PARIS — Paris men’s fashion week is having a moment: Hailing from Los Angeles, Sweden, China or Monaco, Rhude, Eytys, Li Ning and Alter are among the rising international brands that have been added to the official men’s calendar and presentation lineup this season.
Things are going pretty fast for Gamut, the fashion collective created in 2017 by former students of La Cambre fashion school in Brussels — which is surprising, because the seven French nationals are intent on taking their time.
“We’re continuing to experiment with the fashion calendar: We chose to skip fall 2019 to focus on our showroom, and realized that taking nine months to create a collection was a rhythm we quite liked,” said one of the members — all of whom prefer to remain anonymous — speaking at the collective’s studio at the Porte de la Chapelle, a somewhat sketchy area in the remote 18th arrondissement.
Since its first debut show last September, Gamut has added a photographer/visual director to its team, and landed a spot on the French couture federation’s official calendar for presentations. Now it’s behaving like full-fledged business with dedicated members in charge of sourcing, production, administration and communication. Decisions are still fully collegial, though.
“Each piece needs to get the red light from the six designers,” one of them said. “We don’t need to all share the same opinion, but nothing comes out that we are not all at least OK with. It’s obviously important to us that other people like our project, but the first step is seeing how the other Gamut members react to our ideas. That can sometimes be even more stressful.”
For its second collection, the label fuses more technical garments to deconstructed tailoring, like a mini parka sewn under a men’s raincoat, and has chosen a muse to guide its creation process: Messalina Mescalina, a French drag queen, whose naked body appears on screen-printed dresses and swimsuits.
“It was complicated to find a starting point that we could all relate to,” said another designer. “There are so many ways to get into to Messalina’s universe: She is sometimes ultra feminine with a real couture aspect, but can also be a bit witch-like and even disturbing in her performances, questioning the way drag codes have entered mainstream culture. She has many faces, which is kind of perfect for us.”
Gamut’s first presentation on the official calendar is scheduled for June 22, and the collective is keeping it local.
“We’ve found this amazing space in the area, a former train warehouse with a 425,000-foot-long corridor,” continued the designer. Guests are invited to head straight over to the show’s after party, held at grimy open-air club La Station just around the corner on the very edge of Paris. “We’re quite peripheral,” they laughed.
“The kids who sneak into parties are always the ones who have the most fun.”
A physics student who was valedictorian at Taft High School in Woodland Hills, Calif., Villaseñor, who learned his craft while sharing a studio with designer Shaun Samson, struck gold with his first shirt design: an allover bandana print worn by Kendrick Lamar. Today the brand is sold in retailers such as Kith, Harvey Nichols, Barneys New York, LuisaViaRoma, Mr Porter, Nordstrom, The Webster and RSVP Gallery.
“It’s a blessing to be part of fashion,” said the designer, who admitted to being “nervous, very nervous” at the idea of his inaugural fashion presentation, to be held in Paris on June 18.
Named Seven Falls, Rhude’s spring 2020 collection is a both a life lesson and a reflection on Villaseñor’s past collections for the label.
“In the literal sense, Seven Falls is a resort in Colorado that middle-class American families go to in the summer,” said the 27-year-old designer, who moved to the U.S. from the Philippines in 2001. “I took that and created a story of falling as many times as life gives you, but always getting back up. The collection is essentially the whole journey these past years of me developing as a designer: It’s not a compilation, but it has a homage to each and every piece I’ve made through time.”
As a result, the collection is quite bottom-heavy, floating on the success of Rhude’s “traxedo,” a tailored track pant the designer created in 2017.
“People want to look nice and still be comfortable, and I’m going to give them that solution,” the designer said. “That statement is everywhere now, so we need to present a new testimony to what we think modern men should wear on a day-to-day basis: Tailored coats made in Italy, motorsport influences, denim from Japan, cotton and knits from around the U.S.”
