PARIS The big divide: That was the key story of the just-completed men’s shows here, which ranged from utility-inspired clothes to highly embellished pieces fueled by the androgyny movement.

“The sea has parted and divided men’s fashion into two distinct camps: Those which are simple, beautiful clothes and others which are extreme, yet memorable,” noted Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager for men’s at Barneys New York.

“I personally feel that Paris leads in terms of cutting the path in trends for the world. Somehow the French collections always seem to feel more free and artistic and take greater risks. It all adds to the heightened energy of Paris when it sizzles,” he said, listing Cifonelli, Officine Générale, Loewe, Givenchy, Balmain and Saint Laurent as his best of the season.

The sentiment was echoed by Eric Jennings, vice president and men’s fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. “Paris struck a healthy balance between the new avant-garde, which continues to push boundaries, and some great commercial lines — collections for real people that are needed for business and volume,” he said.

Jennings noted the men’s sector continues to perform, leaving him “extremely optimistic” for the future. Saks, which is slated to grow its footprint via eight new venues in the next 18 months — including smaller, more specialized concept stores — is planning to upgrade its advanced designer and advanced contemporary offering.

“Men are just really engaged in fashion right now and it’s showing in the numbers. We are looking to bring in brands that were not part of our program before,” said Jennings, singling out Juun.J, Valentino, Ami, Maison Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester.

“In general, I feel like the market is catching up with the avant-garde. Brands such as Rick Owens or Demeulemeester — we see them on Kanye [West] and on the NBA players, and our eye becomes used to it. What used to be avant-garde is now becoming more acceptable and commercially friendly,” he added.

Alice Feillard, designer men’s wear buyer at Printemps, said the French retailer was also experiencing fast growth in men’s wear.

“Clearly, men’s wear is at the heart of Printemps’ strategy for the next few years,” she said. “Namely, we are working on an ambitious project to develop and extend the space devoted to men’s wear, given that designer brands are selling extremely well.”

Feillard noted that tailoring is becoming softer and more forgiving, but with a growing sense of sophistication. “We are emerging from the streetwear trend and heading upmarket with more sophisticated silhouettes, all the while retaining streetwear-inspired details like straps, nylon and technical fabrics, but in a much more fluid way,” she noted.

Feillard cited Valentino, Givenchy, Raf Simons and Balenciaga as her favorite collections.

Key trends cited by buyers include utility, workwear and military influences; denim and suede; khaki and bold primary colors; soft tailoring and looser-fit pants; embroidery with exotic influences; animal prints and safari jackets.

“Paris was the perfect mix of news, noteworthy and novelty,” said Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus.

“The ‘souvenir’ bomber jacket, a necessity in every fashionable man’s wardrobe, appeared throughout the season interpreted with the personality of each designer and house. Valentino, Saint Laurent and Dries Van Noten delivered exciting takes on this new fashion favorite,” he said.

“Chinoiserie embroidery and embellishments added a super luxurious exoticism to many collections, giving spring a sense of special and unique, a necessary component to keep the customer engaged,” Downing added. The top collections for Neiman Marcus were Givenchy, Valentino, Saint Laurent, Balmain and Berluti.

“It’s all about cool wear, and this you can also tell by simply looking at what people wear when they come to our store,” said Emmanuel de Bayser, owner and chief buyer for The Corner in Berlin. “My two favorite collections, therefore, were Givenchy — it’s not 100 percent up my alley in terms of taste, but the brand really embodies the zeitgeist with its mix of bad boy and ethnic elements, completely free of any complex — and Sacai, which combines tailoring, sport and street all in one product.”

De Bayser said his budget for Paris has remained stable overall, but he was buying some brands more than others. “We spent 30 percent more on Givenchy already during pre-collection, and have bought Sacai for the second straight season,” he said, adding that business was up 30 percent year-on-year for men and women combined.

“There is a lot of wearability,” stated Josh Peskowitz, men’s fashion director at Bloomingdale’s.

“It has to do with a growing middle ground, as men’s tastes are moving to higher levels. What my customer couldn’t relate to five seasons ago, he now embraces with ease. It’s no longer work or play but a continuum throughout the week, and Paris offered a lot of personality,” he noted.

Bloomindgale’s is not only investing in new stores, but has also increased its budget to stock up on Paris designers.

“With on- and off-duty [looks] moving closer together, we see a lot of opportunity in trousers. Also, artisanal embroideries and patchworks were strong here. They are a way for a piece to feel special, but still remain relatable and worth the money,” Peskowitz said, noting that pants were loosening up with a fuller leg.

His favorite shows were Sacai, Louis Vuitton and Junya Watanabe. “There is great new stuff coming, and that’s very encouraging. Our customer responds well to newness,” he observed.

Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, was enthusiastic about what he found in the French capital.

“There is a terrific balance here of established designers and storied houses with fantastic talent in place who turn out, season after season, compelling collections and younger, newer brands that excite with new ways of looking at clothing, as well as very traditional brands that never disappoint,” he said.

Among his favorite collections were Valentino, Berluti and Officine Générale. “Olivier Rousteing’s first Balmain men’s wear show of explorer-inspired gear was sexy and glamorous, a perfect representation of the brand as he has defined it,” he added.

