We round up the best bits of Paris Fashion Week menswear AW16.
Photograph: Thurstan Redding
Ask anybody in fashion and they will tell you that Paris Fashion Week is basically the industry’s superbowl. The French Capital is often heralded as the birthplace of high fashion, and it is here that the industry’s heavy-hitters come to show their most recent work. This season was slightly different – the impact of the recent terror attacks still resonates across the city, an impact evident in Kim Jone’s patriotism at Louis Vuitton and Walter Van Beirendonck’s heavily political AW16 collection.
Ironically, it was these melancholy undertones that seemed to fuel designers rather than deter them. Collections were imbued with political messages, and designers were reclaiming their place as political commentators – by using their work to explore society and culture they were dismissing the notion that fashion is superficial and reinforcing its importance as a reactionary cultural dialogue. Not all of the following seven designers are political – some are simply brilliant at communicating their signature aesthetic, whereas others use clothing to explore the role of subculture in today’s society. Others provide alternative portrayals of beauty, helping to diversify the landscape of the modern fashion industry. Regardless, the Seven Wonders of Paris Menswear Fashion Week are all noteworthy in their own right.
COMME DES GARÇONS
Every season, without fail, Rei Kawakubo creates a collection that gets people talking. Her reluctance to provide soundbites and press releases only fuels anticipation and, most importantly, leaves every collection completely open to interpretation. However, despite having built a business empire which allows her to flex her creative muscles without fearing loss of profit, Comme’s AW16 Homme Plus collection was surprisingly wearable.
Kawakubo focused on traditional tailoring, creating long-line blazers with patchwork detail and leather jackets complete with epaulette detail. The armour-like effect of the jackets was in stark contrast to the watercolour florals that were screen-printed onto classic shirts; the collection was a commentary on juxtaposition, the ongoing dialogue between dark and light.
As is to be expected from Comme a series of floral headdresses (created by long-term collaborator Julien d’Ys) added an element of exaggeration, whereas the inclusion of the occasional skirt was a nod toward the debate surrounding gendered clothing that continues to dominate fashion press. The show also closed with a series of models poetically clutching fake bouquets – a nod to the ceremonial that Kawakubo is fond of (previous collections have touched upon weddings and funerals.) However, the real surprise was that everything shown on the runway was eccentric but definitively wearable and really quite beautiful.
Kim Jones, the creative director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear line, is renowned for his tendency to tell sartorial tales of his global travels. AW16 contained these usual references – black silk shirts emblazoned with the word “Voyagez” in gold script, but the rest of the collection drew inspiration closer to home. Designed as a tribute to Paris in the wake of the terrorist attacks that shook the French capital last November, the collection featured outfits inspired by military uniforms which were shown alongside luxurious fur coats and berets – a subtle act of patriotism.
The set design was in keeping with the sci-fi aesthetic introduced to the brand by Nicolas Ghesquière, featuring a giant steel cloud which hung above the runway as well as models that rose ominously from the ground. The classic Vuitton monogram wallets were also updated for AW16 – they were attached to black lanyards and worn around the neck alongside branded fabric chokers and dog-tag necklaces. Cossack hats and fur ties on overcoats completed the overall collection which, despite its Siberian sartorial references and futuristic Tokyo set design, had its heart rooted firmly in Paris.
WALTER VAN BEIRENDONCK
Walter Van Beirendonck is inherently political. It’s in his DNA. From the notorious ‘penis shoes’ that challenged social repression of sexuality to AW15’s plastic top emblazoned with “WARNING: EXPLICIT BEAUTY” that was eventually seen by millions when Lady Gaga snapped it up, Van Beirendonck is known for being outspoken. AW16 was no less political, entitled “WOEST” – the Flemish term for “furious.”
The plastic tops and the “Stop Terrorising Our World” slogan were revisited this season, shown as a response to the sickening Paris attacks that made headlines last year. These looks were part of a collection which clashed innocent imagery – think teddy bear face paint and fabric elephants – with spikes and chainsaws, a juxtaposition which recurs throughout the designer’s work. Elsewhere technicolour monsters worked their way onto leather jackets, whereas models wore gold chains around their neck and ears – from these gold chains dangled pendants which depicted toy animals holding machine guns. Van Beirendonck is one of the few designers brave enough to create such explicitly political collections – by using his platform to question the world around him, he continues to be an essential anomaly in the commercial fashion industry.
