PARIS — Unsurprisingly, there’s probably a wave of conservatism in the menswear shows here, a link that links legendary labels like Dior and Hermès, where designers Kim Jones and Véronique Nichanian produced fall collections that highlighted their design chops by doubling down on heritage.
An inveterate and lifelong traveler (he has often said that he works mainly to finance his wanderlust), Mr. Jones often operates within a geographical theme. Last season, it was a collaboration with Travis Scott, inspired by the rapper’s Houston hometown. (The collection was indefinitely postponed after the tragedy of Astroworld.) This time, Mr. Jones took a detour to safer territory and chose, for a 75th anniversary tribute to the house in Dior Men, as his destination – drum roll – Paris.
The City of Light of Mr. Jones was evoked as a place of Gallic elegance and sophistication with a decor that not only reproduced the gilded Pont Alexandre III bridge in the background, but also dug just about every French cliché on the postcard rack.
Think (beautifully) fitted coats in slate or dove gray, some with an intricately draped wrap over the front. Think blazer jackets with white overstitching and cut to reveal the seamy side of the fabric. Think suede Birkenstocks with a slingback pattern on the soles with the Dior logo. For God’s sake, think berets.
Admittedly, the berets were the work of Stephen Jones, the inspired British milliner who has worked with Dior for a quarter of a century. Admittedly, tourist shops along Rue de Rivoli still sell five-euro versions of this felt pancake for your head. But there’s no denying that Parisians wearing berets are rarer than Parisians walking down the street with baguettes under their arms.
Mrs. Nichanian also plays on these French idioms, albeit at an even higher (and more expensive) level. Season after season, she makes clothes suitable for the customers of a brand that started as a saddlery in 1837 and still supplies goods for a traditional coach trade. (Well, sort of: The company’s vaunted Birkin, the Brabus of handbags, has now been joined by the Rock, a new and beefed-up version supposedly for boys.)
The presentation was held in a national repository of furniture and against a backdrop of projected tapestries from state collections, before which Ms Nichanian spoke to some journalists about her intended ‘dandy effect’. It’s conceivable that this means a collection generally aimed at the younger guys, everyone in the company has tried to move from hoodies to suits. Shown here is one in a two-button calf leather with a wide leg that will make you wish Miles Davis was alive to rock one. Davis, however, would definitely take one of those cashmere silk scarves that Mrs. Nichanian took instead of a tie and tied it up outside his shirt.
Elsewhere on the roster were designers with all kinds of promises, but also with statements and ideas. At GmbH, Serhat Isik and Benjamin Huseby produced a finely tailored collection that, as usual, seemed destined to influence designers of much larger homes. For example, whoever released Virgil Abloh’s latest and predictably sad collection for Louis Vuitton must have been eyeing the GmbH runways.
Diversity is a signature of GmbH. So are references to Islam, here in the form of calligraphic texts in Arabic of the kind that Ottoman soldiers would tuck under their armor like talismans. In terms of ideas, Mr. Huseby and Mr. Isik consistently confront the tensions between their lived realities as racially mixed (Isik is Turkish and German, and Huseby is Norwegian and Pakistani), cisgender gay men, and the wider culture.
Unlike past seasons, there were few “unisex” shows and a degree of collective amnesia about the purpose of flipping gender binaries. That said, the GmbH show featured elements that could initially be read as cross-border (thigh boots worn with shorts under tightly tailored one-and-a-half-breasted blazers) until a viewer remembered that museums were packed with statues of leggy 16th-century dudes. in trousers, codpieces and tights.
“It’s the most formal fundraiser we’ve ever done,” Mr. Huseby told Vogue.com. “But I feel like it’s also the kinky and sleazy in a weird way.”
Hybridity, though of a different kind, is much more than a buzzword for British designer Grace Wales Bonner, whose award-winning work has consistently allayed the tensions inherent in racial, cultural and sexual intersections. In Mrs Wales Bonner’s collection, which was based on her experience as a mixed race and Afro-Caribbean descent, there were suggestions for a wardrobe for a return to a somewhat secluded space: the office. In particular, a denim jacket with a zip at the front in combination with wide-leg trousers with cuffs offered a plausible solution for a work uniform. Although Wales Bonner’s digital show was presented to both women and men, there was little to suggest about the need to make a distinction. Anyone could wear it, and that includes the skirts.
Looking back at this strangely liminal period—not yet crossing the threshold of a pandemic—two designers will likely stand above the rest for sheer edgy individuality. One is Rick Owens, who last week, sitting on a staircase in the Palais de Tokyo, made the following statement: “Men are pigs.”
His show, titled “Strobe,” was inspired by the designer’s recent trip to Egypt and featured models with hieratic headgear that were a cross between a Dan Flavin sculpture and a display panel at Just Bulbs. In many ways the collection was transparently commercial. (Despite all his catwalk antics, Mr. Owens is a scheming merchant with a brisk trade in innocent knitwear.) Balancing the bandaged metal and the bare shirt of Mr. Owens’ friend Tyrone Dylan were many shepherds and puffers. Some had Ming the Merciless shoulders, inspired by Golden Age Hollywood, filtered through the sensibilities of 1970s designer Larry LeGaspi. Some had a zippered hangman’s hood.
What’s undeniably cool about Mr. Owens, is how persistently he carves out his own distinct aesthetic space. The self-described “flamboyant small-town sissy” from Bakersfield, California has taken outsider and pushed the middle of the mainstream. While he was talking about this particular collection, he might as well have been chanting a credo when he remarked backstage, “I’ve decided to go straight to the Id.”
Likewise, Jonathan Anderson at Loewe has no problem facing the dominant culture. In this case, it was the fuzzy, butch-futurism of the ‘metaverse’ that he brightened up with a cunning collection based on technology that was once considered world-changing itself: fiberglass.
Mr. Anderson sent models from a bunch of colored ribbons dressed in sparkly bodysuits and sweaters lit from below with strands of LED lighting. As a funky counterpoint, he showed rubbery translucent flashy raincoats worn over what appeared to be Y-fronts; shearling coats with viscera visible; and T-shirts, the fronts of which are printed with faces, pulled over the heads of models – a fairly direct quote from those made by Matthias Vriens ten years ago for his label BL33N and sold at Colette.
As would be the case a day later with Nigo’s debut as the new creative director at Kenzo—a merry presentation of fringe-lined jackets, plush newsboy caps and pop graphics from home archives—the optimistic spirit that reigned at Loewe as fashion Xanax, a fast acting mood lifter that anyone could use right now.