New York Men’s Fall/Winter 2019

by Long Nguyen

Back in the hot and humid mid-July summer of 2015 when the CFDA launched the first standalone men’s fashion week in New York, the official calendar was packed with marquee names in American fashion – Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Coach, Calvin Klein, John Varvatos, Hickey Freeman, along with newcomers like Rochambeau, Gypsy Sports, Cadet, David Hart, Siki Im and Thaddeus O’Neil to name a few. Fast forward three and a half years and a few days after a Polar Vortex, these big brand names, the Amazon refreshment and VIP lounge, and even Cadillac SUVs were just memories of a glorious past in the three days of “men’s” shows and presentations prior to the official opening of the women’s show week.  But like in a dense forest, when there is clearance from the shadows of the big trees, the sunlight will reach the forest floor allowing new plants to germinate.  In this new decentralized and parse environment, the independent designers took center stage, many armed with both a personal fashion message and a sensibility grounded in commerce.  

“Men’s fashion is starting to bring men possibilities from all sides and all styles.  Men’s wardrobe was limited and now there are options, colors, and textures,” said Alejandro Gómez Palomo, backstage at Pier 59 Studios following his second show in New York since fall 2017.  A black and white printed booklet titled ‘Jarana’ illustrated the creative journey that Palomo embarked on when he sowed the seeds of an inspiration from a 1916 visit to Spain by Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe, a dance troupe where major artists like Picasso and Matisse fabricated the décor in collaboration with composer Igor Stravinsky and costume designers Léon Bakst and Coco Chanel, to make a collection that put tailoring at the central focus albeit with sensual and feminine cuts close to the body.  

Here tailoring meant a black wool jacket paired with sheer tulle shirts and pinstripe pants. Light grey suiting featured broad shoulders and grey wool coats were matched with white ruffle collar organza shirt.  This being Palomo, there were plenty of peacocking looks that transgressed the masculine/feminine divide – green feather trimmed black jacquard capes worn with a black sheer chiffon underdress and underwear or a layered beige bow blouse in polka dot. A feather boat neck waist hugging long dress – but despite their pre-conceptions, these looks actually felt masculine. “There must be different shapes and patterns for men and women. A good fitting impose a garment customized to the shape of the person wearing it. Aesthetics is another thing,” the designer said about the specific needs to make the clothes on a body regardless of gender.  In a nod to perhaps a more sportswear outlook, there were nylon silk giant parkas and large pants and a white nylon anorak over sheer white blouse, large pants and knit overlay skirt.  Well, it was not exactly streetwear, but these outerwear coats were done well within the confines and codes of the Palomo universe.  

Before making any of the garments shown for his own two year old brand NIHL, the artist and designer Neil Grotzinger has always pondered the notion of combining different elements of male identities from opposite facets of cultures that reflected his own upbringing in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This time in the form of a lone Midwestern gamer sitting in his basement contemplating and fantasizing about the symbolisms and the sartorial artifacts and objects making up an artificial new modern identity.  To Grotzinger, breaking down the assumptions and false perceptions of what is ‘male’ and perhaps in this way reconstituting a new way to define what is “male.”  Thus, a gamer’s typical uniform of cargo pants and print tee-shirt top underwent a radical surgery to emerge as short sleeve spandex tee-shirt either cropped above the navel or as a cutout bodysuit and a pair of extreme low slung no waist cotton khaki pants or even as elongated intricate black and white patchwork lace t-shirt. 

NIHL’s proposition transformed the classic symbols of masculine attire; like those old vintage or new army — navy dungarees into leather naval pants with open zippers around the legs and paired with black stretch long sleeve t-shirt with a circle cut out at the front to expose the chest and nipples. Basic shirts were morphed into asymmetrical jacket-like shirts with linear beadings on the sides.  The clothes were surely made for a moment of reflection, whether or not the constant questioning of the boundaries of masculinity is one’s specific endeavor.  Now just in his second season, Grotzinger has to find ways to translate his enthusiasm for cultural and sartorial transformation into solid clothes that can find customers. That should not be an impossible task given the adaptability and the versatility of the clothes shown, but they need to be cut for a real bodies walking down a street, not a fanciful model on the catwalk.  

At N. Hoollywood with close to two decades in business, the Japanese designer Daisuke Obana worried less about the fine casual clothes he showed each season than having the right casting of models to represent the collection live on stage.  Last fall, Obana staged his show near the Hudson Yards site with a casting of real construction workers to feature his staples of reinterpreted workwear gears. This time the models were a diverse crew ranging from shaved head genderless looking ‘girl-guys’ to really young kids to older men to high school and college graduates, and perhaps also non-graduates of all kinds and persuasions. This new army wore loose black leather bikers, XXXL knit crew neck decorated sweaters, nylon ‘military’ print cape-coat, wool coats and knit sweater-scarf, layers of anoraks and overcoats - all in hues of dark olive, bright yellow, orange, celadon, and also navy blue.  Denim were reworked in inventive ways like transforming a classic denim jacket into a collarless jacket merged with a cotton zipper sweatshirt or making a collar shirt and patch pocket pants into a new version of a suit for younger kids. 