The brand will also be debuting its own line of footwear and eyewear, after past collaborations with Puma and Thierry Lasry, as well as its first women’s wear collection, but the designer is still debating whether to show his women’s silhouettes in Paris just yet.
“The women’s collection is ready, but it will depend on my intuition,” Villaseñor mused. “A lot of the decisions I make — not in business but in design — I make through emotions.”
Villaseñor is no stranger to Paris, having spent a couple of years visiting trade shows and “setting up showrooms in apartments rented on Airbnb.”
“Generally, the brand is about re-ushering a new luxury of tailored men’s wear that’s redefining Americana,” Villaseñor said. “For this collection we asked ourselves, ‘What would the modern cowboy wear?’”
The designer chuckled at the idea of bringing Midwestern influences to the capital of fashion.
“I love the juxtaposition of it,” he said. “It’s like serving tacos at a gala.”
LUDOVIC DE SAINT SERNIN
“It’s going to be hot and humid.”
That’s all French fashion designer Ludovic de Saint Sernin would let slip of his first show on the official calendar, set for June 23.
Speaking from his studio in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, the 28-year-old designer wouldn’t give any more details, aside from the fact that a standout feature for his spring 2020 collection would be “water drops — and that’s a pretty big hint.”
De Saint Sernin, who founded his brand in 2017 and was an LVMH Prize finalist in 2018, has become known for his raunchy approach to men’s wear: Past collections featured a lot of bare skin, glitzy tops and leather pants, with a special focus on underwear — leather, lace-up and barely there briefs.
“I think men are definitely looking for sexier underwear options,” said the designer, adding that underwear sales represent 40 percent of his business — “like handbags or fragrance for other houses.”
The label’s first underwear campaign is debuting this season, following the designer’s decision to move from selling his underwear designs via Instagram to launching a dedicated e-commerce platform, testing the waters before jumping to selling the label’s full range online.
Showing on the official calendar forced the designer to shake up his usual format a bit: “For past seasons we did either presentations or a couple of mini catwalk shows,” he said. “Now we’re doing a traditional catwalk show for the first time, which means we only have one shot and 10 minutes to get it right.”
De Saint Sernin is beefing up his ready-to-wear looks and will be showing more silhouettes this season, including a new focus on women’s wear.
“I’ve always designed my clothes to be worn on both men and women, but this season I decided to create silhouettes that are more tailored to the feminine form,” said the designer, who is also continuing his collaboration with John Lobb for footwear and Swarovski for crystals this season.
By the way, did he ever manage to sell the Swarovski crystal-studded pair of leather briefs he presented for fall 2019?
“Because it took absolutely ages to create, we had to set a high price point,” said De Saint Sernin of the standout piece, which retails at 2,500 euros, or $2,800. “We’ve not sold it yet, but I can tell you it generated a lot of interest.”
When building looks, Eytys creative director Max Schiller starts from the ground up, which is fitting, given the brand initially launched as a sneaker label.
“Our collection is pretty jeans-focused: We start from the bottom with our signature chunky sneakers, followed by jeans, and then we add quite baggy knitwear and outerwear to create a laid-back and carefree vibe,” said the designer, speaking from the label’s headquarters in Sweden.
Launched as a sneaker label in 2013 before adding denim pieces to its offering in 2017, Eytys, which has a store in Stockholm and one in London, is debuting its first full ready-to-wear collection in Paris for spring 2020 — a natural next step, according to Schiller.
“There’s been a sort of lack of strategy in our company,” he laughed. “We’ve just been doing things when we feel like it. Our footwear is quite chunky and needed a certain jeans silhouette — so we created it. It’s the same with ready-to-wear: The idea came organically, the looks just took shape.”
The starting point for the unisex line came to Schiller as he was out in Beirut and spotted the coolest girl of the party, who stood out in the crowd of “Hervé Léger dresses and Louboutin heels.”
“She came in with baggy jeans, hiking boots, an army jacket and no make-up,” said the designer. “That’s the girl I wanted to be friends with — she caught my attention because she wasn’t trying too hard.” (Schiller eventually spoke to the girl and learned she was a med student out for drinks to celebrate the end of exams.)
