The mass migration to the digital realm in these post-pandemic times might be driven more by necessity than by choice, but the occurrence of the first-ever virtual fashion week, which kicked off with the menswear Spring/Summer 2021 shows from Paris last week, is proof that there is still grace to be found in the face of adversity.

While few things can come close to recreating the experience of watching a runway show in the flesh, several brands created compelling substitutes by providing in-depth and intimate looks into their latest collections while embracing highly creative approaches. Jonathan Anderson, who helms his eponymous label JW Anderson as well as Loewe, chose to send out a show-in-a-box; a beautiful package containing inspiration, ephemera and key looks that distills the essence of a runway show and brings it into the confines of home.

JW Anderson show in a box S/S2020

JW Anderson ‘show-in-a-box’ for Men’s S/S 2021

For Loewe, a classic archive box wrapped in textured canvas, inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s Museum in a Box experiment and creatively directed together with M/M Paris, opened with a letter from Anderson, and was subsequently filled with an inspiration booklet, key looks and pieces printed on paper blocks for 360 degree views, colour and fabric cards along with real fabric swatches, a pop-up version of the show’s set and even a portable cardboard record player that played the show’s soundtrack when manually wound.

A similar box for Anderson’s eponymous label was equally captivating – wrapped in a blue pinstripe fabric and accompanied by a handwritten note. Filled with pressed flowers and foliage, fabric swatches and a mask created by the illustrator Pol Anglada, who also made the fictional male visages that model the collection in the lookbook, the portable experience elegantly conveyed the ethos of the new collection.

Loewe group looks S/S2020

 

Top, Loewe Men’s S/S 2021. Bottom, still from film, for Hérmes Men’s S/S 2021

Manipulating the film and video medium was another way labels upped the ante. Hérmes’ menswear artistic director Véronique Nichanian collaborated with the French playwright and director Cyril Teste to produce a film that stylishly documents every aspect of the backstage experience. From Nichanian giving models and looks their finishing touches to intuitive close-ups of the garments’ intricate and more subtle details and the final applause and celebration amongst the production team after the show concludes, the performance piece gives viewers a glimpse into the ecosystem created around an Hérmes runway show, this time set within the house’s ateliers in Pantin.

Instead of referencing the runway experience, Issey Miyake and Lanvin transported guests into each of their unique worlds. To showcase its joyful and free-spirited attitude, Issey Miyake’s film saw three male protagonists dance, leap and run through an abstracted city environment while donning its brightly hued collection. Lanvin, on the other hand, shot its fantasy-steeped collection, which reflected creative director Bruno Sialleli’s longing for escape, adventure and normal life, against the naïve art architecture of Le Palais Idéal – an equally dream-like Medieval castle built over 30 years at the turn of the 20th century, by Ferdinand Cheval, a French postman.

Louis Vuitton’s Virgil Abloh created a series of films that will be unveiled on a democratic and inclusive tour around the world. Debuted in Paris and continuing to Shanghai and Tokyo, the film starts off with movers packing up around Vuitton’s ancestral founder’s home and follows a colourful band of animated characters (designed by Reggie Know) who have stowed away. The adventure will continue in Shanghai on 6 August with a full runway show and the characters coming to life, with more chapters and destinations revealed throughout the year.

Louis Vuitton Men’s S/S 2021

With majority of this season’s collections being designed in lockdown, there was a shared emphasis on simplicity, craftsmanship and relaxed, versatile silhouettes across the board – even the simplest of pieces were imbued with extra care.

Dior and Berluti both showcased special collaborations with artists. Dior artistic director Kim Jones teamed up with the Ghana-born, Vienna-trained artist Amoako Boafo after an encounter at the Rubell Museum in Miami in 2019. The resulting collection is not only a poetic and seamless blend of cultures, but also expresses different perceptions of blackness and masculinity, while finding shared similarities along the way. Boafo’s artwork is transposed onto garments in multiple ways, be it mimicking his highly textured canvases in ribbed knits or jacquard patterns, or more literally as embroideries and intarsia knits.

Artist Amoako Boafo, for Dior Men’s S/S 2021. Photography: Chris Cunningham

Berluti’s Kris Van Assche undertook a similar long-distance collaboration, this time with the Los Angeles-based sculptor Brian Rochefort. Inspired by volcanoes and exotic plants, Rochefort’s melting textures and multilayered glazes have been co-opted onto shirts, sweatshirts and jackets, which all play beautifully with the house’s restrained tailoring.

Van Assche succinctly sums up the shared sentiments that have informed this menswear season. ‘I really love fashion shows. I love the emotion. There is this one thing you can’t do in a fashion show, which is put pause, and explain where things come from,’ he says in the collection’s behind the scenes video. ‘I thought it was a once in a lifetime occasion to actually give people the background.’ §

Kris Van Assche SS2021

Kris van Assche with a piece, featuring the work of sculptor Brian Rochefort, Berluti Men’s S/S 2021