It’s quite fitting, really, that Raf Simons and his show producer Thierry Dreyfus chose the eerie, almost deafening soundtrack to Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin as the musical backdrop to the designer’s SS15 collection earlier this week in Paris.
The film in itself marked a proper return to arthouse, and saw director Glazer catapulting a Hollywood A-lister (Dazed cover star Scarlett Johansson) into a mindfuck of a cinematic world that, unless you’d read the book the film was based on, you would struggle to put meaning to. And Glazer made no excuses for that.
The same could be said of the moment Simons created with his collection. When it came to the clothes, it all made sense. The backs of coats were emblazoned with Tumblr-style collages of personal pictures. Sharks, Katsushika Hokusai inspired prints and astronauts all made their way into the pieces. It was a trip down career memory lane for Simons and, as with all of his collections (yes, I’m die-hard), every piece spoke volumes.
It was more the set-up of the show that shook things up though. And Simons clearly wanted to make a statement. All attendees were asked to stand. It became a no-go for any hierarchy-laced seating plans. Immediately, this put everyone in the same boat and dropped any urgent need to reach for the nearest phone to live stream the collection on Instagram.
It was a call to action, and that action was to shut up and observe. Fashion critics doing their job aside, it was a remedy to the social media whirl of the industry and the street style picture drenched build-up to a show. This time, it was actually about the clothes themselves. No blogging friendly persona needed. Imagine that.
“It was a call to action, and that action was to shut up and observe.”
Simons wasn’t the only one wanting to remind the audience, and the rest of the world, what these collections are actually here for, too. This menswear season in particular seems to be a build-up of both beautiful and peculiar moments that were about actual emotional engagement with the clothes.
In Paris, the anticipation for Rick Owens was as palpable as always. Last season, he sent his atelier family down the runway, and previously he spun the internet into a frenzy with his gloriously anti-fashion Steppers performance. This time, although the presence of Elephant Man-inspired, powdered monsters verged on theatrical, the tapestry-like quality to the clothes felt tribal enough not to rely on a gimmick to get the point across.
In London, Craig Green had his audience in tears. Yes, he’s a new designer and the crying thing might sound like an overstatement, but in today’s style culture, it can be rare to come across something that actually moves you. With Green, it’s the seduction of the weirdly masculine fluidity of his layered-up approach to design that captures you. Plus, having Wim Mertens’ “Struggle For Pleasure” playing in the background is also a surefire way to get people weeping.
It wasn’t just Green that was a cause for commotion. This season, London Collections: Men felt stronger than ever. There was a sense of rebellious identity thanks to the likes of Christopher Shannon, Matthew Miller, James Long and Astrid Andersen. It would be safe to say that British menswear is no longer just about Savile Row, tailoring, or using ‘heritage’ as the dreaded buzzword. People know what to come back to LC:M for now.
When it comes to these moments aligning a month of menswear shows, you could simply whittle it down to the fact that menswear might be abandoning its safety net. Not to use the recession card lightly, but unless you were hiding under a rock you would have noticed many brands were having to play it safe and make collections a little more everyday friendly too. And they still do, of course. Even young designers can only make it if they think as commercially as they do creatively.
But there has been a shift, and ‘fashion’ seems to be a buzzword in menswear again – as opposed to having revert to the word ‘style’ if you work on a men’s magazine. And what better way for a menswear designer to let audiences know that storytelling is back on the agenda by silencing them so they can actually look?
It’s about putting on the type of fashion show that would have inspired Simons, Green and us years ago: no celebs lining the front row, no encouragements to whip up an instant Facebook gallery, and seating arrangements not being a priority. With Simons’s SS15 show, the only requirement was to take it all in. That might feel like a liberty to anyone working in the fashion press these days, and for everyone else it’s a reminder that fashion might be a machine, but sometimes, you just have to go back to the roots of it all.
Follow Al Mulhall on Twitter here @almulhall