PARIS — As the coed trend continues to suck puff out of men’s weeks’ sails, Paris, as the proverbial capital of fashion, is still showing resistance.
The palpable buzz around the week, which opened Tuesday, bodes well for the city’s returning confidence. The greater Paris region in 2017 saw a record 23.1 million hotel arrivals, according to the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau, coming off a gloomy 2016 that was impacted by a spate of terrorist attacks.
Against a baseline of men’s wear stalwarts like Dries Van Noten, Comme des Garçons, Thom Browne and Rick Owens, Vetements’ off-calendar show — after having staged a “No-Show” event in a Paris car park last June — has added fizz to this season, while excitement is also mounting around the debut Maison Margiela men’s collection under the creative direction of John Galliano, both showing on Friday. It’s been a step-by-step process for the designer.
“The strategy of the maison is rooted into a single unified and consistent message, with John Galliano’s vision at its core. Allowing this creative vision to develop and expand consistently throughout the house first required a thorough exploration and redefinition of the brand codes,” said Riccardo Bellini, chief executive officer of Maison Margiela.
“Our intent from the beginning was to progress through a considered step-by-step approach, focusing first on Artisanal, a space of unlimited creativity where we shape, experiment and constantly explore the new codes of Maison Margiela and then through this informing gradually all other collections,” he added. “This pyramidical approach has become sharper and sharper overall last year across women’s wear and accessories and we are now fully completing the work by bringing men’s wear under the same unified and consistent vision.”
When asked if he could ever see the house presenting a coed show, he replied: “One of the beliefs of our business approach is to stay true to who we are, without concerning ourselves with the current trends. We are always looking at new and innovative ways to convey our brand message and while we don’t exclude changes in the future, at this stage we believe it is important to give men’s wear its own dedicated platform.”
But the week is not without its voids. Balenciaga — whose debut men’s show under Demna Gvasalia, for spring 2017, was the heritage brand’s first such runway outing in its 99-year history — is the latest house opting for the women’s calendar for a coed show, joining Saint Laurent and Givenchy.
Balenciaga will maintain a presence through the presentation of its first men’s pre-collection by appointment to buyers and press during Paris Men’s Fashion Week. Givenchy will present men’s in both its couture collection later this month and at the next ready-to-wear show in March.
Names joining the official lineup include Palomo Spain and Germany’s GmbH, which showed Tuesday; France’s Nïuku, and Britain’s Dunhill London, which in June presented the debut collection from ex-Burberry alum and new creative director Mark Weston on its home turf.
“We cannot wait to show you where we are taking the brand,” said Dunhill ceo Andrew Maag, adding that Paris offers “the best opportunity” to debut the brand’s new collection “to our diverse and emerging world audience.”
Showing today, Off-White is returning to Paris after showing in Florence in June as a special guest of the 92nd edition of Pitti Uomo, with Sweden’s Acne Studios also making a return with its show on Friday.
“People always look at Paris as being overwhelmingly, creatively expansive….I miss having a Gucci show in Milan, I miss having a Givenchy show in Paris, there are certainly some shows missing from the schedule that were some of the highlights. But there’s more than enough in the offer that I’m excited,” said Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director of the Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus stores.
He praised the city’s longstanding transatlantic relations, saying American designers have always been accepted in Paris.
“And I think they have, most importantly, seen it as an extension of their market. Starting with Thom Browne, but even designers from the West Coast school like John Elliott, these very athletic-driven young designer brands are showing in Paris because it gives them more of a global stage,” Pask said.
One component “really gaining importance” along with the runway — “and it’s something that we don’t talk about a lot” — is that Paris is packed with showroom visits, he added. “That ends up being a really significant part of my trip,” said Pask who always stops by Rainbow Room, Polly King & Co, and Dark Concept. “Barbara Grispini [of Dark] has championed Craig Green from the start and she has this other guy who I think is really interesting, Marc Jacques Breton [MJB].”
For Roopal Patel, senior vice president, fashion director, Saks Fifth Avenue — which has been aggressively expanding its designer offer — driving the anticipation around Paris is the amount of newness, “both in the number of changes at some of the key heritage houses and for the excitement generated by the city’s new guard, like Y/Project and AMI Alexandre Mattiussi.”
Ryan Thompson, men’s wear fashion features editor at Farfetch, said what sets the Paris shows apart is a more considered sense of avant-gardism than any of the other cities have right now, and this “zeitgeist” cohesion between streetwear and contemporary fashion, “which is just nailed.”
“If you look at Milan, and the Italian brands, they’re completely dragging their heels. If it wasn’t for Alessandro Michele at Gucci and maybe one or two others, Milan would seem really dated,” added Thompson. “London is still very experimental, but it’s very streetwear-based and a great platform for young designers. But Paris takes that creativity to a higher, more polished level. That’s why all the hype brands — Off-White, Rick Owens, Y/Project — are showing in Paris because everyone is there, everyone is focused on it.”
At a time when everyone in fashion has their head turned to China and the prospect of increasing sales there “while European retailers are having a sticky moment,” the city’s representation of Asian talent is impressive, he noted, listing brands like South Korea’s Juun.J and Wooyoungmi and emerging Chinese streetwear brand Sankuanz “that also contribute to the avant-gardism of the streetwear.”
Galliano’s men’s wear debut at Margiela figures among Thompson’s great expectations.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing how he will evolve men’s wear, especially because Galliano’s men’s wear [for his namesake brand] would leap from one crazy idea to the next and there wasn’t always a sense of journey or evolution. It was just his genius being played out on the runway; sometimes it hit, sometimes it missed,” he said.
