Market leaders…where they have they gone? That idea that a definitive designer is to send out, in the form of their latest collection, a compelling interpretation of ' How We Live Now'…where can it be found? Such a definitive designer translates the creativity of that into 'How We Want To Dress Now', et voila, maximum relevance and the big retail sales that go with it. In looking at the freshly concluded men's shows, in search for a line, a lead , a direction, what is striking is that those men's market leaders, past, present and future seemed to have scrambled their signals. Or maybe the Digital Zeitgeist has scrambled it for them.
Who are these collections for? Buyers? Editors? Stylists ? Or the information starved consumer of today, insatiable for a 24/7 fashion feed? A Paris fashion publicist told me something as edifying as it was horrifying. Apparently several of his clients has been counting the amount of shares generated on style.com , against the Instagram likes to quantify the impact of their recent collections. Like, it' s a kind of marketing currency.
There we have it, relevance by metrics. With that in mind it's pretty easy to suss out what are the buzziest collections of the moment. But what has taste, or courage, got to do with it? That is the great conundrum of our time. When people start buying something because everybody else is buying it, does that compel designers to start designing along common lines?
Take Gucci Men's Spring 2016 (406 shares at style.com and counting), which has perpetuated its momentum garnered in the abrupt collection convened in January. Alessandro Michele has found his very resonant trick of gender blurring his fake vintage fantasia all the way through the Milan's women's and the NY resort collection. But is Gucci to stay in that key for another year or so? As shock value it worked perfectly to re-ignite the relevance of a Gucci accessory, but at the same time, reveling in the bargain bins also feels a bit reactionary. Think of it as a nostalgia for what never was which runs the risk of being doubly-dated next season.
Gucci's share drive puts it well ahead of JW Anderson's (225 at style.com) and I can just see Anderson shaking his head at the wide spread corporate embrace of the androgynous thrust of our times. For a split second there Anderson had leapt to the head of the class of fashion's most current influencer. And he has shrewdly proved himself to be a master of imaging, both out of London and for Loewe in Paris. Brilliant branding and superstar advertising has done its job and this Spring 2016 men's collection maintained its aura of transgression (as those proportions can be quite challenging). Which amplifies the point that contemporary design is not just about the cutting and fabric- which in Anderson's case was a very dexterous use of tulle- but also the wider cultural gamesmanship. Anderson remains a very clever collagist in that case and his puzzle is clearly keeping interest.
Raf Simons ( 126 shares) can never be accused of lacking ideas, or turning just one insincere design trick especially when it comes to menswear. The man has perhaps been the greatest menswear innovator of our generation precisely because his body of work is so feverent. His design work is an internal system that continuously advances its dialogue and even when Simons looks to the past, both in the sense of childhood and old age, he still converts his mediation into a dynamic idea of design. The Raf Simons label can sometimes be a little po faced and maybe even tortured , but what Simons did with those shrunken wool sweaters against billowing sweat pants, self-effacing hoods against marquee value cutting on those coats; sends out an early warning signal that menswear must remain mutable. That faith in evolution is what makes Simons so great.
Louis Vuitton menswear ( 111 shares and counting ) found a champion in Kim Jones, the dedicated globalist, a supremely refined craftsman and the one designer on the market who reinvigorates the idea of luxury as something to revel in. Sensuousness. Vuitton Spring 16 was replete with it, from the kiss of the satin and silk on skin, to the sybaritic textures of his lambskin. Kim Jones makes a fashion so textural it very well distracts you from the price tags. Cool Tokyo stylists will tell you there is always a lot of the Japanese re-mix to Jones' ethos. I mean who the hell else could make the 50's fit so nicely into the 2010's? But this epiphany of shimmer? Vuitton merged wearability with desire in equal parts.
Prada ( at 47 shares) has been such a key indicator for so long as to where menswear can go if it wishes to really challenge itself, that you could forgive this particular collection for being inconclusive. Spring 2015's play with denim was so brilliant (and influential and copied to the nth degree) that you could attribute this season's lack of a breakthrough idea to the brand perhaps wishing to be a little bit more inscrutable.The simplicity of the pieces, layered up in that way that only Prada can ever pull off, won't disturb the pond much but after that, perhaps purposeful modesty is the greatest perversity of them all.
Saint Laurent SS16 , freshly uploaded at 25 shares, is pissing the market off again. Detractors are filing the same invectives of the past three years. And the brand could give a F. Yet perhaps, it should. We know by know that the line, on the runway, may look cheap and tawdry and Venice Beach vintage but the workmanship is exquisite. Hooray for the irony of that. Saint Laurent yawns on the runway but sizzles in the store. There is a danger though, in that one joke, the familiar insult, the same outrage repeated ad infinitum. It gets to be boring. Which is what this collection was. I hope it does not communicate the idea that the designer of the house is himself bored. The consumer might just pick up on that.
Hood By Air, The CFDA Menswear winner this year lives for the, as they say, mind fuck. It is as yet unshared at style.com but maybe that's all for the better. Forging a market, where there was none…Forcing a post-hip-hop world to confront its inherently ambitious sexuality…Rupturing racial and cultural codes without compromise… I think what has made this brand so vital is the courage with which it scrambles the cliches that compose our daily identities so purposefully the cliches collapse. And it's not blind courage either. HBA is consistently trolled on the internet and on social for being weird/homo/unwearable, yet the high school kids can't help boasting the T-shirts on the basketball courts of Brooklyn. Which means it's unwearable until they wear it. Here's to giving the people what they don't yet know they want .