Am I that guy? The question is both nagging and inescapable if you follow the men’s wear circuit, as I recently did — attending roughly 50 shows or presentations displayed in settings as disparate as school auditoriums, gilded ballrooms and construction sites where niceties like fire safety are notional at best.
Trekking through Milan and Paris, I joined the throng of those who make a profession of tracking the latest doings of designers who often share little in common besides an urge to make clothes for masculine-presenting humans. Like them, I took pleasure in off time scrolling through quick-take reels on social media, all those posts by witty boobirds who toggle between stanning their favorite designers and celebrities and mercilessly throwing them under a bus. (And truth, Blakely Thornton, Kim Kardashian’s Balenciaga era probably was just high-priced “Power Rangers” cosplay.)
Yet it felt important to keep in mind how powerful an economic engine men’s wear remains. Too, it was useful to recall how, even during the deepest slump of the Covid-19 doldrums, which seemingly half the world spent clad in some variant of prison garb, the global men’s wear market powered along so ebulliently that its estimated worth in 2022 was $571 billion, according to the industry analysts Market Research Future. By some measures, that growth will increase in the next decade to $988 billion.
Another question follows from the first, though, a corollary to whether one is that guy. If not, do I want to become him?
As a critic, I think about this a lot and seldom more concentratedly than during the recent men’s wear season, which concluded on Sunday in Paris after a series of superlative showings. The best by far came from Rick Owens, who continued his ingenious explorations of dystopian futures and evolving body morphology with things like inflatable bladder boots, columnar down coats, straitjacket cloaks in swathing volumes (and, as always, plenty of commercial knits to wear for the end times.)
Not to be slighted were Jonathan Anderson with his array of lascivious leathers, his Candyland car coats and cartoon prints at Loewe; a sleek show of plutocrat wear from Véronique Nichanian at Hermès; and an uncommonly austere and calming monochrome presentation from Comme des Garçons.
There was a promisingly slick debut by Maria Koch at the newly founded luxury label 032c (shown on models that made the ’90s waifs seem stout) and a Grace Wales Bonner show that left one truly perplexed. So generally thoughtful and balanced is this designer’s work, so legitimately rooted in diasporic cultures that it seems illogical she remains, in some sense, under the radar.
The whole roundelay started earlier, as the year turned, with a deceptively unprepossessing show by Todd Snyder staged at Pitti Uomo, the men’s wear trade fair in Florence.
Though unable to attend the Snyder show in person, I caught the video afterward and was again persuaded of the case for this Iowa-born designer as the righteous inheritor of Ralph Lauren’s mantle. Mr. Snyder (and his collaborator, the former GQ style eminence Jim Moore) is just the man to play Pied Piper to consumers aiming to raise their style game without looking like rodeo clowns or Steve Urkel (with all due respect for high-water trousers worn with rainbow suspenders).
It is not so much a matter of the chunky shearling coats, boiler suits and pictorial knits that Mr. Snyder produces as how he puts the elements together. As much stylist as designer, he is the reliable friend who will tell you the truth when you ask if those pants make your butt look too big. He will guide you when wavering about whether to wear your gumboots outside your jeans, try a semi-tuck in your sweater or knot a contrasting belt over a trapper’s coat resembling a prop from “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” and fasten it with a carabiner. He comes from the place where the tall corn grows, and he is honestly there to help.
This is not always a given in fashion. It certainly has not been in recent seasons, when it has often been unclear what designers have in mind or even if they were interested any longer in making and selling clothes. I am thinking specifically about Louis Vuitton, where under the creative directorship of Pharrell Williams, the relatively sedate fashion shows of the past have rapidly become spectacles so opulently expensive that, even by the standards of fashion as entertainment, a viewer can feel less a participant than a bumbling bystander who has wandered into the path of a juggernaut. Am I that guy?
For this, his second outing at Vuitton, Mr. Williams took a big leap for a designer at the most French of labels and conducted us on a disconcerting adventure into the American West. Whose West, of course, is always the question. “When you see cowboys portrayed, you only see a few versions,” Mr. Williams explained at a post-show briefing. “You never get to see what some of the original cowboys looked like,” he said, referring to Native American and Black cowhands.
The performer turned designer collaborated with and imported to Paris artists from the Lakota and Dakota Nations. He used music he composed with the Lakota artist Hokie Clairmont and that was performed, against a vast photo panorama of red rock buttes, by Mumford & Sons and a group called Native Voices of Resistance.
But then he left us to contend with the emotions induced by a parade of “Western wear” comprising hand-tooled cowboy boots, hand-painted Keepall bags, patched shearling totes, pixelated “Cowmooflage” patterns printed onto calfskin trucker jackets, leather chaps, 10-gallon hats, turquoise stones riveted onto anything and everything and models resembling glamorous porters wheeling barrows with tooled gold Vuitton trunks aboard.
Perhaps the last word on the show should go to a wag who stopped on the way out to scan the crowd at the after party, sipping Champagne and smoking blunts and snacking on barbecue sliders with the LV logo toasted into the buns. “What can you say,?” he asked. “It’s ‘Toy Story’ couture.”