What does it take to dress like a man today? For a generation of eternally young men, it’s not enough to slip into a suit anymore. So the challenge for Paris’s top menswear designers is to discover just what contemporary elegance should be and how to incorporate the power and seduction of sport in a man’s wardrobe. The questions of gender, of battles with the soul, of what we were and what we might want to become were all on public display in these collections, which bristle with a desire to be true to oneself, seductive and powerful.
Fall’s black leather came through smooth and clear at the Sorbonne, where Stefano Pilati staged YSL’s “Sex and Money” show. A die-hard romantic, Pilati’s YSL menswear invariably zeroes in on a silhouette that stays in your mind like the last time you saw a loved one. There’s a pang to this sharp-cut tailoring. To reinforce the message, he supersized a skeletal razor blade on the front of one stiff, woolly sweater, and sculptured a vest into a flat panel in gray flannel held in place with a belt at the waist for a kind of sleek banker’s bondage. On a more down to earth level, YSL’s new daytime smoking has leather lapels to wear with silver bar brogues. It’s a balance of elegance and rough, evening tailoring and tough, casual style in leather mixed with wool—narcissistic, and devastating. The backdrop, a smudgy blackboard wall with the words of an Andy Warhol interview written, erased and written again, keyed to an electro-musical piece by Scanner in a Frederic Sanchez soundtrack with a voiceover by Sam Wagstaff, enhanced the obsessive mood.
Riccardo Tisci knows a thing or two about devastating. He pitched his tent with a transparent canopy in front of the gold dome of Paris’s Invalides, where Napoleon rests in his crypt and the Eiffel tower glitters in the distance. As if that weren’t enough, he spotlighted the dome in bloody red. And then he let loose his black, red and loden chessboard of men in short, box pleat skirts, thick satin leggings and silk long-sleeve T’s covered with armband stripes, red stars, hand-gesture photos and haunted houses, their noses dripping with diamond rings and feet in urban hiking boots. Oh yeah, there were also some traditional suits, pea jackets, graphic varsity jackets, and sleek crew-neck twinsets enhanced with necklace embroidery in black jet. For a generation of up-and-coming young turks who thought they’d never ditch their sweats and jeans for bonafide elegant menswear, this collection was another siren call to trade up.
Kris Van Assche at Christian Dior is on the casual/dress warpath too, but as a young Belgian gentleman, he has a much cooler hand with this task. His chic, olive drab soldiers, with hunting and jockey touches, look majestic, sleek and perfectly tailored with the accent on slightly baggy trousers. Dior’s solid color silhouette, which mixes traditional tailoring with casual and military elements, or turns sport jackets inside out to reveal grey satin linings, is disarmingly boyish. And when Van Assche throws in some snowy white fleece accents his men look like lambs. But these are grown-up clothes, and Van Assche, as he took his bow at the end of the show, is the perfect example of exactly how this collection works for real life.