Bryce Corbett tries to make sense of babushka scarves and bruises on the catwalk at Paris Men's Fashion Week.
In the hype-filled world of men's fashion, it's easy to forget that at the end of the consumer equation there are a lot of blokes who don't know their Dolces from their Diors. Spend a week with the Fashion Pack in Milan and Paris and you need reminding that not every male loses sleep wondering what Galliano will send down the catwalk next season. And yet, we are all caught - to lesser and greater degrees - in fashion's tender trap.
Which is why, with a fistful of invites, I set out last week in the City of Lights to make sense of the world's top designers' autumn-winter collections for 2010.
The first show was Louis Vuitton. Putting to one side the fact that the models all appeared to have been sourced from Fritz's House of Aryan Master Race Models and with the possible exception of a club-foot clog that kept reappearing, Vuitton designers Paul Helbers and Marc Jacobs showed off a functional collection that smartly mixed business and leisure. A stylish range of pants, jackets and coats that seemed to effortlessly hop from dressed-up to dressed-down. As long as you don't mind remortgaging your house to afford it.
Over at Gaultier, the mischievous Gaul was up to his old tricks. He'd set up a boxing ring in the centre of the room and plastered the walls with old boxing posters. On models sporting fake cuts and bruises came a collection of casual and formal wear tinged with the sporting theme. A designer thermal undie matched with a silver-sequinned hoodie looked perfect for those days you want to lounge around the house but still look like you've made an effort. Mind you, it was hard to concentrate completely on the clothes, so bewildering was the presence in the front row of R&B singer and occasional domestic abuser Chris Brown. Did his publicist not see the invite with the boxing motif?
From the ridiculous to the sublime, it was across town to the Sorbonne where, in the sombre, wood-panelled surrounds of an ornate university hall, Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci presented a stark collection of sleek black and whites. To the plaintive accompaniment of Ave Maria, models sporting a gold crown-of-thorns necklace showed off finely tailored pants, crisp white shirts and a couple of classic navy, single-button and double-breasted suits. I'm going to go out on a fashion limb, though, and predict the velvet skorts (part-shorts, part-skirt) matched with Lycra leggings and open-toed patent leather sandals won't catch on next season. Not on men. Not in winter. Not in Australia.
If you happen to have had your colours done lately and discovered you are an autumn, then the good folk at Kenzo have just the winter wardrobe for you. Channelling the romance of 1940s France, Kenzo went all 'Allo 'Allo for the presentation of this season's collection with kepi-sporting policemen and hostesses dressed like Michelle of ze Resistance. Except for a jaunty denim pantsuit, this fairweather fashionisto could easily see himself styling a Sydney winter in a set of Kenzo threads. Corduroy pork-pie hats, leopard-print zoot suits, baggy knits and comfy trousers.
And therein lies the good news: the tight pant is out. From Gucci's Milanese display of smart suits, smoking jackets and classic camel overcoats to Hermes' finely tailored collection of cardigans, deep-V cashmere sweaters and low-slung neck scarves (of the kind your nanna might otherwise wear on her head on a windy day), the emphasis this season is on loose, free-flowing clothing. Begone waif-child skinny jeans! The age of comfort has returned.
When all was said and done, however, easily the best show put on all week was that staged by the Fashion Pack - that so-hip-it-hurts posse of fashion writers and buyers who traipse about Milan and Paris following the shows.
While it would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking the purpose of runway shows is to sell clothes, in reality it's more about keeping a lot of skinny pretty boys in work and giving the Fashion Pack a chance to get together and out-outrage each other with their wardrobes. Bunny ears, Ewok slippers, lemon-quilted puffer jackets, comedy eyewear and snowboots with knickerbockers. There was even a man in a miniskirt and knee-high riding boots.
Yet the funny thing is, expose yourself to the frou-frou for a week and you start to be taken in by it. You find yourself nodding sagely when a collection is described as "inspired by Kafka as an homage to the Austrian secessionist movement".
But then, just when you think you've been sucked across to the dark side, an overheard conversation backstage after a show is all you need to put the madness back in perspective. Says Fashion Follower to Model: "Oh my God! I just saw you walk!" As if he'd just cured cancer.