Somber times abound in Paris at the moment, and this season's collection couldn't help but reflect that. While social themes are frequently cited as inspiration for collections, rarely have current events had such an overarching effect on an entire city's efforts. But, such was the case with this season's Paris shows. Not that brilliant and thoughtful clothes didn't grace the catwalks - they did - but, where Paris has been known as the home of the avant-garde, full of color and explosions of creativity, this season was marked by a somber turn towards the immediately wearable. This might leave some of the more aggressive fashion fans wanting more, but for everyone else; those who wanted to see what might inform their own wardrobes come this time next year, this might have been Paris's best season yet. Check out the five collections we liked most below.
Thom Browne’s most recent outing was his most macabre yet - more imbued with one particular theme than his eponymous shows have been in years - all the while remaining one of his most restrained. There were no clown-like get-ups or explosions of color that we’ve seen from the designer’s more outre experiments that have come to define his own label’s Paris shows. Rather, the designer gave us a more thorough, and wearable, exploration of the Thom Browne ethos. And the timing is certainly right; after all, it was just over a decade ago that Browne’s now signature silhouette shocked and awed audiences in New York with its severely cropped trousers and shrunken sport coats. So after a few years’ dalliance into the furthest corners of the avant-garde, why not bring it home and refine that early vision?
Browne's perfectly cropped suit and its overcoat variations dominated the show; all in black, eschewing the designer’s signature light grey. But Browne’s predilication towards perversion - of gender, of traditional suiting, of what a man can wear - still shown through in a much more subtle manner. The suit over a floor-length skirt-hybrid that marked one of Browne’s first decadent runway shows made its return, and it carried the same sense of transgression that it did nearly a decade ago. But the most stunning instances of Browne’s playful nature were the fur-trimmed overcoats seen throughout the show; at once positively elegant while teasing the idea of something more feminine - all shown to greater effect when paired with Browne’s short-shorts under a topcoat. All in all, this was a fine return to Browne’s deviant, and now more than ever, utterly wearable form.
Few labels today can match the marriage of brilliance with sheer wearability that we get from the creative force behind Lanvin, Lucas Ossendrijver and Alber Elbaz. When these guys are on, they are most definitely on. Having said that, this season marked one of their most thorough dissections of the male wardrobe to date. Rather than be mired in one theme or abstraction like so many designers this season (think: a honed-in focus on the topcoat or the rethinking of baggy, pleated pants), Elbaz and Ossendrijver did it all. There were, indeed, baggier slacks, as seems to be the theme in every city for 2015, but here they looked totally natural - a more tasteful approach to this new style, totally devoid of kitsch. And so it went with their topcoats as well: whether that meant the stripped down, neutral-hued versions that dominated the show, the aggressive fur number at the onset, or even the more futuristic, leather pieces that announced the finale. They were all drawn with an eye towards the future without ever forgetting that these beautiful clothes were meant to be worn.
It is indeed this focus on wearability that gives Lanvin its edge. By doing away with overtly creative flourishes, meant to showcase what a house’s atelier can accomplish, Lanvin has done something doubly more impressive: created a season’s worth of wearable clothing that begs to be lived in, to become part of one’s everyday life. And, for all the showmanship and extravagances that have come to define fashion week, particularly in Paris, finding that perfect, happy medium of the provocative and the wearable might be the most impressive feat yet.
No designer in recent memory has had to live up to larger expectations of his predecessor than that of Kris Van Assche at Dior Homme. Since taking over the reigns in 2008, it has indeed been a struggle. A struggle for the public to view the house as something other than the House that Hedi built, and a struggle for Belgian-born designer Van Assche to achieve the freedom necessary for him to build his own legacy at Dior Homme - separate from his eponymous label and distinct from his famed predecessor. At last, however, this mighty feat looks to have been achieved.
