It is possible to like a look and not crave it, to appreciate it and yet know it’s for someone else. Clothes, like photographs and poems and reality TV shows, work on several levels. Sometimes it’s best to stand back, out of the blast radius.
“I like this,” I said to one of the spot-on salesclerks at the new Lanvin men’s store, fingering the top half of a silk tracksuit. I was lying a bit maybe. When confronted with a silk tracksuit — with jersey lining, natch — you’re supposed to touch it. Drug kingpins and well-to-do foreigner retirees, they can wear it; everyone else should just nod and smile.
It had a pleasing iridescence, though. My fingers lingered. Maybe I’m not who I think I am.
I wasn’t upset, then, when later the salesclerk knocked on the door of my dressing room, hidden behind a floor-to-ceiling mirror at the back of the store, and presented me with the matching set, stashed underneath a few other things I’d asked to try on. Enabling isn’t always a crime.
A word about the dressing room: it is large and intimate, with a giant mirror on one wall. You could get comfortable in there. You might be inclined to take some selfies. And why wouldn’t you: almost everything in the store feels like a tremendous costume you could still conceivably wear out into the street.
That’s because Lanvin has excelled, in recent years, at pushing the edges of comfort without being immune to comfort. Its clothes are classics remade with flamboyance but not a corrosive commitment to abstraction. A proper Lanvin outfit connotes seriousness while playing loose with the sorts of colors used inside the lines.
At the new location on Madison, which is Lanvin’s first men’s store in this country, a block away from the women’s store, I tried on a pleasingly cut and unforgivably expensive black leather jacket ($3,950). A clerk drew my attention to the stitching at the zipper.
“All of our functional elements become ornamental,” he told me, which is exactly as it should be, not one or the other but both.
O.K., sometimes just ornamental, like the white T-shirt with heavy chenille-style embroidery ($495), or the jacket and pants with a monochromatic flower motif, or the pair of metallic dark yellow parachute-esque pants, which seemed suited to a life selling beaded tank tops in Tulum.
Back to function I was drawn to, and gave in to, a night-black cotton piqué polo, with delicate buttons and a grosgrain collar ($335). Buttoned to the top, it seemed as if it might sprout its own sleeve tattoos, and therefore become the ideal outfit for a big hard-core show. (Maybe the Black N Blue Bowl this spring?)
The range of sport coats was thrilling: a teal shawl-collar blazer, a short turquoise option, a rough-to-the-touch white jacket that fit snugly.
From a distance, I loved a navy blue snap-front baseball jersey ($775) that’s a second or third cousin to what Frank Ocean wore on the Grammy red carpet, though the proportions veered toward karate gi or sausage casing territory.
“I was admiring your knit,” one of the clerks said, handing me a gray knit silk cardigan with gold buttons ($2,550). Maybe he was telling the truth. Maybe he was playing fabric association. Maybe there are only so many ways to sell a knit silk cardigan, and you take the opportunities when they come. It looked silly in my hand, and perfectly reasonable on my person.
In the middle of the store is a wall of sneakers all in the several-hundred-dollar range — these are the company’s main crossover item. More often than not, the pork-chop-thick soles are topped off with a bulky “Project Runway” costume-designer fabric. I’ve tried them on before, and they look like elitist clown shoes. You can get the look for less (still a lot, but less).
Sneakers seem like the easy choice, but a better entry point would be the thin T-shirts with multicolor, multisize dots ($450). Or maybe the metallic and earthy slate-blue T-shirt with almost-black accents, including a strip across the bottom of the front, and two thin stripes at the shoulders ($280). The color glares almost menacingly; it’s probably beating up more sullen, weaker shirts in my closet as we speak.
Back in the fitting room, once I was through with the clothes I’d asked for, there was the leisure suit — hooded top ($675) and pants ($495) — shimmering up at me. Why not? I slipped them on and regarded myself in the mirror. Now this was a look: like an eel with an attitude, or a joyous Mylar parade float. Everyone should be so cozy for at least two minutes in his life. I snapped a picture, so I’d remember it always, and then I slithered out of it and back into my own skin and left.