Monday, 26 January 2009

Paris menswear: new life at old houses

From fusty and musty to shiny and new this AW09 Paris menswear season is all about who's breathing new life into the old French houses and the Germans and Brits are in on the act too.

This season's Paris men's fashion week kicked off with visiting German "house" label Hugo by Hugo Boss and now designed by Beligan designer Bruno Pieters - who is charged with making Hugo cool again. He looks set to be on course with a dark brooding colour palette of mostly black and white (set against the signature Hugo red runway) mixed with monotone graphic and optical print pieces. Very Germanic and very post-modern for a new take on the oft-referenced Kraftwerk look of the early 80s.

Meanwhile their efforts for womenswear have proved hotter than last season's it bag, so why not try the same for menswear? It's time for a roll-call of some of the most talented designers in Paris to expand their remits this season - as Antonio Marras at Kenzo, Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy and Nicholas Decarnin at Balmain all take over the men's creative direction of their respective houses for AW 09.

At Kenzo, Marras took his troop of young men off to Russia for a journey of military influences through the ages. With the usual visual feast of inspirations as his set Marras projected scenes of industrial unrest onto giant video screens along the runway with cartoonish communist imagery and landmarks such as St Basils along the way. But it was the way Marras expertly enveloped his models in layers of pastel military tones or delicate Japanese embroidery on outerwear producing a lightness of touch for such a heavy subject. Marras is very much at home for Kenzo.

And at Givenchy, Tisci took over from the obscure "design team" initially for last season and looks to be getting into his well known gothic, romantic stride, as with his women's offer. Focusing on fetishistic leatherwear and layering of textures, such as shine over matt, chains next to skin, cobweb knits or sexy lacing and thick wool cabans it looks as if Tisci has also found his comfort zone for the house.

Decarnin at Balmain was a quiet, exclusive (off-schedule) affair for a handful of buyers and press only. Still riding on the success of a widely acclaimed womenswear collection this spring, Decarnin delivered much of the same roughed up outerwear and denim mix for an expensive take on the 80s look last worn by boy band Bros.

Meanwhile Stuart Vevers at Loewe is following two seasons of hit womenswear collections with a new approach to menswear for the Spanish leather house. His is a quiet luxe approach to gentlemanly dressing using what he describes as a "louche" feel inspired by French actor Alain Delon.

While we're on the subject of another guest fashion designer perfectly at home in Paris, another newbie on the schedule is Jean Paul Knott for the house of Cerruti now in his second season. This winter Knott has focused on developing contrasting textures, a house palette of blues and more relaxed silhouettes - easy dressing for older men?

All eyes were on Brit designer Kim Jones for his debut at British menswear establishment Dunhill. He didn't disappoint with his approach to new traditionalism: "It was about taking the DNA of Dunhill and turning it into now - the leather, the white shirt, the Dunhill blazer." Strong points were the flat front tailoring, blazers and graphic panel knits - effortless charisma stuff. And he has years of fun to look forward to unearthing all those art deco vintage trinkets and leatherware items.

And it was about time someone got around to reviving one of the fustiest French houses of them all. Façonnable has been more popular in the US than France for years but not in a good way. New creative chief Eric Wright is an industry veteran having worked for Lagerfeld and Cavalli for years. His unisex vision for the house has luxury and comfort at its core and he has not lost sight of his mainstay WASP customer with plenty of shrug-on blazers, comfy cords and cosy cashmere knits. Describing one of his favourite pieces as a "preppy wool tuxedo" for "when you forget you're wearing something" Wright looks sure to breathe new life in fusty old Faconnable.

Lamentable news is that the rumour mill is cranking up again for Dior Homme designer Kris van Assche who's show for the house was in keeping with his new steady creative vision - all plays on volume and the Belgian's twist on relaxed tailoring options. How long will he last? The odds don't look good, especially when you find out that LVMH boss Bernard Arnault is bankrolling Gareth Pugh's first dedicated menswear show in Paris and you compare his gothic, slimline and edgy signature style with that of the much lauded ex-Dior Homme designer Hedi Slimane. Actions speak louder than words on this subject.

It's worth remembering the success stories of past menswear appointments still going strong at Parisian houses. Marc Jacobs can do no wrong for Louis Vuitton - especially with this season's take on "the travelling wardrobe of an African king"; Véronique Nichanian at Hermès who wanted to add some sexiness and energy to the menswear collection she has been overseeing for 20 years; the formidable rise of Lucas Ossendrijver at Lanvin with this winter's move into relaxed military looks and the exclusive domain that Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga rules.

I like the way The Fashionisto describes this winter's collection: "Unlike Raf Simons, designer Nicolas Ghesquière realizes that a necessity for the upcoming season is wearable pieces that will have a long life."(pictures from Hypebeast via WWD)

Old or new there's a wealth of talent keeping menswear interesting for this winter season.

Captions top to bottom: Hugo by Hugo Boss, Kenzo, Givenchy, Loewe, Cerutti, Dunhill, Façonnable, Dior Homme, Gareth Pugh, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Lanvin, Balenciaga

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