Was there perhaps something in the air leading up to the Spring Summer 2023 collections shown at Men’s Paris Fashion Week this year? Not only were many brands surprisingly on the same page as each other when it came to inspiration – gardening, and lawns, are definitely ‘in’ – but also designers seemed to be a little…concupiscent?
Perhaps the best way to describe the overall vibe of Paris for the past week is to reference the paintings of one Hieronymus Bosch, specifically his infamous triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights. If you’re familiar with the painting, you’ll understand how this ties into the pastoral orgy that was on display: a sumptuous depiction of a garden in full bloom whose narcotic beauty hides the fact that nature is, at any given time, engaged in some of the most riotous acts of sex.
And sex was exactly what we got from Paris, even from the likes of the normally ascetic Thom Browne. Perhaps better known for his strictly monochromatic tailoring or sculptural approach to clothing the body, for Summer 2023 Browne delivered male sex on a platter. Or, in a jockstrap. Still present was the skirts he first brought to the table back in 2017, but these weren’t your usual kilts. These were mini skirts worn over the omnipresent jock, deliberately flesh-baring. Jackets still carried the structured Browne DNA, but shorts were worn low, a butt at every angle. The era of the masculine whale tail? At the end, a cod-pieced cowboy in chaps and a ‘strap signalled that Browne clearly had one thing on his mind – make clothing sexy again.
Earlier, at Celine, Hedi Slimane has never been one to shy away from sex but of a different sort to the in-your-face nature at Thom Browne. Slimane’s preference for feline litheness and feral elements has underpinned his work since his days at Yves Saint Laurent and at Celine that has crystallised into a youthful carnality. The collection was a reflexive moment that captured his more than 20 years of design inspired by the world’s various subcultures.
Was it Celine? Some. But it was very much Slimane – a parade of skinny silhouettes, exaggerated shoulders and the mix of leather, lace and denim luxury-grunge that the French fashion designer has made his signature aesthetic. Leather chaps, snakeskin coats and leopard print shirting marched alongside washed denim, cardigans, and camo print. If glam rock, some teddy boys and Nirvana fans wanted to share space, it was here.
Calling back to our original comparison of Bosch’s Garden, if Loewe was to occupy one of the three frames it would be the middle, where humanity begins to discover the delights of the earth. Because what artistic director Jonathan Anderson sought to explore for the Spanish brand’s Spring Summer show was where the distinction between the technological and the natural begins, or ends, and that liminal space where the two coexist. Or co-create, even.
Garments – shoes, jackets, trousers – became living surfaces for grass and plant life, which according to the press notes of the show are the result of an experimental process developed in collaboration with Spanish designer Paula Ulargui Escalona. While Anderson, in post-show conversation, hyped up the thought process as it was tied to the concept of technology and nature, it’s hard not to read how this might also be a direct reference to fast fashion’s landfill issue. Below all this, after a little pruning, the clothing themselves were by Anderson’s standards – and recent Loewe collections – paired back.
There was still some familiar pizazz – puffed up neck-to-toe coats, a leather jacket that looked like an archeological fossil of modern technology and an entire ensemble that resembled scrunched plastic – but the majority of garments were both wearable and dare I say, simple? An emerald green knit, a denim shirt or even a pair of segmented leather shorts. A collared shirt and trackpants, made entirely from leather, looked both plush and sensual. It was a collection that had an inner life – literally and figuratively.
But leave it to Rick Owens to explore the darker side of nature and the third, and final, panel of Bosch’s vision. Owens delivered a show for the end of the world. Literally, with designer dropping flaming globes into the Palais de Tokyo fountain. And how does one dress for the end of the world? With top-to-toe tulle of course, because there will most likely still be bugs.
But the rest was pure Owens. The American designer has become a fan favourite for goth and kink scenes for his designs that exaggerate, constrict in layers or reveal the body and overwhelming preference for black or white monochrome. Aesthetically, this is still true. But structurally, Owens has let loose the binds that tie so to speak. Loose-fitting cargos, jackets and coats walked the concrete runway and die-hard fans might find themselves suffering a moment of introspection because colour is now part of the Owens lexicon. Pink, yellow, green and the shimmering fabric that looked like the shall of a scarab (a textile postcard of the designer’s recent trip to Egypt). Yet even now, here, at the apocalypse, it’s clear that Owens remains steadfast in ensuring that those who wear his clothes will still be fornicating their way through the end of days.