Text by Adam Lehrer
Paris Fashion Men’s Week was in typical fine form, re-invigorating my own lust for fashion after a dreary Milan and an uneven London. Though the two shows I’m usually most excited for, those by Raf Simons and Gosha Rubchinskiy, already played out in Florence, their absence didn’t deter my attention. That would be mainly because of one man: Demna Gvasalia. Demna introduced Balenciaga’s first menswear show in history. The expectations between that notion, not to mention Vetements being the coolest brand in fashion and all that, were colossal. How did Demna respond to this soul crushing pressure? By creating entirely new menswear silhouettes. He needed not to flash or bedazzle, and instead created new shapes. A new shape in menswear comes along maybe once a decade, and that achievement can’t be downplayed. The hype around this guy is so high that in some ways you want to find things about him to critique: ridiculously expensive DHL t-shirts, all white models, pop stars using his clothes to look alternative, or whatever. But then I see the new Vetements collection and I’m just like, “Fuck.” I want all of it. Though entirely different than what he does at Vetements, Balenciaga had me similarly drooling.
And that wasn’t it. Rick Owens offered a radical showing of near-unwearable pieces that were beautiful and sprinkled with just enough accessibility to keep the buyers happy. Junya Watanabe offered his first show in a few seasons that didn’t generate racist controversy while introducing his knack for near-perfectly constructed everyday workwear. Dries Van Noten offered an incredible show that played out like a celebration of the beauty and art of fabric itself.
But Demna seems to be the designer ushering in a new era of fashion; just like Raf did before him, and Margiela before him, and Rei before him, and Yves before her. We are witnessing a designer reinvent the way hip kids dress. And the thing about the ways in which the hip kids dress is that there will always be the square types to catch on at some point, and next thing you know is that a seismic shift in the way people dress has occurred. Architectural suit shoulders might just be the new skinny trousers.
Balenciaga SS 2017: Architectural Solutions to a New Men’s Wardrobe
Demna Gvasalia asked and answered a series of sartorial questions with the Balenciaga SS 2017 menswear show. Can Balenciaga place as much importance on its menswear as its womenswear? Can menswear, in fact, be haute couture? Are there any new silhouettes waiting to be applied to a men’s wardrobe? And can a sleep Balenciaga collection still be in-line with the punker Eastern European aesthetic of Vetements? Yes, yes, yes, and fuck yes.
Demna Gvasalia is already understanding and re-interpreting the vision of Cristóbol Balenciaga in a way that Alexander Wang never could. The SS 2017 collection started with an unfinished Balenciaga coat that was then altered into an un-fitted, albeit beautifully fitted, tan trench coat. Like Balenciaga, Gvasalia understands that clothes need not to be over-adorned to be valuable. Instead, it’s all about fit and proportions. Clothes really stand out when either chic-ly loose, such as the incredible pleated double-breasted blazers, or skin tight, like the collection’s shirting and double-breasted jackets. As fas as patterning goes, everything here was fairly basic and isn’t far off from a J. Crew suit. But the structures made it revolutionary. All of these garments would need to be specially tailored for the client to achieve that revolutionary banality.
The collection got more “Demna” as it went on: snakeskin boots (dope), leather jackets and coats cut to similar proportions as the suits, cropped bomber jackets with the shoulders blown out, and dad caps. Everything here looked so different than anything I’ve ever seen, while being kind of similar to everything I’ve ever seen. Balenciaga has found its man in Demna Gvasalia, indeed.
Gvasalia is a capital D designer, which is what the brand needed. He has an intimate understanding of Balenciaga’s approach to clothes, but he is individualist enough to still filter his own sensibilities into it. The casting of disheveled Eastern European iconoclasts was as presents at it was at Vetements shows, with Vetements must and burdgeoning zine arist Paul Hameline making an appearance, styled by Lotta Volkova of course.
