Backstage at Issey Miyake stood 15 male models dressed in dark pants and white lab coats like tall, rail thin, particularly good looking pharmacists. I was ecstatic to be there with them. Not because of the models; nor because of the show; but because I was in Paris, the city of lights, my favourite city, the city that on its worst day still kills Milan on its best. Paris is about as different from Milan as apples and bananas. Milan is flashy, all-business and grey; Paris is sophisticated, open and alive. I’d arrived a few moments before and walked straight backstage without so much as a glance from security. The show was a few minutes from starting and all around, photographers directed models to stand up against this wall, pose with that boy, or jump over this imaginary line. Finally, the designer stepped forward and asked the models to remove their labcoats. Underneath were a myriad different colours, patterns and proportions.
The speed with which models have to get changed backstage – Francisco Lachowski at Issey Miyake
The music began. An English man sang “I love you but don’t touch me cos you’re sick.” I stood with the backstage photographers and watched the show take place from behind the scenes – always the best spot in the house. The outfits were all over the place. Everything from tie dye to plaid, fluro ginghams to camos to zebra stripes. Orange, red, green, brown, yellow and grey. The only consistency that I could find was in the inconsistency of so many different patterns, colours and textures. Later I found out the collection was inspired by coffee. If you think of the life cycle of a coffee bean, from South American jungle to Parisian cafe, you can imagine that the contrasts would be huge.
It was backstage at Issey Miyake that I ran into Steve Wood again. Steve is the 63 year old British backstage and paparazzi photographer that I worked with for four weeks halfway through last year at five fashion weeks in Milan, Paris and Berlin. Steve is crazy. Crazy like a fox. So when he offered to give me a lift to Louis Vuitton, a show I’d been trying to get an invitation to for near on five weeks, I jumped at the opportunity. Working with Steve typically involves holding a flash a few metres away from him, ‘painting with light’ (his words), as he shoots photo after photo after photo of models backstage or celebrities front of house. Steve’s one of those people with an all access pass to life. Nothing stands outside of his reach. Needless to say, getting into Louis Vuitton with him was a breeze.
The powerhouses in Paris (Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Chanel, Hermes) terrify me. I’m not ashamed to admit it, they scare the bejeezies out of me. Even going backstage with Steve as a legitimate assistant is terrifying. At any point you could be walking along, trying to mind your business, and an overzealous PR agent with a bone to pick or a security guard with a muscle to flex could take exception to your presence and make things problematic. And backstage at one of those shows, if you’re evicted, it’s in front of a good 50 people. It’s a similar feeling to being in an antique store with a toddler. When the time arrived for the show to start, I got out of the backstage as quickly as possible and merged with the crowds on the catwalk.
Held in the same venue as last season – an art gallery on the outskirts of town the size of a train station – the catwalk was much smaller this time around, and split into three walled sections instead of Louis Vuitton’s typical thirty metre long runway. About ten paparazzos milled around waiting for any opportunity to pounce on an unsuspecting celebrity. They didn’t have to wait long. Kanye West and his girlfriend Amber Rose appeared at the entrance and posed as the vultures descended. This vulture didn’t hesitate to join the pack.
The show began in a series of classic outfits with subtle twists. A heavy herringbone coat came paired with the lightest silk trousers, a woolen jacket had leather panelling, a charcoal blazer had plaid detailing on the shoulders. Like Issey Miyake, Louis Vuitton was a lesson in contrasts. Shiny and matte, heavy and light, somber and bright. Interesting to note that there were only two suits in the entire show – all the other looks were made up of suit separates – they were the final two outfits. One brown suit, one black tuxedo. The best pieces were all things leather. Leather blazers with visible tailoring details, leather coats, and of course, leather accessories. My favourite bag was the notebook carrier – the kind you normally wear over the shoulder – this one came as a backpack. A little luxury on the run.
With a giant yellow invitation featuring Sly Stallone as Rocky Balboa, Jean Paul Gaultier had pugilist pursuits on the mind this season. A full sized boxing ring sat smack bang in the centre of his house – in lieu of a catwalk – with his traditional JPG-girls in breton stripe tees taking the place of the promo girls in bikinis who normally reside ringside. All around, the walls were plastered with vintage boxing posters advertising the upcoming bouts of days long gone.
The lights went down and the sounds of boxers sparring in a gym came to life. Two male boxers stood on a stage punching big bags. Another two boxers appeared – this time female, both dressed in lingerie inspired boxer-garb – and walked to the ring in the centre. A bell tolled, and the girls began to fight. Simultaneously, models walked through the crowd, around the ring and back again. They looked like they’d come from a fierce fight – all were adorned with black eyes, cut cheek bones and broken noses. It took a while to see the boxing references in the clothing, but they were there. A winter white knitted asymmetrical bomber came with a Rocky hood pulled high over the head. A dodgy bookie in chalk striped suit strolled out huffing on a cigar. A couple just wore boxers’ robes or capes, some in silks, others in wools. You can always count on Jean Paul Gaultier to put on a spectacle, and when it was all over, the guys crowded together and held up their fists, posing for photos. A sole figure in a silk cape – a little shorter and sturdier than the rest – sprinted out waving his fists like a prize fighter. It was the man himself. Nothing beats a good victory lap.
Final show of the day was Dries Van Noten. I had no invitation, I wasn’t getting an invitation, and despite emails, calls and pleading, I’d been told that this time the list was so full that there was really nothing they could do for me. I still had to try. The entrance lay behind two security guards, a closed iron bar gate, a PR agent, a set of stairs and another three security guards. Out the front stood about 20 hopefuls, who watched and sighed as invited guests arrived. I stood back. There didn’t seem to be any way in. There was a chance that some important and generous writer or editor might recognise me and take me with them, but it was a slim chance. I plucked up the courage to just walk up and ask the PR agent. The worst he could do was say no. At the precise moment I stood before him, he looked up, pointed at two young guys beside me, and said “You three, and nobody else.” I smiled and walked in, not asking any questions, not turning around in case he or somebody else stopped me. Turns out the other two guys were Australians. Antipodeans 1, rest of the world 0.
The show incorporated a technique I’ve never seen before, but which worked very successfully. Instead of speakers blaring music, each of the models carried a set of remote headphones that played the soundtrack in unison. The sound was certainly low-fi compared with normal, but it worked. And it was my type of music. Jay Z. 50 Cent. Snoop Dogg. Pharrell. The Smiths.
I stood on a mezanine floor about two metres above the models, so I had a birds eye view of the proceedings which – to be perfectly honest – didn’t afford me too many of the details. But from what I could see it looked to be a continuation on Dries Van Noten’s previous two seasons; inky navy blues paired with black or camelly beiges, murky greens, lots of patterns. Once again, plenty of contrasts. A navy trench coat’s lapels folded back to reveal a plaid underside, a plain coloured blazer had contrasting coloured sleeves. Likewise a baseball tee had a black body and white sleeves – or was it the other way around? Dries Van Noten is the master at taking the everyday elements of a gentleman’s wardrobe and giving them a techno twist in fabrics that look so ultra modern they’re almost too ahead of themselves. I’m a fan.
Fingers crossed that the successes of today can be carried forward to become more successes tomorrow. If I was in Milan I wouldn’t put too much hope in it. But I’m in Paris. My favourite city, the city of lights. Wish me luck.
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Catwalk images (well the good ones at least): GQ
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