Paris men’s fashion week took place during another of France’s notorious strikes. This time the protests rallied against the government’s proposal to raise the retirement age from 62, one of the youngest in the world, to 64. The youth-led fashion industry is one of many where older workers struggle to be hired, but some sectors, like France’s savoir-faire craft, rely on an older generation of craftspeople to teach skills to younger workers.
Craft at its purest
Nowhere is craftsmanship more embedded into the essence of a luxury house than at Hermès. For Fall, sleek leather separates dominate the collection, and were a joy to behold on the catwalk. When deconstructed, Hermès leather is made from only the finest hides, tailored into the supplest of calfskin trousers, blousons, jackets, bags and accessories. On Saturday, in the brand’s boutique in the 6th arrondissement, hordes of customers could be seen snapping up the Maison's luxury wares, which arbitrarily never go on sale. Queues at the cash desk kept the tills ringing.
One of the week’s strongest collections came from Saint Laurent, where artistic director Anthony Vaccarello anchored a new silhouette for the house, one that is long, lean and androgynous, and less rock and roll or the more predictable wardrobe for the night.
Blurring the boundaries between traditional men’s and women’s wear, Mr Vaccarello took a vertical gaze and elongated coats, narrowing tailoring with straight cut but billowing trousers, some exaggerated with calf-length knitwear worn over top to below the knees. A tuxedo shirt morphed into a pussy-bow blouse, a mainstay of the collection and one that sits equally well in a fluid wardrobe, where gender constructs in apparel no longer matter. In a collection that was predominantly black, Mr Vaccerello pioneered a new chapter for the house, one that will no doubt filter down to the high street in quick succession.
Ludovic de Saint Sernin
Another pioneer of men’s fashion is Ludovic de Saint Sernin. The French native has put sexy menswear into a progressively new orbit, one that is perfectly aligned with the current zeitgeist of being our unabashed selves, however that may be expressed.
De Saint Sernin’s bodywear is more than the usual hunks-in-trunks aesthetic, although they certainly appeared on the catwalk too, but a confident vision of beauty that denounces gender roles. A see-through embroidered vest top worn over a sparkly mini, seen on the catwalk for both him and her, is a case in point. Who decides the tropes for garments and gives them a masculine or feminine meaning?
Mr de Saint Sernin, who was recently appointed creative director at Ann Demeulemeester, will be translating his aesthetic to another brand where androgyny has long been at its core. Let’s see if he can bring an inspiring new narrative to Ms Demeulemeester’s more gothic approach.
Statements were big at Louis Vuitton, a house where its menswear is in between creative directors and a collaboration this season with KidSuper founder Colm Dillane is keeping the narrative front and center. Where Gucci chose to wipe the slate clean before announcing a new designer, Louis Vuitton veered in the opposite direction, high on narrative with less to say.
LVMH this week will unveil its 2022 revenue and Louis Vuitton is likely to emerge as the first 20 billion euro brand, say analysts. That translates into a lot of sold bags and accessories, not to mention added pressure on new CEO Pietro Beccari to keep the growth momentum going.
As for its menswear, the classic approach to timeless fashion has long been left behind at this house. Here, today’s youth are tomorrow’s customers, and Vuitton’s box of tricks is aimed solely for them, where the fashion is loud, either in slogan or print or messaging. If you strip back all the noise, what is left are well-crafted statement pieces, but they feel bereft of meaning.
Debuting her collection on the Parisian runway, only a fitting location would do, for which designer Grace Wales Bonner chose the Place Vendôme, the elegant heart of the French capital.
The show opened with a look featuring a black tailored coat with a sleek side closure, juxtaposed with a white sculpted upturned collar and brooch. It set a romantic tone for the co-ed presentation, which mixed sportswear, tailoring and eveningwear, but had the lightness of a confident designer coming into her own. There were subtle cultural references in the looks, including Josephine Baker, Art Deco and Maharaja nobility, but it never felt gimmicky, rather it exuded the poetic elegance of an era that resonates today.
Last year Ms Wales Bonner was named as a possible successor to Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton. The question on everyone's lips this season is who will LVMH and Gucci appoint?