Balenciaga SS 2017 made we want to both get rich enough to afford, and get skinny enough to wear it. And fashion on this level SHOULD seem exclusive. It SHOULD make us want to work for it. That’s the point: if it feels within grasp than it’s just not really high fashion. In her book Fear and Clothing, culture critic and former NY Times Critical Shopper Cintra Wilson dedicates a passage to the fact that fashion has been at a standstill for some 20 years now; since Margiela came on to the scene really. But Demna, with Vetements and now Balenciaga, is really offering NEW styles of dress. Yes there is some indebtedness to the aforementioned Margiela and certainly to Balenciaga himself, but these are new shapes. And new shapes breed new styles.
Facetasm SS 2017: From Japan to Paris, Hiromichi Ochiai Sticks to his Guns
LVMH-shortlisted Hiromichi Ochiai has been showing his brand Facetasm (pronounced “FASS-e-Ta-sum,” according to the designer) in his home base of Tokyo since 2013. After being acknowledged as one of fashion design’s brightest talents and getting the chance to show in fashion’s conceptual heartland of Paris, you’d think the pressure would be stacked high on the man. But he stuck to his guns with this collection. Facetasm SS 2017 fit well on the Paris schedule, bringing some fresh design ideas to the city putting it along the likes of Vejas, Y Project, Faith Connexion, and other youthful brands reflecting Paris’s newfound status as a centre of radical creativity.
Ochiaii has a tendency to turn a simple product, like a leather jacket or a trench or a bomber, into a piece of clothing you see and can’t leave V-Files or Dover Street without. That was certainly in play here with v-neck kimono shirts that came embroidered with stripes, checkered bomber jackets with floppy collars and accompanying baggy basketball shorts, leather vests that look like gun holsters, and those aforementioned leather jackets with striped sleeves treated to look like they carry years of age. Ochiai’s approach looks odd and discombobulated, but broken down into products it will speak to a wide variety of fashion-crazed customers.
Yohji Yamamoto SS 2017: A Master Finds New Territory in Old Tricks
The thing about the Japanese master Yohi Yammamoto is that he knows exactly who his customers are and delivers the products they want season after season. 40 years into his career, he’s a cult designer (it’s a very large cult, but still). His collections range from good to sublime, but his masterfully crafted and heavily draped workwear jackets and trousers are always there. While certainly not a designer focused on nostalgia, Yohji’s collections present themselves as being removed from time. They are neither modern nor antiquated. The wearer has his look and there is no need to change it according to contemporary standards of beauty.
Yohji’s SS 2017 was one of his sublime collections. The show featured a number of tough looking (as tough as a modern male model could look anyways) guys wearing bandages on their heads, ankles, and wrists. The silhouettes were long but not baggy. They hung off the body enough to draw attention to the garment but not to overshadow the wearer. The trousers were big, and those in cotton looked soft as a Husky puppy. And what made this more than just a collection of good Yohji pieces were the embroidered prints that peppered everything from blazers to overcoats. Souvenir jackets are getting popular again amongst hip crowds, and why not? They are a great and comfortable statement piece that can be bought on Etsy for $80. But Yohji took the souvenir motif and applied it to beautifully constructed trench coats, crafted well enough to outlast any trend. Yohji never begs his customers to buy every piece. He has his Y-3 collection to make the big money. But his eponymous line always just presents his customers with new pieces that they can incorporate to their already well-curated and iconoclastic wardrobe. Those customers could certainly do well with some of these pieces. This was my favorite Yohji show in a long time.
Y Project SS 2017: Badass and Dandy (No Longer Mutually Exclusive States of Being)
Under the late Yohan Serfaty, who started Y Project in 2011, the brand was a little Rick Owens-lite. The problem with presenting a dark, moody, and billowing aesthetic these days is that there is no way you are going to do it better than Rick, and certainly no one will want it more than they want Rick. LVMH-shortlisted designer Glenn Martens understood that when he took over Y Project in 2013 and took the brand in a similarly aggressive but alternatively off-beat direction. Martens makes clothes for men and women that alternate between feminine and harsh, bright and dark, deconstructed and well-tailored. It’s a label of contrasts, and one that is great fun to buy into.
His SS 2017 at some points felt like a celebration of 1960s Havana gangster style: big and well-made suits, sometimes in pink. But a look later and a guy comes down the runway wearing a flower-printed see-through tank-top with the dude’s midriff totally exposed. It takes a lot of panache to wear this stuff, and I think Martens likes it like that. He likes daring his customers, “Put this on, c’mon, don’t be a wuss.” There were of course still looks that others could wear, like the dope elongated-sleeved leather jackets, or the trench coats that can be worn from the front and the back. To say Y Project’s aesthetic is all over the place is totally inaccurate. Instead, it juxtaposes two opposing dominant looks and clashes them together, allowing the wearer to look both alternative and tough while also looking (very) in touch with his feminine side.
Haider Ackermann SS 2017: Every Piece Should Be a Statement Piece
If you like Haider Ackermann you’re going to like Haider Ackermann’s SS 2017 collection. The Argentinean designer has a way to turn even the simplest pieces into a statement. A hoodie and sweats becomes a perfectly fitted and made garment under his design. Also, what’s even more admirable about the guy is that you can always wear his stuff your own way. His shows are more a suggestion of styling than a demand. His bomber jackets look as good with a pair of tight Levi’s as they do his skin-tight pinstriped silk trousers (Kanye showed us that).
Haider’s SS ’17 collection was exuberant. The blazers, skin-tight as per usual, were eye-blindingly bright and printed with some exotic motif. I loved the disco shirts that were tucked in with only the bottom button fastened; one had pink sleeves that fell inches below the model’s wrist. The aforementioned trousers came in every fabric and every imaginable print, more to the point that Haider’s clothes can be worn with denim, leather, or satin bottoms. It depends on the wearer really. There were women’s look in the shows too, that were often much darker than the dandified menswear looks. There is probably some statement in there, but who knows.
It’s also nice to have a fashion designer that makes garments that really pop with flash and style. Being an occasionally broke and mostly bad with money young writer and photographer, when I spring for a piece that I really want I really want it to be something that doesn’t look like it has a cheaper alternative. Haider makes sense for a money splurge. Haider is designing party wear, and thank god for that. While so many of our radical fashion designers are thinking specifically about what we want to wear to our design offices and studios, Haider wants us to dress up to the nines. Someone needs to.
Junya Watanabe SS 2017: No Accusations of Racism to be Made Here
Junya Watanabe has a couple of off seasons that saw him doing things like devoting a collection to African textiles and having all white guys walk in the show. It didn’t help that Watanabe is a salty guy that seems to hold, if not out right resentment towards the press, than a lingering dismay at having to explain himself to them (not even Purple Mag honcho Olivier Zahm could get much out of the designer when he interviewed him a couple years back).
SS 2017 was a rebound then. Instead of appropriating regional cultures, he looked towards the seedy side of sub-cultures (tattoo artists aren’t going to upset about seeing their looks used in a fashion show I would assume). Most of the models in the show were heavily tattooed (or welding fake tattoos when necessary). This could be boring but it looked cool here, and made these rather simple but incredibly well-made pieces a touch bad ass. The opening shirt and shorts combination is the type of outfit I’d want to wear all summer long. Easy to put on and take off while still making a statement. There was a criminality to this collection, mostly owing to the looks of Russian mobsters. This is also not new, or maybe it is? It seems like a look that has already been fetishized over but Junya made it look fantastic. Russian mobsters when naked look incredibly scary, with their all black grey tattoos symbolizing all manner of nefarious activities. But they clean up well (though he is a movie star and all, look at Viggo Mortensen’s character in David Cronenberg’s incredibly underrated Eastern Promises). But the tattoo motif carried over to the clothes here in the form of prints. There was the usual focus on craft and tradition that Junya has made his career with, collaborating with Levi’s on the wide-leg jeans and jackets, John Smedley knits, and Heinrich Dinkelacker shoes. This was definitely the most wearable of the Paris collections, but pushed by a palatable concept that editors and buyers can read into.
