Saturday, January 17, 2009

Dodger, West and Bond...

Well folks, it's a brand new year and with that comes a brand new fashion season. The F/W 09.10 Menswear collections are upon us and that can only mean one thing, that the S/S 09 Couture collections aren't far behind and after that it's only a few weeks until the F/W 09.10 women's collections. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

The men's collections, for me anyway, don't usually hold as much excitement as the women's collections do. It's a combination of factors that lessens my enthusiasm, really. The lack of drama, the feeling that there are only so many things you can do with menswear before it turns into a joke, or worse, womenswear and the fact that for the last, well, too many years, so much of what's been going on in men's fashion hasn't interested me at all for the sheer fact that I just simply cannot relate. The whole waifish, ragamuffin, boy/man hybrid that seems to be the only thing anyone has cared about in menswear has never once resonated with me. I'm not a waif. I don't have a chest like a newborn bird and I don't fit into women's jeans. Never have, never will try. So I've pretty much felt left out of the loop while labels like Dior Homme under Hedi Slimane, Burberry Prorsum and Raf Simons both for his own line and at Jil Sander have created clothes that not only wouldn't look good on me even if I could afford them, but clothes that I don't even think look very good on the models. Of course there are shows that I can at least appreciate for the fact that they aren't trying to create some new breed of man like Versace, Dolce and Gabbana and even at times Prada, but at least as far as most on the Fashion Spot (where I spend a good deal of time during runway season) are concerned, the type of slick, decidedly masculine fashions being shown by the D&G boys and Miss Donatella are not just boring, but tacky and passe.


So imagine my surprise today when looking at the Burberry Prorsum collection to find that Christopher Bailey had changed his repetitive course and took a sharp left into unexpected territory. The first dozen or so looks were all in black and looking much more cleaned up and sharp than I'm used to seeing from a Burberry collection. If I had to use one word to describe the overall feeling of the collection it would be mature. This was a collection that seemed aimed at guys who have surpassed the 25 year mark. You could say there was something grown up about the collection. It was like all of the retro-quirky Londoniness of Burberry had been swept away and what you were left with was actual clothes instead of a tedious look. The majority of responses on tFS (that's the Fashion Spot) were negative, and I can completely understand why. The collection wasn't really what anyone would expect from Bailey, which could explain why I like it.

My favorite pieces in the collection were the coats, the best being a black knee-length pea coat style with epaulettes and a great little cuff detail that I can't quite describe. It's the kind of thing that makes my desire kick in. For me, in F/W collections, you just can't beat a perfect coat.

Overall the collection had a vague Dickensian feel to it that made me think of the Artful Dodger or something, the street urchin in gentlemen's clothes. I suppose it was a combination of the dark, cool, ashy sort of colors, the proportions of the very boxy coats paired with straight narrow trousers and the limpid jabot-style ties that appeared on some of the shirts. Luckily though it wasn't themey and the Dickens thing is more likely a coincidence than an attempt by Bailey to tell a story.

But as I mentioned, the unexpected factor could be this collection's biggest weakness. I am decidedly not a fan of Burberry Prorsum, so if suddenly I like it and the people who are normally fans do not, that could be a problem. Even in the best of times it wouldn't be wise to completely alienate the customer base you've built by giving them a look that they love, but especially now when economies all around the world are going to hell it just seems like a strange move. Frankly, this isn't really what people want from Burberry, and there are a slew of other labels out there who do dark, urbane menswear much better. I guess my thinking is that in shaky times, it would be smart to do what you do best.

Jil Sander

The Jil Sander collection was also shown today, and if Bailey's collection can usually be counted on to deliver the same grungey, lanky, rock-y look, then Raf Simons' collections at Sander can be counted on to deliver precise, sharp, clean tailoring with a subtle twist whether that be in the fabrics, the minute details or the silhouette. This season he delivered more of his narrow tailoring cut with surgical precision, but here and there he played with shape. The shoulders and sleeves on coats and jackets had a certain roundness to them with a bit of volume built in which softened the normally rigorous Sander shape. That's all well and good, I don't mind a bit of experimentation now and then, but on many of these pieces he did something inexplicable. He tailored the body in such a way so that the torso came in at the waist, not in the area where a man's waist sits, but instead in the region where a woman's waist sits.

