This year’s Paris menswear collections have, traditionally, been low-key, subdued brothers to their flashy, Kleig-lit, multi-million pound womenswear counterpart. But today, with Kim Jones erecting a Damier-checked Amish barn at Louis Vuitton, and Rick Owens hoisting an Eastern European punk band to the rafters for their respective spring/summer 2014 shows, you felt you were getting just that. A show. We also saw some quite spectacular fashions.
The barn backdrop gave a hint of what menswear designer Kim Jones was up to at Louis Vuitton – having been inspired by the yacht of former Vuitton CEO Yves Carcelle this time last year, for spring 2014 he looked to the house’s artistic director Marc Jacobs, namely his American roots. It really was as simple as that: Jacobs’ nationality was the catalyst for a thematic trek across the US, from preppy east-coast checked blazers to polished Californian evening suits, via Texan bandannas and Grand Canyon-ready khaki cagoules, with a hint of grunge, Jones spinning off luxury takes on everyday items in the same way Marc controversially did for Perry Ellis back in 1992.
But Perry Ellis didn’t have the resources of Louis Vuitton, nor Jones’ taste for hyper-luxurious trompe l’oeil. Example: his “plain white plimsoles” mixed lizard and python, tipped with silver hobnails; wind-cheater jackets were double-faced silk; cotton-canvas parkas came with hand-embroidered “tuffetage” badges and crocodile patches at the elbow. But it was only when the models sauntered up close that you realised the dandelion-clock and lily-of-the-valley boutonnières on the prom-king tuxedos were feather flowers hand-crafted by couture feather house Lemarié. In Jones’ tactile, intricate, subtle clothes, craftsmanship whispered rather than screamed. All the luxury was on the inside, in the feel. Vuitton was about the luxury of living, rather than the way you look.
It felt a world away from Rick Owens – another American showing in Paris. But Owens’ work is always apocalyptic rather than Americana. Even when he shows sportswear – as he did today, every monochrome outfit twinned with shorts abbreviated at the upper thigh and enormous foam-soled sneakers – there’s a sense of menace. Winny Puhh, a punk band who tried to enter Eurovision for Estonia, provided live backing. In fact, they were centre-stage, Owens’ model-army marching around them two by two as the band were hoisted to the rafters or spun upside-down. You had to see it to believe it. The clothes weren’t secondary to the spectacle, but they could never distract your attention. Rather, the whole thing felt part of one glorious sensory experience – a bit like going to a thrash metal concert, with a terribly well-dressed crowd.