Fashion & Style: We could be heroes

Military style came marching down the Paris catwalks this week. Even Napoleon was there.

This season's military theme was immediately apparent with Sonia Rykiel's menswear collection in Paris, softened though it was with dandy- ish bow ties. The velvet jackets had army-issue patch pockets, and even a flash of electric-blue sequins on a leather belt seemed regimental. There were Savile Row-style houndstooth suits with carnation buttonholes and little striped scarves, and signature black sweaters with horizontal Liquorice Allsorts stripes - but worn with tweed sports jackets and distressed jeans, rather than the tight disco pants and white patent shoes of yesteryear. Rykiel also featured another of this year's big themes - that horrible New Romantic bootie, which flops around the ankle.

Traditionally, fashion shows end with evening wear. But Naoki Takizawa at Issey Miyake started back-to-front with tailored evening suits with blobs of cream-coloured stitching on the seams. Austere yet idiosyncratic, they set the tone for a collection of high-end tailoring juxtaposed with jarring details - rosettes on the belts and lapels, and yet more high- visibility seams. Again, trench coats and belted patch-pocket jackets reinforced the military feel, with khaki trousers laced down the front. Subtle styling created an underlying sense of melancholy. Verdict: convalescent war poet.

Newcomer Gilles Rosier delivered an impressive debut show on a catwalk of black soil at l'Espace Topographique, mixing sleek suede and leather jeans with enormous chunky knit cardigans in mottled wools. His high-collared bomber jackets and cashmere pants made good use of discreet, detailed stitching around the pockets. The collection was overtly martial, featuring Kevlar body armour and riding boots. DJ Michel Gaubert's soundtrack was equally sharp and focused, suggesting but never quite resorting to military marching music.

For fun, I wrote the John Galliano review before the show. "Cartoon pirates in scary wigs with Chaplinesque shoes, greasy semi-naked hustler types with lashings of eyeliner. Lots of fur and beading, couture tailoring, logo-festooned accessories," I predicted. "Bombastic finale, John takes a five-minute bow." Which only proves how wrong you can be, because actually it was more like 10.

Newcomer Stephan Schneider showed a low-key collection at the Belgian embassy, full of muddy, oily colours and cosy fabrics. Despite some fussy details - such as belted hemline jackets - overall there was something deeply comforting about his work, especially the grey chenille pea coat and shawl-neck sweaters.

Elsewhere, Yohji Yamamoto took the military vibe and gave it a jazzy and typically cerebral feel. His wool cashmere coats had fuzzy geometric patterns in shades of tan, rust, and burnt umber, and discreet daubs of cream paint - as if a painter had absent-mindedly picked up the garment before cleaning his hands. Sounds odd, but it worked. And I love the way Yohji is still pushing that skirt-over-pants look, yet with a sober formalism. Lesser talents lapse into self-conscious cross-dressing; Yohji's guys have the gravitas and elegance of urban samurai.

Unique in avoiding any hint of militarism, Sir Paul Smith showed a rock'n'roll inspired collection that paid homage to all things louche and Lizard King, with a soundtrack reminiscent of the late John Peel. There were python- skin jeans, a chocolate brown ponyskin coat, a sleek oxblood pony jacket. This was a menagerie of cheetah, leopard and zebra prints, with lashings of real furs and skins thrown in for good measure. The British rocker edge was emphasised by belts with Triumph buckles from motorcycle fuel tanks, and riveted black leather bags with the logo painted in white, in a nod to the traditional biker jacket. Not a belted trenchcoat or Nazi- style ski coat in sight. Rocky, but utterly romantic.

I take it all back. Every unkind word. Because at Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs proved that he can design beautiful clothes for men. The silver- grey ponyskin car coat? Fantastic. The deep black cashmere pea coat with naval braiding? Delicious. The belted ostrich military jacket with patch pockets, the silver astrakhan frock coat, the velvet jeans, the ostrich boots, the silk raincoat? Yes, please. Perhaps the military undercurrent has instilled a discipline in Jacobs' work, because this was a tight, powerful and restrained collection of elegant luxury menswear.

Equally impressive was Veronique Nichanian's strong, sexy and deceptively complex work for Hermes. No ponyskin here but lots of subtle and original treatments, like the mahogany calfskin coat with an oversized Prince of Wales check applied by laser treatment. As usual, Nichanian's technical mastery shone through a collection of exquisite luxury garments built from the simplest elements: straight lines and small volumes (think luxury meets Mod), a handful of colours (burnt orange, mahogany, sulphur, black), and distorted patterns (micro- and macro- Prince of Wales and houndstooth). The muted shades were contrasted with flashes of patent crocodile belts in electric turquoise, fuchsia and acid yellow, styled with typical insouciance by her collaborator Mark Morrison.

A declaration of interest. Last year I was paid handsomely to write a book on Dries Van Noten's first 50 fashion shows, so my assertion that he is essentially an artist who works in fashion, rather than a designer, should be taken with a pinch of salt. That said, this was a distinctly arty and undoubtedly brave show. A single shaft of cinematic white light formed the catwalk. No music. Cigarette-smoking models with the air of decadent 1930s Oxbridge students walked slowly to the sound of the novelist Paul Auster and his wife reading from one of his works. "It was a miracle, a genuine miracle," intoned Auster, as a procession of muted tweeds and felted wools passed by, enlivened by occasional exotics: snakeskin loafers, richly coloured ties, a single scarlet blazer. Some found it pretentious. I found it curiously moving.

Heralded last season as the Great White Hope of British fashion, Kim Jones produced a confident, upbeat collection of casual separates - tracksuits and blouson jackets, macs and sweatshirts - with a high-toned colour palette of white, pale lilac, mint, duck-egg blue, scarlet, petrol and putty. It was bold, young, camp and very commercial. But here the use of cashmere, suede, and alpaca took his fresh style to a luxury level. It was no surprise to find the New York designer-consultant-stylist Andre Walker, an acknowledged expert on menswear fabrics, adding the finishing touches backstage. "I wanted to use brighter colours than you traditionally find in winter menswear," said Jones. "Dark winter clothes are depressing."

I have the seen the future of rock'n'roll, and its name is Hedi Slimane. At Dior Homme, he produced the spectacle of the season. To a bespoke track by the young rock gods Razorlight, he sent out an army of strutting teenage Steve Tylers, all flouncy locks and cocky looks, with sequinned eyelids and knitted scarves tumbling down to cuban-heeled gold lame boots. This was rock'n'roll glam to the power of 10, a long, lean 1970s silhouette with lashings of sheen and sparkle. But amid the glare I saw dusty pink cords, floor-length hooded cardigans and killer black wool pique coats. The finale featured eight Adonis-like drummers atop 30ft gantries, beating out a thundering rock backbeat on black Gretsch drum kits, while a phalanx of androgynous gender warriors stormed the catwalk. If Slimane put together enough material for an album, the tour would be a guaranteed sell-out.

DIOR HOMME

ISSEY MIYAKE

RYKIEL HOMME

DRIES VAN NOTEN

JOHN GALLIANO

HERMES

YOHJI YAMAMOTO

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