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Paris menswear autumn/winter 2014: Cashing in at Kenzo, Dior Homme and Hermes

Alex Fury
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A builder-bright coat at Kenzo's autumn/winter 2014 show

Kenzo chose to show their autumn/winter 2014 collection in the former Crédit Lyonnais headquarters. Symbolic, maybe, because menswear right now symbolises money in the bank for many a multi-billion fashion conglomerate. China is the motivating factor, where menswear sales make up approximately 55% of a luxury goods market set to become the world’s biggest (as compared to 40% on average worldwide). Hence the fact that the winter menswear shows seem bigger, more extravagant and more confident than usual. There’s buoyancy amongst the boys.

However, that doesn’t necessarily translate into innovative product. Menswear consumers are perceived as a conservative lot. The luxury goods houses, by and large, aren’t out to rock the boat. They want to line their pockets. That’s the motivation behind a season that has seen a focus on tailoring and on luxury over and above experiment or excitement. Count the sheer number of fur coats and trims, the ostentatious amount of precious skins like crocodile and python, and the seemingly contrary proliferation of dour wool suits. A pinstripe is about as experimental as you get.

Of course there are mavericks, like Rei Kawakubo of Comme Des Garçons, who kicked back against orthodoxy with a show that literally punched holes in the traditional man’s suit, allowing ruffled shirt trims to spill out like poplin intestines. Her protege Junya Watanabe also made a strong, Seditionaries-style showing of slashed-up, laddered mohair and spiked mohicans contrasted with sharp suiting, like the bowler-hatted conservatives of England doing battle with King’s Road punks in a single outfit.

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A sheepskin coat from the Hermes autumn/winter 2014 collection by Veronique Nichanian

Hermes is a label synonymous with ludique luxury, but next season something struck a bum note. The massive fluffed shearling coats, Harringtons and pea coats with hems cuffed in calfskin and tender, featherlight leathers were typically Hermes. That is, beautiful, exquisitely-hewn and quietly but heinously expensive. All hallmarks of the house, and of menswear designer Veronique Nichanian’s tenure. However, there was something a little tasteless to catwalk tricks like a petrol-blue crocodile jacket studded with down, nose firmly thumbed at any semblance of practicality. That piece in particular felt like it was about the price-tag, not about the product – true luxury isn’t about flashing a lot of cash, but about obtaining something truly exceptional, irrespective of the cost.

It’s more an issue with the season as a whole rather than Hermes in particular, but this show lacked the ease of Nichanian’s last few seasons. Admittedly, sometimes it skews a little “Man From Del Monte” – linen suits and panama hats always do, no matter how hard a designer fights – but the relaxed confidence was this time too buttoned-up and self-conscious. Your attention was ultimately grabbed by the money on show, not the menswear.

Kenzo didn’t feel too precious. Which was satisfying. It didn’t try too hard, just showed great knits and sportswear pieces with a graphic, instant appeal. Kenzo isn’t high luxury – their price points under Humberto Leon and Carol Lim have been consistently accessible, opening the label to a new generation of fans. Arguably, those fans aren’t the most demanding. They like Kenzo when they do colour and print, clever sweatshirting, interesting fabric treatments. That’s what this collection delivered. A trio of bi-coloured knits – green against violet, pink against primrose, as bright as boiled sweets – were strong, so were plasticised outerwear pieces in hi-vis yellow and the collection’s key, cute motifs of metal cogs embroidered on togs, inspired by workwear, apparently. They worked, in any case.

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Lily-of-the-valley nosegays on every seat at Dior Homme

Kris Van Assche’s Dior Homme also worked, as a whole. Not the tailoring splashed with embroidered dim-witted Dior iconography (archive couture rose motifs stamped onto coats, Christian Dior’s superstitious charms of coins, lily-of-the-valley and “lucky stars” polka-dotting pinstripe suits), but the gimmick-free, honest pieces, like slope-shouldered cashmere coats and straight-up pinstripes. Those were inspired by Monsieur Dior’s own attire, a man once described by Cecil Beaton as resembling a bland country curate made out of marzipan.

Nevertheless, Dior’s suits were tailored on Savile Row, and blokes still want suits of that sharpness. Probably not chicken-pocked with blooms, though. There were also a few enormous parkas and MA1 jackets in khaki nylon thrown into the mix. God knows what they had to do with Monsieur Dior. I guess the New Look emerged after the war, just as the suits emerged from under those army-inspired numbers. But that seems tenuous. Anyway, regardless of the inspiration, the bottom line remains that they looked like the clothes people will buy, and wear.

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