Embracing different facets of the youth aesthetics from kindergarten to graduate school was Ryohei Kawanishi’s idea for his seventh collection for Landlord, a brand he founded in 2015 in partnership with a military contract garment factory. The Brooklyn-based Kawanishi has garnered a serious number of fans and followers for his streetwise clothes but don’t even expect any real and safe scholastic clothes here. Meaning an otherwise proper shirt and tie varsity jacket look was now a loose green coat with yellow trims, multicolored polo and a long patchwork tie. LUNY Landlord University sweatshirts in brown cotton, a simple hood grey logo sweatshirt, a black and white gingham baseball jacket and blue cotton pants with red patches were that Landlord is known for. Woven knits in grey and camel hand knit heavy sweaters is a project with Nakaden Keori, a textile manufacturer specialized in wool products, and a yellow or bright green leather coat are made with Kubera 9981, a Japanese supplier of innovative leather materials.  Several of the models wore makeup to resemble black eyes and bruised lips on their faces imitatihg a beaten or bulling at school – one wore a white LUNY tee and a nylon jumpsuit and another a red and blue gingham coat and blue cotton pants. 


In lieu of a regular show, Christopher Bevans choose the main entrance to FIT Pomerantz Center Gallery as a location for his installation of athletic silhouettes and tech fabrics driven collection for Đyne that remained on public view for two additional days. In tune with the current discourse on sustainability, Bevans piled an artwork made from old stacks of CDs and broken VCRs among other trash to highlight the problems, particularly the ubiquitous use if plastics. An issue that is polluting even a desolate island in the Pacific Ocean. Of the twelve linear silhouette on the mannequins, most of the fabrics are sourced from available stock rather than having special fabrics made like the herringbone slim body contour jacket and drawstring pant or the olive short sleeve zippered jacket and burnt orange sweater. A purple nylon short sleeve raincoat had pocket details and a key chain attached.  A black sweatshirt had ‘Save Us’ spelled out of Swarovski in multiple languages – a clear message about waste. Similar to the Ocean Cleanup attempt to collect trash in the Pacific garbage patch by the young Dutch Boyan Slats launched in San Francisco last fall, a real solution isn’t clear on the horizon. In fashion, sustainability means much less consumption and consuming biodegradable materials – a pair of shoes made of leather and wood degrades naturally but a sneaker has to be buried. 

At the collective show NYMD New York Men’s Day, the prime focus was commerce over runway storytellers. Although a few of the exhibitors at the downtown studio dosed their clothes with definite narratives: Krammer & Stout duo late 60’s looked to the rock vibes of Captain Beefheart (Don Van Diet), the Cypriot born Vasilis Loizides explored the surrealism between gender performance and an outsider status, Matteo Maniatty of Descendant of Thieves reworked vintage military outerwear from the 1800’s, and Dae Lim and Mia Park provided their cannabis lifestyle brand Sundae School with ‘The Green Rush’ street and workwear collection with a twist based on the gold rush of 1849 and the Japanese colonization of Korea.  Rather than models, the designer Sayori Tanaka engaged a band Shin Sakaino Jazz crew to enliven his colorful range of casual clothes. David Hart’s five looks collection of minimalist wardrobe in dark navy and camel formal and relaxed suits and coats was a wonderful break from the streetwear ethos still at play among the many presentations in New York, rightly so as the city remained the hub of streetwear.  

Elsewhere around the city, Robert Geller’s collaboration with Lululemon and his penchant for the wardrobes of Tibetans Sherpa mountain climbers provided a platform for one of his most vibrant and perhaps also commercially viable collections in the last few years. The surface of the moon provided the print for coats, hoodies, shirts, scarves and tees, some with ‘I love you to the moon and back’ written in dark hues of black, brown, purple and light grey. There was a seamless mixing between the performance and the collection pieces like the stretch tie-dyed leggings, neon yellow shorts, anoraks, and mostly all of the active wear layers made for the Brooklyn based Yoga brand and worn underneath a light brown cold processed dyed nylon and wool coat or with a mandarin collar print jacket.  

The designer Kirk Millar who does the men’s portion for the brand Linder saw the similarities between the present day upheavals and disruptions in the fashion industry to the chaotic time of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. Millar used the assassination of the Romanov family as a point of departure for the chaos, speed, and uncertainty of the digital fashion era where the designer proposed clothes that mimicked that dark era like jewelry print tees and black jeans that referenced the tale that some of the Tsar’s children had worn clothes with jewelry hidden inside that might have shield them from the initial bullets.  

A the end of the three days devoted to menswear at a small gallery in Soho, Emily Bode created a small wooden garage complete with benches and walls of old souvenirs items like an Elvis Presley vinyl record as a backdrop for her wonderful collection of entirely handmade garments crafted from vintage textiles, grain sacks, bed and table linens, and quilts. She repurposed all these fabrics and finds today into transparent plastic coat with old milk caps, multicolor patchwork wool suit where the surface of the old wool has a 3D feel, multicolor stripe patchwork of old corduroy polo shirt and pants, orange yellow cotton pants with embroidered souvenir patches, and a square patchwork of multicolor velour cropped jackets and short pants.  Bode’s work is that of a poet in fashion and surely is an anti-dote to the digital age and to fast fashion – it takes time to find these vintage materials, to preserve them and to remake them into clothes.  Even a green cotton jacket has intricate hand stitched red and white trims.  

 The dichotomy in New York menswear is the clear divide between designers championing ideas and concept and those creating more commercial collections even if they couched commerce with narratives.  Both Palomo and NIHL strived for the extreme in using fashion as a stage for cultural and social choices and certainly the clothes they make reflect these personal choices.  “What is important is just being honest to yourself and your taste, your passions, your aesthetics and your values,” Alejandro Gómez Palomo said.  While that’s true, they also need to have their feet on the ground and adapt their design in order to sell garments – there is a customer base that craves for clothes with a point of view.  Whether the scale down format still under guidance of CFDA will allow these more independent brands to grasp a foothold in the marketplace remains yet to be seen. There’s true determination among these new designers to succeed both in fathoming a message and a retail and e-commerce foothold.  

Photo’s courtesy of respective Brands