Few designers are as successful in building a universe around their collections as Gosha Rubchinskiy. The Russian designer has built a formidable reputation based on his sartorial explorations of youth culture – he even has financial backing from the enigmatic Rei Kawakubo, who sat front row at his AW16 show. Entitled “Save and Survive”, the collection featured the trademark references to Rubchinskiy’s homeland (Cyrillic slogans were printed on black sweatshirts) and the usual plethora of tucked-in tracksuit bottoms and oversized denims.
The real difference here is the casting – Rubchisnkiy’s boys (and girls) are inimitable, individual faces which stand out against the formulaic casting characteristic of high fashion. Some were punks with brightly-coloured mohawks and bleached bowl cuts, others were skinheads dressed in denim waistcoats and braces. Some were tracked down by the designer himself – teen photographer Tom Emmerson recently spoke to Dazed about how he met the designer at a book signing and was subsequently cast. It’s this element of personality that ensures that editors hungry for authenticity remain enamoured with Gosha Rubchinskiy and his trademark cast of teen misfits.
It has long been argued that the art of spectacle on the runway is fast disappearing. One man looking to disprove this argument is designer Thom Browne who, last season, commissioned the construction of a Japanese-style teahouse to house his twisted geisha. It should therefore come as no surprise that a grandiose country manor hosted the designer’s AW16 collection, which reversed the frequently-referenced narrative of deconstruction.
Instead of choosing to unravel the pristine, Browne instead sequenced the collection like a trilogy. The first looks on the runway were dishevelled – blazers had their hems frayed and unpicked, whereas a series of patchwork jackets were laden with moth-eaten holes. As the collection progressed Browne slowly began to reconstruct the withered aesthetic. Elements of luxury began to creep in; horizontal stripes on overcoats were encrusted with hundreds of tiny pearls, and the previous patchwork jackets reappeared with patches of fur sewn on. Canine inspiration also became apparent – small yellow dogs were knitted onto shirts and jackets, whereas dog-shaped bags covered in fur provided the highlight of a theatrical collection which stood out amongst its polished contemporaries.
Subculture has always been, and will most likely continue to be, an endless source of inspiration for designers. The likes of Hedi Slimane and Raf Simons have built enduring careers on its visual foundations – Dior Homme designer Kris Van Assche is the latest designer to incorporate subculture, presenting a sartorial pick n’ mix for AW16. The headwear, a fusion of peaked baseball caps and beanies, was a definite reference to 90s skaters, whereas the black nail varnish and recurring bondage stripes were an obvious nod to punk.
Tartan overcoats and Fair Isle roll-necks also made a runway appearance, offering some of the collection’s most wearable highlights. Black leather trench coats were another key piece, adorned with silver hardware but teamed with drawstring trousers and cosy knits to soften their severity. The collection was designed to mirror the sartorial habits of today’s youth – with the power of the Internet at our fingertips we can now research and immerse ourselves in various subcultures in a matter of minutes, incorporating their visual tropes into our daily lives. Van Assche is clearly a man that understands the importance of youth, creating a collection which, despite its nods to the past, feels distinctly forward-thinking.
Yohji Yamamoto has always done things slightly differently. Ever since he emerged as part of a wave of Japanese avant-garde designers in the 1980s, Yamamoto has been busy redefining femininity with his combination of fluid silhouettes and sharp tailoring – a signature aesthetic which remains in tact even 35 years later. This season, however, political statements were weaved in amongst the usual heavy knits and drop-crotch cloth trousers. The collection’s undisputed highlight came emblazoned on the back of a T-shirt – “Corporate Mother Fuckers.”
Tellingly, the collection came without a press release. Evidently Yamamoto prefers to let his work do the talking as opposed to providing written statements questioning the role of commerce and its suppression of creativity. It was significant though – just months after Raf Simons bowed out of his position at Dior due to its breakneck pace and Alber Elbaz was pushed out of Lanvin by shareholders. It was especially significant because Yamamoto rarely creates political statements; but AW16 was proof that, when he does, the industry takes notice.