In my not unenviable estimation, 2014 was hardly a great year for men’s fashion. Litotes notwithstanding, there were many lackluster escapades. Saint Laurent became the the Judas Iscariot of haute couture. Gucci had to beg the rats to come back aboard its burning ship. Prada Schmada. Alexander McQueen was a bright spot and he’s been dead for four years. Tom Ford never returned my call, forgetting one Biarritz Thursday that ended with a Tetanus shot and the Jaws of Life. I required a flagon of Vieilles Borderies just to make it through the look books.
Worst of all, Gianfranco Ferré shut its doors after flailing on life support since il maestro died in 2007. This news garnered no press; a tiny snippet in flawed English on the Vogue Italia website noted in February that the holding group in charge of the license decided finally to pull the plug.
And so, dejected, nostalgic, and thoroughly tranquilized, I return to the closet to think back on the halcyon days of menswear. You all know the big names; and thanks to Filene’s Basement you own a Brioni sportcoat with only one sleeve and a pair of Bruno Magli factory seconds. But forget all that; you must remember instead those who helped take you from Tommy Hilfiger and Cliff Huxtable sweaters to Carol Christian Poell and Margiela. Without them there would be no Hedi Slimane. Tom Ford would still be at Perry Ellis. Gucci, with reckless abandon, would still sew that canvas “G” onto everything from typewriters to teddy bears.
First on the list is Issey Miyake. It’s been at least three seasons since last we met, sad to say; he has a lovely country house in Kamakura with a bathtub the size of a Sedan de Ville. He stays busy, though, with R&D, and no one is more innovative in the construction, presentation, and feel of his garments. He folds them, he sculpts them, he infuses his textiles with more supports, straps, and pleating than the stablemaster at Catherine’s winter palace. Details borne of a French cathedral, Japanese woolen mills descend en masse into the suicide forest of Aokigahara at the mere sight of his patterns.
Helmut and Lee McQueen, for example, owe much to Miyake; he showed them not only a great time in Ni-Chome, but also how garments can be sculpture… veritable origami that hides the effects of two helpings of Chateaubriand.
So then, why don’t we talk much about him these days? Well, probably because the vast majority of you have no taste; Hugo Boss and something called “ecological leather” are enough to set your heart to stun. Beyond that, most of the best Miyake pieces require not only a Swiss trust fund but cojones the size of the Coronation Egg of 1917. It’s hard for you mere mortals to don a puce doublet in pleated silk, or a pair of neoprene scuba pants with embroidered cuffs. And yet, marvel you should, for without Miyake, the very structure of what we wear wouldn’t be the same. Though, I must admit, without him we would be spared that awful cologne that bears his name and smells like the urinals at Charles de Gaulle.
Next is my dear friend Jean-Paul Gaultier. I always enjoy our weekday luncheons on the Rue Vivienne (even if one must be wary of his “busy hands”), and we often joke about matters ranging from fine men’s hosiery to whichever naval Legion is on leave that month.
But why his clothes? Well, forget the sailor stripe sweaters and Madonna’s pointy bra. Forget also Le Cinquième Element, though I must admit seeing Bruce Willis in a mesh go-go tanktop was not without its pleasures. Gaultier is influential instead for three things: fun, couture details, and rebellion. He doesn’t care that you won’t wear a skirt; he designed them anyway (and was later copied by everybody from Dior to Marc Jacobs). He didn’t care that you wouldn’t wear a woman’s tunic… he made you one anyway (and, indeed, you did wear it the instant you coveted that CCP jacket). And best of all he did it with almost couture-level quality; you could go at those seams with an arc welder and have only the tissue damage to show for it. He also laughs at how seriously you took the whole thing. Even when outlandish, even when designed for a circus midget from La Chapelle, Gaultier always signs it with a smirk, a grope, and a wink.
It’s just clothes, my pets, it’s not the Raft of the Medusa.
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