Text by Adam Lehrer
It feels like every season I find myself almost wanting the Paris round of menswear shows to suck, just to change it up. I can make claims like, “London is ground zero for cutting edge young menswear designers,” or “Italian luxury is forever,” or “New York is on the up and up,” but when it comes down to it, everything still pales in comparison to the lineup of designers that show their new duds in Paris. And until Raf Simons, Rick Owens, Kim Jones, Dries Van Noten, Yohji Yammamoto, Junya Watanabe, and so forth decide to show elsewhere, that appears to be how it will stay.
The FW 2016 Paris menswear shows seemed to emphasize time, nostalgia, and at times a rejection of nostalgia. Raf Simons, free of the punishing time constraints placed upon him as creative director of Dior, unleashed his most furiously cultural referent collection since his work with Sterling Ruby. Yohji Yammamoto looked nowhere but the future for his new Y-3 collection, preparing fashions for the final frontier. Kris Van Assche at Dior Homme elevated two fondly remembered sub-cultures, early New Wave and ‘90s skate culture, to Dior-ian qualities (with mixed results). Fashion is all about looking towards the future or remembering the past in efforts to co-opt those thoughts for the here and now. That sentiment was evident all throughout Paris this past week.
Raf Simons has always managed to be a designer that sparks interest in people that may not be overwhelmingly interested in fashion, but who adore music and visual art. Joy Division and Factory Records fans delighted in his FW 2003 “Closer” collection that referenced Peter Saville graphics. His FW 2014 collection with Sterling Ruby may have been the most intriguing artist/designer collab of all time. Raf’s FW 2016 collection found Raf delighting in all the various works of art that inspire him now. Free of Dior, he has time to smartly cultivate a network of ideas and tie them together in a manner that feels effortless even if painstaking. The most talked about reference here was David Lynch (it also happened to be David’s birthday). The show was soundtracked to a recording of composer Angelo Badalmenti discussing his work scoring Twin Peaks, and the clothes had that macabre sense of banal Americana, or dare I say “Lynchian” qualities; the oversized letterman sweaters brought to mind the sultry princess of The Great Northern Audrey Horne, and the slashing of them the threat of imminent danger. And though grotesque Americana was the main theme here, with Raf also mentioning the Boy Scouts, The Breakfast Club, and slasher films as primary influences, he also took time to reference two more of his favorite artists. Raf cited Cindy Sherman as an influence on the collection, and the reference makes sense: Sherman’s portraiture of classically “American” figures (whatever that means) always hinted at something sinister beneath the surface. These clothes, while objectively normal or “American” (high school puffer jackets, oxfort shirts) were presented in such a manner to subvert their own expectations. Raf also claimed to be thinking more of aruguably his greatest influence, Martin Margiela, during the designing of this collection. The way the coats were so big to hang off the frames of the models, the smart tattering of sleeves, and the emphasis on the garments as objects all blatantly but brilliantly paid ode to Margiela and his legacy. This was a magnificent collection, perhaps the best Raf has presented since his work with Ruby. It was conceptually brilliant and aesthetically beautiful, and most importantly I want all of this stuff. Even better? Raf finally started diversifying his models, perhaps realizing that his justification of his use of white models is due to the street casting he does in Antwerp, probably won’t work anymore.
Dries Van Noten
Dries van Noten had been trying to secure the location of his FW 2016 show for 15 years. The Palais Garnier, an opulent shrine to French glory, was a fitting testament to the impact of this show. FW ’16 felt like the most quintessentially “Dries” show that Van Noten has shown in quite some time, finding the traditional and statuesque beauty in the imagery of the subversive and radical. The first coat, a black trench with a mock-neck collar and a waist flap, came emblazoned with a coiling snake graphic perfectly placed. While jackets fit rather slim, pants and shorts came oversized, emphasizing Dries’s tendency to go off-trend and come up with silhouettes you didn’t even realize that you wanted right now. All things told, the Dries collection had my favorite coats of the season, and there were so many options. Floral patterns, plaids, and psychedelic graphics designed by Wes Wilson, he of the era of psychedelic record covers and concert posters (Grateful Dead, Cream, etc..). The Belgians are coming out hard this season.
