Fashion thumbs nose at crisis in Paris men's shows

Gender-bending sailors, NYC bikers and chameleon man strode the catwalks at the opening of Paris Men's Fashion Week as the world of style doggedly thumbed its nose at the crisis.

The planeloads of fashion buyers and critics flying in from the just-ended spring/summer men's shows in Milan face an exhausting five-day whirl of 49 catwalk presentations, several more than last season, and including half a dozen newcomers to Paris.

But despite the fashion world's determination to tackle the times with bravado, Thursday's opening shows offered an often commercially safe male wardrobe on models who for the first time in years looked the image of "real men.''

With stubble, hairy legs, and muscle, top-end houses Louis Vuitton, Jean Paul Gaultier and Emmanuel Ungaro went for marketable testosterone rather than the undernourished sexually-ambivalent type all the rage in recent years.

French fashion's "enfant terrible'' Jean Paul Gaultier gave his larger-than-life males a gender-bending side at times -- throwing bustiers under jackets, offering long skirts for the evening, and sending one muscular type down the catwalk in pleated skirt and a sailor top.

Other get-ups were far more classical, featuring his iconic stripes in bright reds and blues against black and white on trousers, jackets and shirts.

At Louis Vuitton, where singers Keziah Jones and The Black Eyed Peas hogged front row seats, designer Paul Helbers threw out 54 designs inspired by New York City's bike messengers that were decidedly anti bling-bling.

Cut for functionality, jackets were short and trousers rolled up for protection. And apart from a flash of taxi yellow and signal orange, shorts, biker pants, jackets and blousons came in soft natural hues of beige and sand and watery blue.

Ungaro's Franck Boclet explored duality at his show.

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"I want to show the sohpisticated dandy and the relaxed chic of the rocker, the two sides in all men,'' he said.

Sticking to blacks and whites with flashes of the house's emblematic pink, Boclet sent out his "chameleon man'' in also very wearable tight slim trousers and figure-hugging jackets, worn with light mousseline scarves and beads.

Turnout was high for the opening shows but signs of the crisis emerged.

"Before the crisis we'd send out 45 to 50 different outfits at each catwalk show. Last season we cut back to 42, this time around there'll only be 32 designs on the catwalk,'' Boclet said.

Male models, added Patricia Cadiou-Diehl, who heads one of the big men's agencies Bananas Mambo, were being offered rates 25 to 30 per cent lower this season, she said.

Among the new names on the Paris catwalks for this round of the twice-yearly shows are US designer Tim Hamilton, recently honoured by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, South Korea's Song Zio and Khalid Al Qasimi from the United Arab Emirates.

Thierry Mugler, Givenchy and Galliano are the biggest names showing on Friday, followed Saturday by Kenzo and Hermes, and on Sunday by Lanvin, Dior and Paul Smith. Winding up on Monday is Smalto.

  AFP it