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Noble aims, fun and games, and Donatella’s Game of Thrones. Umit Benan, Saint Laurent and Atelier Versace, in Paris.

Alex Fury
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Umit Benan autumn/winter 2014

I’m not sure what to make of a fashion show that opens with a heartfelt (and loudspeaker-broadcast) declaration from the designer in question – thanking the audience, and his family, and God no less – immediately preceding an opening parade of models backed by Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have A Dream” speech. I’m sure it was all very emotional for Umit Benan, but frankly it left a bad taste in your mouth. It all seemed a little overblown and overpowering.

Benan dedicated his show to Jackie Robinson, the first African-American player in Major League Baseball. There were baseball references galore, fusing sportswear and suiting, a ‘B’ – for Benan, or baseball, or both – embroidered onto many jackets like a letterman patch. Benan’s model casting was entirely black, and they strolled out across a sandy ball-field behind a beaten-up wire-mesh fence.

It was a good show, and Benan has boundless enthusiasm and passion for what he does. Our eyes may have rolled, but very few designers would have the chutzpah to grab a microphone and thank us for attending, while also explaining en masse what there’re trying to do for next season. Even fewer would bound out whooping and brandishing an anti-racism banner.

Benan’s aims were noble. But I’m not sure it worked entirely. The trouble with tying noble aims to fashion is the simple fact that fashion is a business. It can look like you’re simply trying to tug on heartstrings and hawk something.

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Attenuated suiting at Hedi Slimane's Saint Laurent show

Does Hedi Slimane have noble aims? Probably not. But fashion doesn’t have to always have a deeper meaning. The motive behind his Saint Laurent show last night was plain and simple. It was about dressing men – well, boys, and the men who wish they were still boys, the kind of middle-aged men who wear lurex leopard tuxedo jackets, lurid teddy-boy drapes and brightly-coloured patent shoes with brothel creeper soles.

Hedi Slimane is 46 this year.

It’s pointless to look for themes in Hedi Slimane’s current work. “I try to explore what I already see on the street,” said the now-resolutely reticent Slimane back in 2003 (in a great, great video on style.com by Tim Blanks for their Throwback Thursdays series). And there is the consistent, persistent feeling that you’ve seen all of Slimane’s Saint Laurent before. There wasn’t much overly designed on his catwalk, bar a cape-kagoule hybrid, and the closing coat in herringbone encrusted with transparent beads. That brought a couture quality to Slimane’s menswear, something his first Dior Homme show in 2001 was much-feted for. The rumour persists that Saint Laurent will re-launch their haute couture operation under Slimane’s lead.

Slimane dresses men. Quite a lot of them, allegedly. And his aesthetic – based as much on hyper-skinny casting and styling as on the clothes themselves – is already proving influential. Yesterday’s Lanvin show was undoubtedly tinged by it. However, was there really much new to show for Slimane’s efforts? There’s a history at Saint Laurent of appropriating from the street, reinterpreting it and reinventing it as high fashion. That’s what Slimane did at Dior Homme, too. At the moment, there isn’t much reinvention going on. While the formality of his overcoats and slouchy suiting (oversized jackets layered over skinny trousers, mostly) felt new for him, they didn’t feel new for fashion. And, as the Parisian closer to the menswear fashion season from a talent who changed the face of menswear over the past decade, that is what people demand.

And so then, to couture. From Saint Laurent to Donatella Versace, who took Grace Jones’ Keith Haring-hieroglyphed body as the starting point for a Versace show that, she said, was about fragility. Fragility Donatella-style ended up looking like an haute couture Game of Thrones, cowls of silk jersey and snoods of diamante chain-mail festooning models. The latter wound up festooning guest of honour Lady Gaga before the clock struck twelve. There’s a Cinderella story for you.

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