PARIS — Extreme proportions — exemplified by Demna Gvasalia’s debut men’s collection for Balenciaga — headlined a newsy and compelling men’s fashion week in the French capital, retailers said.
“Paris continues to be strong,” said Joo Woo, general merchandising manager of men’s wear at Lane Crawford in Hong Kong. “Collections overall were very conceptualized in terms of soft tailoring and construction. They also offer everything from punk streetwear to formal work attire.
“The most compelling fashion direction this season is the play on proportions, which has been taken to extremes and with new elements,” she continued, also citing fluid silhouettes, ethnic prints and a mix of neutrals and bright colors among other key trends.
“Balenciaga was very directional. It was cool and felt fresh. It’s the new big thing in fashion,” said Eric Jennings, vice president and men’s fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue, which is slated to add the brand to its men’s offering for spring. “I feel like there is this new Eastern bloc movement happening with Balenciaga, Vetements and Gosha [Rubchinskiy], which will only get bigger. It used to be Rick Owens. And do you remember how long it took him? Well, now there is this Eastern connection, which has proven a great incubator for creativity,” he noted, adding: “On the other hand, and this is germane to Paris, we have the French essentialists with guys like Officine Générale, Ami and A.P.C. They kept Paris very masculine this season, while London, for instance, was very feminine and gender-neutral.”
Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director for Bergdorf Goodman, said that “from the beginning of the Paris shows, with Gvasalia’s masterful, provocative collection for Balenciaga, to the season’s closing evening with yet another incredible [show] from Thom Browne, Paris continues to assert itself as an intersection of art and commerce.
“Gvasalia struck a perfect balance with his directional fashion and easy, soon-to-be-coveted pieces,” Pask added, while “Browne delivered another imaginative spectacle, with his very unique take on surf style, and with a level of detail that is almost unrivaled in men’s wear.”
He, too, pointed out that Ami, A.P.C. and Officine Générale especially were a good counterbalance. Pierre Mahéo’s looks for Officine Générale “are considered and thoughtful yet so natural looking and easy to replicate, which is key.”
“All of our advanced customers will want new trousers from Dries and a wide shoulder jacket from Balenciaga to build their spring wardrobes around,” said Scott Tepper, fashion buying and merchandising director at Liberty. “Strong color was great to see — we are buying into it, especially the pink family. Glen plaids, Prince of Wales checks and gingham checks all carried over from the pre-collection. Our British guys love these.”
Tepper noted there were plenty of bombers and blousons with novelty to get excited about.
“And the trench shape is coming on very strongly for the guy who is ready to move on,” he continued. “Oversized totes and shoppers are giving backpacks a deserved rest. Luxed-up sports influence still has mileage, as well, so overall more strong meaningful trends than you normally get from a spring season.”
But Tepper said that overall budgets need to stay flat in light of the recent world events. “But we are placing our bets with authority where the fashion newness warrants it.”
Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s for Barneys New York, said the department store is adapting its budgets to changes in men’s buying habits, and is buying differently. “The men’s business has evolved rapidly in recent seasons. Men are evaluating their needs based more on experiences and their proclivities to put their personal stamp on style. Changes have occurred at a fast clip and we have not seen the dust settle yet,” he said. “The new balance almost seems imbalanced relative to the extreme priorities that dictate spending today. Suits become sweats, shoes are replaced by sneakers and briefcases have morphed into backpacks, totes or small clutches.
“The takeaway is that we are doing more business but in a very different way. We’ve adjusted our plans in line with the changes in men’s spending and see good opportunities in specific places.”
“Amidst the moodiness of all the dark tones, emerged a very appealing use of military greens; certainly the go-to color for spring 2017,” he noted, adding: “Printed shirts reminiscent of a tropical climate added a much needed lightness. Keeping the island getaway mood going were lots of shorts, tissue-weight band-collar shirts and espadrilles to galvanize the point that this is all you need to keep cool on an island, even if it’s Manhattan in the heat of summer.”