Rick Owens SS 2017: Subtle Evolution in Garment-Body Relations
Rick Owens, as always, put on a SS 2017 show worth noting. Rick has so firmly laid out the aesthetic of his brand that he can pervert that aesthetic subtly or not so subtly and use those perversions to slowly progress the identity of the Rick Owens house. How many designers do we see trying to re-invent the wheel every season only to come up with a bunch of overly-designed workwear products that makes no sense in regards to what people like about that brand in the first place? The Rick Owens universe is set in stone but it’s constantly stretching outwards.
SS 2017 started off predominantly in white featuring a series of looks that appeared like unfinished garments falling off the models’ bodies, taking on movements of their own. Aesthetically, imagine if Varys from Game of Thrones got really fit and managed to find a way for his clothes to dance behind him as he walked. It was hard to even single out individual pieces because they all blended into one hard-to-define look. Big trousers were a theme, and continued to be as the collection progressed and mutated in color. The light wool coach jackets came in brown, a faint shade of orange, mustard yellow and mustard yellow. Then there were some more recognizably Owens pieces: skin-tight leather jacket (one covered in jewel studs), a bomber jacket with fur trim, asymmetrical blazers, and a cut-off trench coat. Most of the jackets were cropped extremely high to the waist, allowing the massive trousers to stand out as the statements pieces of the looks. There was excellent use of prints, such as the cut-off sleeve kimono with a geometrical landscape printed in white to both lapels.
It’s hard to tell if some of the looks in this collection were a result of genius styling or fascinating design, such as the pieces that looked almost like t-shirts wrapped around the model’s body at various limbs. But either styling or design, this was another fascinating Rick Owens show. No designer on Earth is better re-defining the intricacies between the human body and its clothes.
Off-White SS 2017: Virgil Abloh Offers an Inclusive Alternative to Fashion Exclusivity
People have wanted to write off Virgil Abloh as a t-shirt designer from the moment he started Off-White. After designing an incredibly limited edition collection for Levi’s Made and Crafted and a Resort 2017 collection, no one can argue that this man has a grand and wide fashion vision for his Off-White label. But Abloh’s greatest strength is his fandom. He comes at garment design from the perspective of a fashion, music, and culture crazed kid that can’t believe the good fortune he’s met at being able to create his own brand. That exuberance was as infectious as ever at his SS 2017 show.
The jeans and t-shirt look is still the foundation of Off-White, but Abloh more every season seems to make clear that the sartorial possibilities birthed from that conceptual starting point are endless. From Oasis graphics to see through t-shirts, short-sleeve baggy knits with provocative prints, to loose fitting jackets, Abloh has greatly improved the actual design strengths of his collection. But he also has grander conceptual vision, such as allowing fashion kids into his shows without invites and providing attendees with disposable cameras to give different photographic perspectives on his designs. The turn out for the show was incredible; aside from his usual crew (Luka Sabbat, etc), motherfucking Demna Gvasalia showed up to show Virgil support. Virgil needs to start being referred to as “fashion designer Virgil Abloh” and not “Kanye West’s best friend and creative director Virgil Abloh.”
Louis Vuitton SS 2017: After Years of Looking Abroad, Kim Jones Brings it Back Home
Kim Jones, sometimes referred to as the world’s greatest menswear designer, has looked all over the globe for styles to appropriate at Louis Vuitton. But for SS 2017, he fondly remembers the styles that have most defined him: the African textiles of his homeland, the punk memorabilia he collected by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren while living in London, and the high luxury of his adopted homeland of Paris.
