Two seasons in, New York City’s official fashion season for men has plenty of room for improvement.
When it was first announced that New York City was having a dedicated fashion week for men, menswear editors and self-professed “jawn enthusiasts” like myself saw it as a validation that our nerdy, niche voices were actually being heard. In Europe, men’s fashion weeks align perfectly with the industry's buying calendar. It means designers like Dries Van Noten, Rick Owens, Thom Browne, and Alessandro Michele at Gucci are able to execute beautiful, fully-formed spectacles at the same time that buyers from elite stores the world over are deciding what items will live best on their shop floors.
There’s no question that the current fashion system is broken. That's why Burberry CEO and creative director Christopher Bailey, in an unprecedented move, is aligning his runway and retail calendars. And he’s not alone. Tom Ford recently announced a similar schedule change for his line, while buzzy label Vetements shifted its calendar for logistical reasons, to better estimate production. If that’s the case, New York Fashion Week: Men’s may be too little, too late.
Fashion shows are a way for a designer to show a consistent vision, in an environment that reflects the mood and inspiration of their collection. It’s the one chance labels have to approach clothing from an artistic perspective instead of a commercial one. Thom Browne is a master at this - his runway shows hardly show the cropped charcoal grey suits that keep him in business, but are a way for him to think outside of the oft-constricting tailoring menswear box and do something interesting. Hence, grotesque suits designed after the anatomical human body, huge tweed masks made in the image of elephants, Frankenstein-like hulking football players with monstrous makeup, and most recently, distressed dystopian dandies.
In the grand scheme of things, fashion weeks are an ideal opportunity for a city to showcase its cultural soft power. New York Fashion Week: Men’s currently shoehorns many of its flagship shows at one location, Skylight Clarkson Sq., an overly branded microcosm of the city’s commercial attitude towards fashion. As a result, it feels more like a tradeshow than an incubator for new ideas. Many European shows take place in old theaters, repurposed historic buildings, bicycle velodromes, and even featured buses, in the case of Martin Margiela’s Fall/Winter 1997 collection.
New York City’s architecture is often as inspiring as its best collections, if not more so, and the fashion world’s relationship to the city needs to be more intrinsic if it hopes to ever compete on a global cultural level. There’s a reason some of America’s best designers - names like Ralph Lauren, Thom Browne, Rick Owens, and Virgil Abloh - don’t show here, and that’s because there’s simply more of a cachet to debut a collection in Paris or Milan than in New York. Despite many of these labels still producing in the city, it just doesn’t behoove a talented designer to show in a city that needs them more than they need it.
And there are many, many talented designers at New York Fashion Week: Men’s. It’s just a shame that they’re creatively constrained to a small space, when there is so much potential in finding venues that could produce spectacles worth covering. If indeed the move is towards “show now; buy now” collections, this would only be a boon for designers to put on a proper fashion show. What better way to build your own hype than by putting the full lifestyle on display? Surely fans of labels like John Elliott, Robert Geller, Public School and Siki Im would like to see what would happen when these creative forces are given free reign to truly transform a space of their choosing into a memorable experience.
Experience is the key word here - after all, studies show that the Millennial market is keen on spending money on experiences versus owning something, so turning the men’s fashion show into something truly experiential makes sense. If you want to breed world-class talent, you must give them the means to compete at that level. Perhaps the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the governing body of NYFW:M, would better serve designers by helping them find and build out these type of spaces, rather than confining them to a single spot for the sake of convenience.
Sure, it may logistically make sense to have all the shows under one roof, but for foreign editors and the oft-insular world of NYC fashion insiders, it doesn’t serve to push them out of their comfort zone or put them in a mindset to embrace new ideas. Despite all the complaints in the aftermath of Alexander Wang’s Brooklyn Navy Yard fashion show during Fall/Winter 2014, ruffling the feathers of editors who constantly have “some place to be” is nothing compared to a designer being able to fully realize and execute his or her vision.
That’s the sort of mindset that can return a semblance of thought leadership to New York, which, as the last leg of the men’s fashion calendar, is often seen as the red-headed stepchild of menswear. The end of a fashion month should feel like a final sprint, not a beleaguered slog towards the finish line. London Collections: Men had a similarly rocky start, but now is home to some of the most anticipated shows each season. Who will be the Craig Greens, J.W. Andersons, Casely-Hayfords, and Margaret Howells of New York City?
That question still remains unanswered, as many of New York City’s best brands pushing exist outside of the CFDA’s radar. We have labels like Engineered Garments, The Hill-Side, Patrik Ervell, and newcomers like Abasi Rosborough, DDUGOFF and Noah that should actively want to engage in the fashion system, but don’t see any benefit in doing so. VFILES has always been a prescient renegade, fostering designers like Jeremy Scott and Virgil Abloh who go on to become successes themselves. And the ones that happily show at NYFW:M hardly push the envelope, often delivering extremely wearable and accessible collections that are meant to induce want rather than tell a story via theatrics.
Plenty of America’s best brands are perfectly happy and successful outside of the CFDA, which is an absolute lost opportunity for showcasing some of our strongest talent. Only when we figure out a way to harness the unique energy of American fashion and empower the more creative aspect while downplaying the commercial side can a men’s fashion week in New York actually work.
The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not reflect the views of Highsnobiety as a whole.