At the end of the three-nations menswear marathon through London, Milan and Paris, it felt appropriate that Kenzo showed its latest collection in a circus, and in the round. Because with all its flashy showmanship, juggling acts and razzle-dazzle, fashion feels like a circus sometimes; and we often see the same ideas go around, and around.
Humberto Leon and Carol Lim are not only the creative directors of Kenzo, but the founders of cult boutique chain Opening Ceremony. So, they make clothes they and their customers want to buy. It's plain and simple. Sometimes it can skew too simple, but this season Kenzo just felt clean. They chose Hokusai's 19th-century woodcut Under a Wave off Kanagawa as their starting point, leading to sea-shades of blue, streaky cross-hatched prints like tumbling water, and a few digitised prints of the seascape itself, in multiple frames like a chopped-up film reel.
Kenzo's collections are clever because they don't try to be fashion – ironically, they step out of the circus. They're content to just make clothes. This was a canny, commercially appealing collection. It didn't take us anywhere new, but didn't purport to. Which is why it was so satisfying.
When you think of the fashion circus, the beleaguered house of John Galliano springs to mind: once the ringmaster, then the clown, now the dancing bear, reduced to a cruel shuffle for sadistic entertainment. Galliano's successor, Bill Gaytten, made a noble stab at creating something new for the label. He always does.The issue, alas, is that the house of John Galliano is tied up intrinsically with its namesake, and trying to buck against his legacy, as Gaytten did on Friday with jarring neons, baseball caps and simplistic polka-dots, can only be a mistake.
Hedi Slimane was another difficult act to follow – he left Dior Homme in 2007, to be replaced by Kris Van Assche, his former assistant (Slimane is now back, at Saint Laurent – his spring/summer 2014 collection closing the menswear season on Sunday evening). Van Assche showed his collection amid a maze of mirrors in the Tennis Club de Paris. It put you in mind of André Le Nôtre's formal French gardens; fittingly, as Van Assche's spring is inspired by "minimal baroque".
That's a bit of a head-scratcher – but really Van Assche wanted to collide the tuxedo and the beach. The baroque was evoked in metallic applications, or the foiled surface of a glinting blue macintosh. The beach was there in the length, suits bottomed by shorts spliced across the thigh. As models wound their way around the silver maze, slender silhouettes in shades of navy, merlot and grey, it was interesting to consider how Van Assche has quietly reshaped the Dior menswear mentality, from hyper-skinny teenage cool to something more formal, more French perhaps. Just like Le Nôtre, it's too rigorous, too spartan for some tastes. Then again, not everyone wants to join the circus.