Fiona Firth, buying director of Mr Porter — which, since launching seven years ago has grown from 80 to over 400 brands, riding a “limitless” potential due to not having structural walls — said it will be interesting to see whether Galliano “has gone back to the archives of Martin, looking at the construction of the tailoring and the knitwear, putting his own twist on it.”
The strength of Paris, “which has always been exciting because it’s where you get the most innovation,” has only been amplified by the other cities being thin on the ground this season, echoed Firth. “Both London and Milan seem to have been really squeezed, for whatever reason. London has been going that way for a bit, but we’re really surprised by how lean Milan is.
“For us, we go into the showrooms as well. Balenciaga, we are going to see their first pre-collection….It will be interesting to see how Demna moves on with both Vetements and Balenciaga because, talking to his brother [Guram Gvasalia], it seems like they are changing Vetements, so that will be interesting,” said Firth, who senses they will pump up the tailored aspect of the range.
“I think what they’ve realized is they’ve done a fantastic job at bringing the whole jersey, streetwear look into the mainstream, so the fact that so many people are replicating, imitating, whatever the correct words are, they’re thinking, what’s the next thing? What do we have to do to change it around?”
She’s also itching to see Berluti, designed by Haider Ackermann. “I’ve seen the pre-collection and it’s stunning, absolutely beautiful.”
New highlights on the official presentation lineup, meanwhile, include Myar, the solo project of Andrea Rosso, son of entrepreneur Renzo Rosso and the creative director of Diesel licenses; and cult Japanese label Takahiro Miyashita the Soloist, which showed at Pitti Uomo.
Other brands opting for that format this season include Arthur Avellano; Ambush; Editions M.R.; Nicolas Andreas Taralis; Sadak; Undercover; Yang Li, and L.A.’s Amiri, who described the angle of his show as “an exercise in playing with the juxtaposition between Parisian classicism and the underground darker energies of Hollywood.”
The week’s events will include the opening of the exhibition “Je Suis Couturier” on Sunday, hosted by Carla Sozzani, Christoph von Weyhe and Azzedine Alaïa Association and presenting 35 Alaïa works selected by Olivier Saillard.
On the footwear scene, Clergerie will present the first men’s collection by the label’s new creative director, David Tourniaire-Beauciel, while Icosae’s show will include two sneakers created in collaboration with Christian Louboutin.
Retailers were unanimous about the two pied pipers of the men’s contemporary category, meanwhile: AMI Alexandre Mattiussi and Officine Générale.
“They’ve developed a school of sportswear that’s very creative and understandable but still with a particular point of view — APC being the beginning of that movement for easy, accessible sportswear but with a very distinct stylistic point of view,” said Pask.
Alexandre Mattiussi on Thursday for the first time will prepare his show sans stylist, doing everything himself.
“There is a momentum around AMI now. Alexandre knows precisely where he wants to bring the brand and what he wants to show, what message he wants to send,” said the brand’s ceo, Nicolas Santi-Weil. The company’s fall 2017 collection scored record sell-throughs, with 80 percent of collections sold in the pre-sales period, he said, citing as the two main drivers China and online sales, led by the U.S. The brand for the launch of its first pre-collection in Milan in November also exceeded targets, he said.
AMI plans to accelerate its development online through its global partnership with Farfetch and is focusing on opportunities in China, Korea and Japan, including the imminent launch of the Japanese version of amiparis.com.
Officine Générale, meanwhile, registered a 65 percent increase in sales for 2017 to around 6.5 million euros, and has seen “record sales” on pre-sales for its fall collection, according to Pierre Mahéo, its founder and creative director, who recently opened his first stand-alone store outside the brand’s home turf, in London’s Soho. A second store there could possibly follow in September. The designer is also waiting for the “right location and opportunity” to open a store in New York, one of the brand’s U.S. hotspots along with L.A., both in terms of wholesale and online sales.
A “special project” with Mr Porter is cooking for June, while Mahéo for fall, “after years of being a pretty non-color guy,” is “adding key accent colors to the neutrals — the grays, olives and blacks — we always use.” Also expect a stronger focus on accessories, shoes and sneakers.
“The vibe is really strong — they’re doing a great job to make sure that there are both young brands — even younger brands than us — and established brands,” Gilles Elalouf, ceo of Y/Project, said of Paris Men’s Fashion Week. He revealed that the fall collection will see a reinforcement of product categories like knitwear and tailoring, along with the introduction of the first men’s shoes, possibly involving a collaboration.
Despite the brand’s versatile, unisex stance, there are no plans to go coed, according to Elalouf.
The biggest challenge, he said, was the pressure from retailers to have earlier and earlier deliveries, “which puts constraints on small brands like us.” Sales for 2017 stood at around 3 million euros and are expected to keep rising at a “three-digit rate” as the brand pushes into Asia, working with select partners.
Among the city’s other fast-rising labels, OAMC’s Luke Meier said he’s always seen Paris as a benchmark — “the ultimate place to show, side by side with the huge established brands is an interesting contrast.”
“There are a lot of younger brands and newer brands, which makes it exciting. It’s becoming more and more interesting,” said the designer who, as the co-creative director of Jil Sander, spends most of his time in Milan.
He described the storyline for fall as “an interesting take on several artists and their association to the military.”
Deceptively simple deconstructed outerwear will be front and center. “It’s about getting rid of all the traditional techniques to keep it very raw. A very pared-down, raw approach to tailoring,” the designer said.
While he sees logic in the coed movement, for Meier it’s vital that the men’s collections “get their own kind of shine.”
“There are a lot of good brands that are only doing men’s, it’s important that they have a good place,” he said. “Perhaps right now, Paris is where we’re happy to be for that.”