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All Shadows and Deliverance

By Timothy Hagy

PARIS, January 29 - In the shadowy darkness of a cold January night, Raf Simons delivered one the finest shows of Paris men's week. His label will celebrate the10-year mark with a retrospective in Florence next June, sponsored by Pitti Uomo, but it's really during the last three years that the avant-garde Belgian designer has come into fashion's limelight. He has his finger on the pulse of a rapidly changing world: foreseeing 9/11 two months in advance, and connecting with the accelerating cadence of disenfranchised youth worldwide.

By Saturday night, I had just about had it. After a day full of lackluster men's shows, featuring designers with absolutely nothing to say, and conglomerates with little of interest to merchandize, I went to the Simons' show with hope. And what I found there was a sort of redemption.

The concrete floor in the 70s-era Porte de la Villette structure was strewn with 50 TV monitors in an arrangement that was itself contemporary art. The moment the first model hit the runway, at about 10:40 p.m., it was clear that Simons had a lot to communicate. What we saw - oversized ribbed collars that wound around a leather jacket, rubber scuba-pants molded to the thighs, leotards with half-moon cutouts on the back of the knee, a bomber puffed up like a life preserver, over-sized high-top trousers wound with a macramé of leather belts (crotches dropping erotically with button down flies) - said a lot about the future. These were clothes for the kids of today, and the men of tomorrow. Looking about that room, filled to the brim with off-duty models, clumps of pale-faced Teutonic boys, men of every color in the rainbow, editors speaking in a babble of lingual cacophony, you could see that the theme struck a common chord.

From a fashion standpoint, the immaculate tailoring of thin Spencer-like jackets sheered at the waist, shirts affixed with a discreet silver logo, an amazing layered suit combination trailed by split skirt-like tails, lapels with a strange vertical appendage, all of it was striking. Even a lacquered trench coat had been meticulously tweaked until it floated ethereally when put into motion. The silhouette at times looked pseudo ecclesiastical - capes, habits, a whiff of Benedictine.

If there was a somber darkness to the collection, more or less mimicked by the gargoyles that framed the invitation, then so be it. This is an age when very few lights brighten the horizon. The monastic illusions and droning soundtrack that opened the show gave reference to the Middle Ages - that period when empires dissolved, and the dark mists of anarchy spread like poisonous vapors.


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