PARIS — When it came to theatrics, the Paris leg of the recent menswear shows was as full as the generously cut trousers that filled the runways.
And, though the designers in Milan and Paris don't always mine the same trends, for fall/winter 2011 the collections in both cities were in lock step, focusing on outerwear (especially blanket coats and toggle-button closures), and, almost to the one, including a pop or two of vivid blaze orange. Among the highlights of the Paris shows:
The stage — and the table — had already been set by the time guests arrived at Thom Browne's runway show on the last night of men's fashion week here.
On one side of a banquet table that ran the length of the ballroom at the Westin Paris Hotel sat 20 behatted, bewigged and bespectacled Johnny Depp lookalikes (let's call them "Depplicates"). On the other side of a table loaded with a bounty of real food and a menagerie of once real but currently taxidermied animals were 20 men wearing white ponytailed cable-knit hats that resembled powdered wigs. An additional pair of stern-looking Mad Hatters sat at opposite ends of the table.
One by one, to the strains of chamber music, each model stood up and did a double, slow-timed lap around the table before sitting back down. The pace was glacial, but it was the perfect way to display a runway collection that was crammed with details such as convertible trousers with lower pant legs that unbutton (instead of unzip), short coattails that fold over and button to create a bow-like effect and longer coattails designed to button at the jacket cuff to create a batwing look.
There were a lot of new options in the trouser department, including argyle plus-fours and a pair of maroon-and-white horizontal stripe trousers that bloused at mid-calf.
Some of the Depplicates were accessorized with chunky argyle or cable-knit headbands, and others wore a variety of more formal hats — top hats and porkpies among them — also from the Thom Browne label.
Which kind of makes him the mad hatter of menswear, doesn't it?
The big question on everybody's mind going into the Thierry Mugler menswear show was whether Lady Gaga would be present, because it was the debut collection for the new creative director, Nicola Formichetti, who has helped shape some of the entertainer's more distinctive looks.
She wasn't in attendance, but the possibility was enough to pack the house with a standing-room-only crowd, which witnessed the rebirth of the label.
Rebirth because in addition to new creative blood at the helm, there's been a name change. From now on, the clothing collections will be known simply as "Mugler" and be accompanied by a new logo, both signifying, according to the notes, "a new chapter in the history of the brand." (Formichetti collaborated on the collection with new menswear design director Romain Kremer.)
That "new chapter" notion was also reflected in a short black-and-white film that accompanied the show, which began with a man peeling a black skin-like layer from his face and head to reveal a full-skull tattoo complete with the wrinkled folds of the human brain. The skeletal skin ink is real, and the man beneath it is Rick "Rico" Genest, who serves as the muse for the inaugural "Anatomy of Change" collection.
Formichetti, then, was letting us know exactly what he's done: He's peeled away the old skin, looked at the bones of the label and rebuilt from there.
So it's not surprising that the first collection would hit all the extremes. Some trousers were nearly skintight in the seat and voluminous in the leg, and others were padded at the ankles, like protective motorcycle gear. Jackets ranged from cropped cutaway length to mid-calf, some belted or nipped in at the waist, others unbelted. Some looks included free-flowing apron- or nightshirt-like tops, while one included a mirrored breastplate.
The color palette also ran the gamut from bright oranges to dark navy blues intended to hearken back to the Mugler of old, as well as black and white and some neutral tones of gray, tan and brown.
At first glance, the show notes for the Louis Vuitton collection seemed like a "Brüno"-level fashion prank: an exploration of Amish style with a hint of David Lynch strangeness.
But men's studio director Paul Helbers used the simplified, stripped-down design elements associated with the Amish as a way of paring the luxury brand back to basics and the Lynchian sense of foreboding and uneasiness to inject a sense of tension into a collection that was nearly all black.
The focus here was on cut and construction, with square-shouldered, peak lapel, double-breasted jackets; belted knit cardigans; puffer vests; and a feather-filled jacket that sculpted the torso like armor.
The presentation also marked the introduction of a new iteration of the Louis Vuitton Damier check called Damier Infini, which appeared on several of the bags in the show.
Instead of being printed on canvas, this version is embossed onto soft leather, which has the effect of making the less-noticeable cousin of the iconic LV monogram logo nearly invisible to the untrained eye.
Which might just make the new Damier Infini check the stealth luxury branding equivalent of the batwing B2 bomber.
Dries Van Noten's runway show was set in the main hall of the Musée Bourdelle, under the watchful gaze of immense stone sculptures — towering military men rearing up on horseback, gargantuan bare-chested archers with bows drawn and outsize sinewy soldiers with swords raised in mid-strike.
It wasn't by accident; the designer's collection was a celebration of the heroic and the gallant — what he referred to in the show notes as "manful elegance."
For Van Noten, that meant a mix of military influences — gold hand-embroidered details that evoked the notion of military braiding, belted trench coats, bandleader jackets, high-collared military-style shirts and full-legged trousers that recalled naval uniforms of another era.
But to that he added some of the sartorial touches of nobility: detachable fur collars and lapels, pagoda shoulders on silk shirts and jackets and luxurious camel car coats.
The silhouette was a bit of a contrast — jackets and shirts were tailored and trim, while trousers were full or oversized, keying into a seasonal trend, and the palette was grounded in the navy blues, blacks, whites and khaki colors of military-issue uniforms.
