Men’s – Peter Doig. Dior AW21

While everybody is obsessed with Kim Jones‘ menswear at Dior… I’m still on fence with it. In overall, I love how he implements couture traditions of the maison and, at least, makes his part amusing, comparing to Maria Grazia Chiuri’s womenswear. But his autumn-winter 2021 collection just feels regular. Maybe it’s the side-effect of working on the Fendi debut? Again, Jones invited an artist to collaborate. This time, it’s the Scottish-born painter Peter Doig, whose roving background – an upbringing in Trinidad, study in London in the 1980s, success in the ’90s, a move to Canada – is exactly the stuff that brings out the fanboy in Jones: “Peter was at Central Saint Martins with Stephen Jones, and knew all the people I’m obsessed by – Leigh Bowery, Trojan, the London club kids at that time. Stephen introduced us. He really became part of the studio for the collection, and started making things, painting hats, and designing the set, which is based on the speaker stacks he’s collected.” Stephen Jones, Dior’s resident milliner confirms: “Yes, Peter was always hanging out with us fashion-y types at school. Then all of a sudden, unlike us, he went off and became a major international artist.” The line-up is full of Doig references: yellow anoraks, orange coats, and lions; paint-dabby patterns on sweaters – that’s all material replicated from Doig’s oeuvre. “His work is autobiographical. We looked at his paintings of men, of skiers, ice hockey players, and the night sky,” said Jones. “I think he was fascinated by how closely we could replicate his brushwork in textiles and knitwear.” The cheerful shots of citrus color – translated into some of Jones’s subtle merges of casual and luxurious street-wearable outerwear – are the making of the collection. Other than that (fashion-meets-art dialogues are always compelling), I wasn’t really convinced by the whole picture.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Men’s – Tourist vs. Purist. Louis Vuitton AW21

You might not be a fan of Virgil Abloh and his copycat practices, but one thing is sure: he delivers substance to Louis Vuitton‘s menswear (which sadly can’t be said of Nicolas Ghesquière’s recent seasons for women…). Abloh’s autumn-winter 2021 line-up seems to be his most personal to date, bringing conversations you would never really see at Vuitton. His sixth collection, named ‘Ebonics,’ came with a film directed by Josh Johnson that was powerfully centered on spoken word and performance, a call to radical thinking through the lens of menswear. Amongst the words delivered by Saul Williams and Kai Isiah Jamal were these: “Deconstruct the narratives… make spaces”; “Take down the walls, unravel the mysteries. Make it up to me.” And: “As Black people, as trans people, as marginalized people, the world is here for our taking, for it takes so much from us.” Abloh has mustered an educational encyclopedia of answers to the ineluctable questions that have been troubling all designers: over the point of fashion, of shows, of making clothes in the face of the Black Lives Matter movement and all the crises that blew up in humanity’s face last year. “We’re still reeling,” he said, in a telephone call with Vogue. “We sat through so many heavy conversations in 2020, some so heated that things can’t be discussed anymore. But fashion can do this. Shows can do this.” Abloh’s belief in clear-eyed boyhood innocence – that grace period before awareness of socio-cultural biases sets in – has always been an inspiration signalled in his Vuitton collections and campaigns. “I start from the wonderment of boys. When you’re a boy there’s one thing that adults ask you: What do you want to be when you grow up? And you say artist, lawyer, doctor, football player, fighter pilot. But then, if I ask what does a doctor look like? There’s a knee-jerk. That’s where we can learn.” His point, spelled out amongst the stack of literature he releases with each collection, is this: “Fashion has the power to de-program these dress codes and impact possibilities.” The multi-level consciousness, and his ambition to educate, include, and create aspiration is down-to-earth in one direction, and high-flown in many others. “Tourist vs. Purist,” the slogan he wrote when he entered Louis Vuitton in 2018 returned on bags this season. “It’s my organizing principle for my point of view when I make things. A tourist is someone who’s eager to learn, who wants to see the Eiffel Tower when they come to Paris. The purist is the person who knows everything about everything.” Abloh exerts his positionality as both – the outsider who became the insider; the man with the power to bring young people with him into the former exclusion zone of high fashion.

