Coats make comeback at men's fashion

Out with puffer jackets and shapeless anoraks: next winter men will be donning coats, real ones, with strong-shouldered cuts and rich fabrics that provide poise and protection in times of economic crisis.

The comeback of the classic overcoat, already visible in European stores this year despite an exceptionally mild winter, was a clear trend midway through the Paris menswear shows, taking place on the heels of Milan.

"In times of anxiety, of doubt, coats give a feeling of protection," the luxury industry consultant Jean-Jacques Picart told AFP on the sidelines of an evening show on Friday.

"They make you feel pampered, but also protected, in a kind of bubble."

From an economic standpoint, buying a coat is seen as an investment in lean times, Picart said: "'I am just buying this one, strong, item and underneath it I'll wear what I already have,'" runs the logic.

Which confers an advantage to luxury brands -- compared to retail chains -- given the quality of their cuts and fabrics.

"If the coat lacks structure, it doesn't work as a screen, it doesn't protect," Picart said.

Brazil's Gustavo Lins imagined two-in-one reversible coats, like a hemp and wool model that flips to become a waterproof trench, he said during a presentation of his autumn line on Friday in Paris' historic Marais quarter.

The Belgian Kris Van Assche, the designer for Dior Homme who on Friday showed his own-brand men's collection, sent out overcoats in classic, deep-pocketed cuts, modelled with their collars turned up.

Underneath, slim-fitting black jackets and crisp white shirts were paired with giant-legged cropped pants like a workman's blue overalls, creating a look part white- part blue-collar.

"Workers need protective gear, but now with the crisis it is the bankers who need that protection," the 30-something designer told reporters afterwards.

Worn along with protective eyegear and heavy shoes that suggested a metal-capped boot, the look was all about sheltering from a cruel environment.

Picart suggested the search for protection also explained the lashings of leather, either provocative or second-skin comfortable, at Yves Saint Laurent at the Sorbonne on Friday, Viktor and Rolf the day before, or Jil Sander in Milan.

At Yves Saint Laurent, leather was used from head to toe on topcoats, hats and gloves, giving the urban-feeling collection, dubbed "Sex and Money," an ultra-luxurious edge.

The French house's designer Stefano Pilati used leather on jacket lapels or to highlight pockets. Draped leather collars wrapped the neck, and wool overcoats were reinforced with leather shoulder patches.

Picking up the protection theme again, the models' shoes had a wide band of silver dubbed a "shield" in the notes to the collection.

South Korea's Juun J sent out urban ninjas whose futuristic wardrobe featured warrior-like, architectural coats.

A mix-and-match approach to fabrics produced a grey wool overcoat with leather sleeves, another with geometric panels in diver's suit neoprene, or giant hunting coats in caramel waxed fabric.

Bulked out and oversized across the shoulders, his coats had panels of leather along the spine, the sleeves or at the nape, ninja-style.

Later Friday night, designer Bill Gaytten conjured a gangland collection inspired by prohibition America for the label John Galliano, where hard men muscled past in heavy double-breasted overcoats, worn with fedoras or rakish leather flat caps and turned-up collars.

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