PARIS — Nothing says Parisian chic like a tractor jacket.
Forget the nipped blazers, the custom loafers, the cleverly knotted Hermès cravats. Get yourself to the Carhartt outpost here, a short walk from Colette, the retailing madhouse where, at a recently installed Balenciaga pop-up shop, one can order a T-shirt customized with logos as tacky as the ones at a stall next to a salt water taffy stand in Atlantic City. Printed on site, they cost a mere 255 euros (about $285).
Follow the men’s wear shows in Florence, Milan and Paris for three weeks and what you’ll notice is, of all things, America already is first. Stealthily, the sportswear that is a mostly American innovation has become a universalized form of millennial dress.
It turns up in the sneakers from almost every luxury goods house and in the tricked-out track suits, car coats and gym shoes that overshadowed the few traditional wardrobe elements in the new Valentino collection.
Much of the music for the Valentino show, as it happens, came from “Section.80,” the debut album by another potent American export, the Compton-born rapper and songwriter Kendrick Lamar. Rap, of course, is as ubiquitous at fashion shows as graffiti motifs or American athletes. And wherever you looked here this week your eye fell on some basketball deity, like Dwyane Wade.
Casting an admiring glance at the refined renditions of varsity jackets and droopy training pants created by the Valentino designer Pierpaolo Piccioli, Mr. Wade made a remark that neatly summarized the entire spring 2018 season: “It’s one thing for us to think it’s cool,” he said of the ineffable quality inhering in American sportswear. “It’s another thing for the rest of the world to see that.”
Not only do they see it, but if they are Japanese, they may have looked under the hood, taken apart the engine and rebuilt it better than the original. You expect souped-up Americana from Junya Watanabe, whose explorations of elements of United States work wear — and his collaborations with the companies behind much of it — have helped to define “ametora,” a carryall Japanese slang term for American traditional style mimicked, collected and perfected.
In the 48 selections of trousers, coats, T-shirts and especially jackets he showed Friday morning in the orchard garden of the Lycée Jacques Decour, Mr. Watanabe turned homage into something transformative. Subtly collaging cut-up pieces of barn coats, backpacks, Levi’s and assorted stuff from the aforementioned Carhartt, he remade them into a plausible uniform for laborers in the assorted fields of thought-work, guys who have never lifted a shovel in their lives.
If heaven is the absence of pain, then Friday morning could have been the Rapture. After days of mercury readings nearing 100, the searing heat suddenly came to an end as light zephyrs wafted in to lower temperatures and lift spirits. Though the music Mr. Watanabe used to open his show, Marvin Gaye’s masterpiece “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” features lyrics both ominous and prophetic of global warming, its melody is sublime enough that it was impossible for those in attendance not to feel the glory of being alive and in Paris.
That same buoyant feeling carried over to the Comme des Garçons Homme Plus show later that day at an event space that was once a gilded 19th-century ballroom. Front row wags at the Salle Wagram quipped that the label’s designer, Rei Kawakubo, must have had a better time at May’s Met Gala than anyone had guessed, judging from a show that featured pieced jackets worn inside-out over glitter shorts by models resembling the spawn of Nico and Jello Biafra (a chronological impossibility, but never mind), all shod in Nike Air Max 180 sneakers.
The soundtrack was some sort of manic disco, a genre, it is safe to say, no one associates with this dour sphynx of fashion. Yet, aside from three jackets bristling with doll parts created in collaboration with the textile artist Mona Luison (although it could just as easily have been the prop guy’s from a Wes Craven movie), the mood of the collection was almost giddy. Particularly given the current climate in France — its fragmented political landscape, its high unemployment rate, its heavily armed security forces walking the streets — the raucous ovation Ms. Kawakubo received was fully merited.
Cooler in tone were a Hermès show on Sunday in the stone cloisters of a former convent in St. Germain and a Berluti one staged a day earlier in the courtyard of the old mint on a majestic evening. The worn stones of each location formed an austere backdrop for the jaunty, sportswear-inspired clothes produced for Hermès, by Véronique Nichanian, and for Berluti, by Haider Ackermann.
Each designer faced a similar challenge: creating normcore duds for the ultrarich. If the history of these two venerable houses was built on supplying discerning clients with authentic luxury goods, the modern reality is that the very rich now are different not only from the rest of us, but an altogether different breed from the rich of the past.
Berluti is a century-old cobbler transformed by a French multinational into an all-purpose supplier to the one percent. Hermès is a centuries-old saddlery that once supplied the carriage trade. In the past almost everything such houses created had pragmatic design roots in infantry or cavalry uniforms. Abstracted, most elements of the modern suit would have been familiar to Napoleon.
Reacting to the reality that men no longer need that kind of armor, Ms. Nichanian turned her talent to producing relaxed American-style sportswear, like drawstring trousers and funnel-neck pullovers in cotton poplin, all in subtle spice colors. And, of course, there were the expected sneakers and sandals.
“Sophisticated letting go” was how Ms. Nichanian described her intentions, a slippery notion unless you remember Mick Jagger’s dictum that it is all right to let yourself go, as long as you can get yourself back. Those familiar with Mr. Jagger know he is abnormally disciplined in his habits, having learned long ago the effort required to make difficult things look easy.
One of the pitfalls in fashion, particularly men’s wear, is the temptation to advertise the cost of clothes through the use of exotic materials. There is nothing like crocodile to announce to the world that your jacket cost more than someone else’s annual mortgage payment.
The restraint Haider Ackermann brought to his second collection for Berluti — which before this week’s coed show was the only brand in the LVMH stable making clothes exclusively for men — appeared to draw inspiration from another principle, the one asserting that elegance is refusal.
Leaving aside some lizard-skin boots with stacked heels, the collection stopped well shy of ostentation and ran to the beautifully proportioned and the chromatically assured: gently narrowed bone-white trousers, a draped cinnamon silk sweater, pale-blue track pants with dark side stripes, a dove-gray windbreaker worn with pushed up sleeves atop a shirt of faded lilac.
Usually the plaudits for this particular conglomerate go to Kim Jones, possibly the best utility player working in fashion. As in most past collections, his spring 2018 effort for Louis Vuitton was set in motion by the wanderlust that is either Mr. Jones’s passion or his affliction.
When someone not long ago brought the designer an atlas of obscure islands, he realized that he had already made landfall on most. Thus, the idea to build a collection around island life might have started with that, or it might equally have originated in the widespread return of the Hawaiian shirt or, for that matter, from the popular Instagram feeds of adventuring pro surfers like John John Florence.
In Mr. Jones’s rendition, the garish tropical shirts came muted by a veil of organza. They were shown with bucket hats reminiscent of the Hawaiian Punch guy, patch-pocket pullover jackets and voluminous khakis or skinny board shorts. There were also a couple of suits tossed in almost desultorily, the way you might pack something fancy for a vacation, just in case.
The new Louis Vuitton collection had a beachy ease, a look that in the eyes of this viewer seemed unmistakably American. You could imagine Mr. Jones’s designs being worn by a man who is probably Hawaii’s most famous native son. You know the one: the 44th president of the United States.ù
by Guy Trebay