Debut fashion week suits menswear designers just fine

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

(c) 2015, The Washington Post.

NEW YORK — The organizers of "New York Fashion Week: Men's" made sure to sprinkle its debut season with glamour — menswear "ambassadors" such as model Tyson Beckford, pop star Joe Jonas and athletes also known for their aesthetic skill, such as Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade and New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz.

At a kickoff reception Monday night in Williamsburg — the Brooklyn neighborhood that has become urban shorthand for "hipster makeover" — Cruz explained that his responsibilities this week include getting "some behind-the-scenes footage of brands I have relationships with." But his more important role was to serve as an interpreter for regular guys as they attempt to navigate the vagaries of fashion.

"I'm passionate about the way I look," said Cruz (who, by the way, looked quite good). "Guys see it and think, 'Oh, I can try that. I can try a pop of color in a three-piece suit.' " After all, he didn't arrive at his own higher understanding of fashion without some focused education. "It took going to Paris fashion week, seeing how people dress in other countries," he said.

And how does he feel about all the lace and ruffles on the menswear runways? He is fearless in the face of pussycat-bow blouses. "I love some of the bright colors, like at Givenchy," said Ambassador Cruz, diplomatically. "I think the next step is applying some of that color."

New York Fashion Week: Men's has been two years in the making but 10 years in the dreaming, said Steven Kolb, chief executive of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which organized the four-day extravaganza. "These things are not easy, and they're not cheap," he said. The costs don't simply include overhead, but also finding sponsors who will pay, among other things, the cost of bringing in more than a dozen European editors to cover the collections. The tipping point was when Amazon, making a significant push to increase its share of the fashion market, made a multi-season commitment as a main sponsor; Cadillac, Shinola and others soon joined. (Amazon's chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns The Washington Post.)

So on this glorious summer evening, menswear designers — many of them relative newcomers to entrepreneurship, their businesses only a few years old — marvel at the scene.

"There is an actual scene!" said Jake Zeitlin of the California-based brand Matiere. After four seasons doing trade shows and standing in a booth, he and brand founder Scot Shandalove mounted their first formal presentation just a few hours earlier. It had been, Zeitlin said, a wonderful, invigorating successful blur.

The CFDA exerted authority over which designers could show on the official calendar. Not just anyone could write a check and trot out models.

"Honestly, [designers] have been great. They see the investment. Very few people really gave us any back talk," Kolb said. "We had a sense of what we thought would work."

The CFDA was also able to entice some of the marquee names in American menswear who had decamped to Europe to present collections here, notably John Varvatos, whose show will serve as the season's finale Thursday night.

Thom Browne debuted his spring 2016 line in Paris, but Tuesday morning, he showed a separate, smaller collection of handmade suits produced by tailors based in Queens.

In a live installation called "the officeman," models stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a mirrored box set up in a Chelsea loft. The gleaming room contained a single silver desk with a matching chair. A silver briefcase was positioned alongside it on the floor.

Their hair slicked back and parted on the left side, the models wore trim gray suits with jackets that fell below the hips, narrow lapels and double, even triple, buttons. The trousers were slim, cuffed and chopped to ankle length. It was the Thom Browne aesthetic — not so abbreviated, but just as rigorous.

The dronelike models, reflected endlessly in the mirrored room, suggested the monotony of the daily office grind where workers often feel depressingly replaceable, and Tuesday is just a repetition of Monday, which was pretty much like the previous Friday. But the glittering silver of the desk and the pristine tailoring served as bright reminders that there is differentiation and glory in the details. And beauty in the mundane.

The opening presentations Monday were by lesser-known designers. Most are still finding their way, refining their point of view. Their work ranged from the austere black and olive palette of Chapter, the sunset colors and slouchy linen of Fingers Crossed to the simple silhouettes and luxury textiles of Matiere.

Kenneth Ning, who launched his brand in 2014, was inspired by desert landscapes, floral jacquards and lace. His models — with their hair slimed close to the scalp — stood in a rogues gallery lineup against a plain white wall. The exaggerated pinstripes on tailored jackets were juxtaposed with oversize patterns of lace that had such sharp angles that they were rendered more intimidating than genteel.

And Eponymovs offered a time-traveling mash-up of 1930s tailoring, 1950s silhouettes and 21st-century styling. Long blazers with peak lapels were adorned with a boutonniere and paired with cropped skinny trousers and worn with white sneakers. Several models wore broad-brimmed hats. Others wore skull caps.

The designer, who goes by Hvrminn (he has a thing for the letter "v") was born in Korea and grew up in New York, where he studied at the Parsons School of Design. His roots are in made-to-measure tailoring, and the suits are beautifully cut — close to the body but not tight. The length of the blazers and their broad lapels give them the flamboyant air of costuming. But at a time when menswear is focused on slouchy, easy, frilly and breezy, a bit of tightly wound bravado is a bracing but welcoming shot.