The punk looks worked the best: if I was rich as fuck there is no way I wouldn’t want to spend $3,000 on an ultra-aggressive looking dog collar? There’s no better way to celebrate newfound wealth than with an accessory that says to your boss, “I’m not afraid of you bub, in fact: I’m coming for you.”
Everything Kim does at Louis just looks like clothes that you need to have, and this collection followed in that vein. Even a plaid crewneck looks so perfectly fitted that to not spend $1,000 on it feels like you are depriving yourself. The Sherpa crewnecks, dyed heavily in the prints of African textiles, were showstoppers. Paired with easygoing trousers, they were easily the most “I must have that” garments of Paris Fashion Week. I think that’s the beauty of Vuitton. It is the ultimate example of fashion consumerism, but helmed by a designer like Kim Jones (or Nicolas Ghesqiuere, for that matter), you find yourself sacrificing all of your socialist ideals and just giving into the temptation. True luxury should make you want to abandon your morals and be a part of the ugly machine. Louis Vuitton under Kim Jones goes way beyond a bag with a logo that says nothing about who you are. Not all the pieces are that easy, but they are so incredibly made that you find yourself disregarding that ugly history of fashion oppression. Let greed free you.
Dries Van Noten SS 2017: No One Really Gets Dries, But Everyone Wants to Wear Dries
Dries Van Noten’s FW 2016 menswear collection was a highpoint in his career: an explosive celebration of fashion’s relationship to the psychedelic prints of the 1960s. It was a hard show to top, and though SS 2017 didn’t, it came damn close. This show felt more like a celebration of the possibilities within fabrics themselves. Dries admitted to looking at the textile artists of the ’60s for this collection, finding new ways to drape garments as well as play with volume and proportion. That resulted in something as simple as a mock neck sweater in white looking transcendent: just baggy enough in the body to let the model breathe while the neck looking slightly disheveled and treated. But the textile explorations also worked towards incredible print and dye work. A tank top and shorts looked as close to a landscape painting as fashion gets. It was willfully experimental, but no one would look that weird wearing such an ensemble to the beach.
As always, Dries’ coats were next level, with fabric weaves and lines constructing from a myriad of different directions and concepts. The clothes looked expensive, which is always nice considering they are in fact really fucking expensive. But I’d say the real showstopper here was the knitwear, which looked like it had been weaved by a master from another era just hours before the show: colors and fabrics hanging loose from the seams both finished and unfinished simultaneously. When you look at Antwerp’s other most relevant and long-lasting designer (no shade towards Walter van Bierendonck, but he is starting to feel more kitsch as he gets older) Raf Simons, you see that Dries has gone in another direction that puts the two Royal Academy-trained designers at odds with one another. While Raf is consistently questioning fashion’s purpose and finding revelatory possibilities within fashion as a medium season after season (and making fire clothes all the while), Dries is still infatuated with the beauty wrought from the experimentation of fabric construction and garment design. There is a case to be made for both approaches in regards to what fashion needs right now.
Some Brands Need no Show
Plenty of fashion designers in Paris opted for buyer presentations over shows but nevertheless presented some incredible collections. Takahiro Miyashita, for instance, presented his best collection since leaving Number (N)ine and starting The Soloist, which charted the sartorial evolution of David Bowie but took all Bowie’s looks to the extreme. Phillip Lim’s SS 2017 collection wasn’t pushing any style ideas forward, but he did pretty much sum up exactly how I like to dress in the summer with cool denim pulled up high over perfectly fit short sleeve button downs. And former Balmain creative director Christophe Decarnin’s Faith Connexion is a revelation. With everyone looking tasteful and draped these days (post-Vetements world and all), there is something wonderful about a brand willing to put opulent trash back on the pedestal. With men’s and women’s looks in the show, Decarnin celebrated a kind of stylish ridiculousness that was tempered by a punk edge before veering back into golden Nutcracker absurdity Balmain territory.