Paris' spring-summer 2012 menswear shows melted into the past on Sunday, wrapping up in a pool of perspiration on the year's hottest day yet.
The five-day-long menswear extravaganza kicked off Wednesday under cloudy skies and usually chilly temperatures for June, but by Sunday thermometers had soared to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) — a nightmare scenario for a crowd of elaborate dressers reluctant to remove blazers, corsets or any other essential but asphyxiating element of their looks.
After the last show — a solid display by Swedish jeans-maker Acne — the fashion elite raced back to their hotels to pack their bags and get the hell out of Dodge before temperatures climb to a sweltering 93 degrees Fahrenheit (34 degrees Celsius) on Monday.
The heat wrecked havoc on shows from Paul Smith — where listless editors, stylists and journalists gave up taking notes to fan their reddened faces instead — to U.S. designer Thom Browne, whose sumptuous velvet-walled venue was transformed into a sauna.
Lanvin showed early enough in the morning — and delivered such a gorgeous collection — that it was among the sole shows of the day where the clothes managed to outshine the beating sun.
Besides the weather, the other main topic of conversation throughout the week was the ongoing saga of disgraced former Dior designer John Galliano, whose daylong trial on anti-Semitism charges Wednesday coincided with the start of menswear week here. He faces up to six months in prison and €22,500 ($32, 175) in fines for allegedly showering racist and anti-Semitic insults on a couple seated next to him at a Paris bar — an incident which cost him his job as creative director at Christian Dior, as well as at his own signature label.
In emotional testimony, Galliano blamed pressures of a pitiless industry for pushing him off the brink and into prescription drug and alcohol addictions. While he said he didn't remember the specifics of the incident or another alleged clash at the same bar, the once-flamboyant Galliano apologized for any pain caused by his words and actions.
Two days later, Galliano's longtime aide Bill Gaytten was named creative director at the Gibralter-born designer's eponymous label after a lackluster show there that felt like Galliano Lite.
Though the fashion elite might make a break for it now, many top editors, stylists and journalists will re-converge on Paris in a week's time for the city's rarified haute couture displays, where made-to-measure dresses start at the price of a small car and go vertiginously up from there.
Normally models grumble when they have to wear something that hides their faces, but at Browne's cross-dressing, "Cabaret"-infused show, the relief of those whose features were obscured behind the fringed lampshade hats was almost palpable.
You could hardly blame them: Even for male models, who are used to donning both the hideous and the sublime, photos immortalizing them in beaded flapper dresses worn with sock garters are a hard thing to live down.
There were also hourglass-shaped trench coats in navy pinstripes, with a swishy fringe in lieu of epaulettes, shrunken bowler hats hung with a bride's veil and beaded jumpsuits accessorized with knee-length ropes of pearls.
The heavily inked arms of a tattoo-embellished model emerged from a crop top covered in pearly white beads, and you could practically smell his relief that he was also wearing one of the face-shrouding lampshade hats.
But say what you will about Browne's clothes — which this season inverted the usually truncated proportions of his trademark shrunken suits — there's no disputing the man knows how to put on a show.
Held in Paris' iconic Belle Epoque-era watering hole Maxim's, where Champagne flowed like tap water, Sunday's show had all the trappings of a super display. But the event soured in the heat, which turned the velvet-covered restaurant into a sort of inferno and sent the bubbly straight to everybody's heads.
The plodding gait of the models, who peered down at the audience as they meandered among the marble tables, didn't help things. Sluggish pacing has been an issue at Browne shows in the past, but the heat made it almost unbearable.
"I can't stand this for one more second," griped one editor as he mopped sweat from his face.
Still, for all its discomforts, the show was at least memorable — and that's more than you can say for the more conventional catwalk displays, which by the last day of fashion week have already blended together into an amorphous fog as thick as pea soup.
Paris' most romantic label tapped into the raw emotion of "Wuthering Heights," its models like modern-day Heathcliffs racing breathlessly across the moors in billowing silks and lustrous microfibers.
After veering into edgier, more hardcore territory in recent seasons, Sunday's collection was pure, unadulterated feeling.
