CHIC IS DEAD? LONG LIVE CHIC!

LONG LIVE CHIC!

VOGUE Hommes International (English) - - CONTENTS TRENDS - BY Géral­dine Sar­ra­tia

They said it was out­dated swept away by the streetwear tsunami and killed off by cool at­ti­tude. Yet be­ing chic has never been so on trend.

A fuzzy con­cept, out­dated for some, given up for dead by oth­ers, eaten alive by streetwear and cool at­ti­tude, what if chic were sim­ply rein­vent­ing it­self?

“What does chic mean to­day? It’s not even on the agenda! This is a far more ob­vi­ous age. It’s all splashy lo­gos and T–shirts that say, ‘hey! I’m a T–shirt’.” Jonathan An­der­son is cre­ative di­rec­tor for his own brand, JW An­der­son, and for Loewe, the sto­ried Span­ish fash­ion house which he took un­der his wing a few sea­sons ago. Known for a fu­tur­is­tic, de­struc­tured take on men’s cloth­ing that de­fies con­ven­tion, the ques­tion clearly strikes a nerve even at the other end of the phone. A few hours later, fash­ion and jew­ellery de­signer Elie Top, former as­sis­tant to Yves Saint Lau­rent and Al­ber El­baz, who has spent years cul­ti­vat­ing a care­fully cu­rated blend of English dandy, Hol­ly­wood glam­our and non­cha­lance, drives the nail home: “Chic, to my mind, is a sub­jec­tive, slightly dated no­tion. It’s rooted in a con­cept of el­e­gance that’s no longer rel­e­vant. It was about a way of liv­ing, of func­tion­ing. Now I rather feel chic has lost the bat­tle to cool.” It’s a fact: slouchy bod­ies in slouchy streetwear have per­me­ated run­ways for the past few sea­sons. Hip–hop is the new yard­stick, Cardi B, Drake, Young Thug and Asap Rocky the new icons. Socks and slides are tak­ing pos­ses­sion of the pave­ments even in the tony dis­tricts where an­kle boots and pol­ished brogues once ruled.

This war be­tween an­cient and mod­ern ap­peared to have reached a tipping–point dur­ing the last Paris men’s fash­ion week. Kanye West’s former stylist, equally well–known for col­lab­o­ra­tions with Nike or Jimmy Choo as for his role as cre­ative di­rec­tor at his Off–White brand, Vir­gil Abloh had just taken the reins at one of French lux­ury’s shini­est jew­els, Louis Vuit­ton, pre­vi­ously un­der Kim Jones [ now with Dior Homme ]. And he pulled it off with a show that was filled with emo­tion and au­then­tic­ity. Ev­ery out­fit was tes­ta­ment to what has made Abloh’s style: mod­ern, pro­tean, mas­cu­line lux­ury. Yes, there was a def­i­nite streetwear in­flu­ence in the sneak­ers and over­size lo­gos, but it was ar­chi­tec­tural too —›

“Chic is very much tied in with the idea of sex­u­al­ity. Not sex but se­duc­tion.” JONATHAN AN­DER­SON

[ Abloh trained as a civil en­gi­neer ] and quick to take up the chal­lenges of its time. “When you wear Vir­gil Abloh, you’re ac­knowl­edg­ing a need for mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, a Pop Art men­tal­ity that’s both high and low cul­ture [ Abloh has worked with Mu­rakami as well as Ikea ]. It’s about find­ing beauty in func­tion­al­ity,” says Alice Pfeif­fer, a fash­ion jour­nal­ist and spe­cial­ist in gen­der is­sues. “In a world dom­i­nated by very, very young men who got where they are ei­ther by chance or be­cause they have the right con­nec­tions, a hus­band and fa­ther who is nei­ther that young nor that good–look­ing, with no for­mal fash­ion train­ing, has, thanks to his abil­ity to read the sys­tem, en­joyed a me­te­oric rise to the top of one of the most in­ac­ces­si­ble lux­ury houses. This is the ab­so­lute an­tithe­sis of Pierre Bour­dieu’s anal­y­sis of lux­ury as part of a process of distinction.”

Could this be the def­i­ni­tion of “new chic”? Fash­ion that cap­tures the is­sues of the day, em­bod­ies them and prob­lema­tises them onto the body à la Eddy de Pretto? Fash­ion whose folds and lo­gos are a nar­ra­tive for flu­id­ity [ gen­der, sex­u­al­ity ], be­lief in a sport that chan­nels per­for­mance and “truth”, in­creas­ingly per­me­able bound­aries [ be­tween pri­vate and pub­lic, in­te­rior and ex­te­rior ]? A shift­ing labour mar­ket that is now more gig econ­omy than job–for–life and, through this, a world more re­mote from the es­tab­lish­ment, the 9–to–5 and uni­for­mity?

