The Final Word on New York Fashion Week Men’s: Meh

New York Fashion Week Men’s was launched a year ago and still hasn’t found its footing. “It’s not good yet, but it’s getting there,” said Robert Geller. Will the last designer to leave please turn out the lights?

Photo by Driely Vieira.

By Thursday afternoon of New York Fashion Week: Men’s, even God had had enough. The temperature was a suffocating 88 degrees, though Lower Manhattan felt more like Death Valley. And, as if to wash away the sins of many a designer in the preceding days, a flash thunderstorm barreled in, trapping everyone inside fashion’s gulag, Skylight Clarkson Square.

That’s where the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s grand experiment of a standalone men’s week – one that could compete with Europe – picked up last Tuesday. To look at the calendar, you would think this third edition was more anemic than it was this time last year, when it was inaugurated to a dubious if cautiously optimistic reception.

This season was heavy on upstarts, like Linder, formerly just a boutique; Second/Layer, in its second-ever presentation; and Landlord, in its first. But the exemplars of American Fashion—Calvin, Ralph—have still not bought in, preferring instead to show in Europe. And Public School, on whom the CFDA once seemingly latched the dreams of the entire NYFW: Men’s ecosystem a year ago, have bailed out of the calendar entirely in favor of a completely off-piste show scheme. So, who is left?

The schedule was punctuated by youngish labels like John Elliott, Robert Geller, and Ovadia & Sons, while Todd Snyder is what passed for a member of the “old guard,” as WWD referred to him, and Joseph Abboud and John Varvatos as éminences grises.

One of the more curious features of NYFW: Men’s, the celebrity ambassadors – the CFDA-selected group of men who are supposed to represent the best of American style – was also one of its more revealing. They included Shaun White; Kellan Lutz, a supporting player in the now four-year-old “Twilight” series; Eric Rutherford, “an influencer;” and Jerry O’Connell of “Kangaroo Jack” fame—some configuration of which was present at every show, shuttled backstage for photos with designers, huddling together for safety, or perhaps to go over the escape plan one more time. How were these men chosen? Were they granted diplomatic immunity? Was there a training program?

“Listen, I’m as shocked as you are,” O’Connell told me. “It’s a cabal that I’ve been invited into. There’s a secret ceremony that happens in the basement of the CFDA headquarters, and I can’t actually talk about it.”

Was it worth it for them? Was it even for the phalanx of buyers, editors, and rubber-neckers in attendance? The jury is still out. The Council of Fashion Designers of America has yet to sell New York as an essential menswear stopover to the one group that would seem the most essential: New Yorkers.

“A lot has changed in the world since they decided to start doing this, like in the past year,” said the reliably cantankerous Mark McNairy, who has recently relocated from New York to Los Angeles. “The whole fucking world has been turned upside down.”

The designer, was stationed in the Skylight Clarkson lobby on Tuesday to show off New Republic, his line of direct-to-consumer shoes. There’s an episode of “The Twilight Zone” called “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” in which people who believe they’re trapped in a windowless room eventually realize that they’re actually dolls left in a Christmas donation bin for an orphanage. That’s what Skylight Clarkson feels like, except there’s also a Samsung VR demo. At least, McNairy said, sponsors are paying for the whole operation.

“From a small company/designer point of view, it’s a good thing,” he said. “That was the biggest part of my shows, was the space, you know, we’re paying like $15-$20,000 for a space.”

At Robert Geller on Wednesday, Nick Wooster, a big CFDA booster, reflected on Men’s Week. “I think it’s absolutely the thing that we need to sort of put a season to bed. We’ve seen a lot of different ideas happening in Europe and it can all kind of come together here. This week will continue to evolve.” But, he approached the idea of commercial viability gingerly. “The fact that we now have a dedicated men’s week – and we used to have one – I don’t think that’s in and of itself a black-and-white litmus test of, if X does something than Y is going to be successful. “I just think it’s another factor that contributes to how the U.S. fits into the worldwide puzzle of fashion.”

Josh Peskowitz, the menswear retail cognoscente, agreed, more or less. “New York has always been more of a disparate community of designers, but there is now starting to be a little bit of a through thread,” he said. “It has that energy that I think people crave that will help the identity of New York Fashion Week and the New York designers as they move forward.”

The alternative – showing during women’s – was a logistical nightmare. “We’ll have to see how things evolve,” he continued. “The world is changing really, really fast, faster than anybody has any ability to cope with, and what that means for the fashion industry is unknown.”

Geller himself was adamant on the importance of showing here. “It’s where I live, it’s where I create, it’s my base, it’s where I started my career at Marc Jacobs, I can’t even really think about going anywhere else,” he said. “People have tried it, and unless you’re really big and you have the money to go to Paris and have a real fucking show, they won’t take you seriously, and I don’t want to be like that. I don’t want to be that guy that goes one, two seasons, gets a shitty slot on the thing nobody cares about, and then come crawling back to New York. I want to make New York big. I want to be part of that.”

For all his enthusiasm – and Geller’s was one of the more eagerly anticipated shows of the week – the designer acknowledged the obvious.

“I feel like if all the big designers came back and really did shows here and really pushed it, it could be something special,” he said. “They’re not doing that yet. It’s not good yet, but it’s getting there.”

If the designers in Skylight’s gaping maw were managing to cast clear-eyed pragmatism, Tommy Hilfiger’s presentation on Wednesday was representative of the skepticism that’s plagued the CFDA’s efforts. Here was a major designer with the resources to put on a capital-S show, and instead he staged another living mannequin presentation, this time tucked under the High Line in a glass-walled space that used to be a Mobil station. Hilfiger himself didn’t bother to be in attendance, sending instead Ingo Wilts, his men’s creative director.

Other designers who’ve been around the proverbial block took a long-view of things. Was this the greatest slate of shows anyone had ever witnessed? Perhaps not. But what was important was that we were all here, giving it the college try.

“Anybody you talk to, whether in Paris, Milan, Japan, everybody has the same reaction,” Todd Snyder said after his show Thursday morning. “When they ask where you’re from and you say, ‘I’m from New York,’ they’re like ‘Whoa,’ and it doesn’t matter who they are. Everybody loves New York. And why not show here? People have asked me to show in Europe and to me it just doesn’t make sense. Why would I go to someone else’s country and show? For me it’s a statement just to be here.”

As far as statements go, you can do worse than New York City. For now, anyway, location is the best thing Men’s Week has going for it.

“I didn’t care about a men’s fashion week, but now that I’m here, I feel a little bit different,” McNairy said. “This makes sense to me. This is still the place.”

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