The looks — windblown parkas, their silken hoods trailing behind like scarves, and suits in a rainbow of dusty hues — faintly quivered with raw sentiment.
Even the more stringent looks that opened the show — inspired, menswear designer Lucas Ossendrijver said, by security guards because "everybody loves a man in uniform" — breathed poetry.
"'Boys can cry,' that's our message," the label's artistic director Alber Elbaz said in a post-show interview, adding that he and Ossendrijver were careful to avoid turning their emotionally charged men into "wimps."
"Women were always strong. Men were powerful. Now women are strong and powerful — that's a deadly combination," Elbaz said. "We wanted to go back to the essence of masculinity, which is leather, which is the uniform," and inject that "with the fragility and emotion that has become our DNA at Lanvin."
The collection, shown beneath the frescoed dome of a Paris stock exchange, hit the sweet spot between strength and sentiment without veering into the overtly feminine territory that has swept other catwalks here, where the man skirt has emerged as a major trend.
Lanvin's khaki tunics in the thinnest of leathers, its perfectly cut pleated trousers, its sculptural double-breasted jackets all managed to be at once manly and emotive.
The audience may have been sweltering, but the British designer's models looked as cool as cucumbers.
Wearing slim, colorblock suits made from panels of slightly different shades of blue, with sleeveless vests layered over their blazers, their faces fresh and shine-free, the models seemed to embody both definitions of the word "cool."
The audience of fashion insiders, on the other hand, could be taken to collectively define the verbs "to broil," "to melt" or even the noun "sauna."
At the Smith show, which is held in an old convent that has the advantage of freezing in winter and boiling in the summer, editors who're normally scribbling furiously in their notebooks abandoned their pens to fan their streaming faces with the cardboard invitations. Look after hip look went by without inspiring as much as sketch or a jotted word — which was too bad, really, as the show was full of fashion forward silhouettes you could actually see making the leap from the catwalk to the street.
Nowhere did the sleeveless jacket, a top trend on other Paris runways, look as good as at Smith, where it was layered over blazers made from a patchwork of matte and shiny materials.
Will.i.am is used to filling stadiums, but a simple trip down the catwalk at Japanese menswear label Rynshu had the Black Eyed Peas' rapper blushing.
Sporting a snug leather blazer, a pair of cropped harem pants in shiny black and clunky combat boots, will.i.am shuffled up the runway, shooting sheepish glances at the photographers' pit as the audience encouraged him with a round of applause.
The performer is collaborating with the brand on a line christened "Will.I.Am x Rynshu" for next spring-summer and has worn clothes from last year's collection in a music video. He and the other Black Eyed Peas are in Paris for a series of concerts here.
Sunday's collection had a kind of eccentric rocker vibe to it, with lots of second-skin leather pants and slashed black jeans. In fact, it was hard to imagine any man without a platinum record daring to don the blazer covered in white sequins that glimmered like fish scales.
The house that has come to define Left Bank elegance delivered beautiful clothes tailored for men of taste and leisure, those who take breakfast by the pool before heading out for a spot of clay-court tennis followed by an unhurried multi-course lunch.
Striped silk jackets looked like they had not-so-distant origins as pajama tops, while Key Lime pie colored trousers were clearly destined for lounging.
The sole faux pas were the neo-Jodhpurs, linen pants that ballooned through the thigh and clung like plaster casts to the models' calves.
The show was held in a postage-stamp sized park, and the models had to change in a bus parked outside the wrought iron gates. You could tell it was the tail end of the shows because the models were listless and sleepy-eyed and surlily refused photographers' shouted out orders to "look up!"
"These guys are really a band of monkeys," quipped a particularly vociferous and outraged Italian photographer.
Korean label Songzio delivered a convincing collection of suits in black and white linen that felt like summery variations on the tuxedo. Unlike the low-crotched carrot pants that have swept Paris runways, the high-water trousers here were slim through the thighs and flared at the ankle. The outerwear, biker jackets in paper-thin leather and calf-length linen trenches, were fetching. The whole collection was quietly lovely, with the models' hair — slicked back with egg yolk yellow paste — the sole extravagant touch.