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Paris menswear ends with dinner party from hell

Models presents creations by US designer Thom Browne, as part of his Men's fall-winter 2011/2012 collection presented in Paris, Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011. Models presents creations by US designer Thom Browne, as part of his Men's fall-winter 2011/2012 collection presented in Paris, Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)
By Jenny Barchfield
Associated Press / January 23, 2011

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PARIS—The City of Light's five-day-long fall-winter 2011-2012 menswear displays wrapped up Sunday with hard-edged romance at Lanvin, hills alive with the sound of Austrian music at Yves Saint Laurent and the dinner party from hell, hosted by New York Based designer Thom Browne.

Rumor has it that Browne's banquet -- featuring models in period dress and knit wig caps and others with Howard Stern wigs and sweatbands -- was supposed to represent America's first Thanksgiving dinner, but the message was clearly lost on the audience of fashion editors, journalists and stylists. They were busy making dinner plans on their cell phones while the models shuffled around the table -- the performance art version of a runway show. The audience chalked up the whole plodding thing up to a bizarre reenactment of some obscure (and boring) episode of the French revolution.

Another New York-based designer is now showing in the French capital. Yigal Azrouel made his Paris debut with a collection that was completely on-trend with the top looks on Paris' runways. Chunky knitwear? Check. Slim trousers? Check. Shearling jackets? Check. Cozy layers? Check.

Standout pieces from Azrouel's collection included an upscale tracksuit in gray sweatpant material and a fitted coat in colorblock gray and black.

For its debut runway show on the Paris calendar, Arnys put on a mini-concert, complete with a Nick Cave-style crooner. The Paris-based label has been confectioning classic menswear fit for a premier -- the house dresses French Prime Minister Francois Fillon -- for three generations, and it showed -- in a good way. Models in hunt-ready, landed gentry garb -- jackets in Hermes orange corduroy with leather elbow patches -- struck dignified poses on the catwalk-cum-stage they shared with the band as the group jammed.

Capping the grueling week of Paris menswear displays, the jazzy show was a welcome relief, and the clothes beautiful, in their ultra-traditional, bourgeois way.

Before the fashion world makes a break for it, the city's rarified made-to-measure haute couture displays start on Monday, with the perennially pomp-filled show by Christian Dior.

THOM BROWNE

The setting was sumptuous and the spread was plentiful, but Browne's menswear banquet Sunday wasn't a dinner party you'd want to attend.

The New York-based designer followed up on his enthralling, over-the-top Paris debut last season with a display that had all the trappings of a blockbuster show -- with fashion and theatrics in equal doses. But ultimately it fell flat, lacking life and drained of all spontaneity.

Fashion insiders filed into a gilded salon, taking their seats around a banquet table laden with a cornucopia of fruits and pies, roasted turkeys and wine. But the banquet's 42 guests -- models decked out in caps knit in the shape of colonial powdered wigs and oversized John Lennon sunglasses -- nibbled only kernels of corn and lima beans, spearing and consuming them one by one, like lifeless automatons.

Up till there, fine, but then the models began to change seats. All 42 of them. One by one, walking around the mile-long table at what can only be described as a geriatric shuffle.

As the minutes dragged on and the audience began to sweat under the cinematic spot lights, you just wanted to shout at them to get a move on, already.

True, the laborious musical chairs gave the fashion journalists, editors and stylists ample time to inspect the garments, but by then they'd already seen them close up.

A departure from the shrunken suits that have become Browne's trademark, the collection was full of volume. Fitted 18th century-style jackets had tails that were as full as antebellum ladies' skirts, and for once Browne's models didn't look as if they'd been vacuum-packed into the tweed and plaid pants.

A brilliant idea on paper, show ended up being a tedious ordeal, like that dinner party you'd long looked forward to attending but couldn't wait to escape.

LANVIN

The soundtrack -- which veered from Olivia Newton John's "Hopelessly Devoted To You" to thumping techno beats -- pretty much summed up the label's romantic-with-a-hard-edge collection.

Wearing turtlenecks beneath their button-down shirts, with double-breasted blazers, billowing silk trenches and wide-brimmed hats, the models looked like gangsters in love, or hit men who are poets in their spare time -- men quivering with emotion beneath their slightly menacing facades.

Lucas Ossendrijver, who designs menswear under the label's artistic director Alber Elbaz, said the collection was an attempt to bring together the different currents of seasons past.

"We started out the menswear line with this really romantic spirit and then for a while we got pretty edgy, and now this is an attempt to bring both those strands together," Ossendrijver told The Associated Press in a post-show interview.

Classic menswear staples were tweaked and paired with pieces borrowed from the outdoorsman's wardrobe, like a gray greatcoat cinched at the waist with a climbers' cord, or the heavy hiking boots worn with a suit in fluttering teal silk.

The extra-wide brims of the felt hats curved low over the models' eyes, making them look like men with something to hide.

It was yet another outstanding collection from a label that sets the bar high -- and regularly outdoes itself.

PAUL SMITH

It was what Pink Floyd would wear for a trip to the dark side of the moon.

Dressed in puffer coats in space-suit silver and leopard print skinny pants, models at Smith's show were like rock stars counting down for takeoff.

Star pieces in the outerwear-heavy collection included an aviator jacket in shearling printed with silver lame and rocker coats in bulky black shag. Models -- all with a bad case of bed head -- wore necklaces hung with what looked like pointy scientific instruments, and stomped the catwalk in high-top hiking boots.

Dominated by metallic and khakis, the collection was a departure from the rich jewel tones and eye-popping primary colors Smith usually mixes and matches with unmatched fearlessness.

YVES SAINT LAURENT

The snug-fitting collar-less blazers in loden wool and houndstooth felt like slicker, urban takes on "trachenjacke," classic men's jackets in Austria and southern Germany. They were paired with clingy turtlenecks -- a major winner across Paris' menswear catwalks -- and narrow trousers that buttoned at the ankle.

While the suits were slim, the outerwear was bulky.

A driving coat in gray wool dwarfed the featherweight model hidden somewhere beneath its voluminous folds. Equal parts poncho and zip-front hoodie, a sweater in deep Bordeaux held its bubble shape.

Sunday's show was held in a sprawling town house in Paris' chic eighth district, and the models ambled through salons, tracing circles on the wooden parquet. Many of them walked stiffly as they struggled to negotiate the thick, camouflage-covered soles on their boots and brogues.

Yves Saint Laurent's Italian-born designer, Stefano Pilati, is known for his cutting edge, sometimes difficult, menswear but Sunday's collection was more classic and consensual than in seasons past and seemed to elicit an enthusiastic response from many of the men in the audience.

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