By abandoning esoteric references that led to thought provoking though not necessarily lust-worthy or even wearable collections, and focusing instead on the clothes themselves, Van Assche has finally reshaped the Dior Homme man. It was all supremely elegant, with the majority of the looks harkening to black-tie affairs, with just a hint of irreverence. The collection was defined by Van Assche's rendering of the suit; still skinny but not egregiously so. His black tie uniforms opened the show, coupled with the smattering of punk rock pins - two slight acts of that irreverence that helped to balance the seriousness of the clothes themselves.
Van Assche's experiment with formalizing denim, which was a curiosity last year, was perfected for F/W 2015, and looked positively handsome and, somehow, totally appropriate - an achievement of which many designers can only dream. And like most designer, Van Assche was not immune to the shearling extravaganza of this season, though Van Assche's take was sparse. A discreet lining on a leather toggle coat for instance - a cobbling together of three different outerwear beasts - looked positively chic, and looked right at home on the bow-tie and cummberbund’d model. Perhaps that is where Van Assche has found his nirvana at Dior Homme - in the chaos of combining things that, on paper, should never mix: denim over black tie, drawstrings on tailored slacks, the leather and shearling toggle coat, the punk rock buttons on a tuxedo. None of it looked out of place, and none of it could exist anywhere but at Van Assche’s Dior Homme.
The decade’s old DNA of the house of Balenciaga has finally succumbed to the design ethos of its new Creative Director. Balenciaga is now firmly the home for the forward-leaning, minimalist fans that led Alexander Wang to prominence just a few short years ago. Even though his eponymous label has taken to a decidedly different direction, with more color and flights of fancy than anyone was expecting, Balenciaga is where his fans of stripped down, futuristic basics now go. Not that there was anything basic about the collection, but all the design flourishes and accouterment that typically accompany fashion shows, has necessarily been discarded at the New Balenciaga.
The pants, entirely without flourish, lacked the baggy, lived-in quality of Wang’s own label, and were almost unnoticeable as they eased into the non-descript boots that each model wore. Wang created a look that refused to call attention but, whose utter lack of embellishment was its own calling card. Up top, fans have been treated to a variety of topcoats, all bearing some semblance to traditional wares but twisted and stripped down into Wang’s new vision of the house as to become something entirely different. The grey overcoat, like the slacks used throughout the show, was so lacking in embellishment that it’s stark minimalism was the focal point. Where Wang did venture outside these strict, minimal parameters, the story was told through fabric mixing and an exploration of greys and blacks, all piled on top of one another. The slight sheen of a neoprene varsity jacket, the shearling-like fabric on a cropped fleece, was all just enough to grab the eyes' attention without ever distracting from the look as a whole. Even the suit, with its peculiar closure, was a restrained, minimal exercise. Designers have been citing futuristic influences for ages, but rarely has it looked so good and so wearable as when in Wang’s capable hands.
Gosha Rubchinskiy has quickly elevated himself to the role of Russia’s premiere design export, and he’s not quick to let us forget it. The designer has pulled no punches in mining his country’s long and dramatic, and often bleak history for design inspiration. And this season was a further exploration into that territory, leading to his most diverse and triumphant collection yet. We know he has an ability to play with words and symbolism stemming from his home country; using graffiti-like lettering each season as his trademark instead of one permanent logo. This season, that was a combination of China and his own country’s flags, mashed together into a retro take on the staid Tommy Hilfiger logo. In the hands of any other designer this might have been too cheeky, the themes too delicate and real, to be toyed with as the logo for a fashion show. But Gosha’s sincerity and his mastery of this message made it so that he never approached the offensive; irreverent though, maybe. The rest of the collection followed suit. The baggy sweatsuits worn by the street-casted youngsters never seemed lazy or trite. They came from a place of realness, of Gosha’s formative years in Russia, and coupled with his design aesthetic lent them a fashionable air, underscored by the earnestness of the designer. It was only the overcoats that strayed from Gosha’s youthful Russia and into downright luxury. But, this too is part of Russia’s history, though worlds away it might seem.