Louis Vuitton, Valentino, Dior Homme perfect Paris menswear
PARIS - White was the colour of Paris menswear fashion shows for fall-winter. But it was not in the clothes.
The last of five frenetic days of collections saw the City of Light turn into the city of frost, with snow blanketing the city white and reducing its grand buildings and monuments to the purest of forms and shapes.
It's perhaps appropriate that one of the final day's fashion shows, Lanvin, chose to explore shape.
In the week's major collections, Dior Homme continued the on-trend military style, looking forward with a futurist esthetic that had a fair amount of mileage in other shows, too.
Large hats and trilbies cropped up at John Galliano and a classy show from Berluti; while the trend for pants was to be cut to expose the boot as seen in Carven and Juun J.
Designers this season, including Raf Simons and Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent, also dabbled in blowing up traditional patterns like madras, prince of wales check and houndstooth, adding an almost postmodern twist.
They were all styles thrown into the pot that made for an extremely dynamic fall-winter season.
Could it be the recent death of Maurice Herzog, the first man to scale the 8,000-meter Annapurna, that inspired Louis Vuitton to climb the Himalayas for his winter menswear outing?
Or perhaps just a love of exotic, far-flung destinations for the house most famous for its luxury travel bags?
Whatever the reason, it worked — with designer Kim Jones turning out an effortless, luxury collection.
He came down to ground level, bringing with him with lashings of fur and the Asian region's snow leopard as a motif — naturally, alongside the bread-and-butter sharp suits.
But it was the snow leopard who stole the show — whether in needle punched jacquard on a light double breasted coat, or in collars, neckties and pocket squares, and even in one show-stopping laser cut mink coat — the sky-high feline kept popping up.
The final part included sumptuous floral prints in silk and cashmere on tuxedos and nightgowns.
It was a decadent line up to suit all.
The Valentino fashion house explored new landscapes in its first menswear show in Paris, travelling first class to London's Saville Row via a dash of British punk rock.
It was a highly confident affair.
Indeed, Valentino designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli said their decision to move from the Italian menswear tradeshow Pitti Uomo to the more-publicized Paris catwalk reflected this new confidence in their men's esthetic.
In just a few years, the design duo have stamped their own bold vision on the Roman house in— this year in a show that left behind the charming Italian toy boy in favour of more sober British elegance.
Plays on patterns featured highly wearable single-breasted suits that harked back to 1960s fashions.
Some of the looks could easily have been worn to a British country club.
But despite all this, there was a strong, rebellious undercurrent that Piccioli called a nod to Mick Jagger
"As a man, you know a suit, but you can have a different point of view," Piccioli said. This collection proved him right.
Gladiatorial combat is in the air for Givenchy's ever-creative Riccardo Tisci.
The Italian designer delved into his rich ancestry bringing back hundreds upon hundreds of candles which carved out an ominous catwalk arena.
Like Roman torches, they lit the way for the models who filed by in 48 mainly black-and-white looks.
The references were subtle but unmistakable: square breastplate-like photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe printed on T-shirts, sweaters and tank tops.
Winter bubble jackets, tied round the waist, fell in the shape of a legionary's skirt.
Then, leather shoes shined provocatively with a silver armour-band.
For several minutes, Ancient Rome did indeed come to Paris — albeit with a contemporary, even futuristic edge.
There was, however, a real sense of continuity with previous season's styles — in a long grey coat that lacked lapels, for instance, which evoked the ecclesiastical style of last season's show.
For fall-winter therefore, it was not revolution, but evolution, Roman-style.
It was cosmic musing for Dior Homme's Kris Van Assche, who injected a space-age fiber into the house's DNA of fitted black suit, white shirt and black tie.
A sanitized all-white set saw elegantly suited, droid-like gentlemen file by in Saturday's show with galactic high collars, and super high buckled waists. Though at times there was a slight feel of vintage Pierre Cardin — the collection's starting point was apparently the sci-fi movie "Gattaca."
One result of this futurist exploration was the businessman as superhero.
A red pin stripe recurs as a futuristic cult-like symbol, a triangle within a square; shoe heels are encased in a smooth, clear plastic so they don't leave a trace; and traceless, too, are the smoothly covered zipper fastenings..
In Raf Simon's recent women's wear designs for Christian Dior, waists were cinched in a reworking of the 1950s bar jacket with peplum.
Here Van Assche is adding his menswear voice to the fashion conversation, by echoing this style through delineating the waist. He raised it, military style, through a belt almost halfway down the torso.
DRIES VAN NOTEN
When it comes to menswear, Dries Van Noten rarely plays by the rules.
But even by his own standards, he set himself a tough challenge for fall-winter 2013, aiming to produce clothes for men "that may not ever been in their wardrobe."
Considering that one main theme of the show was the use of nighttime pyjamas for day jackets and outerwear, in this challenge the Belgian designer most definitely succeeded. That is, of course, provided there are no sleepwalkers out there with black, orange and paisley pyjamas in their closet.
The result of this unorthodoxy? Astoundingly, one of the most elegant shows Van Noten has done in recent memory.
It's owed mainly to how the pajama style was worked: luxuriously, in soft and heavy brushed jacquards, cashmere and double quilted silks and velvets.
As ever, Van Noten used contradictions as the dynamic of his wardrobe.
Feminine fabrics, as well as tight pants, contrasted with boyish, slouchy forms of the loose jackets and sweaters — creating plays on volume.
This was no rules dressing at its best.
Hermes has become a byword for simple, unpretentious luxury. With panache, veteran menswear designer Veronique Nichanian proved this again in a classy and masculine showing. A more muted palette than last season was broken up with bright flashes of golden yellow.
There was no far-flung concept, gimmick or muse, unlike most Paris shows, simply because none was needed. Nichanian — who's been at the helm of this family-run business an incredible 22 years now — is an expert at letting the clothes do the talking.
There was indeed a lot to be said.
The 44 looks ranged from on-trend loose but structured naval trenches, to short peacoats, tight black calfskin pants, via turtlenecks, jacquard silk pullovers and fitted double breasted tuxedo in black wool and mohair which were fit for a prince.
Was there a secret for furmula Hermes, one of fashion's biggest success stories of the last decade?
"No, no. There's no secret. But it's not about ostentation, pretention, or trying to show you've got money," said former Hermes CEO Patrick Thomas.
"It's just the simplicity, and excellence of the fabrics."
There was an air of the self-searching Seventies student in Hedi Slimane's debut menswear show at the rebranded Saint Laurent.
Long, striped thick-knit scarves, oversized jackets and ripped skinny jeans were worn by shaggily coiffed models who stomped grumpily down the catwalk. Just like a confused teenager trying to find his identity, Slimane mixed up violently clashing styles.
But at least one thing was clear: The wardrobe confusion was intentional.
This was seen most clearly in a look that combined leather motorbike pants in black and white with zippers, yellow tan Cuban heels, a casual oversized check shirt and a truncated red carpet tuxedo. Through pure eccentricity some ensembles ended up working.
Alas, like in Slimane's womenswear debut, the confusion translated into the silhouettes. Great individual pieces were almost drowned out here because of droopy coats, big flaccid capes and floppy scarves.
Slimane is trying hard to add a unique voice to the fashion conversation. He has succeeded. But is he trying too hard?
Thomas Adamson can be followed at http://Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP