It's doubtful that T.S. Eliot gave much thought to fashion. So the anguished poet behind such seminal works as "The Waste Land" might be bemused to find that his style has influenced one of this season's most anticipated debut collections. Paul Helbers, the former menswear director of Louis Vuitton and Martin Margiela, has taken inspiration for his eponymous new label from Irving Penn's portraits of Eliot and Leonard Bernstein, as well as from the artists and lovers Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Something about the way the men inhabited their clothes, the casual sense in which they owned their style rather than being owned by it, struck him as quietly radical.
"There's an equality in their style because they have very few clothes," says the designer, who has long been among fashion's most cerebral artists, capable of drawing on a cultural moment and elaborating on it in a thoroughly contemporary way. "Their style is elegant but off-duty, and not so precious. It's almost like a forgotten way of dressing."
In channeling this everyman quality into his label, Helbers seeks to prioritize comfort. His interpretation of a Crombie, for example, uses a blend of cashmere, silk, and wool for a tweed-like effect, but it has a cozy, worn-in quality. The coats are waterproofed by being waxed in paraffin, making them, in the process, softer and more durable.
Next up, the designer plans to shake up fashion retail by opening his own freestanding stores. "I'm personally very tired of all luxury concepts where nobody wants to go inside, and it's all about the architecture," he says. For now, his collection is available exclusively at Barneys.
See Paul Herlbers's fall 2016 and spring 2017 collections at Helbers.fr
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