Now, I understand that for whatever reason there is a drive in menswear lately to pursue newness. New shapes, new attitudes and new definitions of masculinity. But when designers do something like this that is so clearly an attempt at nothing more than doing something new for the sake of newness I have to wonder what the point of all this "innovation" is. I don't think we live in a society, no matter how progressive some of the people who inhabit it are, that is going to grasp onto the idea of slowly feminizing men. It's not the same as when women's fashion, and by extension their roles in society were gradually infused with more masculine attributes. That was all done to advance what little power and influence women had. When Yves Saint Laurent cut a masculine looking tuxedo for a woman's body the intention was to empower the woman wearing it, but even still that tuxedo was very clearly cut for the female form. All of the broad shoulders, straight torsos and endless trousers that have appeared in women's fashion over the last century have served a purpose, and it was not to make women look like men. It was to make them equal to men. So I can't help but wonder what the point in making men look like women is. I could see if it was done by a woman, like last year when Miuccia Prada put men in halter tops, fly-less trousers and skirts, how it might be an attempt to put men in their place. But these hourglass coats were designed by a man, for a man, and so I can't even attempt to guess at what his motives were.

Thankfully the rest of the collection, while not heartstopping or lust-inducing, was at the very least good looking. Sharp, clean and no doubt luxurious, it's the kind of classic look that seems to always work no matter what.

But I can't help but feel like, for all of the strides Simons has made with the womenswear at Sander, his menswear is lagging behind. If the best he can do to create excitement is to give men a torso that any Mae West impersonator would envy then I'd say he's either not trying hard enough, or worse, trying too hard.

Dolce and Gabbana

As far as the first day of Milan Mens week goes, the show that hit closest to home for me was Dolce and Gabbana. It was a collection that, even if I didn't always love the result, I can at least fully comprehend and relate to it.

The last few seasons I haven't really paid much attention to Dolce's menswear offerings. It had gotten a bit dull, and more that a little predictable. That's not to say that this collection was some kind of watershed moment or anything, but it was a sort of reminder of what the Dolce and Gabbana man is all about.

Most of the lineup was comprised of looks that were black on black. Many people would probably complain that it was too much black, but that actually suits me just fine. I say there's no such thing as too much black since no matter how you slice it, there is no way to look bad in it. The overall mood of the collection was very urbane, very slick, and very sharp. There was something of a James Bond kind of feel going on in much of the first half of the lineup. As always the boys showed their signature tailoring, perfectly suited to any Fellini star or the kind of hit men and assassins you only see in movies. Particularly gorgeous was a polished black crocodile motorcycle jacket shown with a bulky turtleneck sweater and charcoal trousers with a subtle stripe. It's the kind of look that makes fashion shows a somewhat depressing affair since you realize there is absolutely no way it will ever feature in your wardrobe.

Occasionally they relented from the onslaught of black offering shots of grey. Navy also made an appearance in velvet as the body of a trenchcoat with sleeves in contrasting fabric.

After some more black looks and an inexplicable section of hideous quilted fabric pieces, they sent out the male equivalent of their traditional parade of evening looks. Dinner jackets in black and white graphic patterns were interspersed in a lineup of velvet and silk jackets in various shades of pink, from cotton candy all the way through to magenta. Now, that kind of look takes a certain personality to actually pull it off, but I will say this, if a man is going to wear pink a deep, brazen shade of pink is the way to go. It's far more masculine.

Overall it was a pretty solid collection in my opinion. No it wasn't Earth shattering, innovative or even all that fresh, but on display were plenty of great clothes that men can actually wear without needing to explain the statement they're trying to make. My one complaint, and it is a fairly big one, is this; I couldn't help but feel that at least some of this collection was taking a cue from Tom Ford's eponymous menswear line. Some of the looks (the all black, the finale of brocade and pink velvet dinner jackets, the velvet shoes in different colors) would look quite at home in his Madison Avenue mecca. Frankly, he owns this suave hyper-masculine/fashion obsessed dandy territory and the D&G boys should be thanking their lucky stars that his clothes are kept largely out of the public eye in his swank boutiques where only clients and truly obsessed wannabes (guess which category I fall in) can see them. If they were being shown on a runway during men's week, I doubt if anyone would miss the striking similarities.

all photos from via OhJane, Nils and Gius at the Fashion Spot

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