Paris Menswear’s Final Bow

It might be a Fashion Week Sunday, but for Alejandro Gómez Palomo, that’s no excuse to forego church. The Andalusian designer reconnected with the Catholic heritage of his native Spain and turned a minimal concrete space in the 19ème arrondissement into his own temple by having his models walk while carrying thuribles loaded with incense and Paschal candles. After a few seasons, we are now used to the otherworldly boys of Palomo Spain, invariably dressed in gender-fluid clothes that look straight out of a Spanish Golden Age painting. But that doesn’t mean they are any less striking. “That was intense,” remarked a well-known editor backstage after the show, to which a silk lime green suit-clad Palomo answered, laughing, “I’m a very intense person in general.”

That intensity came from the collection’s starting point, an exploration of the concept of ecstasy, in both the spiritual and earthly aspects. “There was the Catholic idea of ecstasy as represented by El Greco’s paintings, with those figures that seem to reach for Heaven, but also of ecstasy in the form of a pill in the midst of a rave,” explained the designer. On the catwalk, this meant a mix of sober suits in sepulchral black, punctured by white ruffs — as sexy as they were commercially viable — imposing coats made from velvet reproducing original 17th-century Spanish textiles, and a colorful silhouette of wide shoulder jackets and wide-legged cargo pants inspired by the unique 90’s Spanish hardcore techno scene, known as the Bakalao. As unexpected a reference from Palomo as it was, not only did it click; it also left the audience feeling, well, ecstatic.

Gender fluidity is also Ludovic de Saint Sernin’s trademark, albeit explored in a very different fashion. In barely two years, the Brussels-born designer has made a name for himself by putting boys into chiffon dresses, skinny leather jeans, and bejeweled barely-there tops. His collections ooze androgynous sexuality. This one was no exception: a recent heartbreak inspired de Saint Sernin to delve into conflicting feelings of fragility and empowerment. The result was an effective co-ed collection of leather suits, structured overcoats in vibrant colors, and fierce mini skirts blended with baby blue chiffon trench coats and crystal dresses and tops mimicking spider webs. A roomful of starlets, celebrities, and designers including Rick Owens and Olivier Rousteing — de Saint Sernin cut his teeth working at Balmain’s women’s studio — attentively took it all in. It is undeniable that, over the last year or so, the designer has become considerably hyped-up. Whether the buzz will translate into a solid business and an aesthetic growth, though, remains to be seen. In any case, we are rooting for him.

Needless to say, we were also rooting for Mark Weston, whose fifth collection for Dunhill has been a straight forward shot at reinterpreting menswear staples with a penchant for dark romance and ’80s sensibility. “I’m very much about the process when it comes to design,” explained Mark Weston backstage after his show at the Grand Palais. “I like the idea of how you build and engine clothes — the idea of balancing utility and elegance,” he added, while explaining that he was fascinated by The Blitz Club, particularly Homer Sykes’ pictures of it. And indeed, his statement summed up his latest menswear offering quite well: somewhere in between a preppy and new wave sense of style, his men’s silhouettes echoed a fine mix of tailoring and deconstruction in a distinctly British way. Outstanding runway pieces included wrapped and high break jackets paired with pegged trousers that were crafted from paper-thin eel skin that came with a brilliant surface coating.

Stéphane Ashpool’s fame in Pigalle (the Parisian neighborhood) precedes him. To the point that, while having a coffee in a bistro near his Rue Duperré venue, we couldn’t help overhearing the café’s staff making arrangements between them so they could all go to the Pigalle (the brand) show. That’s just how unusual and anti-fashion Ashpool’s shows are. As always, his show was what the French would call a “joyeux bordel” (ed. note: a merry mess): an organic mix of fashion insiders and cool kids meeting up in the newly redecorated basketball court the designer built a few years ago. The presentation had two parts, with the first one introducing the brand’s newest collaboration with Nike — a collection of ultra-functional sports clothes in shades of grey, sherbet yellow and ombré rainbow — worn by the young members of Ashpool’s basketball team while casually shooting hoops to the sound of music. Upstairs, the second part consisted of a jazzy dance performance presenting his Couture clothes. Ensembles in saffron, tile, red, canary yellow and lime were on the menu, with a fully bejeweled suit and a sherbet yellow leather coat branded “Hôtel Pigalle” in crystals standing out among a collection that was as gleeful, quirky and unique as its designer.

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