Paris Men’s Fashion Week, Settling Into Digital Format, Offers Glimpse Of New Normal

Once again, PFW men’s fashion was relegated to a virtual audience. The pandemic altered the men’s Spring 2021 fashion shows last summer to pivot to online presentations save for a few determined brands who showed live. In September and early October, the women’s Spring 2021 collections proceeded with a digital presence enhanced by a bevy of live shows in Paris shown to a local audience. At that moment, it looked like the worst of the Coronavirus was behind us. But as the men’s collections debuted this past week, the City of Lights, currently under strict curfew to abet further spread, is contemplating yet a third lockdown related to the raging second (or third?) wave of the highly transmissible virus.

Fashion designers are known to interpret the events, moods and habits of the world and society around them. So, it’s safe to safe that, like the rest of the world, their daily routines have changed too. This is especially true for any American designers who show in Paris who have experienced epic societal, political and environmental crises since the virus took over in March. Looking ahead to Fall 2021 begs the question, will life return to normal? Or rather, what will the new normal be? For many, and especially designers, right now is the time to rethink norms regarding fashion and dressing codes.

The Inspiration

Overall, there seemed to be a more louche, relaxed approach to dressing, as if suits, on the whole, will be optional. After months of the hardest dressing decision being what hoodie to wear on a Zoom call, designers propose a lighter, more comfortable, but more colorful dressing style. Others offer clothes that protect from the uncertainty of the future or make a nod to the protection of Mother Earth, whether through upcycling efforts or blatant cries to rescue the environment.

One thing that remained a constant was missing the energy of physical fashion shows, which includes a pack-like community that convenes together to compare notes, exchange ideas and share the enthusiasm for a show. But digital leaves the playing field on how to show wide open. Many designers have morphed into mini-directors and film producers, putting together entertaining clips that allow for more in-depth, richer storytelling. It’s safe to say that for some brands, the new normal will mean eschewing the runway altogether and continuing to create digital runway shows – which have a wider audience reach – to introduce their latest collections. In some cases, the films can be less costly than staging live shows. Theoretically, monies could also be put into other types of in-person events to promote the collection.

Forever Changed?

As for the merchandise, there will be plenty for the retailers to choose from to entice their customers. However, many younger brands have pivoted to focus on direct to consumer as store closings left them to fend for themselves to move canceled merchandise and stock. For some in luxury, the pandemic has funneled money spent on experiences into acquiring goods. How these habits and trends evolve in the sector will be exciting to watch.

Some brands were new to the Paris calendar, such as KidSuper. Louis Vuitton amped up the energy of the Fall 2021 PFW with a pop-up store, art installation, and AR activation. Brands such as Acne and Celine postponed altogether, presumably to join forces with the women’s’ collections. Other men’s mainstays such as Berluti, Walter Van Beirendonck and Thom Browne showed teaser films hinting at a new collection to debut soon. Browne’s charming vignette, entitled “Another Day at the Office,” portrayed kids wearing the designer’s signature shrunken grey suits playing office. It could have been a commentary on the pandemic during which the only people going back to their daily ‘office’ is children who have largely returned to school while parents work at home. Digital has also stripped down some of the confines associated with showing with a specific week as some brands show on their own timetable. It’s important to note that following the films was a statement assuring that all health protocols, including requiring negative PCR tests, were taken in the filming of the productions as models were shown without masks and not always socially distanced.

Paris Heavyweights – The majors’ statement for Fall 2021

Dior Homme – Kim Jones is on a roll as he prepares an additional role as women’s co-creative director at Fendi in which he will make his Haute Couture debut. That didn’t deter from delivering a stellar Dior Homme. With a hint of military flare borrowed from the Academy of Beaux-Arts, the designer drew art inspiration this time from Peter Doig white artwork appeared on some of the garments. He offered a new take on the men’s wardrobe that suggests daring color combos – rich deep browns and purple with a pop of acid yellow, for instance. Fuzzy mohair sweaters, notched-hem jackets and new slouchy pants with a slit kick flair hem were essential directional items of this collection.

Hermes – Filmed in French government ministry building, the Mobilier National, showed male models interacting as if in a laid-back business environment. Hermés men Creative director Véronique Nichanian may be suggesting a new normal for the office mood post-pandemic.  With a bit of a retro vibe, her designs propose a more casual approach to being put together and comfortable too. For instance, witness zip-front jackets especially in plaid, short pants with fuller legs, and sneakers. A color palette of muted purple, ochres, tan, teal, mustard and grey added to the fresh take.

Rick Owens – Filmed on location in Venice and entitled “Gethsemane” in a nod to uncertain times, the Rick Owens man is almost biblical in his raw energy. Tighty-whitey’s worn with thigh-high boots with a bevy of cloaks, whether in duvet style puffer coats or long cashmere knits, may be aimed at a specific niche. Still, undoubtedly, Owen’s collaboration with Converse, reimagined with a distinct square toe, will surely be a sellout.

Dries Van Noten – Filmed in Antwerp, Dries Van Noten is looking forward to getting his men dressed again. He plays upon wardrobe stereotypes such as the collared shirt and rethinks them in massive-oversized garments—ditto for shorts, pajama-like tops, cable knits, sweaters, cloaks and shortened ankle pants. Overall, the collection was less print-heavy than usual, projecting a more somber tone.

