- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2009

PARIS

Paris designers spurned the temptation to play it safe during the economic crisis, sending out challenging, fun and bold collections that went well beyond the basic, perennially marketable suit. Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto dared bankers to go to work in their PJs with a collection of nightclothes-inspired suits, while French wild child Jean Paul Gaultier served up jazzed-up zoot suits for the entire family.

Hugo, German suit maker Hugo Boss’ avant-garde line, fulfilled its mission with a bold display that married a 1960s silhouette with tailored, futuristic cuts to create a mod-does-the-Matrix look.

Even the most marketable shows, from Louis Vuitton and Dries Van Noten, had an edge that was largely absent from the recent winter 2009-2010 menswear shows in Milan. In those shows, the perfectly tailored sober suit reigned supreme.

Jean Paul Gaultier’s menswear-in-name-only show burst with energy, cheekiness and joy capable of sweeping away even the densest clouds of financial gloom and doom.

Men, women and children of all ages, sizes, shapes and colors skipped down the catwalk in extra-large Afro wigs and zippy zoot suits.

Straps that looked like suspenders confused about their mission in life sprouted out of trouser legs, cinching tight around the models’ ankles. Others fastened snugly around the torso like parachuters’ harnesses.

The children, who ranged in age from wide-eyed toddlers to skulking teens, were dressed just like the adults, some of them in snappy three-piece suits and top hats.

It was the first time Mr. Gaultier - who has mellowed since the 1990s, when he forged his reputation as the wild child of French fashion - presented a children’s line, under the title Gaultier Junior.

Mr. Yamamoto woke up the classic pajama set, dusted off the sleep and called it street wear.

Silky trench coats that looked like well-loved bathrobes topped oversized pajama suits in navy and white polka dots. Coats, in fuzzy flannellike wool, were cut wide - almost like blankets - and some showed flashes of contrasting white lining.

“I was looking for the very most luxurious moment, and I found it’s before sleeping,” Mr. Yamamoto told Associated Press in a backstage interview.

Hugo art director Bruno Pieters drew on mod and futuristic elements to create innovative looks that at once evoked monks, matadors and “The Matrix.”

Mr. Pieters played with volume, pairing slim-cut, Mao-collared sports coats or cropped, second-skin matador jackets with trousers that zipped at the ankle for a slim silhouette. Other looks went bulky, with oversized wool coats and low-waist pants.

Voluminous hooded capes that looked as if they had been plucked off a Benedictine friar gave the models a monastic quality that was right at home in the show’s venue, a 15th-century former monastery in central Paris.

American actor Vincent Gallo hailed the show - the label’s first menswear display in Paris - as “avant-garde,” adding that he was “startled a bit” by the show’s “extreme aesthetic.”

Though Mr. Van Noten’s collection of smart, clean-cut suits in drab and navy could be dubbed communist chic, the Belgian designer’s collection was, ironically, among the most marketable of day one of Paris menswear week.

Mr. Van Noten, whose use of ethnic elements and vivid prints has won him a cult following, pared down his palette for his show, which was held in the French Communist Party’s Paris headquarters.

The tailoring was razor-sharp, and sartorial details abounded - such as a single metal hook that replaced a row of buttons on a double-breasted blazer. Many of the overcoats were double-breasted, too, and tied snugly around the waist with matching wool belts.

Scott Schuman, whose fashion blog the Sartorialist has gained him a cult following of his own, applauded Mr. Van Noten for taking “a step in a new direction” without alienating his fan base.

“You’re looking at this, and you’re thinking, ‘I’d buy 90 percent of this, and the other 10 percent gives me something to think about and maybe pick up on later,’” Mr. Schuman said.

French luggage maker Louis Vuitton hit the road with an appealing collection of vacation-friendly fabrics, cut slim for an almost aerodynamic silhouette. Still, accessories, the giant label’s cash cow, stole the limelight.

Models padded the runway in tomato-red high-top sneakers designed by superstar rapper Kanye West, who donned his own pair - and a matching red scarf - for the occasion. The sneakers, embossed with Vuitton’s logo and also available in white, beige, black and blue, are to arrive in Vuitton boutiques in June.

The models also toted the label’s signature monogram luggage - embossed on monochrome leather - on foldable wheelies or carried shoulder bags made like soccer balls out of monogrammed pentagons.

Models looked as if they were preparing for a flood of biblical proportions as they skulked Yves Saint Laurent’s runway in all things cropped, from high-water pants to abbreviated jackets and truncated overcoats.

An overcast palette of inky blacks and somber grays dominated the presentation, which featured distressed but noble fabrics including cashmeres, silks and buttery leathers.

Could the insistence on abbreviation have been a clever trick to save on fabric costs in times of economic turmoil? Designer Stefano Pilati insisted the financial crisis had not actively influenced the collection.

“This house used to lose money, so I’ve always been very conscious of financial concerns,” the Italian designer told Associated Press. “But so far, if the crisis has affected my collection, it’s done so unconsciously.”


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