The Return of New York Fashion Week: Men's

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John Varvatos S/S16
John Varvatos S/S16Photography by Rebekah Campbell for

We examine the shows and presentations that made up the much-awaited return of the dedicated New York Menswear season

It’s been over twenty years since New York dabbled in its own men’s fashion week – a fact that, in fashion time, most have forgotten. Last week, the city gave it a go again, offering a first for many attendees: New York Fashion Week: Men’s – held just after the close of couture and the European men’s cycle, and just less than two months shy of New York's A/W16 womenswear presentations. Major brands like Calvin Klein and Coach hosted re-sees and mini-presentations (after showing the same clothes on the runways in Milan and London a few weeks earlier, respectively); others (Thom Browne) showed for a second time, creating entirely different acts of performance and new collections; and still more chose to re-locate their runways or re-invent the standard show approach entirely for their native city – like John Varvatos, who moved his show from Milan to New York so that he could close NYFW:M in the “heart of rock-and-roll.”

The week was a whirlwind, with just four packed days of back-to-back presentations, a buzz of newness throughout and commercial longevity still up in the air. But a few things are clear: the creation of a fourth men’s week falls hand-in-hand with the arguable dissolution of Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter schedules entirely, and the new NYFW:M just might signal a period when clothes are being shown for market just as production is ready. As well, gendered collections are becoming less and less distinct and essential, and a growing number of designers who are burnt out by high-cost seasonal spectacles, are prioritising social media and hoping to connect with their consumers in new, perhaps more interactive ways. Soon these designers might not be showing in the traditional runway format at all.

The New New York Show
The first surprise came when many of the bigger brands at this opening New York Men’s week chose not to show on runway, or even with a traditional presentation of models lined up. Rag and Bone invited editors and buyers into the Highline Stages for breezy tequila cocktails and a screening of a Drew Jarret-lensed short that follows parkour stars from the NY performance group, Bullettrun, and a handful of models including Yuri Pleskun, running and leaping around the city.

 “You know, really the big pillars in terms of our brand are tailoring, military, and this season, we really wanted to continue this idea of movement in the urban context,” said co-designer David Neville as Tyson Beckford (who was everywhere last week) and a collection of wiry male models took in the on-screen antics. “We’ve been doing this quite a long time now so the idea of a traditional men’s runway show isn’t so interesting for us,” continued Neville. “We’re excited about the idea of creating pieces of content that live virally and reach people and I think maybe ultimately are more interesting for guys.”

Calvin Klein forwent a New York show in favor of a quiet presentation of the brand’s 70s Americana-infused Spring/Summer ware at the house’s showroom in Manhattan's garment district on mannequins. (“Let’s see how it evolves? Maybe we do something bigger next time – an installation or something,” grinned creative director Italo Zucchelli). And Coach gave us a a handful of models, campaign images (with Lexi Boling and Binx Walton right alongside the guys), and acid-tinged California beachwear (see: some super fuzzy neon camo-printed sandals and kicks) over morning coffee, a partially constructed skate ramp, and green juices.

The overarching approach was, needless to say, far from standard. (Even at the runway shows, there was some variation from the norm; Richard Chai, for one, gave out vapes at his Wednesday show and Public School invited Twin Shadow and Waris Alhuwalia into their presentation lineup). The creation of the new week – jammed in between so many resort shows and plopped into an seemingly increasingly crowded, nonstop global show schedule – felt like an opportunity to bend the long-assumed rules.

Coming home 
For many New York designers, the creation of the week seemed to give a voice to those who had been hoping to show locally for some time. “It's a long time coming,” said Public School designer Dao-Yi Cho at the CFDA’s welcome cocktail the night before his show. “We've talked about this with the CFDA for so long, so it feel sort of surreal now that it's really happening. But as you can see by the energy in the room – it's been long overdue. And I think it's just great. It really allows us to effectively have our show season and the market at the same time.”

“I mean, mens is important in Europe and I think it should be as important here in New York,” echoed Thom Browne. “[I wanted] to celebrate everything happening here in New York and in the US for men’s and to support it and almost re-introduce people to the level of tailoring that can actually be done here in the US and specifically for me, since I have my own facility, that can actually be done in New York.”

"It really allows us to effectively have our show season and the market at the same time." – Dao-Yi Cho

John Varvatos – who is credited by many with helping to push for the men's week – was loud to agree. His show was a parade of monochromatic striped suits and long-haired, attitude slinging rocker boys (plus one ever-bleach blond, hard-to-miss Lucky Blue Smith). It was celebration of yesteryear's downtown/vintage CBGB attitude – one that happened to fall, finally, when market aligned with show season in New York. 

An Age after seasons?
The week – with it's abundance of shows breaking outside the schedule and anything goes attitude – is, if nothing else, a testament to the increasing flexibility of just what it means to present bi-annual Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter (not to mention, Resort) collections. "I love that they're doing this because it gives men this proper space- and usually it's all about women's," said Phillip Lim, who had shown in Paris, but was running around all week to support his fellow New York-based designer friends, at the CFDA's opening event. "And you know, women's overtakes everything. But, look around! All these peacocks? All these dandies, right? It's kind of amazing actually. It's funny to see a party where it's more men peacocking then women."