Author: Ben Tuthill
Hanna Rosin, chill out. The End of Men may be imminent, but in high fashion—of all places—we’re still going strong. If you follow fashion media you probably know that legendary womenswear houses Saint-Laurent Paris (formerly YSL) and Christian Dior recently named supposed male rivals Hedi Slimane and Raf Simons creative directors.
This is exciting from a menswear perspective because both Slimane and Simons were, up until this point, best known for their work in men’s fashion. This is the first time that two major womenswear houses have come under the direction of menswear specialists, and you can see that influence in both Slimane and Simons’s debut ready-to-wear collections. They showed this past week in Paris – successfully, in Simons’s case, less so in Slimane’s.
Do you identify as male? Are you concerned about your pants’ effect on your sperm count? Thank Hedi. Hedi Slimane revolutionized the menswear game in the 2000s by slimming down the suit and more or less inventing the modern interpretation of the skinny jean. His influence is undeniable, but he’s spent the past few years in hiatus pursuing photography in Los Angeles, leading some to question his stylistic relevance.
Do you identity as male? Do you wear running shorts slit up the waist with suit jackets? You’re the most next-level trendy person I know, and you can thank Raf Simons. Raf Simons’s grounded experimentation and innovative tailoring have influenced designers across the board since his 1995 debut, and a good chunk of the crazy things happening in menswear right now can be traced back to him.
It’s getting pretty apparent what side I’m on here. I love Raf, and I could go on for years about his Dior collection. I’ve watched it at least 10 times by now. It’s a work of art. Everyone was a bit confused when he first took the job: Dior is the embodiment of luxurious, ultra-feminine excess, and Simons is known for minimalist, and almost brutal, masculinity.
Somehow it works. The collection plays out as a battle between those two poles; it starts with an unadorned black suit and ends with a series of full, floral skirts on multi-layered, iridescent chiffon. In between is a mash-up of classic Dior staples and Simons-style edge. A lot of it looks like what a father would pull together if he was abandoned in the morning and had to dress his four-year-old daughter. Everything’s mismatched and giant chunks go missing. There’s a grey suit that abruptly turns into a chiffon skirt at the waist. Ball gowns are chopped in half and paired with simple black shorts. Even the signature Dior hourglass silhouette seems isolated and confused, thrown into a suit but not quite sure how it got there.
It’s weird, it’s disjointed, but it’s a lot of fun, and in the end it comes off as a measured deconstruction of Dior modes forced into the stylistic framework of Raf Simons. He breaks down 65 years of brand history and reworks it into something that’s very much Dior but somehow entirely his own.
Hedi’s SLP doesn’t fair so well. Maybe it’s because the combination isn’t as fertile as Raf and Dior. YSL made a name for itself by incorporating menswear pieces into women’s wear, and an androgynous menswear designer doesn’t really provide that much of a shock to the system. As a result, Hedi’s SLP collection ends up looking like what it is: a tired women’s house run through the motions by an inexperienced menswear brat whose been taking too many pictures of rock stars in L.A.
He did fine work with the suits, which looked more or less like the suits he used to make for men. But everything that stepped out of his territory was a mess. The dresses were dated; the hats were silly. There were tassels and fringes everywhere. Hedi himself looked great when he took his bows, but his collection was about as sterile as the generation of men who grew up wearing his pants.
So, can menswear designers handle women’s wear? In the end neither Hedi or Raf quite figured it out. Raf did brilliant work but still never managed to pull an entire dress together. Hedi made nice suits but did nothing remotely interesting.
Raf’s show, though, gave hope for the future of Dior. He has his forms mastered, and his collection promises more great work to come. Men may be on the decline, but at least Simons has proven that we’re more than ready to make women’s clothes. Under the coming Rise of Women, I guess that’s really all we’ve got.
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