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Men's collections display explorer aesthetic

John Galliano's desert-infused pieces conjure 'Lawrence of Arabia,' while Alfred Dunhill adds a space-age vibe to accessories and suits.

July 01, 2009|Adam Tschorn

PARIS — Despite the poor economic times, the H1N1 virus and the advent of new austerity, buyers and press did indeed show up to see the spring-summer 2010 men's collections at the runway shows that wrapped up here Sunday. But the designers? They seemed to be thousands of miles away: tramping around the Egyptian desert (John Galliano), soaring above the clouds (Paul Smith) and even getting ready for a lunar landing (Alfred Dunhill). The gentleman traveler-explorer was a common theme for many of the season's strongest collections.

Galliano's inspirations included his hero Napoleon Bonaparte's ill-fated military campaign in Egypt and Syria and Peter O'Toole in "Lawrence of Arabia." The result, when you strip away the runway trappings -- head wraps, Galliano-as-Napoleon leopard-print T-shirts and the requisite model with his hand stuffed solemnly into his jacket -- was a sand-blasted, sun-bleached, bone-weary regiment of tailored pieces in whites and beiges layered with embroidered pieces (waistcoats and the cuffs of denim jackets) and blousy floral patterns.

Dunhill, though it's more than a century old, is focusing firmly on the future. That was clear from the moment the crowd laid eyes on the set for its show, a rotating dais stacked with polished aluminum suitcases over which hung an immense, detailed photo of the full moon. It instantly evoked the Art Deco period and luxury travel, even as it underscored the idea of using technology to push the boundaries.

Attempts to infuse new life into legacy brands such as Dunhill (which dates to 1893 and whose clients have included the Prince of Wales and Winston Churchill) can often blow up on the launch pad, but under creative director Kim Jones, the British label pulled off the equivalent of a lunar landing.

Jones called the theme "faded futurism," and used the opportunity to make some of the brand's signature pieces in new materials. That meant the famed Dunhill pens rendered in a "Space Age lacquer" made from meteorite and black diamonds, and overnight bags constructed from scratch-proof leather reinforced with carbon fiber. Sport coats and suits came in charcoal grays and a wide range of blues from pale ("lunar," perhaps?) to midnight, with checks, microchecks, stripes and solids in both color palettes. Epaulets and silver buttons gave some navy pieces a military flavor, with olive drab hacking jackets and khaki-hued safari blazers helping round out the image of the Dunhill man as prepared to take on any task with aplomb.

Prints and patterns were a recurring trend at the Paris shows, but few pulled it off as subtly and elegantly as Jones, who mined the brand's archive for Art Deco prints for shirting fabrics and ties. The last of the major labels on the Paris Fashion Week calendar, Smith went out on a high note with his reminder that it's always sunny above the clouds. That sounds trite, but the invitations to Smith's show, as well as the runway backdrop, featured the image of puffy white cloud cover and blue sky -- the kind you see when you're on a plane at 30,000 feet winging your way to a tropical vacation. Raining in Cleveland? Maybe, but up here it's all good.

Although travel and tropical climes are a traditional subtext for the men's spring-summer collections, Smith brought it to the fore with his narrow-collared, tailored take on the aloha shirt. Some had travel-postcard prints, others botanical prints of pineapples (and, oddly enough, mushrooms). The pineapple motif also appeared as embroidery, both on a silk varsity jacket and more subtly as tone-on-tone embellishment on the lapels of a shawl-collar tuxedo.

There was a cornucopia of colors in Sir Paul's collection -- suits and separates in bold electric blues, fire reds, purples as well as pastel shades. The relaxed, get-away-from-it-all vibe was completed with a collection of espadrilles, with the signature Smith multi-stripe on the back of the heel.

At the end of the show, it seemed the affable Brit just couldn't wait to take the crowd with him. As the models began their finale walk, the soundtrack abruptly shifted from the Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer" to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," and the staid strut morphed into a Mardi Gras-style dance procession, moving down the catwalk en masse. It was an exuberant cacophony of color, sound, motion and emotion and the perfect cap on a week few at the shows will ever likely forget. For a brief moment, we were all above the clouds.


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