“Fashion reflects. It responds to its environment. Check the headlines, there’s darkness at the edge of town, and protection against that darkness is critical,” wrote Tim Blanks in London at the beginning of the Autumn/Winter 2016 menswear season. Indeed, designers’ pre-occupation with our troubled and uncertain times set the prevailing mood of the season.
The threat of widespread war, a global refugee crisis, a shaky global economy, the continued rise of religious extremism, increasing inequality and the spectre of ecological horrors — these strands of sadness and worry appeared in ways big and small on catwalks across London, Milan and Paris.
Largely, designers fell into two camps. There were those who offered protection, sometimes drawing on miltary themes. And there were others, who, like in 1930s Berlin, sought solace in pure escapism, which sometimes took a hyper-decorative even bacchanalian bent. Despite such a troubling context, a number of designers showed their prodigious skill, reflecting the times we live in with unfettered and powerful creativity.
1. Raf Simons – designed by Raf Simons
Raf Simons presentation stepped fearlessly through David Lynch’s nightmarish mirror of apple-pie Americana. Nightmares and Dreams he called it, and it was a brilliant, disturbing descent into a world where imperfections ruled, where youthful idealism had been literally destroyed, where the woods were dark and full of danger.
2. Dries Van Noten – designed by Dries Van Noten
For his collections, Van Noten has the deep reservoir of his own past to draw on, and he revisited it persuasively. The oversized 1940s-style suits were a reminder that, of all the designers who ever drew inspiration from David Bowie, his fandom was the most convincing.
Historicism, romance and science: these were always ingredients in the heady McQueen stew, and it was reassuring to see them make such a strong comeback after Spring’s irresolute offering. The silhouettes were clear and classic, with the incontrovertible masculine edge only a military influence can bring: suits single- and double-breasted suits, trenches, greatcoats, a regimental-red cadet’s jacket.There were plenty of darkly alluring flourishes, like the band of chiffon that edged a soft-shouldered coat, the tulle-shrouded moths embroidered tone on tone on a pinstripe suit, or the silver chain harness of crosses and pearls that anchored a white silk tunic.
The collection had an undertow of dark allure, ably assisted by its lushly sombre colour palette and its striking casting. Many of the models looked like they could have been White Russian princelings in another life, washing up in Paris on a wave of revolution at home. They had clothes and accessories to match: dandy tailoring, languid jersey overcoats, and trench-coats belted with fur, ravishing shearlings, silver necklaces, and a whole history-book of Jade Jagger designed charms studding the silk scarves that wrapped their throats. Jones’ Paris was romantic, infused with the spirit of the artists, aesthetes and aristocrats in exile who fed the city’s creative fervour over the past century. The ghost of Cocteau hovered in the scribbles on silk shirts. The artful use of old trunk stamps as new branding was a reminder of the romance of travel that has always been LV’s calling card.
Stefano Pilati’s signatures were on parade this season at Ermenegildo Zegna Couture. His knack for defusing formality, for instance, most obvious with the broken suit, but he’ll also attach a drawstring waist to a pair of pinstripe trousers. Playing with volumes, as with trousers whose bagginess was spotlighted by deep pleats. The Zegna mills showed form with muted but plush jacquards, woven in patterns that were reminiscent of mosaics and tapestries. They were carried over into the footwear, micro-perforated in swirling patterns. But at the same time, there’d be a quilted bomber in recycled polyester, a reminder of the house’s facility with fabric technology. Elegance is a constant.