The Last of the Men's Shows: Thom Browne, Raf Simons, Kenzo

Forgive our tardiness here in finally bringing you our reviews for the last of the men's shows. Some of the best for last. Enjoy. more nextpage THO
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Forgive our tardiness here in finally bringing you our reviews for the last of the men's shows. Some of the best for last. Enjoy. more nextpage THO
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Forgive our tardiness here in finally bringing you our reviews for the last of the men's shows. Some of the best for last. Enjoy.

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THOM BROWNE

I have followed Mr. Browne’s work since the beginning, in 2004, and was completely in awe of the sense of humour and and wild camp he brought to his fashion. I remember his early shows where models skated on a recreation of a skating rink in an art gallery on 10th Avenue in New York wearing formal suits, or played an imaginary tennis game in large ball gowns. That was then.

Since moving to Paris under new Japanese ownership, Mr. Browne's shows have grown more extravagant--both in terms of the grandness of the staging and the ostentatiousness of the clothes. This last one, shown Sunday night at the Galerie de Minéralogie, was no exception. Lost in this expansion is that secret charm, that sense of humour as he deconstructed the rigid codes of menswear to the point where we had to laugh--and then take his proposition very seriously.

Yet underneath the punk spikes, S&M masks, and the over-sized football shapes were very classic Thom Browne garments: a grey single breasted jacket and long skirt, a green plaid jacket with padded pants, and a cropped cardigan with stripes on one sleeve. But what to make of the grey merkins protruding from the models' pants? Had this been a more intimate presentation, the exaggerated proportions--in menswear proportion is really the only key element that designers can joggle each season--probably would have been more convincing as a real silhouette for clothes. But somehow, the magnitude of the show itself dwarfed the exaggerated proportions of half of the looks shown.

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RAF SIMONS MEN'S FALL 2012 “Boom!” and the lights went out just as soon as they'd been switched on at the start of Raf Simons' fall show at the Maison des Métalos. Since the single strand of lights in front of the photo pit couldn't be fixed, the show started in much the way the inscription on my invite had predicted: Run Fall Run. The show had hints of Mr. Simons’ first few shows presented in basements and garages near Bastille in the late 90’s. I remembered those first outings in the late '90s, the era of logo-mania, when Mr. Simons' shows shattered the image of corporate branding and ushered in a new thinking to fashion. Mr. Simons has always held a fascination with youth culture and fashion was merely a means to channel his tailoring to that particular generation. He made skinny suits the 'must have' for young kids. He used to cast his show in Antwerp and bring in real life models for his shows. The boys at his fall show had that look of youth not present on any other Paris shows. Casting young kids gave a distinctive and familiar feeling to Mr. Simons’ tailored clothes and somehow made the collection less of a design breakthrough for him. The black wool slim shorts, cut tightly around leg and just circling above the ankle, served as a base for a series of voluminous coats in rigid wool and stretch nylon most with large shoulders and dropped or flared collars. The shorts broke the formality of a suit look. There were patches of deer skin hanging from the collar in the back of sweat shirts and a double breasted coat has a back of dyed deer skin. They reminded me of the fox tail belt accessories I see on the street recently. I have seen kids hanging out at Empire Skating Rink parks in Brooklyn wearing them with their large silhouette coats and layered shirts and sweatshirts, some paired with long basketball shorts and either sneakers or leather tims. There is no doubt that Mr. Simons remained fully connected to the changes in the lives of street fashion as he bring his tailoring skills to fashion the kinds of fine clothes that these kids would want to wear, if not now, then soon.

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KENZO MEN'S FALL 2012

When Takada Kenzo started his fashion line in 1970 after graduating from Tokyo’s Bunka Fashion College and moving to Paris, his trademark was colorful fashion made with bold and inexpensive fabrics, which you could buy at his store Jungle Jap at Galerie Vivienne in Paris. Since his retirement in 1999, the brand has undergone a dramatic transformation under various designers, the last one being Antonio Marras, who steered the brand towards a high upscale designer level not envisioned by its founder.

It was initially surprising when LVMH announced that Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, owners of retail establishment Open Ceremony, would take the reigns at Kenzo; but the decision now makes complete sense. Having opened a store less than a year after presenting his first show, Mr. Kenzo was as much a retailer as a fashion designer. He knew his products and the customers he wanted to buy them. The same can be said of Leon and Lim.

Their first full menswear show took place at a RATP metro depot, where models walked around and down a series of trains tracks lit by multicolored lights. Mr. Leon and Ms. Lim presented an expansive range of clothes for the modern urban man on the move. They struck a difficult balance--offering essential men’s wardrobe needs like jackets, suits, outerwear and knitwear, all while paying respect to the Kenzo heritage. The use of paisley prints colors like orange, lime green, forest green, burgundy and purple paid homage to Kenzo’s famous use of bright colors.

Pricing the collection at retail will be critical to the success of Kenzo. Providing quality and well designed clothes in good fabric has always been a challenge: Too much quality and it’s too expensive; but too cheap a fabric and it’s trashy and low-end.

“The price of the collection is moderate,” Sara Lerfel, the owner of Colette in Paris, told me as we sat waiting for the Thom Browne show to start on Sunday evening. She had bought items from the women’s presentation last September and has ordered this collection as well. “It’s a great price for the younger customer entering the designer market,” Ms. Lerfel said just before the light dimmed.