As a result, Eytys rtw is similarly relaxed: A key look from the line is a pair of chunky square-toe lace-up boots worn with five-pocket baggy jeans with a shell lining, a cropped and knitted skater top, a pair of surfer sunglasses and a wide-brimmed bucket hat. Other looks are more tailored or feature just-introduced Eytys jewelry.
The unisex silhouettes will be shown on both men and women, with a particular focus on the latter.
“People tend to refer to androgynous unisex silhouettes as men’s wear, and we’re going to prove them wrong,” said Schiller. “I hope to open people’s eyes in terms of how they can dress: with volume, attitude and confidence. It’s a different way of presenting womanhood.”
Eytys rtw will debut in Paris on June 20.
Like a lot of 25-year-old girls, fashion designer Pauline Ducruet admits to stealing a lot of her mother’s clothes — except her mother is Princess Stéphanie of Monaco.
“I remember when I was little, she used to show me pictures of her in the Eighties and I thought all her outfits were super kitsch,” said Ducruet, taking a break from casting models for the first presentation of her unisex label Alter. “And now I love those looks: I spend my time raiding her wardrobe.”
You won’t find any Eighties inspirations in Alter’s first collection, to be presented in Paris on June 18: Ducruet, who moved from Monaco to New York to study fashion design at Parsons four and a half years ago, looks to the wardrobes of her friends to craft versatile silhouettes mixing luxe materials like silk and cotton with robust outerwear, in the form of leather or upcycled denim jackets.
“It’s both for the New Yorker and the Parisian,” said the designer. “Some pieces are more fluid; others, like a jacket crafted from three differently colored denim jackets I found in a thrift store, are a bit chunkier. The focus is above all on the quality of the fabrics.”
Alter is entirely unisex, a completely natural choice for Ducruet.
“Today is all about freedom of choice,” said the designer, who still lives in New York but chose to present her first collection in Paris to be closer to her roots.
“The fact that you’re a guy doesn’t mean you have to only wear men’s clothes,” she continued. “My friends and I are always going through each other’s wardrobes, regardless of gender, mixing and matching pieces. That’s just how it is.”
The 25 looks for Alter spring 2020, which be shown in an industrial building in the 11th arrondissement, will be split between male and female models, and will be available to purchase on the label’s web site following the presentation.
Table tennis is the key inspiration behind Chinese sportswear giant Li Ning’s spring 2020 collection, which the brand will debut in Paris on June 22 after showing in New York for two seasons.
“The collection is designed for the directional, sneaker- and streetwear-loving consumer,” said Liad Krispin, a Berlin-based former Adidas executive and marketing consultant for the 30-year-old sportswear label, founded by the Olympic medalist of the same name.
Li Ning’s premium ready-to-wear line, featuring men’s, women’s and unisex pieces, debuted via soft launch for fall 2019 but was only available for purchase in China.
After a strong response from specialty retailers for its sneakers in China, including Lane Crawford, Yoho, Deal and Concepts, the Chinese label decided to widen distribution: Its premium line, consisting of apparel, footwear, accessories, bags and hosiery, will be carried by retailers such as Kith, LN-CC, Ssense, Slam Jam and Selfridges.
The Paris showing comes at a key time for the Chinese label, which has been pivoting toward an edgier appeal by recently collaborating with two up-and-coming designers on capsule collections, London-based Chen Peng and Chinese men’s brand Pronounce.
Li Ning will be launching its first global campaign for fall 2019, styled by Jay Massacret. It will be broadcast via a new web site putting a stronger focus on the rtw aspect of the brand, best known for its sneakers.
“Chinese fashion — streetwear in particular — has really been having a moment,” according to Krispin. “Since Li Ning first showed at New York fashion week in 2018, we’ve seen an increase of Chinese designers and brands opting to showcase runway collections there. It really feels like a larger breakthrough is imminent.”