Mel Ottenberg and “Menswear Man” Conduct an Anonymous Paris Vibe Check
Last week, I interviewed the fashion writer Alexander Fury about the men’s shows in Milan. Monday, once fashion month had moved to Paris, I woke up with FOMO upon seeing that Schiaparelli had broken the internet with their latest couture collection. So I called a fashion luminary to discuss the good and bad parts of Paris, as I am in NYC and missing couture and the men’s shows. This man remained anonymous so we could gab freely.
MEL OTTENBERG: I’m in New York with major FOMO, so I’m on the phone with a glamorous, high-profile male from the fashion industry who shall remain anonymous so that they can speak freely. Hello, anonymous.
MENSWEAR MAN: You can call me “Menswear Man.”
OTTENBERG: Menswear Man. Let’s talk about menswear.
MENSWEAR MAN: You see a lot of headlines about this menswear month and the return of the silhouette, the return of tailoring, all these really boring headlines that don’t say anything. What’s really happened is that people are getting fired. The creative director is an endangered species and I think everyone just did the easiest possible show that wouldn’t get them in trouble in a recession economy where everyone feels like they’re about to get fired.
OTTENBERG: Loewe looked cool.
MENSWEAR MAN: Loewe was amazing. Jonathan has reached this God-tier where he doesn’t give a fuck and is writing his own rules. He’s also pushing things into an arena where it’s camp, but also conceptual, it’s all the good things you like about clothes at once. I think Timmy [Chalamet] was the big story of that show. People were just gagging about Timmy being there. By the way, the JW Anderson show in Milan was incredible. Actually, I think the headline of the whole month was these clogs he did, which were the same ones that the Princes of the Wales, Diana’s sons, wore as little kids, which is the most topical fashion item.
MENSWEAR MAN: How do you sense that in the air and just pluck it out of the ether like that? Only Jonathan could ever do that.
OTTENBERG: What are the other ones that we need to talk about?
MENSWEAR MAN: Margiela. It was a weird ready-to-wear-slash-men’s show. Galliano in his Galliano bag. Very London, a lot of plaid stuff. It had a bit of a Vivienne Westwood vibe to it, which felt like homage. It was very canon Galliano stuff.
OTTENBERG: Canon Galliano for Margiela stuff, it’s certainly giving you the thing that he’s giving you.
MENSWEAR MAN: That one was really all about the details, you know what I mean? All these veils and hats and layers and stuff that don’t really scream on Vogue Runway the way they do in person. There was a similar vibe at the Sacai show, which was also really good.
OTTENBERG: What was the vibe with Rick Owens?
MENSWEAR MAN: Rick was a real canonical Rick show. He was completely in his bag and he came out with a new demented boot. There were boys in capes, which I think is an item that needs to make a comeback in a major way. He also does the skirt better than anyone.
OTTENBERG: Yes, it’s a fierce, below-the-pencil [skirt]. You’re right, he just knows how to do a skirt. But I can’t see in these pictures what the new boot is…
MENSWEAR MAN: It’s sort of a rolled-up sausage-y version of his big giant heel that everyone’s gagged about. There were pony hair ones. It was a bootlicking affair. Everyone was there just being Rick’s piggy for the day.
OTTENBERG: Right. Let me see what else. Dior?
MENSWEAR MAN: Another artist of the male skirt was in attendance at Dior. R-Patz showed up wearing a kilt, looking great.
OTTENBERG: Yeah, for the record, you’re not against a skirt, you’re just against some wishy-washiness, right?
MENSWEAR MAN: Yeah. Rick Owens has made skirts for men for ages, and Kim Jones, it’s part of his bag of tricks. I respect the originals. But there was a lot of, “Hey, I’m going to make a skirt for the first time. I’m going to make a double-breasted, slouchy, Armani-style blazer for the first time.” You know what I mean?
OTTENBERG: Right, right, right. One thing missing from some of these shows is tailoring.
MENSWEAR MAN: That’s why I thought the reviews were so busted because it was like, “Oh, this was a tailoring year.” But I barely saw any good tailoring.
OTTENBERG: Based on these shows, where is an adult supposed to go shopping?
MENSWEAR MAN: There was definitely some adult clothing at Dior. The collection was cool because Kim wasn’t collabing the way he normally does. He was just making romantic Kim Jones clothing and it felt very sincere. It wasn’t in the headlines, but it was working.
OTTENBERG: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MENSWEAR MAN: Some of those brands that you don’t really think about a lot but are major were great, too. The Row had killer suits for men. I was at the showroom and I would wear every single thing that was there. The Lemaire menswear was killer. If you want 90s Armani vibes, that’s where you go.
OTTENBERG: Right now, you go to Lemaire or Balenciaga or possibly Zegna for that, and that’s it.
MENSWEAR MAN: Exactly. And ciao, no mas.
OTTENBERG: No mas. What else in Paris?
MENSWEAR MAN: I loved the Kiko Kostadinov show. He was serving weird smurf hats and stuff. My whole theory about fashion right now is that we had this really big moment of fashion as a mass pop culture thing through these iconic creative directors that are on the outs, or passed away, or whatever. Now I think we’re entering this era where weirdos are getting weirder, and they’re creating these cults of followers, and you’re either in the cult or you’re not. With Rick or with Kiko Kostadinov, they got more and more in their own wizard cave, and everyone who loves them ate it up. I feel like that’s the formula now.
OTTENBERG: Go hard in your thing and be a freak, and that’s what’s going to work. But that doesn’t always necessarily work. It works for Kiko, it works for Rick, it certainly works for Jonathan Anderson and Loewe. It doesn’t work for everything, right?
