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In Paris, Purity and Proclivities

The Paris men’s shows were charged with sexual energy, elegance and a nomadic spirit, reports Angelo Flaccavento.
A look from Y/Project's Autumn/Winter 2022 collection.
A look from Y/Project's Autumn/Winter 2022 collection. (Getty Images)

The latest Paris men’s fashion week, a stop and go mix of IRL shows and digital activations, closed on Sunday with Nigo’s debut at Kenzo, held in the Galerie Vivienne, site of the original Jungle Jap store, Monsieur Kenzo Takada’s first venture. Jean Paul Gaultier long had a boutique on Rue Vivienne, and staged some memorable shows, in his nomadic, sex-charged 90s heyday, in the same galerie.

Sexuality, superomistic elegance and a nomadic spirit were all over the place this season in Paris in a Gaultier kind of way. The quintessential Parisian enfant terrible might have closed his operations — save for haute couture and those best selling fragrances — but his influence is still felt, if not always acknowledged. Due to the pandemic, the sexualised performance of dressing up, with the aim of seducing a partner, has become increasingly urgent. The dressed body, after all, is more enthralling than the naked one, as it brings personal and cultural constructs to the materiality of flesh.

Gaultier was present, and quite brilliantly, in Y/Project’s co-ed show, which was impressive for both the size of the venue and the accomplished, twisting and turning of the collection. In a couple of days Y/Project creative director Glenn Martens will unveil his one-off Gaultier couture takeover, but this outing included a capsule that was Y/Project’s interpretation of Gaultier’s iconic trompe l’oeil prints of naked bodies splashed onto suits, tops, trousers, dresses. The effect was hypnotic. Meanwhile, his vision felt as sexually charged as ever, a layering of shapes and meanings that is infinitely seductive because it is hard to decipher right away. His men, in particular, are not afraid to delve into brash territory and come out as outlaw dapper dans.

Trompe l’oeil is having a moment: what you see is never what you get, which is a perfect commentary for our lives lived in the glare of our smartphones, and streamed for everybody to consume. Naked bodies were photo-printed in hyperrealistic fashion onto skin tight bodysuits at Loewe at a scale that was slightly smaller than the models wearing them to visually arresting effect. No one today can dream up an imaginative show quite like Jonathan Anderson, whose output is electrifying, mind-expanding and puzzling all at once.

At Loewe this season, Anderson’s journey through archetypes of male dressing — from the shrunken suit to shaggy fur to plain t-shirts and jeans — started from the fundamental question “what is real today?” and moved sinuously, playing with displacement (led lights on coats and bodysuits), proportions, absurdity (sinkholes as studs) and a vague brand of sweet-heartedness (kitten prints, padded heart-shaped shields under marinière jumpers).

There was a lot going on, but everything coalesced in one smashing punch. The goings had a sexual charge here, too: the jeans and t-shirt combos — as simple as that, save for the model’s face mirrored as a print on the chest — exuded a pre-AIDS insouciance, the feeling enforced by the on-site installation by artists Joe McShea and Edgar Mosa. Mounted on sand, the multicoloured shredded flags felt a bit Fire Island. À propos, jeans and denim are having a comeback in every form, with Ouest, the new endeavour launched by Arthur Robert, mixing to particularly good effect masculine practicality with flaps, aprons, metallics and other feminine touches.

When it comes to sexual charge, no one does it murkier than Rick Owens, the veritable Dark Knight of elegant sleaze and an auteur who, in his own words, designs fashion for elegant pigs. The captivating tension that runs though the whole of Owen’s oeuvre stems exactly from the friction between the pure and brutal elegance of the lines and the sense of blatant immorality that wanders about, a mix of purity and proclivities.

