Welcome To Spring/Summer '15

Welcome To Spring/Summer '15

A RENAISSANCE MAY BE UPON US, AS DESIGNERS PIQUE OUR IMAGINATIONS AND SUIT OUR UTILITARIAN NEEDS IN STUNNYING SIMULTANEITY. THE ALWAYS INCISIVE FASHION CRITIC ALEXANDER FURY ANALYZES THE PRACTICAL MAGIC OF MENSWEAR

A RENAISSANCE MAY BE UPON US, AS DESIGNERS PIQUE OUR IMAGINATIONS AND SUIT OUR UTILITARIAN NEEDS IN STUNNYING SIMULTANEITY. THE ALWAYS INCISIVE FASHION CRITIC ALEXANDER FURY ANALYZES THE PRACTICAL MAGIC OF MENSWEAR

Text: Alexander Fury

Fashion is a verb as well as a noun -- to fashion, as well as in fashion. That's why clothes so often make the man -- they craft him into the character he wants to be, at least on that particular day. But when the man makes the clothes himself, there's a dual implication: that he isn't fashioning anything at all, other than a reflection of himself, and that a piece of himself is exactly what he's selling.

That's a simple logic that has powered some of the best menswear of the Spring/Summer season. And that's not to say women don't make enticing, engaging menswear -- Rei Kawakubo and Miuccia Prada blow those kinds of preconceptions out of the water. But there's always the sense, with those clothes, of the sex that looks and the sex that is looked at. There's a removal. And although women more frequently don menswear than the other way around, Kawakubo and Prada don't seem the type to clad themselves in their offerings. The conceptual conceit of Prada and Comme des Garçons menswear, for me, is rooted in the fact that neither of the designers would ever wear it. More than their womenswear, it's an aesthetic exercise removed from their own backs.

Contrast that with the men behind menswear: from the denim-clad Italo Zucchelli of Calvin Klein Collection (could the menswear head of CK wear anything but denim, ideologically?) to Roberto Cavalli -- a walking, talking, cigar-chomping incarnation of his masculine muse if ever there was one. The man and his clothes cannot be separated. There's a propensity among menswear designers to dress themselves -- perhaps even more so than their female equivalents. Why? Because there's an inherent pragmatism to menswear. It's born from necessity, mostly, just as most men's instinct to buy is born from need rather than want.  Of course, reading this, you're a fashion-conscious gentleman. But you're in the minority. Most men buy trousers because they need them, not because they are enticed to do so by the lure of a projected view of themselves as a better person. Need is, of course, relative. Even masters of the universe don't need half-a-dozen wool-cashmere blend double-breasted suits in the Patrick Bateman mold. But nevertheless, the clothes they wear are functional first and foremost. They serve a purpose. Take Kim Jones's Louis Vuitton, his bags slung with handles this way and that, inspired by the designer's experience manhandling luggage during transcontinental travel. "Everything is based on travel, all the tailoring," asserts Jones, "so you can whip it out of a suitcase. Time is luxury, to me. You don't want to be wasting time having to call somebody to steam it." Practical.

The interesting thing about this S/S '15 season is that the practical considerations of menswear fuse seamlessly with progressive ideas. Designers-- mostly men, dressing men-- produced clothes that convey a message but also satisfy a need. Jonathan Anderson's Loewe debut had a distinct sense of pragmatism: a pragmatism that frequently feels once-removed, like a kissing cousin, as seen in his hair-raising, gender-bending J.W. Anderson shows in London. First of all, this wasn't a show, but rather a low-key series of models sullenly meandering in eminently real clothing, like baggy jeans with bucket turn-ups and luxe espadrilles-- "a Spanish shoe," says Anderson, tying with the roots of the label. It was striking to see Anderson's aesthetic translated to the Iberian Peninsula, and to a language of luxury. A pinstripe top tied with a fey little bow in London, say, became a hardier horizontal-striped square-cut T-shirt in Paris. Granted, it was in silk, but it had a different mood entirely. "Do something which is not expected. Always do what you think," says Anderson. Is it easier to do that in menswear than in womenswear, I ask? The answer is definitive: Yes.