JW Anderson – In a personal ‘one-on-one’ explanation of the collection, which was depicted via a series of posters made with Jurgen Teller, designer JW Anderson breaks down the collection as an “experimentation in simplicity and reduction’ with a focus on craft and modernity. Besides quirky vegetable motifs throughout the collection, look for more versions of the popular patchwork mohair sweater made famous by Harry Styles.

Loewe – In a similar move from his namesake collection, designer JW Anderson walks the audience through the collection inspired by artist Joe Brainard. The artist’s work is worked into intricate leather intarsia patterns, a hallmark of the Spanish leather goods house expertise; shearling jackets feature a patchwork of the artists’ work and an oversize panel pant with legs that extend to two square panels. The theme of repetition in the artwork is conveyed as multi-layers of the same garment. A new tote version of the house’s Elephant bag will surely be a retail push.

Jil Sander – One of the more tailored efforts, this smart, intellectual collection of separates showed funnel neck overcoats, turtlenecks, boxy leather shirts and trim pants. It was somber but given a touch of flair with heavy jewelry statements –an emerging trend for men – and neck scarfs a la the military. An image fused onto a jacket subbed for prints.

Environment Concerns – Several designers wove their concerns for the natural world into their collections.    

Reese Cooper – The California-based designer took on an epic staging by filming his collection runway atop the recently wildfire-damaged Mt. Wilson at the legendary observatory for astrophysics study. The designer, whose collection takes the technical aspects of both streetwear and outdoor gear and gives them a fashion makeover, chose the location to bring awareness to California’s wildfires. For instance, one seasonal slogan on a jacket read, “The Call of the Wild Should not be Help.” Additionally, some of his outerwear, hunting jackets, hoodies, anoraks, and varsity jackets came emblazoned with the National Forest Foundation logo. The proceeds from the sale of those garments will be donated to the fund.

Vetements – More a nod to social and political concerns, Vetements also addressed the environment with a ‘hellfire” set backdrop and flame print.  In contrast was a more uplifting rainbow and ‘heavens’ gate” background. They set the tone for the catchy merch with slogans on T-shirts, hoodies and jackets such as “Think why you still can,” “If you were wishing for a sign, this is it,” “Restricted” and “We are the people,” a more positive message. As for trends, this show had shoulder pads on boxy tops, sheer mesh tops, bike shorts, long slinky knit dresses. Additional prints were marble and a striking multi-flag pattern.

Botter – The duo behind Botter, Lisi Herreburgh and Rushemy Botter, want to bring attention to more than their collection as well. The show entitled “Romancing the Coral Reef’ contained footage of the coral reef they sponsor in Curacao, the Dutch municipality in the Caribbean. Both natives of the island, their collections reference both life and environmental concerns there. In this outing, they added fishing lures as décor to looser suits with boxy shouldered jackets that fall away from the body, strong parka style outerwear, and seafaring staples such as a riff on a sailor top or fisherman’s sweater and waterproof outerwear constructed into 3D shapes with lug pull details. Tank-style tops were given a tailored revamp and skinny paper-thin turtlenecks balanced oversized proportions, a trend emerging for men.

White Mountaineering – Living true to their name, White Mountaineering explored man’s role in nature and staged their film on a snow-filled mountain depicting models both in camping and solitary commune with the climate as well as enjoying on snowboards and downhill skis. More tailored than in the past, this collection delivered on merch suitable for the lifestyle shown.

Streetstyle Notables – As some in the industry infamously decreed streetwear dead, a pandemic hit. Some notable collections offering the casual lifestyle are proof positive it’s here to stay.

Isabel Marant – The designer’s menswear collection builds upon polish streetwear styles with a preppy vibe. Rugby shirts, retro-V-neck sweaters, bucket hats, shearling collar carcoats, duffle coats in bold prints, layered anoraks, buffalo plaids and pants made to move whether trainers or the return of pleated khakis, only this time cool.

Rhude – Lots of leather and a touch of sexy in this co-ed show shot in LA at night with a McLaren holding court center stage on the smoky set. Think updated preppy styles worn in new ways, furry hoodies, leather suits with a loose fit pant, oversized double-breasted jackets and short boxy outwear for him. For her, sexy off-shoulder tops, slit skirts, a woven bustier, pleated chiffon dress and adoption of men’s oversized overcoats and khaki workwear styles.

Andrea Crews – Notably, one designer to embrace the latest technology in showing his collection was Crews. His signature sweatshirt is long below-the-knee epic proportions, for example. The designer dissects his garment, making his hybrid creations using CGI models and breaking down tech packs.

Casablanca – Up-and-coming brand Casablanca seems to be courting the aspiring Gucci customer with a look that embraces the awkward side of the 70s and 80s. Designer Charaf Tajer’s slick video depicted a bevy of young men and women living a glamourous party-filled life in celebration of the Grand Prix car race. The brand is big on patterns, thus a diamond check, plaids, and other lively prints paired with either sunglasses or eyewear on every look made for the quirky vibe. Hence the Gucci reference. Still, this is a developing lifestyle brand to watch.

KidSuper – Streetwear brand to transition into high fashion sphere, the brand shot a charming video on New York’s Lower East Side and even starred the designer Colm Dillane. This brand is a one-stop-shop for color puffers; in fact, if color and pattern combining and clashing is the vibe sought, check out this brand.

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