This season the goings got particularly dark, in a strobe-lit show that felt like a ritualistic parade of shady black-clad figures passed through a stargate opened between ancient Egypt and smoky sadomasochist hideouts. Faces covered with fetishistic hoods, heads decked in helmets that protruded into neon tubes (the camp B-movie touch is another Owens signature) wrapped in large capes, superomistic bombers, paradoxical duvets, heels and trains, these men looked like officiants of an underground cult transposing the designer’s experiences into fashion. Such autobiographical authenticity always reverberates at Rick Owens, even at the peak of abstraction. The elegance this season was particularly decadent, and intoxicating for that.

The tailoring at GmbH was hyper-masculine and hyper-sexy, despite liberally pillaging from the haute couture vernacular of Jacques Fath, in what looked like Serhat Isik and Benjamin Alexander Huseby’s most accomplished outing so far. By mixing religion and seduction, strictness and nightlife abandon, the duo hit a fashionable nerve with bold concision. Louis Gabriel Nouchi, a name to keep an eye on, turned the enjoyment of a night out — from dressing up to making out to the morning after — into a charming sartorial flow that started with a robe coat and ended with slashed briefs, all the while promoting a wider canon in terms of body types, thanks to stylist Marc Goehring.

Sexuality took a much more sentimental turn with Dries Van Noten, who presented the collection through a video in which couples passionately kissed, while exchanging glittery wardrobes of brightly coloured pieces and rethought muted classics. This was a poignantly timely outing for Van Noten, a designer who, even when playing with ambiguity, resolutely avoids excess.

There was a youthful, sensual tension at Hermès, too, as captured by the metallic Chelsea boots that ended under sharply cut pieces with a bold graphic allure. A nonchalant and charming nouvelle vague cockiness characterised Paul Smith’s new iteration of his very own classic with a twist recipe, while the purity of Jil Sander found a new freshness in the light-hearted mix of macramé, military wools and zodiac prints, and in the deliberate and exciting confusion of the tropes of day and evening dressing.

Nomadism was another strong story in Paris this season, ranging from the textural and abstractly folkloristic, as at Acne, to a stylish fight with the elements, like at Boramy Viguier’s debut at Vuarnet, to the wandering state of mind that’s so pervasive today and materialises in collections that spin all over the place.

Nigo’s debut at Kenzo had something tourist-y about it. Having a Japanese designer at the helm for the first time since the founder left generated a sense of reconnection with the label’s roots, but the truth is Kenzo, as a brand, long ago lost momentum. The wishful thinking did not translate into reality: the collection had something rather dull and forgettable about it. Nigo’s tour around clichés of French-ness seen through Japanese eyes — those berets; the schoolboy and schoolgirl uniforms — was a charming idea, but it did not translate into catchy or jolly pieces. It all looked a bit like a second line.

King of the collection spinning here and there has always been Virgil Abloh, whose last outing for Louis Vuitton, presented posthumously, was a musical cum fashion show. The angels at the end were a little de trop, but overall it was a touching outing, spinning from sharp tailoring to tapestry to more street-worthy pieces, with the charming stamp of stylist extraordinaire Ibrahim Kamara sealing it in a visually rich way.

Elsewhere, finally, Paris got strict, classy and sartorial. The sea of grey and the hourglass shapes at Dior were the product of Kim Jones’ ultimate collaboration: with Monsieur Dior himself. The outing felt like the designer’s best so far: quiet, somewhat elegant, devoid of unnecessary concepts, full of beautiful tailoring.

Hed Mayner is quietly growing into a fashion force to be reckoned with. There is both strictness and delicacy in the way Mayner explores the dialogue between clothing and body, allowing room and space between the two. This season the relentlessly big volumes in masculine greys were counterbalanced by quilted domestic touches, and it all felt fresh: a vision of evolved classicism for the world of today.

But it was at Yohji Yamamoto that the quest for a new formality reached a poetic peak in a feast of dandyfied elegance, bows and poète maudit slouchiness that was very touching and very Yohji. The more the years pass, the more the Japanese master keeps repeating his very own tropes: always the same yet always different.

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