Unlike most fashion presentations, A.P.C.'s have the force of an art happening. This season's became officially must-see when word got out that in addition to founder Jean Touitou's usual narration of his seasonal obsessions, Kanye West would be on hand to offer an explanation about his ongoing collaboration with the French brand. (Rumors that his fiancée would be present added to the excitement but proved to be unfounded.) The prospect of two of fashion's most unedited orators holding forth was a tantalizing one. There's probably a profitable second career for each stumping on the lecture circuit.
Touitou spoke first. He has embraced his role as a kind of grizzled professeur of style, and his address, illustrated by a few rounds of models in A.P.C.'s Fall collection, was a disquisition on elegance. He summoned the spirits of four men he considers paragons of the form: Yves Saint Laurent (for his own style in this case, not his collections), Marcel Proust, Kurt Cobain, and Marc Jacobs (pre-mid-career gymnification). Saint Laurentian elegance had a proper, shirt-and-tie expression, though one tunic look suggested his North African adventures. Touitou even commissioned the makers of YSL's iconic glasses, Maison Bonnet, to produce a few similar rectangular styles for A.P.C. Proust was represented by fur-trimmed coats, and Jacobs and Cobain, twin pillars of grunge, inspired ripped jeans and flannel overshirts worn loose. "Marc had his own style before he became a yoga star," Touitou said. "I have this nostalgia for Marc. He looked like a teacher of semiology in Princeton, New Jersey." Despite the jeans here, one of the key takeaways of the presentation was Touitou's injunction to not wear denim more than one day out of every two. "I call this the fight for your right not to wear jeans."
When West arrived to speak, wearing a Thom Browne shirt he'd customized by cutting off the sleeves and collar, he assumed the role of humble student to Touitou's prof. "I have a really poor fashion education, because when I went to Louise Wilson and asked to go to Central Saint Martins, she told me I couldn't go to the school," he told the crowd. Professor Wilson apparently felt he was too famous to enroll. "So basically," West continued, "I had to learn about clothes through Style.com and Tommy Ton and shit like that."
The lesson learned from Tommy Ton's street-style photos was that the little details matter, and West's collection, adapted from pieces in the A.P.C. archive, is updated in relatively subtle ways. A denim shirt has a white stripe at the back hem, designed to peek out from under a jacket, and mismatched front pockets. Incremental improvements are West's obsession, which is, as he himself acknowledged, probably an improvement over his earlier attempts to go from no experience to a full-fledged womenswear line. "Jean is helping me kind of learn to drive," he said. "I might've hopped in the Lamborghini a little bit too fast a couple years ago, so I'm starting like this."
West's first collection for A.P.C., an even more basic range of T-shirts, jeans, and sweatshirts, sold out nearly instantaneously. This larger collection, which includes fur-trimmed parkas, jeans that scrunch at the knees and ankles for what West calls "ninja swag," and knit hoods, could easily do the same. What's interesting is that even though he's decided to start small for now, his ambition for, and belief in the power of, fashion seems to outstrip even that which he has for music. "With music, I'm expressing myself for the most part and giving my attitude, but I feel like with clothing it's about the person," he said. "You can't wear a Kanye West CD and [have] someone compliment you, saying, 'Hey, that's a nice CD you're holding in your hand.' But if you wear a jacket…it's this giving back to the earth."