Lessons from Men's Fashion Week: Don't worry, fellows, this won't hurt a bit

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

(c) 2015, The Washington Post.

NEW YORK — Perry Ellis is not a brand that makes men nervous or causes them to titter. Even if a work-a-day guy doesn't wear Perry Ellis clothes, he probably recognizes the name from those times he has wandered through a department store looking to stock up on dress shirts. Perry Ellis is not niche; it is mass. And its creative director, Michael Maccari designed a spring 2016 collection that was welcoming to a wide swath of men. Board shorts, crewneck sweaters, lean — but not tight — suits. Rich colors but nothing too psychedelic.

Much of what Maccari put on the runway might actually have been better appreciated in a more intimate setting where audience members are able to put their hands on the fabric, see the details up close. But putting Perry Ellis on the runway during the inaugural season of New York Fashion Week: Men's, served a larger purpose. It sent a message: This, too, is fashion. And there's nothing to fear.

Perry Ellis lends a helping hand by showing a guy just how to wear one of those sheer shirts that designers are putting on the runway, with a man's pecs on full display. He should wear it with the easy élan of a T-shirt: casually, understated. With shorts.

Men's fashion has moved out of the realm of the obscure, the twee or dandy. It is the segment of the fashion business that has been steadily ticking upwards in sales. And this week has underscored the reality that there are a host of young menswear brands that have a strong point of view, a wellspring of creative energy and a desire to build real businesses, not just vanity ones.

So Perry Ellis serves as friendly warning to those men who are having a difficult time reconciling themselves to the idea that fashion has invaded their world. It is there. Unavoidable. They do not have to wear it, but they will have to make a conscious decision not to do so. They will have to step around it. Avert their eyes. They will have to choose. And the temptations will be great: delicious colors, luxurious fabrics, fun shapes, cool shoes.

But don't worry. Chiffon, satin and organza are not in Every Man's future. Not yet. But in the same way that guys will turn to sports as a universal topic of small talk, no small number of athletes are pleased to talk up fashion. While the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which organized the menswear shows, have signed up athletes Victor Cruz and Dwayne Wade to offer up a charm offensive and help lead their brethren into the realm of leggings and dropped crotch trousers, other athletes attend shows because they really like fashion.

"The look of the clothes is something I like. I put on the clothes and they made me feel happy," explains Patty Mills, a guard for the San Antonio Spurs who was backstage waiting for the start of the Asaf Ganot show. Dressed in a pale blue leather jacket with a finely woven, ivory knit pullover, both created by Ganot, the NBA champion notes that for a lot of athletes, fashion is a way to flesh out their public identity. "People see us on the basketball court sweating," Mills says. "Off the court, fashion lets people see us in a different way." It's a chance to be seen as polished, sophisticated and dynamic. A future businessman, perhaps.

Ganot, who grew up in northern New Jersey, actually played professional basketball in Brazil. "I never thought I'd be a designer, but I wanted to combine sports and fashion," Ganot says. "I'm always testing fabrics and thinking about comfort and discipline and balance."

Ganot showed his spring collection, inspired by Brazil, on models with an athletic build. No frail Peter Pans on his runway. In fact, most of what designers here have been showing is well within the context of what all but the most stubborn Dockers-addicted men would wear. Designers such as Tim Coppens, Ariel and Shimon Ovadia and Rochambeau's Laurence Chandler and Joshua Cooper are playing with street style and cleaning it up.

Alexandre Plokhov pulls from more far-flung source material. This season he was inspired by The Mongoliad trilogy of historical fiction, which features monastic orders and military regimes. His collection is filled with slim trousers and pieced jackets that recall armor. And everything was presented in a series of monochromatic groupings: black, flaming red, sage, sulfur and white. He orchestrated a high concept and dramatic presentation — but filled it with approachable clothes.

And Jefrrey Rüdes, who was one of the leaders in the explosion of high-end denim with his J Brand, has moved on to a new venture. It is an eponymous luxury sportswear company focused on blazers — to be worn with two styles of jeans, skinny and narrow. For spring 2016, Rüdes has added slim trousers, knitwear and shoes. It is California casual, meaning it is go anywhere, ageless style.

In an interview, the designer Michael Kors noted that "a 20-year-old guy today is super sophisticated. And a 50-year-old is plugged in and youthful." And the rules for both of them have changed — for the better. Millennials wear their jeans with suit jackets and ties. No matter one's age, sneakers go with nearly everything. And even Ralph Lauren is advocating utility pants with a classic blazer and a performance nylon overcoat as a city uniform.

It took a long time coming. "You couldn't have gotten here without that ugly Casual Friday," Kors says.

But finally men's fashion has arrived.