MENSWEAR MAN: Yeah. Because even the Jonathan Anderson thing, it’s like, you’ve got to be that dude to love it. I think that’s really what it’s going to be about now, this mega-niche culture, rather than the thing that everyone’s wearing. That’s what I think is interesting about Prada, because I feel like they’re still trying to be the thing that everyone’s wearing, you know? Like a white tank-top with a logo charm on it, everyone wants that. They can still nail that in a way that very few can.
OTTENBERG: Prada can still be really pop. I believe in Prada.
MENSWEAR MAN: Also, one of my favorite Raf archetypes is when he gets into this sleazy 70s thing like he was doing at Calvin Klein, with the long collars and stuff. There was a bit of Midnight Cowboy in the show, which read as Mel Ottenberg to me. In some ways, I could see you putting the kid who played Elvis [Austin Butler] in one of these long-collared 70s shirts.
OTTENBERG: I was getting a Godfather II vibe, like a Godfather remix for someone that was literally born in 2002.
MENSWEAR MAN: Totally. It was like Gen-Z meets the Carter Administration energy.
OTTENBERG: 100%. Gen-Z meets Carter Administration.
OTTENBERG: Tell me about that.
MENSWEAR MAN: I feel like it’s the best one I’ve ever seen, honestly. The floor length coats were so good. This pussy bow for men thing was so good. I think people kind of forget that you want to make clothes that make people look hot. And this was a show that really focused on and achieved that in a way that feels forgotten right now.
OTTENBERG: What was the gossip? What’s everyone talking about? Give it to me.
MENSWEAR MAN: There’s a ton of creative director merry-go-round gossip, which I think put this weird dark cloud over all the shows. Like, “Who’s going to be the next Alessandro? Is Balenciaga dead forever?” A lot of industry goss, but no one actually had any tea about anything.
OTTENBERG: Yes. I don’t feel that any rumor that I’ve heard feels believable. You know what I mean? I heard 6,000 rumors about Burberry. I didn’t believe a single one until I heard that it was Daniel Lee, which I heard months before the announcement. But I was like, “Okay, that makes sense. I’m buying it.” Nothing I’ve heard about Gucci feels real, except I do believe that they want a change.
MENSWEAR MAN: Yeah, totally. I also just feel like it feels very loserific when you gossip and no one actually has info. You know what I mean? There’s no tea, it’s just speculation.
OTTENBERG: Yes. It’s boring. Like, “Wait, why am I listening to you perform for me over and over with this dumb shit if you don’t know anything?”
MENSWEAR MAN: Yeah, exactly. I think it’s also why there was a lot of lukewarm fashion, because no one knows what the future holds. It was a tumultuous menswear month, but we did a big pallet cleanse at Schiaparelli this morning. I would compare the experience to a kind of modern day Mayan human sacrifice. You had the women dressed as lions. Everyone was wondering if the dresses were made of real lions, which I feel like is impossible in 2023, but also totally believable that the old couture ladies there would buy that. It had a very end-of-the-world human sacrifice vibe to it.
OTTENBERG: I heard that there’s people that are upset by the show because they think that it is suggesting the glamor of big gaming. Did you hear that?
MENSWEAR MAN: Yeah.
OTTENBERG: That’s the stupidest shit I’ve ever heard in my life. There were no animals killed, it’s cool, we’re good, move on. Don’t get your panties in a bunch, people.
MENSWEAR MAN: I mean, if you hate that, then you have to hate fake fur. Then you would have to say fake fur is a glamorizing fur.
OTTENBERG: Or even stuffed animals. So, besides Timmy and obviously Kylie today, who are the bona fide superstars that gave Paris oxygen this week?
MENSWEAR MAN: There was a sort of Usher revival tour happening at Menswear. If you told me Usher was the new market editor at Interview, I would’ve believed you, because homegirl was at five shows a day for four days. Really pounding the pavement. He had orange hair and I guess he’s doing a new Vegas residency or something. Usher at Rick, Usher at the GQ Party, Usher just hitting the ground running, constantly.
OTTENBERG: Who served harder today at Schiaparelli: Doja or Kylie?
MENSWEAR MAN: Doja. I mean, she looked like the new Covid variant when she walked in.
OTTENBERG: She was very “The Last of Us.” I don’t know if you watched the new post-apocalypse show on HBO, but she’s very that.
MENSWEAR MAN: She was giving. And she did the smart thing of showing up last. Kylie was already seated and then Doja came in last and everyone was like, “Whoa.” Also, Irina was wearing the same look as Kylie. I feel like there should be a rule against putting Kylie in something that’s also on another very famous person on the runway. There was definitely a kind of queen of the jungle standoff.
OTTENBERG: Yes. Wow. Wait, in a war of looks, who won between Irina, Shalom and Naomi?
MENSWEAR MAN: It was definitely close, honestly. It was like…
OTTENBERG: Do you like them or do you hate them?
MENSWEAR MAN: I’m obsessed with them.
OTTENBERG: I think they’re so great. Look at this sad world, we’ve got another gunman, we’ve got blah blah blah. Let’s live the fantasy, people! Come on.
MENSWEAR MAN: Unfortunately, I think you have to vote Irina off the island because someone else is wearing her outfit. So, bye.
OTTENBERG: Ooh, sorry Irina. But Menswear Man remains anonymous and is making the choices.
MENSWEAR MAN: Exactly. She’s voted off. Naomi’s a legend, but the wolf was too monochrome. I think the tiger on Shalom was unbeatable.
OTTENBERG: Were there any TikTok stars that really ate this week?
MENSWEAR MAN: I think I’m definitely getting hardcore Christine Quinn fatigue. I don’t need to see her at a couture show ever again.
OTTENBERG: Where did you see her?
MENSWEAR MAN: I’ve seen her places, she’s circling around.
OTTENBERG: Oh my God. So I’m missing nothing.
MENSWEAR MAN: No. Let’s get coffee in New York.