Menswear FW17: Peel back my layers and see me

The temptation to say oversize is still the bigger trend was almost overwhelming as Paris menswear’s first fall 2017 offerings clomped by. As more designers hop onto the bandwagon of sports, urban youthfulness, these roomy wares revealed more than just a fondness for acres of material and volumes, the space-occupying volumes feeling less like an exercise in bulk and more like the evolutive wrapping fit for ever-shifting identities. Offering layers may have originated in a desire for protection, but recently, these shifting layers have come to express the puzzle of an identity that emerges at junctures and collision points. The conjoined emphasis on utilitarian, adaptable detailing highlighted the possibility and necessity of change, today more than ever.

The freezing temperatures that befell the city as its menswear session opened found an immediate echo on the Facetasm runway, where Hiromichi Ochiai explored the multiverse: multiculturalism, multichannel, multifaceted lives, the way that a human has become a tesselate of influences and connections. Tapping into the super-sized, over-long tropes, he sent out looks that swung between the rugged charm of unfinished sheepskin coats and the ultra-technical snow sport vibes provided by the de-rigeur puffer jackets. Ultra-wide track pants cut from bomber jackets collided with pleated florals. Layers of textures gave off a foundling tribal vibe, as if the Facetasm troupe had constructed their identity over time from the flotsam and jetsam of many genres. The “days of old, when magic filled the air” that Led Zeppelin sang about never seemed more abstract than then, yet still solidly present through their remains. Post-show, the models mingling on the street exit could have easily slipped away into the stream of similarly attired guests eager to snap them for social media.

At Y/Project, it is clear that the make-do vibe is superceded by the impression of deep hand tooling. As a model stalked past, a silver hand clasped in his flesh and blood one, or a third one looped into the belt and chained to it too. The hand, implied or visible, was certainly an overarching theme in the collections of Belgian designer Glenn Martens. What was most visible is how much the body influenced the volumes created with the abundance of fabric and seams visibly twisted along the edges, materializing every convolution of material. Where textural play usually involves multiple fabrics, Martens made a case for garments playing with themselves: a cuff neatly folded over to the knee, a denim jacket so long that it needed to be tucked. In most instances, there was an of-the-now exaggerated ugliness. The tensile energy of the doomed couples depicted on sports fan scarves – Napoleon/Josephine, Henry the 8th/Anne Boleyn, Louis XVI/Marie-Antoinette – brought to mind a rough romance that wouldn’t have gone amiss in a Trainspotting-like transference. At the edges, there were coats that were so long, they evoked the Ghost of Christmas Present. What inevitably came to mind was that this visitation came accompanied by two harried children, Want and Ignorance. An apt metaphor for the current state of the fashion nation, and as a wider comment, too.

Luke Meier’s OAMC took into account that evolution is part of customer desire today. Trusting the end-user to dial up or leave off the elements as required, he bisected classic menswear shapes with technical detailing lifted from purpose-built items. Given the current securitarian atmosphere that permeates this city (as many others), a tapestry tabard evoked bullet-proof vests and the reinforced articulations spelled out extreme caution, rather than all-terrain sports. Likewise, the lanyard necklaces imprinted the imagination as dogtags. More than any, this Supreme alum has a knack for finding the little details that makes a look combust in the right way: borders lifted from the edges of high-end fabric rolls become a ribbon-like note, zips and clips tell when to batten down the hatches, a multiplicity of hoods becomes as much a statement as a practical way of adjusting temperature. Seing the OAMC wardrobe on a runway rather than as a presentation highlighted the construction, and in particular the technical legerdemain that enables or impedes movement. These layers, where bulk could have easily become cumbersome, moved with the fluidity that is associated with the highest levels of menswear craftsmanship but with none of the passeist reverence. In short, the kind of work that goes into ensuring that Bond’s jackets are equally suited to fight or fanfare. Aleister Crowley’s “Do what thou wilt” climbing along a side was spot on. Not only was he an infamous occultist but also as a mountaineer who scaled the Himalayas. After all, style – not fashion – remains the elusive black magic that all attending trade in. To occupy that space, or indeed fill it, is to achieve permanence.

For White Mountaineering, all that amounted to being adaptable, and in layering for protection. So much so, in fact that over-protection becomes an argument. Dark days are upon us, with many things to be protected from. Perhaps to the point where going Into the Wild – sans the dying part – could be an option requiring an adaptable, pack rat lifestyle that needs that multitude of pockets, rip cords et al that decorate these silhouettes made to blend in with their faux-mouflage in black and white.

For his first presentation in Paris, Israeli designer Hed Mayner tapped the necessary sportswear/workwear references that afford him a place on the style radar but made sure to integrate something worth writing home about. For him, that would be the trappings of Jewish orthodoxy which he abstracted to patterns that attract the eye – they only felt recognizable once you were aware of their nature. He too wedged identity in couched layers of padding, held close to the self by hidden adjustments such as elasticated fastenings.

But those markers of difference didn’t feel like they were unsurmountable. At least not for Stéphane Ashpool who knows all the richness a melting pot provides and proved it once again in Pigalle. In pulling together all sorts of tribes, he made a case for becoming more than a sum of parts. As heterogeneous as his inspirations were – as was the mix of people on and off the stage, he instilled kinship in spirit, discarding the original palette of the original and recolorizing by the designer’s unifying vision. Metallics livening up an unusual palette of violent neutrals, he cut elegant twists on tracksuits and souvenir t-shirts, western jackets and peacoat. Being “street” doesn’t have to equate with neglect of style and craft. Sitting in what will be Pigalle’s atelier (once some very necessary refurbishment has been done on this space), the dominating thought remained that difference should bring flavor, not fear.

Last but not least amongst his menswear peers, Thom Browne. Although his work stands in a category of its own, the trifecta of creatures depicting the three ages of suiting in a distant future where all manners of bipeds require sartorial service. Browne delivered, too. Beyond all other considerations, it means the possibility to accommodate otherness.

In short, all that extra space is left purposefully not for any physicality but rather as the home for all those minute differences that make individuals who they are. Up to us to sense the true being, and meaning within – or insert our own.

Lily Templeton

Writer, journalist, storyteller, editor - Based in Paris - Typing up a storm on real and virtual keyboards, thanks to a curiosity like a small gauge sieve, exploring the world of creation one question at the time.