PARIS — A decade into his stint at Dior Homme, Kris Van Assche is plainly doing something right. Even before the days of revolving-door designers, a term of employment that long might have qualified Mr. Van Assche for a gold pocket watch.
It happens that Christian Dior spent the same amount of time at the storied house that bears his name. In those years the designer completely altered the history of postwar 20th-century fashion.
Mr. Van Assche, by contrast, has effected surprisingly little change, either in the broader culture or even his own style. Season after season he creates commercial men’s wear that alludes to risks he largely sidesteps, makes obligatory reference to a youth culture at some distance from his actual customers and all but shuns color in a house that, more than any other, was built on its magic.
Still, the formula must be working. The suits the designer claimed to be reinventing in a monochrome show held inside the bombastic 19th-century Grand Palais — made over with sod and pendant black plastic fronds to evoke a nighttime field into which some young rowdies are headed — will most likely look pretty much like those from last season once they hit the selling floor. That must work for the Dior Homme consumer.
There were waistcoats over this season’s ubiquitous gym shorts, notched at the sides and cut as high as the ones you wore in fifth grade; sleeveless vest jacketsA jacket is a mid stomach length garment for the upper body. A jacket typically has sleeves, and fastens in the front or slightly on the side. A jacket is generally lighter, tighter-fitting, and less insulating than a coat, which is outerwear. Some jackets are fashionable, while others serve as protective clothing.; figure-eight suits seamed to follow the lines of the body; binding tape woven with the rue de Marignan address of Dior’s men’s wear atelier worn as scarves, ribboning jackets, turned into an overall pattern and, in a flash of wit, left as labels sewn on the outside of jacket sleeves.
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Dior Homme: Spring 2018 JUNE 24, 2017
Balmain: Spring 2018 JUNE 24, 2017
Alexander McQueen: Spring 2018 JUNE 25, 2017
If the familiar is a safe space for Mr. Van Assche, a more adventurous designer like Olivier Rousteing, of Balmain, explores cultural déjà vu as a thrilling danger zone. For a show so chauvinistic in its orientation it was a wonder he didn’t screen Jerry Lewis movies afterward, Mr. Rousteing seemed determined to remind everyone of his deeply rooted Frenchness.
Yet what does it mean to be French at a time when a brilliant young technocrat is elected president on his promises to restore a flagging economy and mend a fragmented polity? Can the inclusive and modernized country imagined by Emmanuel Macron be found compatible with the nostalgic France the innovative French chef Alain Senderens once derided as stuck in “tra-la-la and chichi”?
Mr. Rousteing seemed to choose for the latter in a show whose soundtrack featured hoary tunes by Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg and models of either sex strutting the catwalk in fussily ornamented clothes that, even when they overtly referred to Americana, did so in a way that brought to mind Top 40 hits in nutso translation.
It was delightful, if mystifying, the designer’s largely monochrome array of leather tunics, semitransparent Breton stripe sweaters, Old Glory tunics, studded motorcycle jackets, steel tip boots and stretchy black jeans with meek peekaboo slits at the knees. As a demonstration of French craftsmanship it was impressive. As an example of image-making it seemed strangely anachronistic, yet another attempt at resuscitating the giddy look of Paris night life circa 1978, when people still frequented spots like le Palace, le Bronx or le Sept. As someone who danced away part of his youth in those very places, I understand Mr. Rousteing’s impulse. Though at 31 he would know better than I, my hunch is the kids don’t party that way anymore.
“We show our women’s here and it feels right to be here for men’s,” Sarah Burton, the Alexander McQueen designer, said before a show of couture-style men’s wear returning the male side of this label’s business to the Paris schedule and its show to a 19th-century orangery set inside the Luxembourg Gardens.
Her stated theme was pioneers and explorers, Ms. Burton said, its inspiration some recent travel to Iceland. Summer in the north must be mighty nippy if it calls for quilted puffer jackets, exquisite lipstick-red leather topcoats, fur motorcycle vests bristling with zippers, overcoats of paneled camel’s hair, knitted hoodies, sweaters with elbows made from the heels of socks, or woolen coats inspired by rugs.
In Ms. Burton’s supremely skilled hands, endless night becomes day, summer calls for winter woolens and men’s fashion steals a march on women’s. Alongside the usual tra-la-la and chichi of Fashion Week in Paris, a fair amount of blah-blah was heard about the potential merging of the sexes on runways and the end of a separate men’s wear season altogether.
If the case that Ms. Burton’s McQueen show made for separating the two were not enough, further assurance came from Fran?ois-Henri Pinault, chairman and chief executive of Kering, which owns the label, as well as Gucci, Saint Laurent, Stella McCartney, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga.
“If it’s forced,” Mr. Pinault said in the minutes before the McQueen show started, speaking of coed fashion seasons, “both parts are losing.”