by Alexander Fury, Independent
Yves Saint Laurent once said "Fashions fade, style is eternal". That's a maxim his successor, Hedi Slimane, has taken to heart. Witness his first menswear show for Saint Laurent Paris, staged in January with all the flashy chutzpah of a rock concert. The clothes themselves? Leather jackets. Skinny jeans. Bomber jackets. Mohairs. They could have been peeled off the back of any indie boy from the past 20 years.
That isn't a criticism, it's an observation. And it's an observation that rings true across much of men's fashion. Because really, men's fashion is about style, about permanence, not ringing in the changes. Menswear at its best stays pretty much constant and consistent. When it changes too much with the times is when you get issues. Menswear is just about looking cool.
That's kind of what fashion is generally about: this is 'in', that is 'out'. In women's fashion, that is still largely dictated by the catwalks. It's a trickle-down. However, for menswear it's a bubble-up.
You consistently hear menswear designers opine that their ideas come from the clothes their friends are wearing. As well as, often, the clothes they themselves are wearing. Or perhaps the ones they wish they were wearing: Hedi Slimane [pictured below] is 45 years old, but his clothes reflect the aesthetic of a boy a third of his age.
That thought occurs, repeatedly, when leafing through A Scene In Between: Tripping Through the Fashions of UK Indie Music 1980-1988 by Sam Knee. The collection of images inside showing, say, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine and The Pastels, may have been shot 30 years ago, but they still look frighteningly relevant. The styles within also seem to have been picked over, hungrily, by contemporary fashion. Bobby Gillespie's polka-dotted shirt, fastened high at the throat, reappears at both Burberry Prorsum and Saint Laurent. The classic velvet-collared Crombie, a skinhead and suedehead stalwart, re-emerged at Prada for winter.
There's an argument, of course, that it's down to style – as a verb, rather than a noun. A polka-dot shirt and Crombie hardly scream subcultural nous, it's the way they're worn that really matters. But that's the rub. Burberry Prorsum and Prada, and others too, are drawing on those allusions. The pieces are consciously dishevelled. The look is knowingly distanced from fashion.
Miuccia Prada's autumn/winter 2013 collection was a triumph of clothes over fashion, no bad thing. That Prada collection wasn't about trickiness or over-designed garments. It was about a simple, honest man's wardrobe. There was a timelessness to the garments, the antithesis of fashion's biannual rehash.
Slimane's Saint Laurent has those elements, too. He has established a 'Permanent Collection' of seasonless items, sitting alongside his catwalk collections. It includes no less than four variations on the black leather jacket, a subcultural staple.
There's more. If these are clothes for the man Slimane wants to be – a teenaged rock star – he has, at least in part, achieved his aim. He is fashion's equivalent of a rock star; a rock star who dresses rock stars in the style of rock stars. There's a chicken-and-egg deal with Slimane's output. He apes the style of indie rock past – look at the images below, from Sam Knee's sartorial exploration of Eighties indie style – and then flick through a Saint Laurent collection. The aesthetic is identical, as are many of the garments. But – and this is a big but – they gain a new cultural currency when cladding the bodies of the 21st-century equivalents of The Vaselines or The Jesus and Mary Chain.
Ten years ago, Slimane published the first in his own series of books under the Steidl/7L imprint. The first was titled Berlin, the second Stage, the third, rather more grandiosely, London Birth of a Cult. All charted a fixation with youth cultures and their style.
His spring/summer 2006 collection for Dior Homme, the label he designed prior to Saint Laurent, took its title and soundtrack from the London band The Rakes: The World Was a Mess But His Hair Was Perfect. It was an open ode to the style of troubled English rocker Pete Doherty, pork-pie hat and skinny braces intact. Honestly, it wasn't about fashion. It was Slimane's great leap away from it, a leap that continues at Saint Laurent. Whether it's a leap upwards or downwards – for him personally and fashion generally – is for posterity to tell.
What we are left with, ultimately, are the clothes, clothes that don't maketh the man. Like some kind of cultural enfleurage, these styles have imbibed the essence of their prior wearers. If you wear this, you will be cool. That's the selling point of this menswear. And it comes with a suitably hefty price-tag.