It's always fashion week somewhere. Even Colombus, Ohio, now hosts the largest annual non-profit fashion show in the Midwest. However, right now it's fashion week in New York City, where the Big Apple's womenswear designers are showing their latest collections. The week previously was New York Fashion Week: Men's, the city's dedicated menswear week and the final leg of a transatlantic relay that rallied leading men's designers, models, journalists, and buyers around London, Paris and Milan.
This season, NYFW:M had references to the drug-fuelled hedonism of Berlin's underground, courtesy of Raf Simons, and some serious philosophical dilemmas from Abasi Rosborough's first-ever runway show. Historically, the menswear shows for New York have felt a bit dry in comparison to the spectacle of Europe-based designers such as Gucci and Rick Owens, but maybe we're on the precipice of change — New York's menswear scene is finding its own rhythm.
As the USA's fashion capital (sorry Columbus), New York wields a lot of influence over what styles will bleed into the mainstream and which designers have the potential to blow up. To distill the buzz of NYFW:M, we spoke to three industry experts from some of North America's leading retailers: Ryan Williams, Menswear Buyer for SSENSE, Drew Caldwell, Senior Buyer Developing Designer for Barneys New York, and Chris Green of Totokaelo and Need Supply.
How was NYFW:M this season — how did it compare to previous seasons?
Ryan Williams, SSENSE: I always enjoy coming to New York for the men's shows. The city has such an incredible energy, and consistently showcases young emerging talent, which is very valuable from a buying standpoint. I also feel there is a tight community of support here whether it be on the retail or media side, which makes NYFW:M very enjoyable to attend. The combination of men's and women's schedules have caused things to be spread out a bit more, which can be difficult when you're only in the city for a limited amount of time and can't make it to every show.
Drew Caldwell, Barneys New York: Though the roster is smaller than the European shows, NYFW:M had some strong showings with a number of creatives thinking outside the box. The rising star of menswear is definitely as evident here as elsewhere.
What were the strongest brands you saw? What are you most excited about, and what brands are you looking to pick up?
Ryan Williams, SSENSE: The Raf Simons show is always a major highlight, and every season he delivers and exceeds my expectations. The atmosphere this season was amazing, with everything being on point from the set design, to the styling, to the messages he conveyed with the collection. I'm also very happy that Abasi Rosborough, a brand SSENSE launched in FW17, had the opportunity to do their first runway show and really did an incredible job and surprised everyone with the Kelela performance.
We have a number of contemporary New York-based brands that we launched last season that we're very excited about — mainly Landlord, Wonders, Cobra S.C., Matthew Adams Dolan, and Childs. As far as new brands go, I personally enjoy what Emily Bode is doing with her label, Bode. I think it's important to highlight and celebrate talent that is using sustainable and up-cycled fabrications, so we're currently in talks with Emily on how best to translate her vision to an e-commerce platform.
Drew Caldwell, Barneys New York: Raf Simons, Landlord, Sies Marjan, and Willy Chavarria were my favorite shows and the brands I am most excited about coming out of NYFW:M. Authenticity is often a vibe that people get from New York City, and these four designers truly embody that. Barneys New York was an early adopter of Raf, and likewise picked up the younger three designers in their first or second season. You can currently find all four in store for SS18.
Chris Green, TOTOKAELO and Need Supply: I’m really excited about Bode. We've been working with Emily now for a couple seasons and it’s great to see her get such a large platform and actually kick off men's fashion week, which I thought was really important. It was great to go in the showroom and see everything that she's made — all the one-off pieces are outstanding.
I think Raf’s show this season topped last season, which was insane. His first show in New York was kind of underwhelming. It was great that he was here, but this show was just mind-blowing in terms of concept and the decadence of the actual set design. Playing back to the theme of drugs and the actual play that goes behind that — he's been talking about that forever. And for him to do a collection that focuses on it was just mind-blowing. I think Abasi Rosborough had a really cool moment for New York and everybody's feeling that energy.
It was really cool for John Elliott to debut things like the Nike Monarch, which is fire. They've actually changed it up, like a new heel and a new sole. It's just really cool to see him be pushing those things and get out of this whole genre of denims and sweatshirt.
What do New York designers have to offer that the rest of the world doesn't? What NYC brands are selling well for you guys right now?
Ryan Williams, SSENSE: New York City being one of the world's most multicultural cities creates an environment that allows designers to have access to a wide array of influences. These influences are interpreted through a very NYC-specific lens, and often produce clothing that's main focus is wearability and versatility yet maintaining that stylish New York feel.
In addition to seeing a great response to the newer brands like Landlord, Wonders, Cobra S.C., Matthew Adams Dolan, Childs, and Bode, SSENSE continues to do great business with the more established names like Calvin Klein 205W39NYC, Eckhaus Latta, John Elliott, and Robert Geller, too.
Drew Caldwell, Barneys New York: New York is really one of the few global cities where you can see people from all places and all walks of life – either from days gone by or current culture. Even those brands that don’t show in New York come to see, be seen, be inspired and soak it up. There is something authentically stylish about this city and while it may move around from uptown to downtown to Brooklyn, it never seems to die.
Can you put your finger on any particular reason the city's menswear week is less exciting than the others?
Ryan Williams, SSENSE: I don't necessarily feel it's less exciting than Paris or Milan. It's highly competitive in Europe and can be difficult to get the attention NYFW:M offers with the amount of shows and presentations happening. I feel NYFW:M should continue to foster emerging talent in the city while continuing to attract some of the bigger names such as Raf Simons, Tom Ford, and Calvin Klein to bring that network of international buyers and editors to the city.
Drew Caldwell, Barneys New York: So much of what is interesting in fashion is coming out of the US – whether it’s New York or Los Angeles. The idea that only the European shows are moving the needle in what people want is a narrative that needs adjustment.
Chris Green, TOTOKAELO and Need Supply: You know, New York is always struggling because it's later in the calendar, and menswear goes first usually. I mean, even Milan this season was a struggle compared to Paris. Paris is like a big show and there's just so much focus on it. I think actually maybe they should do men's to the same time as women's and really focus on doing that dual show. John Elliott had a really good presentation this season because he incorporated men's and women's together and had a focus story.