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Polarisation at the Paris Men’s Shows

From Rick Owens to Givenchy, Paris fashion week was a study in contrasts, reports Angelo Flaccavento.
Rick Owens Menswear Spring/Summer 2023
Rick Owens Menswear Spring/Summer 2023 (Indigital)

PARIS — The Paris men’s fashion week that closed on Sunday was a study in contrasts: soft and hard, comfort and discomfort, calm and turbulence. Indeed, what we saw on the runway was as polarised as the world around us, from the serenity of Hed Mayner to the hype-fuelled provocation of Mowalola; from Rick Owens’ sudden eruptions of flaming colour to Craig Green’s soothing ascent into mind-boggling abstraction; from the celebration of the fabricated at Y/Project to a eulogy to greenery at Loewe.

This season also saw Paris fashion return to its grand statement-making antics. The most unimpressive shows were the most lavishly staged: spectacles so big one was left, curiously, with a feeling of emptiness. There was thick fog, loud music and models walking on water at Givenchy, where Matthew Williams continues to inject heavy doses of metropolitan cool and logo-lettering into a brand that’s been suffering an identity crisis since Riccardo Tisci left in 2017.

A model wears a white Givenchy embossed bomber jacket with relaxed fit and cropped cargo trousers.

Actually, in a way, we are back to what Riccardo did with the brand, but not quite. The merging of street and atelier is not enough to give this experiment meaning. One wonders exactly where this storied house sits within the LVMH portfolio. The group’s Kenzo brand, too, was a disappointment this season: an exercise in merchandising rather than a collection with a cohesive narrative. Its identity seems to be floating.

The Louis Vuitton show was an exercise in bottomless budget. It included a curling catwalk meets race track meets playground, not one but two marching bands, opening and closing the show to much fanfare, and a soundtrack performed live by megastar Kendrick Lamar. It was a lot to digest, but one couldn’t help thinking this was just compensation for the absence of a charismatic creative director like the late Virgil Abloh. Abloh’s presence, however, still hovered over everything, evoked in the show’s narrative and the accompanying rap. Authentic or cynical? One way or another, the bevy of special effects did little for the clothes, obscuring the work of the studio team who signed this transitional collection, which was fresh, poetic and light. From angelic tailoring to fortune-cookie bags, the action steered in too many directions, but its childish inconsistency was strangely captivating.

Louis Vuitton Menswear Spring/Summer 2023 Look 1.

For once, even the crane-operated fiery suns splashing down at Rick Owens felt a bit de trop, not least because at Owens it’s the clothing that typically does all the talking. The collection was a masterful exercise in monumentality and weightlessness, with ripstop fabrics and oiled, transparent leathers bringing it a kind of tangible materiality, while bright colours set the action alight more than the set. Owens is a creator of utmost discipline, devising a world of decay and collapse through exacting rigour. This season, his rigour came through in the angular lines, dramatic volumes and cinched waists. The effect was flamboyant yet strict, which made for a wonderful tension.

A model wears white trousers with a white body harness.

Some of the week’s most effective shows took place in neutral or completely white spaces, sans special effects. This was nowhere more true than at Craig Green, whose deeply poetic and puzzling yet infinitely soothing show was one of the highlights of the season. As the cryptic show notes conceded “Craig Green’s men have identified a distant new summit to ascend, obscured far from view, but somehow ever present.”

This translated into a shifting away of appearances and codes that started with white and ended in an explosion of colours, while tracing a path from childhood to adulthood and back again. The roots of Green’s work, both visionary and pragmatic, lie in workwear and this makes his musings, even when at their most abstract, tangible and effective. This season, his collection journeyed through horse riding, adventure, floating sculptures, giant prints and even the formal suit. All of this was sliced, disassembled and reassembled in a magnificent puzzle of pieces that did not perfectly fit back together, which felt innovative and emotional.

Craig Green Menswear Spring/Summer 2023 Look 1.

Masculinity, meanwhile, keeps drifting away from its traditional moorings to find new shapes. Hirsute men came in various states of undress, including bathrobe-covered nudity, at Louis Gabriel Nouchi, while Thom Browne inserted jockstraps between bon ton couture pastels and tweeds in a play with masculine and feminine that was as amusing as it was convincing, if lacking in real eroticism. Marine Serre opened her show with a beefcake in swimming trunks and then proceeded to dismantle the richness and layers of her vision in a show that felt a bit generic compared to past outings.

Thom Browne Menswear Spring/Summer 2023 Look 1.

Elsewhere, softness ruled. Hed Mayner took the poetry of the objet trouvé to new levels. A few models had earlobes adorned with tea spoons in lieu of drop earrings, while broderie anglaise bed linens were starched and transformed into henleys and open-back tunics, which were mixed with Mayner’s signature oversized tailoring and rethought militaria. The result was at once delicate and self possessed, and very personal as a result. Working in isolation in Tel Aviv, Mayner keeps forging a language all his own, safe from the ebb and flow of silly trends.