Kim Jones, a man who undoubtedly clocks over 50 hours a week designing menswear for the world’s biggest fashion house, still finds seemingly tons of time to see the world, and his travels often influence his collections. But this time around for FW 2016 Louis Vuitton menswear collection, Jones looked around him at home. What does Paris mean to the world now? How does its heritage affect the world and how is that heritage viewed by those outside it? And most importantly, how do we push Paris and all its inherent ideas into the future? Jones answered swiftly, taking the most iconic of Parisian references, from Jean Cocteau to Art Deco, and employing them into garments imagined for an optimistically bright future. After the attacks in November, the show takes on a defiantly political tone: Paris thrives. The clothes here were utterly sleek, perfectly cut, and shimmering with promise. The belted trench coat at the beginning made its wearer look like an assassin after just completing a highly lucrative and expertly executed kill. A blue velvet double breasted coat was one of the best pieces Jones has ever designed. The clothes here were almost too spectacular to name one by one, so let’s just say that Louis Vuitton is still the historical fashion house making wealthy old men shell out credit and also making young urban guys want to grow up and get their shit together, trade in their Schott Perfectos and 501s for an immaculately coiffed double breasted suit.
When Rei Kawakubo shows up, you know something is going on. As was the case with Gosha Rubchinskiy’s FW 2016 collection. Though it is smart business for Rei to support her suportees (Gosha’s brand is manufactured by Comme facilities, but is not a “Comme brand” as in Junya or Sacai), you hardly ever see her in-person anymore. But Rei, as with many of the more forward thinking in this industry, sees something in Gosha. When he debuted his first collection, he didn’t have much more to offer other than sweats and hoodies with eye-grabbing prints on them. But there was something in the perspective; here was someone that had to work hard to learn culture, and is working just as hard to show the world his culture. He’s one of the true original voices in the industry. Now to progress his brand, the Gosha FW 2016 collection took on a harder edge, employing more types of fashions as well as more capital “F” fashion. The high-waisted jeans and suspenders brought to mind the sinister underbellies of the hardened skinhead while also celebrating a goofiness in self-presentation. Near see-through jet-black turtlenecks with Russian prints will fly off the racks of Dover Street Market. The cargo trousers had the perfect silhouette for such a pant, loose but not baggy and cropped but never tight. The outerwear, which Gosha is proving he has a knack for, was excellent. The oversized shearling coats were the type of coat you just want to live in all winter.
Haider Ackermann’s brand has always had this interesting aesthetic that seems like it’s designed for the wild child son or daughter of some aristocratic one percenter. The child who shuns the family business, goes to art school, takes tons of drugs and spends daddy’s money on records and expensive clothes, and still inherits his/her parents’ worth and stumbles into a board meeting one day ready to take total control. While wearing Haider of course. That is always what has made the brand cool to me, and perhaps why the brand is favored by so many of our most inherently punk rock pop culture icons. Tilda Swinton loves the brand, and Kanye has employed various Haider products (oversized velvet sweatshirts, velvet bombers, gigantic hoodies) and made them the new look of the fashion conscious hip-hop industry (Jerry Lorenzo’s Fear of God line is basically Haider silhouettes of skateboarding garb). Perhaps with that newfound relevance, Haider embraced his most abrasive inner wild child with the FW 2016 collection. While nothing new for Haider, it’s still totally unique in the culture of brands. The male models in the show, wearing Bauhaus Mohawks, wore mis-matched jacquard suits and magnificently garish velvet coats. The women, with shaved heads, snugged themselves into lovely leathers. The blue velvet pieces were out of this world, and immediately brought to mind the fetishizing of the material in its namesake David Lynch film. I want to wear some of Haider’s stuff badly, perhaps he could do the next H&M collection?
