PARIS — It was Friday night, Jan. 20, and by historical coincidence, the Givenchy men’s wear show and the 58th United States presidential inauguration were competing for an audience. In the magnificent and freezing Richelieu-Louvois library of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, groups of American magazine editors clustered around their smartphones, streaming footage from abroad.
The editors of GQ magazine watched and wondered about the outfits (the first lady, Melania Trump, wore Ralph Lauren, one informed another); a press officer, ushering guests to their seats, said he had spent the morning glued to CNN, reluctantly rapt. (There to get coverage for his client, and not himself, he declined to say more.)
Even those not watching were magnetized, if not pulled toward the event, then pushed away.
“I have imposed a blackout on myself, for my mental health,” said Michael Hainey, the executive director of editorial at Esquire. “It’ll be there when I get back.”
But a true blackout probably isn’t possible. If you accept that fashion holds a mirror to the culture, then you have to grit your teeth and see it reflected in the glass. The political churnings of the past year — in the United States, in Britain, in Italy and in France — have all registered, however obliquely.
Some designers shied away from overt political standard-bearing. “There’s no point in being a running commentary,” said Jonathan Anderson, the creative director of the Spanish leather specialist Loewe, adding, “Ultimately, history does just repeat itself.” Revolutions, like the seasons, recur. But in what felt like a mordant joke, he had affixed a small parachute to the back of buttery leather backpack, for if and when the time came to jump.
Others embraced the unrest and the indignities of the age. Serhat Isik and Benjamin Alexander Huseby, the pair behind the new line GmbH (the German shorthand for “limited liability company,” essentially the German equivalent of “Inc.” or “Ltd.”), began designing together in Berlin. And their collection has a club-ready sense of flamboyant abandon: They showed several glossy pairs of PVC trousers. But they hinted at an uneasy reality outside the clubs.
Mr. Isik, a first generation Berliner of Turkish extraction, and Mr. Huseby, a Norwegian-Pakistani photographer who grew up feeling like “the only brown person on the Norwegian countryside,” made a point of including brown-skinned, ethnically ambiguous models: guys like them. On the back of one shirt they had stitched the phrase “Randomly Chosen” — an ironic nod to allegedly random searches at airports and borders, which claim to be indiscriminate but often target those with darker skin..
“When we travel, we always hear that,” Mr. Huseby said dryly.
Maybe it was happenstance that, as President Trump spent months campaigning on his business experience, the idea of business and businessmen seeped into collections, even if only to be batted away. Jonny Johansson, the creative director of Acne, said he started designing his new collection with the notion of “an ’80s businessman.” Mr. Johansson waited a beat. “I had to reform him.”
His models wore suits and tailored jackets, but they came in the kind of bulky, hairy fabrics and modishly rounded shapes unlikely ever to be seen in a boardroom.
“Nobody wants to be a businessman anymore,” Mr. Johansson said. Speaking of the newly sworn-in president as his models, young men who looked more like student revolutionaries than future executives, walked a makeshift runway across a lecturer’s desk at the Université Paris Descartes in central Paris, Mr. Johansson added: “I don’t think that young people relate to him. I think that old people do.”
Demna Gvasalia, the Balenciaga artistic director, had been thinking of businessmen, too. His collection offered “a new set of proposals on the subject of corporate dressing,” according to a primly printed notecard on every seat. Mr. Gvasalia sent out strong-shouldered suits and tailored overcoats, whiffing of ’80s corporate sharkdom. But it should be said that most bankers choose to wear pants under their long coats, and only some of Mr. Gvasalia’s, who trooped in thigh-high socks and boxer shorts, did. A modest proposal, that.
François-Henri Pinault, the chairman and chief executive of Kering, Balenciaga’s parent company and one of the major corporate fashion groups of France, sat front row. He looked tickled that a model in a hoodie printed with the Kering logo had sauntered by.
Mr. Pinault explained that Mr. Gvasalia came to him first to ask permission to use Kering iconography on his clothes.
“I said, ‘It’s part of creation,’” Mr. Pinault said. “‘Don’t wait on me.’”
He did not see the result until the show. He noted that several of the models also had Kering logos painted on their fingernails.
Will the show inspire you to make a change in the office dress code, Mr. Pinault?
“We’ll have to,” he said in reply.
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