c.2013 New York Times News Service
c.2013 New York Times News Service
The American menswear industry has witnessed a major revival in recent seasons. But there are risks, as with just about everything about the runways lately, that designers here are becoming victims of their own success.
Coming two months after their counterparts show spring collections in Europe, they tend to get a little lost. And there’s only so much you can do within the confines of menswear without looking weird. Michael Bastian complained on Twitter this week that if men’s designers do not get more love, then “why bother?” Some of the bigger names (Tommy Hilfiger, Rag & Bone, Band of Outsiders) now show only womenswear in New York.
But Bastian should know the value of patience. He belongs to that camp of menswear that approaches brand building in the tradition of Ralph Lauren: purposefully, slowly, precisely designing a recognizable look. His is luxurious, masculine prep with a bit of sex appeal, an affinity for intarsia sweaters, tightfitting trousers, an occasional risk (pineapple-printed pants for spring). But the downside, if only for critics, is that his shows tend to look the same.
Actually, much of American sportswear looks the same. Fastidiously scruffy, hyper-preppy sportswear is so ubiquitous that at one show, Ernest Alexander, a model wore navy shorts with a print of white anchors. As it happens, a similar look was available for less than $50 at J. Crew Factory this summer.
This is not to suggest that the clothes are not good, only that looking at the shows as a whole is beginning to feel like shopping. Plenty of designs are perfectly desirable, like the slick, slightly shiny, retro suits at David Hart; the cotton suits with the ankles bared at Todd Snyder; the cool short-sleeved sweatshirts at Bespoken; and the witty camo coats (painted with a target on the back) at Mark McNairy. The Public School designers Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne stood out from the pack with their streamlined charcoal sweatshirts and a mean black leather jacket with a zip up the back. But generally speaking, why should a customer choose this designer over that?
Three designers — Robert Geller, Patrik Ervell and Daisuke Obana of N. Hoolywood — made especially strong cases this season. Obana’s collection was a hoot, both a sendup of vintage westerns and a treasure trove of good clothes, including narrowly tailored khakis, light-wash denim and a camp shirt of patchwork plaids.
Geller’s sleeveless trucker vests in neoprene, one color blocked and one shiny black, picked up on this week’s popular scuba trend. He is a romantic (nostalgic this season, it would seem, for the youth of Russia coming out of communism in the 1980s), and sometimes his designs come across as willfully antiquated. This collection seemed less abstract.
Ervell also happened to show neoprene layers under outfits that were inspired by sailing. Ahoy, sporty-looking technical coats can actually work in a collection that also includes a wicked double-breasted suit with shorts.
The other camp of menswear designers approaches brand building in a more organic sense. Weird is not a problem for the Duckie Brown designers Steven Cox and Daniel Silver, who seem to have given up the pretense of wearability altogether and sent out models in burlap sacks. And Shayne Oliver, the designer of Hood by Air, presented a wide-ranging and perplexing collection that included dress shirts printed with a mug-shot image of Marilyn Manson, denim jackets and possibly pants with multiple zip-away panels, and, why not, a dress.
You can’t say they looked the same.