In Paris, they're leaving room for interpretation

PARIS — Hammer pants, samurai pants, genie pants — the kinds of trousers you thought were gone forever were, believe it or not, the centerpiece of the Paris men's shows.

After the skinny, cropped, mankle-baring looks in Milan, the big news out of Paris this week is the return of the voluminous, billowy trouser. While not every designer sent models down the runway in knickers roomy enough to hide a bone-in ham, most of them offered their own take on the more generous trouser silhouette: high-waisted, baggy at the midriff and tight at the ankle.

John Galliano made the case with streetwear-inspired baggies; Yohji Yamamoto showed outsized military cargos; and from Belgian Kris Van Assche, who must have been the hardest-working man in Paris this week, there were Russian peasant styles bloused at the ankles for his namesake collection and zoot suit-inspired bottoms for his debut at Dior Homme.

Van Assche took the creative reins at Dior Homme in April after the departure of his mentor Hedi Slimane, and his decision to forgo a traditional runway show for a triptych of poised models in an elegant mansion on Avenue Foch had a "meet-the-new-guy" feeling. It also allowed for a careful study of the details; woven shirt button plackets, lapels folded with the intricacy of origami and jackets with asymmetrical button stances and silk shoulder detailing.

Presented in three rooms — representing morning, day and evening wear — elegant jackets, waistcoats and trousers were rendered in shades of gray and black with each model sporting a different, intricately detailed crisp white shirt.

Pants bore a multiplicity of pleats, draping into full-length ankles, which caused a blousing effect. It may have seemed that the 31-year-old designer was trying to go as far in the opposite direction as possible from Slimane's celebrated slim line aesthetic, but he explained the look had more to do with the founding designer of the fashion house than with his predecessor.

"I was inspired by Mr. Dior and the period he lived in: the '40s and '50s," Van Assche said. "Mr. Dior was known for his pleated skirts for women, and at the time he was making them they used so much fabric it was considered scandalous."

Van Assche said the time of Dior's celebrated New Look for women was also the time of the American zoot suit for men (and its French counterpart, a style known as Zazous). His update on the look was the most wearable of the wide, titanic trousers. He actually made them look elegant.

A military bearing

Yohji Yamamoto was one of many designers to riff on the military uniform this season, sending many of his models down the runway in roomy trousers that ran the gamut from nearly normal dress pants to drop-crotch cargos with buttoned-on outsize pockets and zippers and laces running knee to ankle and accentuating the calves. He paired them with drooping and draping military-style pea coats, trench coats and jackets in muted grays, khakis and blues (from dark navy to a light shade the color of U.S. Air Force dress uniforms). The overall effect was military fatigue, as in the toll it takes on the men in uniform.

For anyone who missed the point, Yamamoto added appliquéd white eagle wings and peace doves, military chevrons and slogans such as "I shall be released" and "I feel like going home" to various outerwear pieces — and closed the show with Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'."

Jean Paul Gaultier's collection was a pure camp romp through the military wardrobe, with high-waisted navy whites, WWI flying ace capes, Russian sailor hats paired with skimpy shorts and a sheer blue top, and knee-length jodhpurs with an insignia-festooned bomber jacket. Flowing silk shirts and sarongs came in an anchor pattern and enough silver and gold braiding to wardrobe a Sgt. Pepper's album cover. The most wearable pieces were dark denim jeans shot through with metallic threads and a blue double-breasted pinstripe suit with subtle gold braiding at the wrists

John Galliano, tongue in cheek, mounted a full-scale assault on the audience in a Parisian church strung in parachutes, camouflage netting and whirling airplane propellers. His models were warlords, mercenaries, Black Panthers and terrorist bombers, sporting ammunition clips, African keffiahs and attitude.

In addition to World War I military jodhpurs updated for 2008, the designer, who called his collection "Mad Max meets Venice Beach," drew on the baggy silhouette once popular among the streetwear crowd, offering it here in a knee-to-navel rise and enough olive drab, black, black-and-white patterned and gray fabric to construct a makeshift parachute.

He also mixed in shorts, underwear, leggings and T-shirts with geometric patterns reminiscent of Moroccan tapestries as well as his trademark black-and-white newsprint design. The bold designs, the black-and-white color scheme with occasional pops of orange, and acknowledged inspiration from both "Mad Max" and "Apocalypse Now" tinged the overt military aggression with a subtle '80s nostalgia.

Off to art school

Not everyone in Paris was working out military aggression issues. Paul Smith was one of the several designers this season to draw inspiration from artist David Hockney, including Viktor & Rolf, who presented a Hockney-themed collection in their Paris showroom. But Smith had the cheeriest — and cheekiest — collection of the season, which included bright blue suits, bold green-striped trousers, and pink and purple striped blazers and jackets with contrast leather collar and pocket taping. Smith's penchant for color went all the way to the ground and included shoes with a print that looked like vintage rosebud wallpaper and sneakers in bright pinks and oranges.

"My inspiration was the London art students I knew in my 20s," he said after the show, and that included Hockney, who moved in the same circles. "Guys who didn't have any money would buy these striped jackets and scarves at thrift stores and they'd paint their shoes red with a felt-tip pen."

Now there's a way to find your feet at the bottom of these billowy pants.