THE CLASSICS RECLASSIFIED. As the menswear industry goes through a period of rapid development, designers from the City of Light opted to reimagine the “classic” male attire for the season
Menswear is a hot market right now, with more and more brands putting in greater amounts of money and energy into their men’s offerings. And it wasn’t exactly hard to read a man’s thoughts when it came to wardrobe selections—until the last several seasons, at least. Or perhaps, it’s menswear designers and their unthinkable pieces that have prompted menfolk to venture into hard-to-predict categories. Simple collections of suits, shirts and trousers in neutral shades have been replaced by sporty suits, patterned shirts and colorful trousers. In short, the “classic” men’s look has become a field for experiments and boundary-pushing pieces. In other words, the spring/summer ’16 runway shows in Paris displayed ways to reclassify what counts as—or what will count as—classic men’s attire.
Of particular note was Dior Homme, with creative director Kris Van Assche at its helm. After closing down his own label to focus more on his work for the French brand, he took on the challenge of making the brand’s signature tailoring more relevant. “There is an insistence on the ‘Frenchness’ of Dior, both the man and the house, and what that symbolizes. At the same time, the collection could be seen as an exploration of sportswear; from its traditional roots to its contemporary incarnation,” he explained. This combination of French style with sportswear was immediately apparent in multi-zipped trousers, MA-1 jackets and nylon parkas. Nothing looked exceptional, trend-wise, but the collection summed up nicely what a man wants to wear these days: essential pieces in newer silhouettes and more playful fabrics.
Dreaming up similar bourgeois flairs was Véronique Nichanian from Hermès—although, obviously, this is nothing new for the brand. Her collections rarely carry specific themes, but always turn out smart, subtle and simple. These are clothes meant for men who would rather enjoy the luxury of such sartorial masterpieces as opposed to showing them off. As one of the longest—serving creative directors for menswear, Nichanian has an unmistakable grasp for subtle breakthroughs and effortless elegance like no other. This season, she added elastic detailing on a blouson, made a hoodie out of real leather and cut boxy T-shits from a smooth suede-like fabric. When put together under well-thought-out styling direction, the pieces created a strong wardrobe that will suit any modern flâneur.
“These are clothes meant for men who would rather enjoy the luxury of such sartorial masterpieces as opposed to showing them off”
Now, Kris Van Assche designed with a Frenchman in mind while Véronique Nichanian explored technicality for the subtle-yet-stylish bourgeois, and both of them consistently rolled out traditional pieces. Paul Smith, however, referenced a different kind of classical look—that of musicians. In a collection that celebrates individuality and bold characters, he masterfully showcased his aptitude for tailoring—from straight-cut suits to loose blazers, double-breasted jackets with shoulder pads, extra-long suit jackets and even cropped jackets. He explored shapes, colors and textures, but he also delved into the personalities associated with these concepts, such as David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and David Hockney.
A more current and literal reference to musicians, though, struck a loud chord at Saint Laurent. The audacious and willful then-creative director Hedi Slimane dubbed the collection, “A Tribute to Contemporary Californian Surf Music Culture,” a personal homage to his hometown. However, what filled the runway was, quite fittingly to imagine, an amalgamation of tortured artists: patchwork-sewn leather jackets, smudgy white sneakers and mismatched patterns in one ensemble—in a phrase, rather kitschy items one would scrap together when looking for items at a downtown thrift store. For those inured to Parisian styling that favors “less is more” approach, this collection could be a cringe-worthy catwalk surprise. But what Saint Laurent may have lacked in simplicity and uniformity of patterns, it more than made up for in attitude; and relevantly, that is what the previously “classic” brand is known for these days.
In the hands of Olivier Rousteing at Balmain, who for the first time held a runway show instead of a presentation, redefined classics meant braggadocio in exaggerated shapes and a maximalist approach. The young designer has been relying on the house’s signature aesthetics while also injecting a heavy dose of youth into his womenswear designs. The latter was also quite prominent in his installments for men. Opened by one of the industry’s top male models, Sean O’Pry, Balmain’s show exuberantly featured a series of reimagined safari attire. It was quite obvious that Rousteing held nothing back this time, as strong shoulders, woven details over safari jackets, bulky strappy sandals and manipulated leather jackets were paraded on the runway.
Still, the world of fashion has always loved surprises and shocking twists. Riccardo Tisci, for one, is an expert at this and opted to feature one of the most iconic figures of all time: Jesus. Tisci envisioned his set in the form of a cage, a form of confinement that perhaps may limit masculinity, and of an incarcerated male figure who is unable to freely express himself. He then got in touch with his Catholic roots by highlighting Jesus. The real (and less conceptual) show-stealer was, however, a knitted skirt with slits that dangled effortlessly under loose tops, resulting in boxy but still pleasing silhouettes. The denim pieces also stood out quite a bit. What was once a utilitarian garment has become a series of thoughtfully designed separates that still exude that cool, effortless, rebellious nature of denim.
On Louis Vuitton’s decidedly smaller runway, the season was presented in grand fashion with a range of solid statement pieces. There was a poetic leitmotif in Kim Jones’ collection, and it was translated beautifully into technically challenging pieces like a jacket made from Kobe Leather. Then, there were luscious satin jackets, shirts and shorts embroidered with Asian iconography such as bamboos, birds of paradise and monkeys. What was also interesting is the way Jones portrayed a mix of cultural references sans the awkwardness: American workwear with Japanese elements and keffiyeh-like scarves colored in shades of indigo. Topping off these looks with an air of laidback poise were white sandals and sneakers.
In the same artisanal spirit, Lucas Ossendrijver of Lanvin formulated a collection inspired by the 1980s—a period defined by a new wave of creativity and liberation. Opting for a darker, deeper palette, Ossendrijver took lean shapes and gave them a slightly rugged appearance. It was thus that an oversized blazer paired with super-slim trousers shared the runway with, among others, an extremely loose polo shirt and a fringed vest with a rolled sleeve top. All of these were worn by noticeably slender and tall models who impressively made the clothes look contemporarily edgy. Stripped away from styling, each piece was an exemplary work of tailoring and craftsmanship. Reliable separates in brilliant cutting, complemented with ultimate versatility—this is what Lanvin is all about. And that is how one paints the classics in a new light.
A version of this article was first published in DA MAN Style spring/summer 2016. Get your copy here.