PARIS — Everyone was so hungry for togetherness, after a year of serial lockdowns, that Paris last week seemed on the verge of exploding. Corner bars were packed, both inside and out, and so were the open-air bars on the banks of the Seine, the thump of house music reverberating against mossed stone walls. The ambient sound was of people shedding pent-up fear and anxiety with laughter and dancing.
Drinking seemed to help. Soon after President Emmanuel Macron eased restrictions on social gatherings and masking, the vase-shaped trash receptacles in the gardens of the Palais-Royal were so overflowing with Heineken empties and spent Champagne magnums that they resembled some kind of queer Parisian bouquet.
It was against this backdrop that fashion’s so-called system stirred to life again, with a few designers venturing out of their digital caves to mount live shows that instantaneously attracted hordes of young pretties of either — or any — gender disporting themselves in their glad rags.
We all know that a lot of people spent the last year dreaming about what they’d wear when they could dress up again. From the perspective of this observer, their efforts were as, if not more, exciting to observe than a lot of what was presented on video or live on runways.
That is no fault of the designers, who have been forced to create clothes for an uncertain, if not imaginary, future.
Plenty of polished stuff was turned out, like Kim Jones’s collection for Dior Men, created in collaboration with the multi-hyphenated 29-year-old hip-hop personage Travis Scott. Held in a huge tent, just as in the Before Times, set up behind Les Invalides — where Napoleon is entombed — the show reanimated almost overnight the countless creative, technical and subsidiary service trades that contribute to the creation of a runway show.
The set was ostensibly a reference to the landscapes of Mr. Scott’s Texan boyhood. At least that is how the European press interpreted the pink-sky setup. A big bleached steer skull stood at the head of the runway; ghostly faux saguaro were installed here and there and the overall palette was reminiscent of the Southwest desert. Mr. Scott grew up in suburban Houston, which, last one heard, was a place of subtropical humidity, creeping kudzu and recurrent coastal flooding — at any rate, a far cry from Monument Valley.
Never mind that. The collection leaned heavily on a slick take on suiting, Frenchly elegant in the turned up ’70s lapels, and impractically full trousers that dragged on the ground and that were ornamented at the side seams with Navajo concha details.
In an evident nod to the trend for men, particularly the more adventurous among hip-hop artists, to turn up at the Grammys, on talk shows, “Saturday Night Live” and in live performance wearing dresses, there was a good deal of emphasis on skorts. The problem with skorts — aside from the ghastly neologism — is that they’re a Goldilocks solution. If a masculine-leaning person feels an urgent desire to wear skirts in public, the least such person can do is be a man about it and commit.
Virgil Abloh did so at Louis Vuitton, where, very much in the manner of the deejaying that is his longtime side hustle, he barreled wholeheartedly into quotation. He titled the show “Amen Break” and went on to preach from the gospel of appropriation. Mr. Abloh’s commercial success at Vuitton has been so impressive (what corporate honcho wouldn’t kill to have a designer capable of producing $5,600 iridescent vinyl keepalls that sell like hot cakes?) that he has begun to dip with liberality into the genius Kool-Aid.
As if to inoculate himself against the copycat charges that have dogged him, Mr. Abloh framed his enterprise as a giveback. Pop culture has stolen so liberally and for so long from Black creativity that it makes a kind of sense that he would take cultural commons approach to other people’s ideas.
The problem is that this position serves corporations well and individual creators not so much. It might at times make for an amusing parlor game to trace the riffs Mr. Abloh adopts for his purposes back to their sources, which tend to be found in the design vocabularies of Rei Kawakubo, Thom Browne or the underrated Italo Zucchelli. Sometimes, though, he layers on his samples so densely — dresses, coats, padded skirts, puffers constructed like samurai armor, tie-dye suits, “Cat in the Hat” toppers, winter gloves for summer — that you long for him to lift the needle off the record.
And so it went. Riccardo Tisci at Burberry finally found his lane, something that cannot be easy for a designer who thinks like an architect and yet is employed by a global conglomerate with a bottom line built on trench coats and mumsy plaid scarfs. What one most admires about Mr. Tisci is that when he goes full bore into his Southern Italian heritage, he does it in an austere way, seldom caving to the clichés that have made Dolce & Gabbana godfathers of Italo-kitsch. Increasingly, he reaches into his toolbox for a plane, using it to shave off extraneous elements. Subtraction, it is worth noting, is a quality seldom seen in fashion since the glory days of Jil Sander and Helmut Lang.
Mr. Tisci lopped sleeves diagonally off a lot of the jackets and shirts in a show presented in a video ostensibly shot at some “Satyricon” seashore (actually Millennium Mills on the Royal Victoria Dock in East London). He made asymmetrical cutouts in tight garments and put guys in the unconventional halter necks that, in pure anatomical terms, are well suited to the broad shoulders typifying an idealized masculine form.