Fresh off a very successful collection with adidas (his Ultra Boost colorway was fire, I got a paid, woohoo) Junichi Abe has never appeared so confident in his design chops. The Kolor FW 2016 collection, though lacking in the color that you might expect, employed all the aesthetic choices that make Abe so compelling. Everything is slightly mismatched, a little off, and yet so right all the same. A multi-layered look with trousers, bomber jacket, and shirt, was actually one solitary piece. I’m not sure anyone wants to buy a pre-made outfit, but that is the level of skill you are dealing with when it comes to Abe. The most conventional looks, such as a droopy double-breasted khaki blazer, and the oddest looks, such as a blue plastic labcoat, all felt part of a cohesive narrative world. That is I suppose what is so interesting about Abe. Perception of him as a whole is of an artistic rebel in the world of fashion, but his clothes are quite normal and easy on the eyes. In person however, you find design flourishes that are more difficult, and even more compelling.
Few designers do post-apocalyptic fashion better than Rick Owens, afterall, he was the designer who kept Mad Max in vogue long before Fury Road collectively blew our fucking minds last year. But with 2015 the world’s hottest year ever recorded, Owens is legitimately worried that the world is ending. But he’s a tough guy. It’s easy to see Rick Owens as the Rick Grimes of his own goth fashion tribe, and he’s not going down without a fight. His apocalypse army will survive looking sick, of course. The looks oscillated between Owens touchstones, like his perfect minimalist bomber jackets and his brutalist man dresses, between works of great architectural care that nevertheless presented themselves as part of some eternal unknown. Perhaps the biggest shockers were the standard black blazers. But nevertheless, Rick is ready to take on the end, and he will have his acolytes going out looking tough and stylish as fuck.
While people swooned over the garish H&M X Balmain collaborative collection, I was happily picking up every piece by from the understated, comfortable, and elegant collection from Christopher Lemaire’s collaboration with Uniqlo. Lemaire, a former designer of Hermes, understands that luxury is not always (or for everyone) about standing out. It’s about feeling good and comfortable so you can stand out on you own, and let your personality do the talking for you. He is a true minimalist designer, finding perfection in blank slates and unique structures. His FW 2016 collection was full of chalky and dark colored structured jackets and blazers, oversized trousers, tunics, and more. These are the types of clothes that I would most often like to wear, and their easiness is their inherent appeal.
Admittedly, I’m a bit of a Yojhi nut, but I don’t feel biased in declaring this one of Yammamoto’s best seasons in recent memories (though the last one was pretty good). The Japanese revolution of designers has been insanely long-lasting in the ever-evolving fashion sphere. Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garcons is the largest avant fashion label in the world and she is the champion of so many of the leftfield designers of the future. Issey Miyake, though less involved in the design of his garments, continues diversifying in his brand. And Yohji, at age 72, continues to push the envelop. His Y-3 show was as interesting as ever, especially considering that Y-3 has been tapped by NASA to design the first ever fashion for space. But Yammamoto’s namesake brand has always been his ideal man, a cigarette smoking frolicking dark dandy with a permanent sourpuss. The FW 2016 collection featured Yammamoto at his most precious, with tiny t-shirts covering heavy outerwear displaying a squeezed effect inspired by when kids go out in the snow and their parents make them put on all their clothes. Everything was nicely draped. The scarves were sick. And as always, Yohji’s underrated footwear designs were some of the nicest on any catwalk.
Sacai’s FW 2016 collection, apparently about peace and love or something, displayed a stunning color palettes of greys and burgundies as well as black stripe pattern. Takahiro Miyashita the Soloist’s new collection, always inspired by rock n’ roll, offered some sly but wearable design flourishes, like a pullover MA-1. Ann Demeulemeester, now designed by ever-intense Sebastian Meunier, offered a romantic and gothic take on contemporary male beauty. And Thom Browne threw luxury in your face and then tattered it to pieces before turning it into luxury again.