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balenciaga ss18 menswear paris dads kids
Balenciaga SS18 MenswearPhotography Lucie Rox

Why exactly was this fashion week so unfashionable?

Dads with kids, cycling gear and even a Karrimor collab – the SS18 shows saw designers embracing the banal

Drab coloured suits, knitted v-necks, cycling shorts, hiking anoraks – if there was one thing that was noticeable about this past month of fashion shows, it was just how unfashionable it all was. On the back of the past few seasons, where we saw shifting calendars and brands trialing ‘See Now, Buy Now’, SS18’s menswear shows seemed to welcome the respite of banality. Even the semi-ironic metal band tees had been shelved in favour of walks in the parks with the family, as if menswear were settling back down after brief midlife crisis.

The tone for this past Paris Fashion Week was arguably set the week before at Pitti Uomo, as both J.W. Anderson and Virgil Abloh showcased their latest collections as the tradeshow’s two guest designers. At Abloh’s Off White, by way of his collaboration with conceptual artist Jenny Holzer, we were reminded of a backdrop of global discord and uncertainty. Literally – Holzer’s signature text-heavy style saw her project a series of poems on subjects such as Syria, Palestine and human rights onto the facade of the Palazzo Pitti.

At Anderson’s show, the day prior, we witnessed what would be the collective reaction to such uncertainty, with the Derry-born designer describing the collection as “a fetishisation of basics.” For someone known for his avant-garde approach to men’s clothing, this was deliberately, well, normal. “It’s the first collection I’ve done that is based on me as a reality, not on me as a fantasy,” said Anderson. The washed jeans and breton-style stripes, however, perhaps spoke to a greater idea, that there’s something slightly perverse in getting dressed to the nines at times like this. Instead, what Anderson and a host of others suggested, was that there is comfort in the familiar.

A similar emphasis on normality was apparent at Balenciaga some days later. The theme was dads on their day off, resulting in real fathers walk hand-in-hand with their own children down the runway. The clothes too reflected this, with oversized suiting, stone-washed denim and what felt like a slightly more toned-down take on Demna Gvasalia’s usual eye-catching, instantly-memeable designs. Rather than Bernie Sanders riffs, here text spelling out ‘Europa’ spoke to our global situation in what felt like a unifying, optimistic way. And after a month of unrest and heightened terrorist threats, there was something calming about this refreshingly normal walk in the park. The kids, Gvasalia said backstage, represented “hope” – “the idea of the new generation, new beginnings”. 

Of course, that’s not to forget Martine Rose, who consults for Balenciaga, and who took a similar approach in London earlier this month. With looks inspired by “climbing, golfers, bicycle messengers” and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn the nascent designer seemed to share Gvasalia’s rejection of fashion in favour of oversized sportswear that your dad might wear. The Berlin-based brand GmbH, which takes inspiration from the city’s vibrant club scene, also took a more demure direction than past seasons. Such an outlook, however, wasn’t simply confined to industry newcomers. 

The theme was continued by Junya Watanabe, complemented by a cast of models both young and old in his workwear wares. The Japanese designer collaborates with Carhartt WIP regularly, typically on a handful of pieces each season, but here it accounted for nearly two-thirds of the collection. There were also collaborations with Levi’s and UK outdoor label Karrimor, making, we assume, was a runway debut. The shades of Carhartt-brown and archetypally-Junya workwear silhouettes were so concentrated that it felt almost soothing – and save for a few flourishes paint-splattered chore coats, this was an exercise in normal, accessible clothing, created in partnership with a label that prides itself on not being “fashion”.

There was, of course, exceptions to the rule. Rei Kawakubo seems to possess an uncanny ability to predict what her peers will do and, in turn, do the exact opposite. Even by her own standards, Comme des Garçons Homme Plus’s technicolour, disco-inspired extravaganza was spectacular. Embellished with glitter, sequins, zebra print and even baby dolls, each look jostled for attention. If the past month had been preceded by collections steeped in everyday reality, this was twenty minutes of pure escapism, joy and hope. It shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise – Kawakubo has never been particularly fond of doing ‘normal’.

But perhaps Comme des Garçons wasn’t the only optimism to emerge from this past month, we just didn’t realise it. Maybe the saviour we need is a composite of this season’s shows: an older, reassuring man, with a penchant for ill-fitting suits and the occasional bit of oversized sportswear. If only there was someone like that...