Debuts, Handoffs and New Beginnings at the Paris Men’s Shows


Robb Young | July 04, 2011

From the front row critics to the executives backstage, this season's spring/summer 2012 menswear collections were a milestone for many in Paris


Last Sunday, the spring/summer men’s season concluded with turning points for at least three of the biggest names in luxury prêt-a-porter in Paris – names that are usually better known for their women’s lines than their men’s: Louis Vuitton, Christian Lacroix and John Galliano.

With the catwalk bow of Mr. Lacroix’s assistant of 17 years, this season marked the rebirth of Christian Lacroix into brand which aims to prosper exclusively through licenses. Following the shuttering of its couture division, bankruptcy and the departure of its founding designer two years ago, Sacha Walckhoff was appointed creative director by the principal licensee firm that rescued it, Groupe TWC.

“ With the catwalk bow of Mr. Lacroix’s assistant of 17 years, this season marked the rebirth of Christian Lacroix into brand which aims to prosper exclusively through licenses. ”

Christian Lacroix

At the time of the deal, it was reported that menswear would be a key channel of growth for Lacroix, and that several sub-licenses had also been inked such as Sadeve for men’s suits and sportswear, Rousseau for men’s shirts and knitwear and Mantero for scarves and neckties.

But if the bigger critics were noticeably silent in their assessment of Walckhoff’s trajectory for Lacroix, they certainly weren’t about another designer who had been tapped to fill some big shoes: Bill Gaytten for John Galliano.

Matthew Schneier of painted the picture of a designer succession that was always going to be colourful and controversial.

(L to R) Hermes, John Galliano, Louis Vuitton

“John Galliano went to trial on Wednesday here in Paris, where a packed courtroom sat for seven hours, listening to the designer and witnesses remember (and not remember) the now-infamous evening at La Perle,” he wrote. “And tonight, a no-less-packed house—standing-room types stood on stairways that climbed literally to the rafters—took in the first John Galliano menswear collection without Galliano.”

“The clothes were not dissimilar from seasons past. Credit for that goes to the house’s stalwart guiding spirit, Bill Gaytten… [who] has long been as much a part of Galliano’s brand as the man himself. And after the final two models—long-haired, mustachioed JG doppelgangers—took their turns (just as the designer used to do a full runway spin), it was Gaytten who came out to give a timid bow to an appreciative roar. Dior CEO Sidney Toledano applauded from the front row. And so the world turns.”

(L to R) Alexander McQueen, Yves Saint Laurent, Comme des Garcons

But it was the third milestone that really got the critics raving. Debuted under Marc Jacobs as Louis Vuitton’s men’s style director, Kim Jones, the former creative force behind Umbro and Dunhill, injected his trademark street and sportswear elements into luxury.

“This was a show that had drama and daring — yet every piece, from the backpacks to the sandals, by way of tailored shorts suits or bright Africa-inspired scarves, could be worn with conviction”, wrote Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune. “It is rare to see a designer step so perfectly into new shoes. But this debut collection could not be faulted. Its soul was the essence of Vuitton: travel. And vacation ideas that are usually translated on the runway as a polo shirt, a parka and a tan travel bag had far more resonance. “

(L to R) Raf Simons, Dior Homme, Maison Martin Margiela

Cathy Horyn of the New York Times largely concurred that Jones’s first collection was a coup for the luxury conglomerate’s flagship brand.

“It’s a given that King Louis is a global entity. More relevant is that Mr. Jones’s relaxed suits and blazers, with their Dartmouth-to-Wall-Street assurance, give a new younger look to the brand — an attitude compatible with Marc Jacobs’s image for the Vuitton women’s collections. The change is meaningful for another reason: though Vuitton is known for bags, clothing and shoes now amount to a significant business.”