated the show.  Think black long coats, white and grey nylon anoraks, grey nylon ponchos, tan nylon sleeves down coat, or brown wool hooded coats all layered with easy suiting or boxy tee and pants separates.  Working in a similar way without outerwear, Shangguan Zhe did a great show for his label Sankuanz where he used colorful print technical fabrics like 3M reflective panels and Cordura with oversized winter coats made for the urban survivalists.

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Luxury sportswear for the travelling man prevailed at Kim Jones’ final show for Louis Vuitton where he excelled in incorporating his own cultural experiences to the garments this time prints coming from a photograph taken on board a helicopter ride in Kenya that became the imagery on gray wool coats, shirts, and a series of running leggings worn under shorts and jackets that was a dominant look of the show.  One of the best looks was a double cashmere coat, brown knit, light brown loose knee shorts and mountain hiking boots and of course the LV logoed tights – a right mixture of luxury and sporty.  Or the way Haider Ackermann infused his Berluti well crafted and expensive clothes with emotion to make the wearer feel more desirable almost like a soft version of a sex object – a shiny brown leather belted coat with sky blue lapel and cigarette pants or an ivory shearling blouson over a pantsuit and white tee.

At Sacai, Chitose Abe affirmed her mastery of hybridization not only in incorporating different elements of different garments together but in weaving different cultural products and merging them into a coherent collection of red plaids or black and white print and knit long fringes on coats and pants, nylon parkas with black shearling linings, and superb anoraks made of a combination of brown plaids, green army nylon, and navy felt wool. Reyn Spooner Hawaiian prints, Ugg boots, and feathers from Goro Takahashi archives forged a unique blend on the Sacai clothes.   

“Imagine there’s no heaven,” John Lennon sang through the speakers at the end of the Yohji Yamamoto show with all black layered loose clothes the designer has pioneered for three decades and now his aesthetics have influenced so much of fashion without so much attribution or acknowledgment. It was an uplifting moment during a week of thunderstorms that fashion can give us other worlds and imagine other places.

Yamamoto has been a true master of tailoring, cuts, and proportions working mainly with black wool over many years.  Sitting at the Y-3 show, I wondered about the designer and Adidas have been so far ahead of the curve in the athleisure game since 2003 when Y-3 was launched.  Now all the luxury fashion houses are catching up in terms of street credibility.  

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But on the subject of "Imagine," certainly Rick Owens, Thom Browne, and Comme des Garçons gave their tribes each season a cause to celebrate. Their vision for fashion is just as individualistic as they are.  And in a debut for their house's menswear, John Galliano for Maison Margiela played with the deconstruct/reconstruct DNA for red and khaki/plastic trenches and yes even a white shredded version, yellow and white huge bubble coats, and loose black wool coats. Along the way, there was a great large shoulder charcoal chalk stripe and a fluid acid blue satin double-breasted suits and the prospects of a firm footing in menswear.

Thom Browne's moving show where elegant sportswear dominates suggests that the act of dressing may be very simple in that we put on clothes to protect against the natural elements, in this case, the cold winter then we all undress and leave behind our garments like the models keeping a simple grey long sleeve cashmere unitard as they hide themselves inside a down sleeping bag.  They left behind the clothes they had worn and the meaning the clothes convey to the world and shed them just like a shell in a similar way to a snake shedding its skin to rejuvenate and start anew. 

Starting with the basic short leg grey shrunken suit that he launched in 2004, Browne’s transformed other basic sports clothes this time a down filled coat into marvelous garments from a knitted camelhair cardigan stitch canvased down coat worn with grey knitted Milano stitch canvassed double-breasted sportcoat and bootstrap trouser or a grey down filled military sack coat with down filled grey sack sportcoat and matching belt loop shorts and down filled leg warmers.

Rick Owens too has his own vocabulary working at his own pace over the years to construct certain aesthetics this time the clothes seemed more aggressive with long tunic silhouettes abruptly cut and slice to reveal parts of the body like a khaki top torn open on a side to show skin worn under a classic brown coat or a black cutout asymmetrical top wrap around a jeans shorts.  Some classic Owens resurfaced like the jumpsuits or black capes with no arm opening but this time there are many great clothes to buy as well like coats both long and short versions.  The same passion can be said of Rei Kawakubo Comme des Garçons’s ‘White shock/Inner Rebel’ show of great and colorful mixtures of patterns and prints jackets, shorts, coats and pants with an all-white final section of asymmetrical silhouettes and jackets made of a hard material cut into different sections.  A stellar look was a light blue jacket with these white sections sown on like an outline of brickwork worn with a long white pleated skirt short. Many of the models wore animal headdress by the artist Shimoda Masakatsu who worked mainly with fabrics adding theatrics and humor to the show.

And then there is the Balmain show where Olivier Rousteing steadfastly held on to his own vision of excess without much compromise. Now the Balmain Army wearing protective medieval chain mail, military khaki and futuristic patent nylon and silver or gold embroidered jackets over skinny patent nylon pants – sure it’s not an army for the faint-hearted. Beyond the immediate glitters, there are great clothes underneath but there is something commensurate about Rousteing’s singular vision and the guts to stick to his beliefs instead of changing with the winds. Similarly on a late Sunday night, Stéphane Ashpool staged a great and personal show for Pigalle about his childhood memories with dancers at the Conservatoire National Supérior de Musique et Danse with street savvy and inventive garments – large geometric coats, blousons and anoraks - that has always been at the center of the street-savvy brand since its launch.

In Thom Browne’s poetic finale as each of the models settled into their own bed, there is a sense that however complicated our choices of clothes are they may be just an illusion. At the end of the day that what clothes each of us have chosen may just be a mirage, an outline of an outer shell like the silhouette of a grey suit embroidered on top of the sleeping bag.  And in Paris, every tribe can choose their own fashion leaders and their respective clothes. 


Written by Long Nguyen