The credit crunch put a squeeze on the creative instincts of designers in Paris, where subtlety was the watchword
Before design teams even put pen to paper on these autumn 09 collections, the world had been gripped by the credit crunch. So while a season ago the catwalk collections simply represented the culmination of another design cycle this time round, every designer had to decide how to respond to the economic situation – even if, like Tillman Lauterbach, that responds was to thumb their nose at the woes of others’ financial concerns.
The overarching reaction has been for designers to immerse themselves in a sense of quiet quality – the traditional ploy of menswear designers – and to snub in-your-face design for subtle detailing, heritage fabrics and a slim silhouette. It’s a season to whisper rather than shout.
This has meant that the dominance of grey tailoring has continued unabated. That it is so central to designers’ creative spectra is understandable. No matter that it fails to make a vivid runway show, the sombre shade is still a valid commercial proposition when it comes to tailoring especially given that most blokes’ wardrobes are still home to black and pinstriped versions. In this context, a steely tonic or dove grey three-piece would actually look pretty radical. Moreover it is a more versatile shade than navy or black, which transit less comfortably from day to evening.
Equally, it means that brands and their concomitant retail partners can sell a raft of satellite pieces on the back of the big suiting ticket. Fine gauge knit layers, tonal grey shirting, and battleship shaded macs all look compellingly sophisticated and moreover, each also moves from a formal look to a more casual one.
So there may be little in the way of new trend direction for buyers or customers to contemplate but the gentle evolution of the tailoring silhouette that we all saw in Milan was underlined here. And that’s pretty significant. While it may have been somewhat expected in the more classic Milan, here in Paris, where designers have often obsessed over shunning the tyranny of historically imbued formality in favour of more experimental menswear, that touchstone of tradition resonates all the more loudly.
And the slightly nipped in waist and the wider – often pagoda style – shoulder added a touch of drama and a dose of masculinity to the shape while both the db and the three piece again emerged strongly. The strict palette was counterbalanced by a focus on fabrication, which cranked up the luxe factor a gear, a reasonable response in the face of cheapening cashmere prices, now more democratically deployed at the likes of Uniqlo, Marks and Spencer and Gap and which leave catwalk brands with little choice but to go more upscale in their fabrications – all good news for European mills with their premium price lists. And that may partly account for the widening use of traditional British fabrics from checks and tweeds to lighter worsteds. This UK theme was developed in the use of Fair Isle techniques and patterns on knits, which also used more intarsia styles – crucial for merchandising interest, given the absence of prints on wovens.
British designers too made headlines, serving up both the most extreme looks, courtesy of Gareth Pugh’s Paris debut, and the most knowingly commercial, thanks to Paul Smith and Kim Jones, for Dunhill. In Paris it was a good time to be a Brit.