The Season Paris Men's Designers Got Political, From the Bernie Bros at Balenciaga to Valentino's Punks

Over the last week, as one nation lurched toward ignominy, another reached into its cultural arsenal for one of its most effective weapons against tyranny: the défilé, or fashion show. While a certain inaugural address fell flat and a Women's March spilled forth, Paris presented its autumn 2017 men’s collections. Some were tactfully nuanced, others burned with urgent poignancy, and all could be read politically.

On the first day—primary day, if you will—Demna Gavalia sent out his highly anticipated Balenciaga collection, and in so doing the subversive designer and Margiela protégé made it abundantly clear he’s a Bernie fan. Outsized scarves were printed with a faux Balenciaga logo that looked unmistakably like that of Sanders’ campaign. The high-low collection otherwise reinforced the Vermont Independent’s lovable habit of wearing windbreakers and slickers to formal or professional events, whether or not the slight is intended.

Riccardo Tisci showed his Givenchy men’s collection—to which he added a series of Wild West-inspired women’s couture looks—immediately following the inauguration. Awkward, you might think, but where others see misfortune in the coincidental timing, he saw opportunity. He used the occasion to again articulate his love for America, this time mixing his usual riffs on the Stars and Stripes with a graphic interpretation of the continent’s indigenous cultures, in particular the tribes of the Pacific Northwest. So strong was the message that it just might distract from those rumors he’s headed to Versace to replace a retiring Donatella.

Over at Valentino, Pierpaolo Piccioli’s first solo men’s show since the departure of Maria Grazia Chiuri for Dior took apparent aim at the new U.S. president’s anti-arts position and his wicked pledge to nix federal arts funding. Piccioli enlisted Jamie Reid, the English graphic designer whose album art for the Sex Pistols is the stuff of anarchic legend, on two slogans stitched into the backs of coats and on baseball caps. They spell out “Beauty is a birthright, reclaim your heritage” and “It seemed to be the end, until the next beginning.” Indeed, as a superpower enters a new Thatcher-like conservative era, punk seems more relevant than ever, even if burnished to shiny perfection by the Italian brand.

If there’s any question as to how men’s fashion will fare during the reign of a modern-day emperor, Dior Homme designer Kris Van Assche answered with a decidedly tough collection, aptly called HarDior. With the lyrics of Depeche Mode’s "Policy of Truth" on repeat—“It’s too late to change events, it’s time to face the consequence”—he seemed to assure all those watching (Karl Lagerfeld, Bono, Chinese actor Wang Kai, and Boy George, Rami Malek, A$AP Rocky, the faces of Dior Homme's latest campaign) that the label would mount a kind of stylish resistance with imperial clothes of its own, lifted from hardcore rave culture. Think black capes, combat boots, and seemingly spray-painted furs—an image only slightly cleaned up from the sweaty mosh-pit scene of a hyperrealist painting (in collaboration with New York street artist Dan Witz) printed across the final exits.

Naturally, one couldn’t help but pay special attention to the Americans in Paris. One of them, who bid adieu to the States long ago, Rick Owens made no overt references to the new world order, but did make allusions to an increased need for protection. His show alternated between puffy, padded layers resembling sleeping bags and hard leather jackets resembling armor. Anyway, he didn’t have to broadcast his political views; his clincher of an after-party, Butt Muscle—where a new video from Christeene, the self-described “sexually infused sewer of unclassifiable musical stylings” was screened—said it all.

Another American, Thom Browne offered an ominous vision of future men at work. His models—whose almost total lack of diversity served to intensify the dystopian message—were made up as workaday stiffs, who, in deconstructed business suits and towering Clydesdale-like shoes, slowly and painstakingly ambled along the square runway like an army of programmed robots. To the disjointed, staticky sounds of a radio dial aimlessly scanning stations, the impression was that of a funeral procession, as if Browne were lamenting the death of free will and democracy itself.

At Kenzo, the last show of the week, New Yorkers Humberto Leon and Carol Lim focused their concern on what’s arguably—but let’s not—the most grievous tenet of the incoming administration, its complete denial of climate change. Avowed protectors of the oceans, the duo recently discovered an extreme sporting phenomenon, arctic surfing, which inspired an upbeat collection of active pieces in vivid aurora-borealis hues, to a choppy soundtrack of President Obama’s speech after signing the Paris Agreement last year.

In the spirit of transparency, the show—a mix men’s and women’s—was presented around an open backstage area, although few could be under any illusion that even a wisp of the artful anti-drilling message would be heard by Washington’s new ruling class.

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Lee Carter is a regular contributor and the editor in chief of Hint.