“It was a really strong season; there was a lot of great creativity around this whole idea of travel, which we found really interesting,” said Justin Berkowitz, men’s fashion director at Bloomingdale’s. “It felt really right now in terms of what’s going on in the world.”
Berkowitz said he also discovered some interesting new designers, despite budgets for spring being essentially flat. “Retail is what it has been over the past year, [but] our business is doing OK. We’re still moving forward very strongly, and we’re looking forward to a great spring 2017; there are a lot of commercially viable options that we think will resonate with our customers.”
Hirofumi Kurino, co-founder and creative director of United Arrows, noted it was important to stay diverse and that in Paris every brand went its own way. “This is a good answer in a tough market situation,” he said. Among the most salable categories, Kurino listed “the big shirt,” in an oversized silhouette and “the light coat,” which could be worn as a blouson. His favorites shows were Dries Van Noten and Comme des Garçons Shirt. He said he would also stock up on Bass Weejuns Shoes, sensing a demand for an “Ivy League look with a twist.”
United Arrows is increasing its budget spending ahead of its Roppongi store expansion.
“What’s selling now is what’s not in the customer’s closet, and has detail that they get credit for,” said Ken Downing, fashion director and senior vice president of stores for Neiman Marcus. “Basic pieces are of no interest to the customer right now. They want clothes that have character.” He thought “Demna’s show was stellar and super directional,” and also lauded strong shows from Givenchy and Thom Browne.
While surprised by the amount of camouflage on the runway, Downing praised the season’s neutral palette, interesting plays on shirts, the comeback of suede in clothes and shoes, and touches of New Wave and hints of punk.
Jackets got stronger shoulders, while trench coats and anoraks were unconstructed. “There’s a shift in silhouette, and the pleated pant is part of it,” he said.
Mohair sweaters on the Louis Vuitton runway were but one example of clothes that didn’t register as summery — and that’s a good thing, according to Neiman’s Downing.
“It’s interesting how many designers are rejecting the idea of seasons and just putting forth clothes that are new and the customer will react to,” he said.
As Emmanuel de Bayser, cofounder and chief buyer at The Corner in Berlin, noted: “The key trend is that there is no trend.
“The shows showed that it goes in all directions: from romantic and poetic (Dries Van Noten) to aggressive and sporty (Givenchy); and from strong tailoring (Balenciaga) to soft modernism (Valentino). In store, our customers are clearly moving away from too sporty, slouchy, flashy towards more clean, soft, cool and humorous looks with more tailoring,” de Bayser said.
He added that he was spending up to 50 percent more on progressive items such as Saint Laurent prints, Thom Browne’s sporty tailoring and Balenciaga’s logo light parkas and jerseys, while scaling back on collections that were too repetitive and remaining “in the old formula.”
“Paris is definitely now the most important fashion week,” said Alix Morabito, newly appointed fashion editor at Galeries Lafayette. “The collections were globally good, with designers that create a difference with a strong design point of view and a lot of work with material. [There was] good energy,” she said.
“While London and Milan are reducing the number of shows, Paris — just like Pitti, which included a show by Raf Simons and a Cartier presentation — is taking on more and more weight,” noted Maud Tarena, men’s director at Le Bon Marché.
Jo Harris, general merchandising manager at Harrods for men’s wear and sports, noted: “Paris is always impressive when it comes to both the collections and the shows — many of which are hosted in decadent locations among glamorous settings. The commercial potential this season has been great. Paris maintains a consistent balance between the creation of new trends and designs, innovation of craftsmanship and collections, while ensuring that the collections remain commercially viable.”
Damien Paul, Matchesfashion.com head of men’s wear, who noted that his budget continues to grow significantly, said that he liked “the nods to outdoor pursuits” for spring, especially “the rucksacks, the camping references and utility straps used everywhere.”
