Top menswear designers mix cheeky with elegant

The new collections from Dior, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Kenzo and Louis Vuitton at men's fashion week in Paris showed strong trends in cheeky post-crisis optimism tempered by understated elegance.

"We're sick of the crisis. We want to have some fun!" said cutting-edge Belgian Kris Van Assche during the four-day event that wrapped up Sunday.

But the artistic director for Dior Homme, who also runs his own label, was not calling for a carefree revival of glamour.

Van Assche's aim with his own collection was "to embellish everyday life," he said, and his muse was "the man on the street," who "gets his hands dirty."

At the heart of British showman John Galliano's spring-summer line were some famous everymen and street heroes from the silent cinema era.

Evoking the familiar silhouettes of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, men in black wigs and fake moustaches walked down the runway in over-sized clown shoes dwarfed by a huge clock in the background as a wink to the classic films.

Galliano suggested workmanship and style could combine as he dressed Keaton up in a dazzling double-breasted white tailoured suit, silk tie, thin leather belt and added a discreet veil to his straw hat.

For Lanvin, the house run by American-Israeli Alber Elbaz and designed by Dutchman Lucas Ossendrijver, ballroom smart was out, and practical travel gear made graceful.

"The clothes are classic, you can wear them anywhere. We didn't show a single tuxedo this time," Elbaz pointed out.

Their suits were appropriate "for meeting your girlfriend's parents," Elbaz explained after a display in the long wooden-floored and book-lined interior of Paris's Mineralogy Museum, located in the beautiful Jardin des Plantes.

The natural setting was fitting as the man at the heart of the collection was one on the move, a city worker who divided his time between the office and trips out in the wilderness.

From a palette of autumnal colours, there were tight, knit shorts, an array of strap bags and sporty sandals matched with a suit or smart, boot-leg trousers - hinting at the future footwear for city workers in summer.

The aim was a "fusion of active wear and formal wear," to create an "active elegance" that was the "antithesis of laziness."

While Elbaz also cited the ordinary as inspiring Lanvin's unique combination of colours, fabrics and cuts, he stressed the importance of adding a touch of distinction.

"We all have different desires and don't want to see ourselves cloned six months later on the street," he explained. To ensure the uniqueness of their designs, "we added details, details, details" to colour, fabric and cut.

With these strong trends of practicality and the everyday, designers have taken seriously the high street as a source not just of business, but also of creativity.

Collaborations continue to multiply between high fashion designers and commercial clothes brands, the latest including Stella McCartney's designs for sports brand Adidas and Sonia Rykiel's creations for H&M.

But the strong trend of understated elegance did not prevent designers from throwing in a little catwalk controversy and playfulness.

"It is liberation for men!" Elbaz and Ossendrijver said when asked about the necklaces of iron tusks, chains, black stones and wood.

"It is the first time we use jewellery," Elbaz said, admitting they had worried it might be vulgar, feminine or tacky.

But "when women wear pants," Ossendrijver said, "men can wear jewellery."

Belgium's Walter Van Beirendonck also covered some of his hairy, stout male models with luxurious necklaces of pearls, and Frenchman Alexis Mabille covered many of his men with daisy broaches.

Jean-Paul Gautier and John Galliano blurred the gender lines further by including a male model with a very female silhouette wearing skimpy black underwear on their catwalks.

Antonio Marras for Kenzo ignored the rule book out completely and included a half dozen women for his display held in an elegant school gymnasium.

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