Couturiers showing no signs of fatigue in menswear finale
Valentino's military theme and Haider Ackerman's opulence hit the Paris catwalks
The fashion circus has shifted once again, from Milan to Paris and the final round of the spring/summer 2014 menswear shows. It feels appropriate for the house of Valentino to open proceedings, not because they bridge the two nations – although as Italians who show in Paris they're a neat fusion – but because they epitomise a certain shift in aesthetic. There's a touch of couture to what they do, for men as well as women.
For next season, the Valentino designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli referenced "the subversive rigour of the uniform". That meant fatigue styles of navy denim, khaki and olive-drab cottons, and camouflage paradoxically designed to get you noticed. It wasn't especially subversive, but it was desirable, if a touch derivative at times. That was, oddly, part of its charm: the way Chiuri and Piccioli managed to synthesise elements that cropped up in other collections – like the flat-folded envelope bags banded in fluoro, contrast banded strips on suiting and Milan's prevalent palette of indigo – and twist them into something that looked fresh. Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue, like the matching his 'n' hers navy tuxes the duo took their bows in.
His 'n' hers is an idea Haider Ackermann always takes to heart – when he showed his first looks for men as a one-off in Florence in 2011, they trod out in peacock-feather embroidered slippers draped in brocaded kimonos.
In his first menswear presentation on the Paris schedule, Ackermann stuck close to his well-established modus operandi, satin obi-folded around the hip, dandyish fringed scarves and silk jacquards in Renaissance tones. Those colours – amethyst, chartreuse and a cloudy tourmaline – were the standouts, especially in a menswear season where boys wear little other than blue, although Ackermann nailed that with a succulent sapphire kimono-coat. The criticism? Squint your eyes and any of Ackermann's models could have been Tilda Swinton, an ardent Ackermann fan. Blurring genders is fine, but you hoped, from a talent like his, for a menswear aesthetic more clearly defined.
There are few menswear aesthetics as clearly defined as Raf Simons', who now shows his menswear on the first day of Paris to create the greatest distance between this presentation and his haute couture for Christian Dior, to be unveiled on Monday.
Simons' collection was relentlessly young, torsos elongated above spindly legs in the briefest of shorts, oversized multicoloured trainers an echo of the pumping dance anthems roaring out. The graphic designer Peter Saville, a Simons collaborator in the front row, would recognise the excitement of the Nineties' Hacienda days leaping from oversized shirts emblazoned with almost-nonsensical statements.
That all sounds brave and different from the rest of the season's menswear. It is. There was a striking sense of the exciting and new here, something exhilarating that will push fashion forward. Nothing old, or borrowed, or blue.
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