Framed by a backlit photo of the full moon hanging on the horizon at both ends of the runway, and accompanied by a soundtrack that began and ended with the strains of space rock pioneers Pink Floyd, Paul Smith sent an out-of-this-world collection down the catwalk.
Gray trousers, jacket linings and shirts bore a pattern that seemed to combine leopard print with the crater-pocked lunar surface; large polka dots on other shirts symbolized the full moon. Some jackets were made out of actual aluminum, while traditional tailored sport coats had collars with zip-in metallic hoodies that recalled the crinkly foil on NASA's Apollo modules.
Knit watch caps lent a '70s-era Navy vibe, and zippered embellishments around trouser legs looked straight out of Hanna-Barbera's early-'60s Space Age cartoon "The Jetsons."
Other offerings included toggle-button coats (hands down the hottest trending outerwear piece on the runways of both Milan and Paris this season), outsized furry jackets and cool-blue collarless chambray shirts.
Sure, "Black Swan" has made ballet a motif of the moment, but for his collection, John Galliano sought inspiration from a ballet superstar of another era: Rudolf Nureyev.
Galliano showed a collection that referenced key periods in the dancer's life, including his roots in Siberia, the rehearsal studio, his 1961 defection from the Soviet Union and finally his rock-star status on the world stage in the 1970s.
That meant a parade of Russian émigré types in layered coats shaking baby powder snow from their immense fur hats; dancers clad in chunky knit cardigans, leg warmers and ballet-style T-shirts; and slim-silhouette tailored suits (inspired by Irving Penn photographs) all in muted neutral tones, along with a few brightly colored outfits like the catwalk Cossack ensemble: blousy purple trousers with vivid orange flowers paired with an embroidered shirt knotted at the waist, inspired by Nureyev's Tatar heritage.
Until he was chased off the runway at the end of the show by a trio of parkour-vaulting ninjas, we never realized how perfect Jean Paul Gaultier would be as a Bond villain. (Sample dialogue: "Do you expect me to talk?" "No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to sit in the last row of seats.")
The designer paid homage to the stylish spy — and added a dash of androgyny — with a "James Blond" collection. That meant riffing on the tuxedo, of course; the first look was a traditional, one-button, peak-lapel number accessorized with a bow tie and gun.
But it also meant gray pinstripe wetsuits, suit jackets paired with hot pants and fishnets, shiny black diamond-quilted puffer jackets with fur-lined hoods and double-breasted blazers in metallic gold neoprene with outsize fur collars.
And the chic sunglasses that accessorized many of the looks? They had less to do with channeling the super-suave secret agent and everything to do with a new eyewear collaboration between the brand and Alain Mikli.
Adam Kimmel was the second designer at Paris Fashion Week to explicitly reference the oeuvre of David Lynch, drawing on that peculiar "Twin Peaks" vibe of mystery and uneasiness, with the expectation that something unseemly was lurking behind the next redwood.
Some of the collection spoke to the sinister look of the well-dressed stranger: double-breasted blazers, necktie and shirt patterns from a bygone era (it looked like the '40s to us), with bolo ties, scarves and overcoats to complete the look.
But FBI agent Dale Cooper and company were just part of the equation. Another major inspiration behind Kimmel's Pacific Northwest collection was artist Dan Attoe, a painter and sculptor (and founder of the Paintallica art group) whose work taps into the gritty underbelly of the world where the highway curves through the giant redwood forests and motorcycle punk meets mysticism.
Attoe's influence was overt in some cases — his artwork of towering stands of trees and Bigfoot creatures appears on T-shirts, scarves and sweaters — and more subtle in pieces like one-piece coveralls, cashmere thermal waffle-pattern sweaters and trousers color-blocked to look like riding leathers.
The "things aren't as they seem" motif common to both "Twin Peaks" and Attoe's artwork was reflected in pieces like the hip-length hunting jacket that converts into a full-length trench coat (convertible outerwear pieces like this were a key trend in both Milan and Paris this season), washed speckle-wool blazers and leather motorcycle jackets with zip-off sleeves and zip-out quilted flannel liners.
Even accounting for Fashion Standard Time, the Givenchy runway show was late out of the gate; the first model didn't hit the runway until an hour and 22 minutes past the scheduled start time. At the one-hour mark, folks with clipboards started circulating through the room to explain to the increasingly impatient crowd that the delay had to do with the electricity supply to the building. After at least one false start and an additional 20 minutes of waiting, even the most patient of the fashion flock started feeling like an angry, caged animal.
One can only imagine that Riccardo Tisci must have been feeling something similar when he came up with the snarling, teeth-baring dogfight of a menswear collection he sent down the runway for fall and winter 2011. And I'm using those descriptors literally.
Snarling Rottweilers were the central visual motif; they appeared an angry pack at a time on baggy dress shirts and shorts, they were appliqued solo onto baggy sweatshirts (above the capital letters RTTWLR and between the words "est." and "1955") and were even employed as an all-over print across the yoke and down the arms of a shirt.
Outfits were accessorized with dog-collar and dog-leash belts or dog-harness backpack straps, but the most curious items were the hats — in brown or white, the round domed hats each sported a small visor in the front and a pair of dog ears up top.
There were some interesting pieces in the show — jackets with zip-in vests and a three-quarters-length fur vest layering piece, but the disconnect itself was the scene-stealer.