There’s lot to unpack, from the Louis Vuitton baggage (some of it in the shape of carrier bags, potato sacks, an LV ‘Keepall’ in the form of a plane) to the symbolic reconfigurations of masculine archetypes, to the challenging of ownership of sources that Abloh built into the clothes. “There are a lot of stories mixing cultures,” he said. “And from that, a new language will be created.” Cool, considered, chic, and flowing with floor-length coats, easy slim tailoring, African draped wraps, kilts, and Western hats – styled by the super-stylist, Ibrahim Kamara – it plainly makes for Abloh’s best collection for the house since he arrived in 2018. And his most autobiographical yet -an exploration of his African heritage and of what it means to be at the pinnacle of a career in Europe as a Black American creative director. “When I grew up, my father wore Kente cloth, with nothing beneath it, to family weddings, funerals, graduations,” he said. “When he went to an American wedding, he wore a suit. I merged those two together, celebrating my Ghanaian culture.” Add LV patterns to the cloth, drape it, then pair and compare it again with tartan checks, and the result is indeed something new. So too, the diagonal green-on-white print on a leather motocross suit. “A memory of the wax print fabric my mom had around the house when I was growing up,” he chuckled. “She was the one who taught me to sew; and she had learned it with a tailor in Ghana.” The collection is a powerful and beautiful statement. Abloh concluded, “I’m an optimist. The future is yet to be decided.

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Men’s – Detox Moment. Dries Van Noten AW21

There’s a pattern in case of Dries Van Noten. After a couple of seasons full of bold colours, prints and embellishments, there comes a detox time, a sort of palette-cleanser. Men’s autumn-winter 2021 line-up is one of those more quiet, sober collections. And, of course, it’s delightful. On a preview call the designer said that his riotously colored last-season outing, plus the establishment of an effective home working strategy for his pattern-cutters, created the context for this reassessment of archetypal garments through new structures and fabrication techniques. Van Noten added: “It was really nice to be able to work on construction, on shapes, on volumes, rather than really bold colors and wild prints. It was about going to the menswear wardrobe staples, and trying not to leave them because I wanted them to be recognizable, but to look at their function, and the way you feel about some things that you think you know but which maybe you don’t.” To change the feeling demanded changing the garments. Shirts were elongated into dresses, jacket skirts and hoody hems lengthened, pant waists raised, shorts widened. Van Noten said these alterations and others in the exterior of his garments were made hand-in-hand with upgrades under the bonnet, “so it’s a pity that we don’t have the possibility of being able to touch them.” As an example he said a lot of the jackets were made in the lightest possible wool, which was lightly padded to give the appearance of structure alongside the feel of looseness and release. Similarly, T-shirts were fashioned in two layers between which delicate bolstering was inserted to create a crisp appearance while feeling slouchy. There was some pattern here, but of a type in sync with the thesis of the whole. Motifs used traditionally for ties were adapted, distorted, and upgraded for a new life across the collection. Especially attractive was a riotous botanical on a slim-fitting souvenir-style jacket above some double-dyed denim jeans and a pair of the slouchy, puffy, elastic-backed moccasins that were elsewhere topped with gaiter-like leg warmers. One point of connection across the collection were the gleaming metal rings used to secure belts, knits, and bags. This was a collection built to look sharp but feel soft – a fruitful reexamination of the essence of “essentials.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Men’s – Rage. Rick Owens AW21

