‘They’re a classic’: rollneck reigns supreme at Paris fashion week

Item loved by tech CEOs and fashion royalty maintains attraction despite becoming political flashpoint

The struggle to stay warm as energy bills soar across Europe finally hit the Paris men’s catwalks. The French solution? Let them wear polo necks.

At Givenchy they were high and black, while at Wales Bonner, they came in tight salmon pink. Elsewhere, there were classic black rollnecks at Hed Mayner worn with faux fur stoles, and candy pink versions at Walter Van Beirendonck.

On the opening night of Paris fashion week, Saint Laurent showed funnel-neck jumpers, some of which morphed into gowns. Covering their wearer’s mouths, they seemed to swallow the models whole.

The polo neck has a long tradition within European style. “They’re a classic,” agreed Matthew M. Williams, creative director of French brand Givenchy, backstage, who opened his show with five of them. “We do this sort of thing every season.” Williams is best known for his punkish take on tailoring, but this season styled his polo necks under sharp black suits and broad-shouldered camel coats. Some grazed the chin, while others were so wide you could layer a jumper underneath.

During the 1960s, polo necks entered the wardrobes of intellectuals such as Samuel Beckett and Michel Foucault, and Italian film stars like Marcello Mastroianni, who regularly paired his with a trench and wide-brimmed hat. Overnight, they would become the unofficial uniform of both the Left Bank thinkers and red carpet-on-riviera.

Menswear, autumn winter 2023, Saint Laurent
Some Saint Laurent’s rollnecks seemed to swallow the models whole. Photograph: Pixelformula/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock

Recently, though, the polo neck has become a thorny subject in France. It began last autumn, when the French finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, urged civil servants to ditch their shirt and tie for a polo neck rather than turning up the heating – and peaked when Emmanuel Macron arrived at a meeting wearing one in black cashmere, prompting the opposition leader, Marine Le Pen, to tweet: “Don’t have enough heating? Let them wear cashmere.”

A favourite too among the 1% – both fictional (Succession’s Shiv Roy wears £700 versions by Gabriela Hearst) and actual (LVMH’s billionaire owners, the Arnault family, are rarely seen in anything else) – they are also the de facto uniform of tech CEOs who are among the richest people in the world.

Few in France will want to look like Macron this week. Tomorrow, Paris will come to a standstill when thousands of workers strike across the capital’s public transport network in opposition to his government’s planned reform to push the retirement age from 62 to 64.

One solution then is the fashion fleece. One chunky cream version by North Face was spotted three times in two days – not on the catwalk but the people who make it happen: the drivers, journalists and photographers. Outside the Givenchy show, one driver, Khaldo, said his was so warm you could get away with wearing “just a T-shirt under it”. There was, he agreed, no need for a polo neck underneath.


Morwenna Ferrier

The GuardianTramp

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