“We are in a very positive position for spring ’17 and our budgets reflect this confidence,” said Dean Cook, buying manager for men’s wear at Browns. “Paris men’s is definitely growing for us. Brands are creating bigger collections each season and our spend is simultaneously increasing. Our customers are investing in fashion more than ever. We’re anticipating sneakers, souvenir jackets, satin jackets, T-shirts and oversized sweatshirts to be some of our top-performing trend-driven pieces,” he said, citing Yohji Yamamoto, Haider Ackermann and Ann Demeulemeester as favorites.
“Paris always has a different feeling than the other fashion capitals, with more innovation and creativity. Shows are real shows most of the time — an emotional event surrounded by clothing,” said Riccardo Tortato, men’s fashion director at Tsum Moscow and DLT St. Petersburg, who listed Givenchy, Valentino, Issey Miyake and Balmain as among his favorite collections. “The general direction is all on soft material and soft shapes. Pleats on pants and soft-shoulder jackets.”
Sarah Andelman, creative director and purchasing manager of the Paris concept store Colette, singled out Palm Angels, OAMC, Sacai, Comme des Garçons and Valentino as the week’s highlights. “Valentino is always beautiful,” she said.
But not all were this smitten.
Nelson Mui, men’s fashion director of Hudson’s Bay Co. and Lord & Taylor, called it a “safe” Paris season. “It’s great that all the markets are pushing the same trends: bold prints, embellishment, relaxed shapes and volumes, ethnic ‘traveler’ motifs and themes,” he said. “We’re definitely buying more progressive, relaxed and pleated bottoms and pants, ultra-lightweight outerwear and hybrids, parachute and nylon fabrications, and styles, soft palettes and hues like mint, vertical stripes in tops and bottoms, ethnic prints and details.”
“We liked Paris, but it was not quite as exciting as we would have hoped for,” said Jeffrey Kalinsky, Nordstrom’s designer fashion director. “Today fashion has to be more than compelling to entice the customers. Streetwear and military influences seem to be the influence that our customers are responding to most.” Nordstrom favorites were Givenchy, Valentino, Dries van Noten and Thom Browne.
Bosse Myhr, director of men’s wear and technology buying at Selfridges, noted that it was crucial for a buyer to know the detail for each brand, which in turn makes it commercially successful, as the customers are growing more knowledgeable.
“Our designerwear business has been outperforming the rest of men’s wear and we will be looking to grow at accelerated high double-digit growth for men’s designer brands,” he said. “In the U.K., we have a great opportunity with more elevated outerwear. The other opportunity in men’s is evening wear, tuxedos and everything that goes with it. Exclusive streetwear is a massive trend, and within that, sneakers, T-shirts, sweatshirts are all performing very well,” he said, pointing to Thom Browne, Comme des Garçons Homme Plus, Givenchy, Louis Vuitton and Haider Ackermann as top picks. “Creativity is still at the heart of the Paris shows,” Myhr said, but noted that: “This season felt a little safe overall. It is maybe a sign of our times that there is a need to go back to basic and concentrate to make things safe.”
Ahmet Ocal, buying director of the men’s merchandise group for Beyman, characterized the Paris shows as “a new era” for big French brands such as Saint Laurent, Dior, Lanvin and Balenciaga and “a chance to make a fresh start. This season is kind of transition period for some brands and also a powerful start for some to change the past. Compared to Milan, Paris has always been the capital of the creativity and courage in terms of design and silhouettes. We feel in the near future more new silhouettes and new looks in men’s wear will emerge from Paris.” He singled out Valentino and Balmain as among his favorites along with Balenciaga and Off White.
He pointed to new silhouettes at Balenciaga and others as “pushing the limits and taking risks,” and said some designers were “more courageous in combining different ranges of colors with unusual fabrics.” As a result, Beyman was increasing its budget with French brands for the season. “Brands like Valentino, Balmain and Givenchy have been the best performing brands for us for a couple of seasons.”