Do fashion shows help sell a dream? When well done, yes. But although restrictions have been eased, and numerous fashion houses are planning to present to live audiences for the haute couture season in July, only a handful of labels opted to do so for the menswear spring/summer 2022 shows, with Dior and Hermès by far the most established.
The past year has proved that fashion shows are not essential to businesses. Many designers didn’t mention hankering after physical showcases while presenting their collections via film or photography. They had simpler desires, it seems. “All I want to do is to go to a nightclub and play really loud music,” said Louis Vuitton’s artistic director of menswear, Virgil Abloh, ahead of unveiling his collection.
A few hours before, Jonathan Anderson — who designs under his own name and for LVMH brand Loewe — also listed nightclubbing as one of the experiences denied to the youth of 2021. Both used bright colour, energetic cuts and sportswear to evoke the idea of raving, safely, in their garments.
Which, oddly, echoes the power of a fashion show — people gathering together to experience something live. However, since large-scale shows could be a thing of the past, designers are adapting. Abloh’s and Anderson’s work translates perfectly to new media, and Vuitton’s spring/summer 2022 menswear video has now reached 150m views.
So fashion shows aren’t essential — neither are expensive clothes. But both are, at their best, achingly desirable. Veronique Nichanian’s clothes at Hermès are invariably whisper-soft in their subtlety, and video presentations can’t capture the magic of seeing her clothes in the flesh.
She held her show en plein air in the courtyard of the Mobiler National. An outdoor show had the pro of a mask-free audience but the con of real-life weather. Just before it began, the heavens opened, demonstrating the water-repellent properties of Nichanian’s technical clothing, and spotting a few pieces of five-figure suede outerwear.
No matter, this collection was great and Hermès ingeniously integrated technology via enormous screens that broadcast models live to a global audience, as well as to those huddled in the rain in the 13th arrondissement.
The screens highlighted charming details, such as the metallic green of a zip-puller on a pair of canvas shorts, worn below a mouliné cashmere cardigan fading from peach through to watermelon pink, that could have been lost but make these clothes feel so special.
Admittedly, the audiences who will see these details number a few hundred: but the magic translates to retail. Nichanian’s work has immense hanger appeal. You’d notice those zips.
Nichanian also arguably pioneered the new mood of haute casual in fashion, which translates to items such as blouson jackets in crocodile and shorts in goatskin and loads of cashmere jumpers and cardigans, which she has been doing for years. It has also been the prevalent fashion mood for the past 12 months as designers have shied away from suits, given that many people may rarely visit the office again.
So it was surprising there was something of a tailoring revival in Paris: Bruno Sialelli at Lanvin showed desirable slouchy styles in Duran Duran pastels and couture fabrics; Luke and Lucie Meier of Jil Sander showed “one and a half”-breasted tailored coats that looked much less tricksy than they sound; and Riccardo Tisci’s Burberry (showing digitally from London, but at the same time as Paris’s fashion week) hacked the sleeves off blazers to emphasise beefed-up biceps and macho brawn.
One of the most compelling came from Space Age label Courrèges, where Nicolas Di Felice, an affable Belgian who knows what he is doing, resurrected the house’s menswear with slick, sharp, youthful tailoring at its heart, including white coats with clinical precision and collarless Beatles-ish single-breasted jackets. At 37 years old, Di Felice seems to have interpreted the Courrèges menswear line so he can wear it himself, which means these clothes are down to earth.
Powerhouses Louis Vuitton and Dior made the most insistent argument for the return of suiting, albeit by evolving them with slouchy volumes, sports-influenced detailing and eye-watering colour, combinations that made them seem more like performance gear for a pop star. And perhaps that is the future of the suit, as dress-up clothes rather than a professional expectation.
Virgil Abloh, who spent a period of his career working with Kanye West, always brings a sense of occasion and flamboyance to his clothes — tailored suits and tracksuits alike. “The business is classic tailoring,” Abloh said, of LV. “There’s a tradition to uphold.”
But neither suits felt traditional, with tracksuits trimmed in leather and tailoring in neon green, or cyclamen, or white with scalloped edges like little teeth nibbling at the body. You didn’t need a close-up live show to see the details — these clothes grab attention.
“Dior is about tailoring,” stated Dior’s Kim Jones — and it proved the linchpin, albeit in peyote-induced hues such as mauve, burnt ochre, juicy aloe green and blush pink. Bright suits, in case you haven’t figured, are next season’s big thing in Paris. The silhouette comprised slouchy flared trousers and slender shoulders, jackets fastening high — and it was a mark of Jones’s skill that the shape leapt out, despite everything going on around it (not least the giant fibreglass cacti).
Jones partnered with musician Travis Scott to create a collaborative line, fusing Jones’s design skills with Scott’s personal taste. “Thank God he has good taste,” Jones said before the collection made its debut to a live audience under a multihued LED sky and a set that morphed from a French rose garden to a cacti-studded American desert (Scott was born in Houston, Texas).
Jones’s version of the saddle bag was reworked by Scott (it was doubled), and Jones’s revival of the 1960s Dior logo print was reworked to spell “Jack”, inspired by Scott’s record label Cactus Jack. It was deftly done, beautifully realised, fresh and exciting.
And outside, thousands of screaming teenagers thronged the Dior venue trying to get a peek at their idol — and were probably, suddenly, interested in a French luxury goods house that maybe didn’t register on their radar before. They may also now want to wear a neon suit. Simple.
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