A model wears a relaxed fit white outfit with a long shirt and brown long belt and shoes.

Finally back to showing IRL after his Covid hiatus, Dries Van Noten proved a master of both subtly imaginative staging and masculine shape-shifting. The show happened on the rooftop of a parking lot with a postcard view of the Parisian skyline and featured a clash of Zootie and Buffalo, plus a foray into festive masculine iconographies. This meant lots of tailoring and bold lettering as prints, with a bevy of feminine touches with an underwear-lingerie feel. Van Noten has ventured into similar territories in the past, but this outing felt particularly fresh, feisty and timely.

A model wearing a white shirt and tie with pin stripe trousers and formal shoes. Layered over the top is a pale pink pencil skirt.

There was a new freshness, full of vibrating sensuality, at Lemaire, where the usual starkness took a delicate, androgynous turn. Bianca Saunders’ take on soft tailoring looked full of potential. Colours and lightness took a nonchalant turn at Hermès, and a playful tingle at Paul Smith. At Taak, extreme simplicity came with the kind of lyrical tone only Japanese designers truly master.

Ah, the Japanese: they never cease to amaze. All the big names were back in town, with the exception of Yohji Yamamoto, whose show took place in Tokyo, as black, deconstructed and poetic as ever.

At Homme Plissé Issey Miyake, the acrobatic performance of a group of dancers climbing on walls, running and stacking up one on top of the other, was not mere entertainment, but an extension of the ethos of a project in which the dress itself is movement. The collection was a fresh iteration of the formula, with pleats curving or running on the bias, colours bursting and silhouettes sweeping around the body.

Junya Watanabe paid homage to Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat, but also to Coca-Cola and Netflix, in what seemed to be a celebration of consumer culture and American pop art. It was all very museum gift-shop worthy, with a welcome twist. Rei Kawakubo, at Comme des Garçons, devised a posse of jesters dressed in puffy tail coats, tunics and trousers with pointed hems and horror movie masks. The soundtrack was “horror movie” as well, but the message felt anything but frightening: a celebration of free speech — that’s what jesters and fools were all about — much needed in our times of creeping obscurantism. Meanwhile, Junichi Abe brought Kolor back on the catwalk, delivering a collage of tailoring and sports that was energetic, served with the precision of one of men’s fashion unsung heroes.

Comme Des Garons Menswear Spring/Summer 2023 Look 1.

Greenery was high on everybody’s minds, and understandably so. The garden of the Musée des Archives Nationales did good to the Officine Generale presentation, enhancing the effectiveness and simplicity of a line that brings French chic to the everyday wardrobe, with gusto and finesse, to well deserved commercial success.

At Dior, gardening was the theme — Monsieur Dior loved gardens and flowers — but quite strangely the show featured a faux garden laid inside a tent that was built inside a real garden. Contradictions aside, the collection was a mix of Monsieur Dior’s Granville and Charleston Farm in Sussex, the cottage owned by Duncan Grant and the Bloomsbury Group, which meant a stylistic mix of gardening, outdoors and tailoring, with prints and jacquard culled from the work of Grant, who was an expressive painter. It was all very catchy, but also rather cold, despite the warmth of the inspiration, and despite Bloomsbury being a lifelong passion for creative director Kim Jones.

Dior Menswear Spring/Summer 2023 Look 1.

Jonathan Anderson likes a certain bluntness, but he always manages to give the audience a tingle. This season, at Loewe, he pushed things to a whole new level, creating a mind expanding dialogue between the natural and the fabricated, of the green and the digital. New reality is how Anderson labelled it, and it was a blast. There were garments and sneakers sprouting real plants — Chia and Catsworth — the result of an experimental process developed with Paula Ulargui Escalona. On other garments, instead, digital screens projected stock images of landscapes and natural situations, including a passionate kiss. All of this framed a collection of standard items given the Loewe treatment — lots of leather, lots of padding, plays of proportions — arranged into a compelling tech guy look. It made for a perfect integration of concept and product.

Celine Menswear Spring/Summer 2023 Look 1.

Ah, progress. There’s so little of it nowadays. At Celine’s return to the runway, fashion seemed to revert back to being just fashion: no concept, no message beyond the fashion itself, which was sparkly and skinny, androgynous and feisty, with early-80s new wave overtones. Wherever he goes, Hedi Slimane keeps doing his own thing, which is always the same thing, oblivious to passing trends and fads and the rhetoric of inclusivity. One has to commend such dedication, even though at times it comes across as downright anachronistic. Fashion, in the end, needs to progress.

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