Pask said key trends included utilitarian and uniform inspirations; zip jackets; animal prints, especially in vivid color, and soft tailoring. “I love all the embellishment we’re seeing in this very decorative season. The beaded and embroidered bomber jackets, both satin and leather, that we saw at Valentino and Saint Laurent were terrific examples of this season filled with amazing surface interest,” he added.

Jeffrey Kalinsky, vice president and designer fashion director at Nordstrom, also lauded Valentino and Saint Laurent alongside Dries Van Noten and Givenchy.

“Paris drives the fashion message more than any other city. It sets the trends that define the season. Denim couture, military and prints will drive our business. Androgyny, which was also a trend, will act as an influence,” he said.

Virginie Sartres, men’s wear stylist at Le Bon Marché, saw it more as a season of continuity rather than innovation. She said the department store was keeping its budgets stable and focusing on reinforcing business with its most successful brands, in addition to seeking out promising newcomers.

“Everything is pretty homogenous. There are a handful of shows that really stand out. What’s striking is that there are some very, very strong pieces or looks this season,” she said, citing salable items such as safari jackets, multipocket workwear-inspired jackets, collarless shirts and looser pants.

Sartres praised Dries Van Noten and Valentino. But she lamented the growing presence of female models on the men’s catwalks. “I find it a bit annoying when there is too much women’s resort in the men’s shows,” she said. “I think men’s wear has so much going for it right now and it can blur the visibility of a collection.”

Steven Cook, senior vice president, buying and merchandising at Toronto-based Holt Renfrew, said Paris echoed the trend in Milan toward a more casual sensibility.

“The evolution of casual dressing was apparent, seen in the relaxed pleated pant,” he said. “With an enhanced and elevated focus on our designer men’s wear business, Paris is a strong market for us and we have planned for growth.” Holt Renfrew favorites were Valentino, Givenchy, Ami and Berluti.

“We will be spending more in Paris this season and we feel confident doing so since the collections we’ve seen here are so strong,” said Joo Woo, general merchandise manager of men’s wear at Lane Crawford, Hong Kong. “French collections having been setting the tone for our designer business for quite some time now and we continue to trend very well season after season.

“Men’s wear as a whole continues to evolve and become less formulaic,” she continued. “We are also seeing brands pushing the boundaries with themes like gender-blurring silhouettes and playing with bold proportions. We forecast continued growth in our online store and omnichannel business.”

Woo highlighted among key trends silky or sheer fluid fabrics, especially in voluminous shorts and trousers, the latter a key category with variations ranging from boiler suits to overalls.

“Denim is coming back strong for the season and we are seeing a strong influence on nature/animal-inspired prints on the runway,” she added, citing as strong, Sacai, Thom Browne, Haider Ackermann, Valentino, 3.1 Phillip Lim and Kenzo.

“The use of fabrics we haven’t seen for a long time — namely silks, satins, parachute material, transparencies, crinkle — looked fresh,” said Nelson Mui, fashion director at Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor. “For sportswear, the energy is really coming from Paris.”

He highlighted an emphasis on longer, looser shapes in tops, bottoms and outerwear, and cited pant silhouettes ranging from tailored pleats to fluid suiting trousers, carrot pants and jeans, wide shorts, high-waist pants, slouchy drawstring pants — and even the reemergence of bell-bottoms.

Items that will be must-haves include the embellished “track” or “tuxedo” trousers, longer length outerwear pieces and two-toned, elevated denim in sportswear/outerwear styles, Mui added. He cited Valentino, Louis Vuitton, Maison Margiela, Sacai and Ami as standouts.

Darren Skey, head of men’s wear at Harvey Nichols, said: “Paris certainly saw a continued move away from sportswear. The emphasis has been on soft, relaxed tailoring. Lightweight, fluid fabrics were evident. We also saw a continuation of the military trend with camo- and military-inspired wear on show from Valentino, Sacai, Balmain and Dior.

“There was strong use of embroidery and appliqué from many brands,” he continued. Harvey Nichols’ top shows were Sacai, Valentino and Dries Van Noten. On changing trends, Skey said: “We’ve certainly seen from our customers a move toward a cleaner aesthetic. Customers are moving from the sports trend on to something a little more sophisticated.”

Tiziana Cardini, fashion director of La Rinascente, said she noted “definitely a good commercial potential in Paris, as always…We have a strong growing business in the accessories area driven by bags and shoes. As for the ready-to-wear, fashion suits are an important category, also trousers and outerwear.”

La Rinascente’s top picks for the Paris season were Comme des Garçons, Saint Laurent, Raf Simons, Valentino, Undercover and Junya Watanabe. Overall, she said: “Consumers in men’s wear look for special pieces regardless of price. Asian consumers are becoming more and more fashion conscious.”

Jo Harris, general merchandise manager for men’s wear at Harrods, said: “Being a spring season, it was great to see so much color dominate the runway, particularly in outerwear. Berluti kept the color simple with primary tones, whilst Paul Smith worked with acidic clashing hues influenced by David Hockney.

“Souvenir jackets appeared across many runways and stood out as one of the must-have items for the next season,” she continued, noting instances at Valentino, Saint Laurent and Louis Vuitton.

“Green was a key color of the season,” Harris said. “We noticed it at LCM and Milan, but Paris presented green in varying hues — from military-inspired khaki at Balmain, Kenzo and Balenciaga, to pistachio green at Paul Smith and classic primary greens at Ami.”