Anderson is a rare remaining example of a split fashion personality. He also doesn't wear his own clothes, preferring to dress anonymously in Uniqlo and jeans. But he's an exception to the rule. For all the flighty romance and emotion Craig Green pumps into his clothes, you can absolutely imagine him wearing them. In fact, you don't have to imagine-- he frequently does. "I think when people see the shows they get this imagery and they see the collection as a lot more extreme than it actually is," reasons Green. "I wear this jacket I made almost every day...people are actually willing to go into a shop and buy this thing and put it on their bodies and wear it. Which is an amazing thing."

It's not so amazing, really. Because although Craig Green creates extraordinary shows, they boil down to realistic garments. His wide-cut cotton tunics, jackets bristling with ties, and shirts with trailing tails have great impact, but also beg for a life in three-dimensions. Ditto the work of Stefano Pilati at Ermenegildo Zegna Couture. He professes to design from a relatively simple motivation: frustration. "I'm a man, so I design what I can't find," he declares. That doesn't imply trickiness, but certainly a bucking against the convention of the classic, anonymous suit which Italy is so good at producing, and which previously was synonymous with Zegna. Pilati, by contrast, is trying to find things like voluminous coats, easy trousers with a knuckle of drape in the crotch, or Spring's finale of succulent, jewel-coloured tailoring in fluid crepes, clashing fuchsia with teal, amethyst, and camel. Zegna's show wasn't reinventing the wheel, but it felt new. Unconventional. "Everything has been done," sighs Pilati when discussing womenswear. He pauses, and perks up. "This is a great moment for menswear."

It's a difficult tightrope menswear designers tremble upon, though-- they must avoid falling into irrelevant pastiche or pantomime trickery while striving to showcase something fresh and enticing. Green's wide-eyed wonder at guys shelling out for his clothes shows an introspection designers seldom feel. The menswear market is booming, and someone somewhere will more often than not be willing to lay down cold, hard cash for the clothes you're proffering-- at least that's the received opinion.

That encourages many designers to offer undiluted, uncompromising visions. Rick Owens is the perfect example: his Spring collection was inspired by L'après-midi d'un faune, by Nijinsky, who humped a scarf on the stage of the Ballets Russes. That translated to plenty of trailing cloth lappets suggestively slung around the body, but also eroticized variations on classic sportswear. Rick Owens's clothes often have that distinctly American, easy-to-wear vision throbbing at their core. It's perhaps what anchors his work in reality, the reality of sneakers and shorts. "I always thought it would be nice to invent the world," says Owens cod-philosophically. "T-shirts, shoes kind of alter even the most mundane things." Those are the kind of dumb, everyday clothes Owens himself wears, an invariable California beach bum in baggy skate shorts, a sleeveless wife-beater, and pumped-up sneakers. However, every element of that everyday wardrobe is skewed with Owens's often-imitated aesthetic, wife-beater elongated, shorts Dali-esque and droopy-drawered, sneakers calcified like cloven hooves.

The truism sometimes comes from the label as well as the men. Riccardo Tisci's Spring Givenchy collection picked through the house's haute couture back catalog, seizing on pearly foliate embroidery and applying it boldly to strict suited and booted menswear. Givenchy as a house has intrinsically feminine roots-- Audrey Hepburn; the matriarch clients it inhereted from Balenciaga; Comte Hubert's Bettina blouse, all pie-crust ruffles like wedding-cake icing. The application of those ideas to masculine dress feels modern still.

What Raf Simons does always feels modern. His Spring collection is the most personal of the season. His models marched out in frenzied semidarkness, recalling an early-'90s Antwerp rave, dressed in clothes pasted and patched with images that could have been scraped from Simons's teenage bedroom wall in his parents' house in the tiny town of Neerpelt. There was an image of Simons, age 18, printed on the front of oversize shirts stamped with his initials, while the Japanese undercurrents of Edo-woodcut wave patterns were evocative of a country that offered the fledgling designer his earliest commercial support. There were even hints of his tenure at Dior-- the multiple-buttoned jackets kicking out into a feminine peplum, finding a mirror in his latest variations on the house's Tailleur Bar. It was like an autobiography in cloth. An artful tightrope walk. Simons would wear every piece himself. So would I.

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