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Paris' menswear: the ridiculous and the sublime

Where else besides Paris can you find sharp minimalist suits with an Amish undercurrent, Technicolor getaway garments, an enviable selection of serious-minded business wear and a men's spandex one-piece leotard modeled by a real-life adult film star, all on the same day?
/ Source: The Associated Press

Where else besides Paris can you find sharp minimalist suits with an Amish undercurrent, Technicolor getaway garments, an enviable selection of serious-minded business wear and a men's spandex one-piece leotard modeled by a real-life adult film star, all on the same day?

The city known for being the most creative and open of the world's fashion capitals lived up to its reputation Saturday with spring-summer 2012 collections that would seem to have something for everyone.

Don't care for the sharp two- or three-piece suits on offer at Cerruti or Smalto? Why not try a grass green Bermuda short suit from Kenzo instead?

Dior Homme's batwing sleeved, plain-front jackets in flax with leather detailing not your style? How about a snug little knit bodysuit from Bernhard Willhelm?

The City of Light's menswear extravaganza wraps up after five fabulous days on Sunday with displays by poetic Paris label Lanvin and Britain's Paul Smith.


The motto of the collection, "less and more," appeared contradictory, but seeing as the show boiled down to a long parade of variations on the same three minimalist, stripped-down suits, it actually made perfect sense.

It was like the label's menswear designer, Belgium's Kris Van Assche, had taken his marching orders from the thumping techno soundtrack, which featured a female voice repeating "do it, do it, do it and do it again" on a loop. Van Assche did one look — low-slung, drop-crotched, high-water trousers and plain-front jackets with bat wing sleeves — and then did it again, and again, in different shades.

There were, of course, nice pieces, like a razor-cut jacket with thin lapels and trompe l'oeil paneling in buttery leather and a double-breasted jacket with metal closures that looked like a door knocker in guise of buttons.

But on the whole, these were the kinds of edgy clothes you could see fashion-forward, deep-pocketed young men like Van Assche himself coveting. It was hard to imagine how the silhouette, with its vaguely Amish and mod influences, could have much appeal beyond that narrow demographic.


The show was like a ray of sunlight that pierced the dense blanket of gray clouds that shrouded Paris on Saturday morning.

Founded by a now-retired designer Kenzo Takada, the Paris-based label has wanderlust in its DNA, and the collection hopped from one holiday hotspot to another — from Havana to Portofino, Hawaii to Saint Tropez.

Bermuda and cargo shorts replaced trousers on the casual chic suits, served up in a high-octane palette of fuchsia, electric blue, canary yellow and a bright green that conjured up a well manicured, highly fertilized lawn. Short-sleeved shirts with oversized flowers or Hawaiian prints nudged out the business-ready button-downs, with sailor stripes and polka dots proclaiming the official start of summer.

"We imagined a man who when it comes time to go on holiday, throws all his straight-laced suits into the bin," designer Antonio Marras said in a backstage interview as dressers made the final pre-show adjustments, pulling up a tangy knee-sock here and straightening a flower printed bucket hat there. "We wanted to have a very vacation spirit while at the same time keeping a certain sophistication."

After collections Friday dominated by a somber palette of grays and charcoal, the Kenzo show, with its peppy Beach Boys soundtrack, was a welcome breath of fresh air that distracted the fashion world from the task at hand and got them thinking about more important things than clothes: Vacation.


You can say what you will about Willhelm's clothes — zany club kid knits — but when it comes to putting on a memorable fashion show, there's simply no disputing the German designer's almost preternatural gift.

It's safe to say that no one who saw Saturday's display — a potent cocktail of kitsch that included fast cars, a porn star and a muscle woman — will be forgetting it anytime soon.

Staged in a Mercedes dealership off Paris' Champs Elysees Avenue, the display was a veritable riot for the senses: Models sported sweat pants knit with XXL in oversized letters and bulky cowl sweaters that left wide swaths of chest uncovered, or itsy-bitsy Speedo bottoms, worn only with socks and shoes. A pair of jeans was reduced to a shell of its former self, with all the fabric removed apart from the yellow-stiched waistband, inseams and hems.

But the most memorable piece in the show — if not of all Paris fashion week thus far — was the one-piece thong bathing suit, worked within an inch of its spandex life by its amateur model, a real-life adult film star. He got a run for his money, though, from the other nonprofessional on the catwalk, a lady bodybuilder in teeny bikini who paused to flex her well oiled biceps.


The experimental Belgian house continued to cater to hipsters worldwide with a collection that mixed Adidas-style sportswear with casual suits cut from sheer, featherweight fabrics in a way that looked to be a sure hit in Brooklyn and Amsterdam and Tokyo.

Held in a gilded Paris theater, the show started with a short movie featuring models walking and running in place as the camera zoomed in on their crotches. The purpose of the film wasn't exactly clear, as the same models later emerged from backstage and zigzagged among the rows of seats, giving the audience a much better look at the clothes than the movie had.

There are only so many possible variations on the suit, so other Paris houses have incorporated sheer paneling as a way of dressing up the menswear staple, but at Margiela, transparency was more than a gimmick. Prints or stripes shone darkly beneath inky silk overlays on pants and jackets and the models' abundant tattoos shown through transparent knit sweaters. The suits were worn with thin little nylon windbreakers or ample rainslickers that look like the love children of an Adidas tracksuit and a Moroccan djellaba.


High-sheen fabrics have emerged as another big trend this week in Paris, but nowhere have they shone like at Cerruti. The label served up slim, two-button blazers and snug trousers in a crinkly, reflective material that turned what would otherwise would have been nice but unremarkable garments into real attention grabbers. A jacket in glittering silver was fit for a rock star, while you could see any man with abundant self confidence and a bit of pizzazz pulling off the shiny peacock blue pants.


French suitmaker Smalto sent out a solid collection of commercial pieces dominated by slim, single-button suits in luminous materials.

The show also included 10 pieces described as "masculine haute couture," hand-crafted looks made from materials including ostrich and crocodile. According to the collection notes, Smalto — under the direction of Swiss-Korean designer Youn Chong Bak — is the only menswear label registered with the Chambre Syndical de Haute Couture, the body that regulates Paris' wildly expensive made-to-measure couture lines.

The strong show ended with a literal whimper, as the little blond boy modeling the Mini Me version of what the notes described as the "three-piece tuxedo for men and children" sobbed his way down the runway, tears streaming down his little face.