WASHINGTON, December 27, 2006 - As I begin a piece on the future, the news of former President Gerald Ford’s death recalls the past. To look at the mid-70s, in men’s fashion terms, is to see how far a species has evolved from earth-toned polyester leisure suits, which at the time of Ford’s presidency were de rigeur. Even the political holdouts of that era, notably Vice President Cheney and former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, have moved on, or at least their respective wardrobes have.

The Paris spring men’s collections are a conundrum. As the show calendar expands each season, the vast majority of collections filling it are commercially driven, rather than artistically inspired. Men may now have their own fashion magazines, their own expanded retail space, and an ever growing number of lucrative cosmetic lines to choose from, but basic instinct is hard to shake. If you look around my hometown, Washington, you’ll find not too much stylistically adventuresome, and a lot of, well, Brooks Brothers basic. The high end retail chains - Sax Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales and Macy’s - hardly get beyond Hugo Boss. The vast majority of men, it would seem, are stuck in the mire.

Dior Homme Spring 07

From a stylistic perspective, Spring 2007 could be called the year of Raf Simons and Hedi Slimane, the two designers whose collections pull men out of the swamp. More is the pity that Marc Jacobs could not have done for Vuitton’s men’s line what he did for his women. And even more lamentable is that the collection being pre-advertised by Tom Ford (to appear in New York mid year) is likely to continue where Gucci and Saint Laurent left off - a Hollywood playboy penthouse circa 1972.

But it is Slimane and Simons, the two major forces in men’s fashion, that have charted a new way forward. The Dior Homme collection soon to be unveiled in boutiques worldwide breaks every conceivable masculine code and redefines the silhouette in a series of sensuous lines quasi feminine in conception, and layered with exquisite care. This could be Slimane’s finest work ever.

Raf Simons Spring 07

Raf Simons takes us further into the future - concentrating on space age form and design, using subtlety as a tool and urban savoir faire as a mantra. His pieces look young, carefree and stylish. Perhaps because they are more accessible than pricier luxury labels, his clothes also have, dare one say, “a socialist whiff” void of bourgeois pretense.

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