“I don’t want to lounge any more,” the designer Jonathan Anderson said via a Zoom call from the Paris studio of the LVMH-owned Spanish brand Loewe, where he is creative director. His sentiment was echoed repeatedly, incessantly during the Autumn/Winter 2021 Paris menswear collections, where the overriding message was the death of the sweatpant, the sweatshirt, and general pyjama-as-daywear proposals. If Milan was about cuddling up at home, Paris has decided by autumn, normality will have resumed. Ergo, we’ll all want to dress up and spend a lot of money doing so.
Perhaps it’s all a great confidence trick: convince us all everything will be all right, hoping we’ll buy lustily to crouch in a catlike state of readiness, perfectly preened, for when lockdown lifts. Then again, luxury fashion has been surprisingly resilient throughout the tumult of the past 12 months, with some brands bucking the downturn, exceeding sales forecasts, returning rapidly to profit.
Last April, when Hermès reopened its stores in China, the flagship in the city of Guangzhou reportedly took $2.7m in sales on its first post-lockdown day. That was seen as the first sign of a luxury comeback: the brand’s sales were up 7 per cent in the third quarter of last year. Véronique Nichanian, Hermès’s menswear creative director, didn’t offer suits: but she did offer parkas, raincoats and biker blousons in various leathers and water-repellent wool and cashmere. The message: you’re getting out, buy something to wear.
“It’s about ceremony in the everyday — bringing ceremonial dress into everyday life,” says Kim Jones of his Dior menswear collection filled with uniform references. In this case, the uniforms of the École des Beaux-Arts, underscoring a collaboration with Peter Doig, one of the most esteemed living European artists, with auction prices in direct correlation (the last, a 1993 painting, sold at Christies in October for £13.9m). Jones’s artist collaborations are a reference to the house founder Christian Dior’s time as a gallery owner in the 1930s; this one seemed especially fruitful as Doig was involved at every step of the way, Jones said, and it showed.
And Jones’ instincts were astute, attuned. Now is a time when previously everyday activities have taken on new gravitas — going out for a walk is a treat, dinner at a restaurant an impossible luxury. So taking art off gallery walls and bringing uniforms out of mothballs was a way of making daily attire feel special, even if it’ll mostly be worn indoors. Jones’ swishing cashmere great coats, braid-trimmed, maybe embroidered, deserve a wider audience. Underlining the appeal — aesthetic, and commercial — of his designs, he’s been given the reins of Fendi’s womenswear and shows his first looks for the house this week.
Uniforms can take many shapes: Jonathan Anderson’s eschewing of casual resulted in him turning to the anti-establishment uniform of British punks — a sensibility that also informed his own JW Anderson collection, with shearling tops dyed lurid green or blue like the hair-dos of ’70s Sex Pistols fans. Loewe offered deluxe bondage trousers, studded and strapped, but worn under swaggering shearlings and trenchcoats. For the season, coats are generally big — literally, creatively, they dominated collections from Yohji Yamamoto, Dries Van Noten, Jil Sander, and pretty much everyone else. Anderson’s other big idea, certainly less universal, was what he called “performative trousers”: wide, in giant checks, fringed or wildly patterned, they were inspired by the idea of dressing up and dancing around in outrageous things at home — which most people have done over the past year, when slightly stir-crazed. Anderson was, perhaps, hedging his bets: he still had great sweaters, and loose cardigans intarsia-knitted with flowers that screamed “WFH”.
So — kind of — did much of Rick Owens’ collection, presented on the Venice Lido, with an opening outfit of a duvet-ish padded down coat, thigh-high boots and pentagram-crotched Y-fronts. Maybe it was Cynthia Payne’s home? But alongside that were coats with built-in masks and gloves. “We’re all living in a tense period of history, waiting for a resolution,” the designer commented. These clothes looked performative, but they were actually made for life, inside or outside — plumped with wadding to cosset or shield against the elements. Owens dubbed these “barbaric, contradictory times”, and his clothes reflect this moment perfectly. Which is a credit to them.
It was interesting that Virgil Abloh chose to plaster the word “Tourist” over his Louis Vuitton collection, as lack of them is the posited reason luxury rebound from the Covid-19 pandemic has been sluggish in Europe. Abloh’s tourists were ideological: enthralled observers of a phenomenon — art, fashion, culture generally — rather than those immersed in it, which he called purists. But the tourists are the ones who spend. This collection was, perhaps, about aspiration — desire — of outsiders dreaming of being on the inside.
Actually, most of us are dreaming of the reverse, of being on an aeroplane, say, a recurrent motif that appeared as buttons and, of course, as a Vuitton bag (the brand is about travel, after all). The clothes were not for slouching: slick suits, furs, no loungewear in sight. It was, again, about dressing up — which sometimes wound up looking more dressing-up box than high formality. Aeroplane buttons are better suited to childrenswear than an expensive tailored coat; a pair of puffer jackets crafted with three-dimensional cloth models of Parisian and New York cityscapes doubtless looked better on the drawing board. They’ll be photographed editorially, of course, and if they never make it past a flat magazine page they’ll have still done their duty of grabbing attention. But the rest of this collection, comprised of luxurious, expensive yet eminently real clothing, was retail business as usual. Which is precisely what fashion hopes will return in 2021.
Follow on Instagram to find out about our latest stories first
Listen to our podcast, Culture Call, where FT editors and special guests discuss life and art in the time of coronavirus. Subscribe on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen