Hard times reflected in Paris men's fashion

PARIS, Jan 25, 2009 (AFP) -A chill wind of economic reality blew into the four-day Paris men's fashion shows winding up Sunday as designers went for the wearable to weather recessionary times for Autumn/Winter 2009/2010.

Jean Paul Gaultier fall-winter 2009/2010

The exception among the first of 46 shows to run over four days was France's Jean Paul Gaultier, the wild "bad boy" of fashion, who wowed the crowd with a happy bouncing collection sported by men, women and even children, each sporting huge fuzzy Jimi Hendrix-style wigs.

With men in skirts, and women in pants, and the mostly androgynous tiny tots strutting in 1970s and 1980s London-inspired designs to music from the Bond films, Gaultier showed his knack for muddying dress and social codes.

And in a rare catwalk nod to racial tolerance, notable in the week that Barack Obama was sworn in as president, half of the models were black.

Gaultier stuck largely to blacks and greys and whites for his 2009/2010 autumn/winter line, but brightened up duffle-style coats with fine metal chains, plastered leather collars on coats, added harnesses and buckles as trim, and threw many of his manly-looking models into muscle-hugging pants.

Skirts for men, a longtime favourite with the designer, were thrown over pants.

In contrast, Hugo Boss designer Bruno Pieters from Belgium, who kicked off the four-day fashion frenzy, paraded pale men wearing slicked-down hair and tiny dark glasses.

His was an austere silhouette of thin black ties on white shirts, strict jackets with Mao collars, and large capes, all shown inside an ancient cloister.

German company Hugo Boss, which is to cut back five percent of its staff, was showing in Paris for the first time in the hopes of getting more international attention.

The rigid dress of priesthood served as inspiration to a second newcomer to Paris, Dutch designer Francisco Van Benthum, who in shades of Jean Paul Gaultier threw pleated aprons over pants and in churchlike mode went for high ruffled collars and high-collared jackets.

Blacks, whites and dark blues dominated his show with touch of slinky red silks. There were long dark coats, short pants worn over longer ones, lengthy belted tunics and cords instead of belts.

Like the crowds of almost universally black-clad fashionistas attending the 46 catwalk presentations, bleak black emerged as the outstanding colour through the long designer frenzy held on the heels of the Milan men's shows.

"There is more meaning than usual," said Jean-Jacques Picart, 60-something consultant for the world's most powerful luxury firm, LVMH, plus a bevy of other brands. "There is creativity here, but the real world too has been taken into account."

Consciously slumming it or not, top-end luxury house Louis Vuitton unveiled its collection in the down-at-heel district housing the onetime Paris morgue, recently converted into an arthouse as part of a rehabilitation scheme.

Funky woolly caps and sneakers signed by rapper Kanye West -- watching in the front row -- gave Vuitton's finely crafted and highly-technical tailoring a downmarket streetwear style appropriate to times of doom and gloom.

Known for his love of ethnic designs, fine fabrics and layering, designer darling Dries Van Noten this week moved on to graphic cuts, sturdy materials and a clearer silhouette in suits and coats with belted waists.

Another big classical name, the house of Ungaro, possibly looking at a wider market, discarded the elegant straight trousers or pants with tucks that once epitomised a banker's elegance.

Like many designers showing this season in Paris, Ungaro's Franck Boclet instead went for leg-hugging tight pants (and jeans) sliced above the ankle, mixing and matching jackets and pants rarely throwing out monochrome suits.

Lanvin, also a watchword for elegance, avoided the black that dominated many shows in favour of a wide palette of dark but softer shades, but also shoved pants into lace-up boots and thick woolly socks.

There was a barely a tie to be seen throughout the shows, but Lanvin's Lucas Ossendrijver designed a woolly grey one that faded into oblivion with a woolly suit and coat in the same shade.

"You have to try to be optimistic at the moment," said Ossendrijver. "And you have to listen to what people need."

Thick woolly garments, suggesting snug comfort amid the economic chill, featured in several of the Paris shows, with Japan's Yohji Yamamoto rolling out a huge long shapeless cardigan in thick knit over a huge almost as long shapeless sweater.

In far more elegant style came bright sit-up yellow knits in cashmere from luxury luggagemaker Hermes -- which stuck to its classic narrow trousers, pleated narrow trousers, and even wide trousers for the fast-disappearing golden boys, or more stately-shaped bigwigs.

Pants looks set for a revolution, with that other icon of discreet elegance, Yves Saint Laurent, ditching long trousers in favour of low-crotch pants cut halfway down the calf and worn over leggings.

Wearing short pants over long pants or thick virile leggings popped up time and time again, with Kenzo too tucking leggings into boots.

Dior meanwhile in a sharp-lined black-and-white collection took a distinctive tack with wide wide baggy pants and flyaway stiff shawl collars on shirts.

"These are times in which to be optimistic and awaken people's desires, I mean should you take a pill or buy a jacket?," said Lanvin's artistic director Albert Elbaz.

"We could've gone for a very sombre dark collection but believed we needed to be optimistic"by Claire Rosemberg

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