The French have a word for style: le chic. Prob­a­bly de­rived from Ger­man or the Al­sa­tian di­alect, it en­tered the dic­tio­nary in 1793, not long af­ter the French Revo­lu­tion, with the orig­i­nal mean­ing of fac­ulty or ease, apt­ness and self–as­sur­ance; re­spect­ful of es­tab­lished or­der whilst slightly out­side so­cial con­ven­tion. It soon be­came part of artis­tic par­lance as a de­scrip­tion of vig­or­ous, rapid brush­strokes be­fore mak­ing its way into the realms of el­e­gance. Sev­en­ties’ Lon­don had its Sloane Rangers; Parisians as­pired to bon chic bon genre. Since then, what con­sti­tutes chic, like style, has con­stantly evolved and taken on new mean­ing de­pend­ing on the con­text, pe­riod and cur­rent def­i­ni­tion of mas­culin­ity. Hence one of the rea­sons chic is be­ing re­de­fined is that our con­cept of what it means to be a man is no longer the same. Cer­tain ex­pec­ta­tions have been felled, gen­er­at­ing new free­dom and en­cour­ag­ing greater sar­to­rial fan­tasy. “There has been a rad­i­cal change in the way men rep­re­sent them­selves, with greater free­dom and less dra­co­nian rules,” ex­plains Raf­faello Napoleone, di­rec­tor of the bi–an­nual Pitti Uomo men’s fash­ion fair in Florence. “A man used to obey very spe­cific rules ac­cord­ing to the time of day, whether he was at the of­fice, for the evening, etc. Clothes were a type of uni­form that en­abled him to fit in. Now, chic is more about in­di­vid­ual ex­pres­sion. Men’s fash­ion has be­come more colour­ful and fun, while streetwear is of­fer­ing new com­bi­na­tions.”

And so chic, like mas­culin­ity, can be many things. No longer shaped by a pre–or­dained con­cept of man­li­ness, it is seen as a more truth­ful ex­pres­sion of the self.

“Men’s fash­ion still works with the same vo­cab­u­lary. What’s changed is that men are giv­ing them­selves per­mis­sion. I still re­mem­ber my mother buy­ing my fa­ther’s clothes,” com­ments Olivier Sail­lard, a fash­ion his­to­rian, for­merly at the head of Palais Gal­liera fash­ion mu­seum in Paris and now cre­ative di­rec­tor for We­ston. “Now, men al­low them­selves to care about their ap­pear­ance, their looks. It’s no longer seen as the sign of dis­puted sex­u­al­ity. Hav­ing said that, stylish men aren’t fash­ion­able, or at any rate you can’t tell that they are. Chic is about be­ing just a lit­tle bit dis­creet. Wear­ing things that don’t shout out their value. It’s about be­ing slightly more ab­sent than what we see. To be chic, you can­not be com­pletely of the times. You have to be of yes­ter­day or to­mor­row.”

Look­ing ahead is the key to Jonathan An­der­son’s work as a de­signer. “I al­ways ask my­self what’s go­ing to hap­pen,” he ex­plains. “That’s what chic is. There is a huge change tak­ing place. I think chic to­day is in­trin­si­cally linked to that no­tion of au­then­tic­ity and re­al­ity that we need to re­dis­cover.”

Some­thing a man in a suit can­not do, he be­lieves. “It’s an archetype that crushes the per­son­al­ity of the man who wears it. It’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to bring out the in­di­vid­ual in a suit. Un­less, of course, it hap­pens to be Michael Fass­ben­der wear­ing it: his physique blows ev­ery­thing apart!” An ex­am­ple that brings us nearer to An­der­son’s con­cept of chic. “I’d say chic is very much tied in with the idea of sex­u­al­ity. Not sex but se­duc­tion. The re­turn to some­thing real. For me, chic is men who in­vent new ways of show­ing their skin, their body. A duf­fle coat worn next to the skin, re­dis­cov­er­ing what a T–shirt is, a pair of chi­nos … How the skin can re­veal it­self through clothes.” Which brings us neatly back to the Ger­man ori­gins of chic, from the verb schicken mean­ing “to bring to life”.

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