You can always expect emotions from Rick Owens. And this time, it’s rage. And sometimes, releasing rage is healing. Owens’s autumn-winter 2021 cast resembled a march of sexily sepulchral men stepping out to face their demons. Leather bodysuits – the latest chapter in his onesie narrative – sometimes enveloped, and sometimes hung half-worn as if flayed. Hooded habits came in recycled cashmere, waste plastic, or quilted material. You couldn’t make it out on the video, but the star on his newly Rick-ified Converse Chuck Taylors (this time the designer gives his man a rest from killer platform stompers) had been reworked into a pentagram. The oversized shoulders on slashed-arm overcoats and crop-top bomber jackets were meant to “mock male conservatism” in a collection Owens noted was an exploration of “male suppressed rage on every side of the moral divide.” In a preview, Owens confessed that he’d thought twice about facing rage in a collection presented just as four years of American carnage seemed to be over. “I thought this morning, does it feel a little tone deaf because now all of a sudden everything has shifted? Now that it’s all about optimism? But that dark element has not disappeared. And the fact that it came so close, this moral war, is horrifying.” Owens’s clothes are fundamentally playful provocations to conservatism and complacency. As well as a determination to remain uncomplacent about male aggression more broadly, Owens is sensitive to his own capacity for it. He said, “I’m always conscious of my own aggression. And the older that I get, I feel like I should have reached a level of serenity that I just haven’t; I get impatient, I get itchy, I snap at people sometimes. Aggression is something that I’m fascinated with because I’m constantly conscious of wrestling with it, personally. And I think that that’s true of every man.” Jackets with inbuilt gloves and masks were equipped for care of both the self and others through distance-dressing. And alongside satyr-appropriate thigh-highs and knowingly titillating bodysuits were garments designed for a broader constituency; examples included supple hooded shearlings, specially woven Japanese selvedge denim jeans, the Converse, and meandering olive cashmere knitwear. Owens said, “There’s a lot of regular-guy clothes in this collection, more than I have had in the past, maybe. I like that mix because it suggests more tolerance. I’m trying not to alienate or exclude.” This second show staged near Owens’s summer home on the Lido near Venice showcased a convincing interaction with the regular-guy world as passing locals watched the collection unfold. Showing here, said Owens, has become “like a private ritual” for him and his team because of that lack of a formal physical audience. The result was a film simultaneously intimate and grandiose. Owens observed, “I always kind of comfort myself that the world has always existed with darkness and light. And for some reason, there always seems to be enough goodness in humanity to just balance it out, and just to keep everything going. It’s close…but hope springs eternal.” By remaining sensitive to that human chiaroscuro through the creation of garments that subvert its darker shades, Owens contributes to the light.

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Men’s – Sculptural Ease. Hed Mayner AW21

Hed Mayner is one of the most underrated menswear labels, which is just the perfect place for unconventional elegance (and tailoring!) fans. The dynamic between inside and outside – the need to isolate on one hand and what he sees on the streets of Paris and Tel Aviv (the city where the designer is based), on the other – led him to paring things down and meandering through the possibility of line or the language of fabric. “Tailoring can take you into a process where you obsess over the perfect jacket. What I’m trying to do is keep something askew,” the designer noted in a Zoom interview with Vogue. Comfort dressing in slouchy, cozy fabrics was already Mayner’s home turf. This season, he’s expanded that sensibility and reframed it with ample yet tailored silhouettes and more traditional materials, like fluid Italian wools and English tweeds. For the first time, he ventured into double-faced fabrics, for example in a military-inspired coat that, thanks to a simple slit in back, can also be worn as a cape (a quilted puffer reprised that idea too). He also went to town on proportion, stripping away lapels, elongating tops, dropping hems, and toying with asymmetry, bell sleeves, major shoulders, and trousers that sit high on the waist. Those might be tucked into a long, slouchy boot or quite simply cropped above the ankle, judo-style, and paired with a big-buckled shoe. The effect was often sculptural, and warm hues of ivory, rust, camel, butter and olive green added to the feeling of gentle ease. Mayner said that his clients tend to pick a total look, then break it down and make it their own. When autumn arrives, they’ll have a lot to play with.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.