Menswear aims for attention at first NY Men's Fashion Week

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

NEW YORK (AP) — Ladies, step aside — just a little. The men are craving a bit of the spotlight.

In the world of U.S. fashion, women's clothes tend to get most of the glory. But the industry is aiming to change that, one chic skinny suit at a time. Next week, New York welcomes its first ever stand-alone Fashion Week for men.

This isn't new outside the U.S. — Europe's fashion capitals have been holding men's fashion weeks for years. But in New York, menswear has been tacked onto the much higher-profile women's collections shown in September and February, making it seem like a much less glamorous, er, little brother, as well as putting it out of sync with the market schedule for men's clothes.

But the menswear market is growing faster than womenswear, and has been for several years. That means it's the right time for the new venture, says its chief organizer, Steven Kolb, CEO of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

"It was the perfect time to push the envelope and show what talent and innovation there is in menswear," Kolb says. "We'll have a clean slate. When you start from scratch, you can build it into what you want it to be."

The week is shorter than the women's weeks — four days, not eight — and the roster of designers a mere fraction, too. But some big names are showing, along with a number of up-and-comers. Among the most prominent labels: Michael Kors, Polo Ralph Lauren, Thom Browne, Calvin Klein, and Rag & Bone. And there's a big name coming back: American designer John Varvatos, who's been showing in Milan for years.

For Kors, one of the world's most successful designers who mounts high-profile women's shows twice a year in New York, the new men's week is an "obvious plus," not only for his own men's collection but for American fashion.

"Anything that puts the focus on American designers and fashion in general is a good thing," Kors said in an email message. "This is a big step for the men's industry because it provides a larger platform for conversation around menswear, and that's always important. "

Kors sees a clear uptick in consumer enthusiasm for men's fashion in recent years. .

"If you look at the men's fashions weeks in Europe and you look at how men are dressing today," he says, "there is more of a focus on looking, and dressing, stylishly. I think it started because, to be honest, most men aren't wearing a suit every day anymore. They're looking for clothes that are a bit more laid-back but still have that polish and that power. It's almost forcing them to pay more attention to detail and fit, which I think everyone can appreciate."

Another factor in rising interest is what Kolb, of CFDA, calls "the democratization of fashion" — for example, capsule collections from top designers at retailers like Target — and of course the ability to shop online. (Indeed, Amazon is the marquee sponsor of the inaugural men's Fashion Week, to be held in a downtown Manhattan venue.)

And there's also, he notes, the growing celebrity influence — for example, high-profile athletes showing a love for fashion. "These guys have shown a less traditional sense of style that has trickled down," says Kolb.

The event comes at a busy time for the buyers, editors and celebrities who attend fashion shows: on the heels of Fashion Weeks in London, Milan and Paris. "We're very aware of the fatigue that may exist," says Kolb. "But we've created an exciting roster of designers. It does require a couple more days and a bit more of a budget, but there are some American editors who maybe can't afford to travel to Europe, but they can come to New York." (For those who do come, Kolb says organizers have been offering incentives to ease travel costs.)

The week will surely have a more relaxed feel than the frenetic women's weeks; many of the designers are showing presentations rather than full runway productions.

"Different designers are engaging in different ways," Kolb says. "It all adds up to real support for the business."