He kept the colors low-key, as he did during his decade-long tenure at Givenchy. Yet his enthusiasm for the return to normality was anything but muted. “It’s what we want today: expression, freedom, physical freedom; to be ourselves.,” he told Vogue.
It’s the pronoun in that sentence you want to take note of. Jonathan Anderson is 36, and Mr. Tisci a decade older. The Belgian designer Dries Van Noten is 63; the Californian Rick Owens is closing in on 60. To paraphrase from a recent New York Times obituary for Richard Stolley, the founding editor of People, it is axiomatic in fashion as in publishing that “pretty sells better than ugly, young sells better than old.”
Each of the designers cited understands that. Each created collections focused intently on guys just barely past puberty and in a way that stirred sympathy for a generation whose natural cadence was broken by the pandemic. Teen years, let’s remember, are like dog years.
“I was obsessed with this idea of a lost generation,” Mr. Anderson said by phone from London. “Thinking of myself at that age, I can’t imagine not going clubbing, meeting people, having friends, having sex.”
His JW Anderson show, incubated in collaboration with the photographer Juergen Teller, focused on the awkward, experimental condition of being a teenager. Precisely because the short pants, gym socks, lopsided sweaters patterned with a giant strawberry were unabashedly goofy, they made for a convincing design statement.
“I wasn’t that concerned with fashion,” Mr. Anderson said. “It was more that I was thinking about what clothes mean to people and how to make things that are playful. At the end of the day, I want to be that kid.”
In an evocative, genderless collection photographed in the fading light of day at a waterfront fun fair, Mr. Van Noten offered his refined version of the same idea. Before British Vogue made over Billie Eilish as a corseted sex bomb, she concealed her voluptuous figure under oversize clothes. Fashion in general has followed this trend, whether in the flaps that covered the models genitals in bathing suits at Prada (as in Edwardian times) or in the beautifully patterned slipcovers Mr. Van Noten draped over his human furniture.
Mr. Owens also showed his collection by the sea, live, and on the waterfront close to the apartment where he lives half the year on the Venetian Lido. In a phone interview, Mr. Owens explained his frustration at having been deprived for so long of real life encounters, of tactility, and of his hope that, as a culture, we will step forward into the future responsibly, not repeating the excesses of the Roaring Twenties (and of his own 20s, he was quick to add.).
“I hope coming out of this, we have some humility,,” Mr. Owens said.
His was a characteristically beautiful presentation, provided you find beauty in models draped in garments that look as if made to cloak some recently discovered amphibious species. Stomping across the “Death in Venice” shingle in the unwieldy platform boots that are his version of flats, models dragged the long, long hems of their trousers in the sand, all the while wreathed in artificial fog. The show was titled “Fogachine,” and its murky atmospherics reminded a viewer that, perhaps because Mr. Owens himself was raised in the dry, hot inlands of Northern California, there is always in his work a hankering for water and the sea.
In sharp contrast, the Bluemarble show was urban to its cure, held amid the strict Enlightenment geometries of the gardens of the 18th-century National Archives building (where Sofia Coppola filmed a lot of “Marie Antoinette”). Crowds of fans came out to support the 28-year-old French-Filipino designer Anthony Alvarez in his seventh show, an exuberant mash-up of street wear, elevated styling, tailoring elements and vernacular dress typical of Siargao, a tear-shaped island in the Philippine Sea where, in normal times, Mr. Alvarez travels often to surf.
“People are ready to connect again,” Mr. Alvarez said backstage. “They want to be alive, go out again, have sex, have fun, dress up.”
And it is true that almost nothing seems more welcome after a year-and-a-half of staring at ourselves in the dreadful unforgiving mirror of Zoom than the vision of exotic creatures. Perhaps that is what made it so joyful being in Paris last week at a dinner celebrating the Swedish label Acne and a new compilation of Acne Paper’s greatest hits. Held in the aisles of the Marché des Enfants Rouges, the oldest such market in Paris, the dinner featured on its guest list an assortment of fashion types: the designer Martine Sitbon; Ib Kamara, the influential stylist from Sierra Leone; Barnabé Fillion, the self-taught perfumer for Aesop; the British photographer Richard Burbridge (think Tom Ford campaigns); and, most delightfully, Raya Martigny.
Mx. Martigny is an Amazonian transgender model from Réunion Island, a tropical French department nearly 1,000 miles from the nearest land mass, Madagascar. At well over six feet, she undoubtedly commands attention in any room she enters. For the Acne dinner, Mx. Martigny appeared wearing a tie-dyed purple pantsuit not unlike one in the Vuitton show, with a plunging neckline and nothing beneath it. Her center-parted dark hair was and skinned tight to her skull. Falling to the floor behind her was a braid as thick as a hawser.
Periodically, she would give the braid an insouciant toss, somewhat in the manner of a contestant on a vogueing runway. If the category were Parisian realness, she left little doubt that realness had been served.
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