In Paris, Virgil Abloh, Jonthan Anderson, and Sies Marjan are helping menswear outgrow its hype era.
For a brief moment on Wednesday, Paris Fashion Week resembled nothing so much as a five year old’s birthday party, or maybe Coachella: guests descended into a huge pit filled with balloons that served as the seating arrangement for Y/Project, bouncing balloons at one another like we were all morons in the Nostalgic Rave Tent (brought to you by Canada Goose!). In the center of the pit, across a human shield of some six bodyguards between them, Tyga and Foodgod were linking and building: Tyga put on his reflective shield sunglasses, so then Foodgod put on his. (Foodgod, of course, is the alter ego of the Kardashian-adjacent Jonathan Cheban.) Fashion week: always a party.
Still, we enter this season of Paris Fashion Week, which kicked off in earnest Wednesday with Virgil Abloh’s Off-White, with change in the air. Abloh defined the past decade not with his design but by making hustle aspirational in a way that extended far beyond the bounds of fashion, with influencers glamourizing a life never lived off the clock. Flying everywhere was suddenly, like…cool, instead of the most dreaded part of our sad, pedestrian realities; utilitarian luxury suitcases, like Rimowa and the more attainable Away, became a masstige status symbol. In 2016, the year that Abloh really emerged as an international superstar, the number one song in the world was Rihanna chanting “work, work, work, work, work, work.” Well! Rihanna hasn’t released an album since, people in the front row of fashion shows are talking about how guilty flying makes them feel, and Abloh has just returned after “taking a few months off” for health issues last fall. He ostensibly set the table for this season of menswear shows with an interview in Dazed late last year in which he said, “I would definitely say [streetwear’s] gonna die, you know?”
Well, RIP to a real one! The collection that Abloh showed today was a new direction—but to emphasize its novelty would be to undercut the effect. Just 34 looks; no wild color palette; continuing the refinement of a long, lean suiting shape, plus a new silhouette that puts a crisply proportioned but slightly puffy top with a pair of flowing trousers, like a sweatshirt or jacket (not oversized! Huge news!) that hit right at the hipbone, with an incredible pair of ombré plissé pants. (I mean, Harry Styles will want these pants.) Abloh is even getting into the novelty knit game, forgoing T-shirts and the heady Raf Simons-like graphics of seasons past. Instead, the collection made dates a design motif on several of the knits and button-downs, suggesting that these are future classics—emerging fully formed as the kind of archival grails he also told Dazed will be fashion’s next wave—rather than the new-new. He was not a man humbled, per se, but one imagining a world less animated by hype.
The third row of menswear shows is what I like to call the Surgical Mask Fan Section—everyone is a super-fan, a “real head,” an obsessive likely to own a collection of high-fashion face masks—and they will likely be enthused about whatever the muse of fire jawns hands down from the highest heavens of invention. But a few rows up, the buzz was that this might have been Abloh’s best collection ever. At the end of the show, the designer emerged like a guru in sunglasses from behind the transparent curtain in the center of the show, and waved at his wife, children, and glowing parents in the front row. We’ve spent so much time talking about our chosen family—our brand ambassadors, our curated posses—that it’s nice to embrace our actual relatives.
Elsewhere in Paris, Jonathan Anderson, a totally different animal, was also thinking about doing less. Rather than producing a bunch of consecutive looks, this season of J.W. Anderson, he said in a post-show interview, “was more about, how do you slowly build these looks into different things?” Rather than like, 10 amazing coats, there were really just three: a kind of cloak that cinched at the front with a big chain, a flowing puffer-opera coat, and a skinny trench. There was just one shoe—a sort of Birkenstock-style clog with a cartoonishly jumbo chain across the top—and different riffs on an Elizabethan peplum top (more skater bro-friendly than it sounds). A number of men wear the women’s pieces from The Row, in admiration of its glorious coats and off-kilter, minimalist footwear; this collection is for them. (Maybe Anderson is an Olsen twin at heart!)
Anderson, the true intellectual dreamboat, put Arthur Rimbaud masks on mannequins dotted throughout the seats, so that the face of everybody’s first sapiosexual icon hovered in the back of nearly every runway shot (he called Rimbaud’s face “underground version” of the ubiquitous icon Marilyn Monroe). My Instagram stories were flooded with cool European editors’ selfies with Rimbaud. (Selfies with Rimbaud: the next Patti Smith memoir?) Anderson blinked his beautiful long eyelashes and told us he was thinking of artist David Wojnarowicz, too, and the romanticism of these two men across centuries: “It’s not just about having a political voice for the sake of having a political voice. It’s about, How do you [work] creatively through having a political voice? It’s thinking before you speak.”
Menswear has clearly entered a new age of self-actualization and restraint. Of course, this isn’t to suggest that menswear is going Goop; wellness culture, like everything else popular, has its charlatans, but these designers are the real deal. A few hours post-J.W. Anderson, Sies Marjan designer Sander Lak was showing his new collection in a casual presentation at his studio; his jewel-toned silks and knits are just getting better and better, and his coats so popular despite the effects of global warming that a Sies Marjan coat with just a T-shirt underneath is a key look on the streets of New York. Lak’s hair was in a romantic scrape; the cuffs of his burgundy shirt dangled. (Between our fashion designers and Hollywood, this poet thing really has legs.) I told him he looked relaxed: “If I look relaxed, it is because I really love what I do,” he responded. “I really love putting these collections together.” Designers are recalibrating their relationship to the work, and the work is becoming much better.
I’ve often thought that only in menswear could a true successor to the “Old Celine” emerge—that Phoebe Philo’s cool, in-and-out-of-time weirdness had more potential in men’s clothing, with its bizarre relationship to trendiness, than women’s. (It’s certainly been Abloh’s longtime obsession—when a Nike exec asked him to name his favorite visual artist at a 2017 Q&A, he said it was Philo.) Womenswear designers are still stuck in that mode of relaxed silhouettes and perky surrealism that approximates Philo’s canon, while menswear bogged down some of its best ideas by democratizing fashion through T-shirts and hype-driven T-shirts. Now, it seems, the industry’s heavy hitters are ready to fully unleash their zen.