Critic's Notebook: Men’s Runways Are Threaded With Dissent
“It’s hitting people like a dagger in the heart,” the designer John Varvatos said moments before his best men’s wear show in years, at the Diamond Horseshoe nightclub in Midtown. Mr. Varvatos was referring to President Trump’s order banning the entry of citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations and refugees from any country.
“People are in disbelief,” Mr. Varvatos said. “Half the people in my company are from someplace else.”
So, it would seem, are half the personnel in the industry. Consider the major designers anchoring a men’s wear fashion week now in its fourth iteration and gaining strength in terms of its offerings and the breadth of representation.
Mr. Varvatos, for example, is a second-generation American whose parents migrated from Greece and settled in Detroit. The Bronx-born Ralph Lauren is the son of Askhenazi Jewish immigrants from Belarus. Raised in South Boston, Joseph Abboud was born in the United States to Maronite Christian parents who, seeking greater opportunity, fled Lebanon for America.
Even the virtuosic Belgian-born Raf Simons — whose finely calibrated collection of satiny topcoats, boxy jackets and slouchy woolens was shown on Wednesday night — has only recently transposed his 22-year-old label to New York, where he also serves as chief creative officer of Calvin Klein. Notably, Mr. Simons chose as the locale for his debut on these shores a Gagosian Gallery, which is run by the pre-eminent art world powerhouse Larry Gagosian, a California native whose grandparents were immigrants from Armenia.
It is not only the big guns who can boast of a hyphenated heritage. The Ovadia twins, Ariel and Shimon, moved to Brooklyn from Israel in the early 1990s. The slick show they presented on Tuesday to an audience peppered with hip-hop stars and athletes was inspired, as Ariel said backstage, by a soccer obsession they share with their father, a man who got his start in the garment business selling children’s wear from the back of a wood-paneled Oldsmobile.
A relative newcomer to fashion, Willy Chavarria presented a sublimely deadpan collection on Thursday that he titled “Brown Power” and showed on a group of street-cast models that included a young trans woman and a Honduran food deliveryman. The clothes were inspired, Mr. Chavarria said, by Chicano youths in California towns like the one in the San Joaquin Valley where he was raised, a son of Mexican immigrants who worked in the agricultural fields.
“The political moment is hard,” Mr. Chavarria said, over the bass-heavy din of recorded hip-hop at his presentation. “But it’s also a call to action for a generation that maybe got a little lazy. It’s up to us now to be harder ourselves — to love harder, to fight harder, to come hard with our ideas.”
Ideas, as Mr. Downing said, are good things. And, as it happened, the week was rife with them. There were Mr. Chavarria’s supersize denim trousers, his bathrobe-style coats of fur or washable alpaca, his knit caps discreetly embroidered with a rebuke to hate speech too coarse to be printed here and his athletic sweatshirts emblazoned with the timely: “Gender Bender Super Bawl Champions.”
There were Mr. Simons’s innovative, oversize intarsia sweaters, developed in collaboration with the Woolmark Company, featuring hems that rode up at the back, kangaroo pockets on the chest and, in some cases, a vaguely ambivalent interpretation of Milton Glaser’s “I ♥ NY” logo.
There was a Ralph Lauren Purple Label collection that gave scant indication that his company is in the midst of what one analyst called “brand confusion.” Seldom bested as a conjurer of narrative fantasy during the half-century he has been in business, Mr. Lauren made it clear that his Gatsbyesque vision still has legs. Here he reimagined a young man of wealth as having humor enough to leave the house wearing a black satin dinner jacket whose subtle jacquard pattern depicts cowboys riding bucking broncos — an image copied from a vintage sleeping bag — and confident enough in his taste to wear a shawl-collared suit of evening clothes in chocolate corduroy.
Barely out of Parsons, Matthew Adams Dolan is already a name to reckon with, largely on the basis of an interest taken in him by a single superfan. “Rihanna’s team saw my senior thesis and called in some things,” Mr. Dolan, a Boston-area native, said modestly on Thursday, as a cluster of models slumped on a dais at the P3 studio at Skylight Clarkson North. “She gets photographed in them a lot, I guess,” he added, referring to monster denims that resemble the offspring of a Carhartt jacket and a moving blanket.
Mr. Dolan’s affection for functional work wear, which he reconfigures in Brobdingnagian proportions, is only half the equation, he said. “My mom was a big quilter, and that’s been a big influence on me,” he said.
That Todd Snyder’s brightest ideas are often not original to him is something of which the designer makes no secret. For years, Mr. Snyder has mined thrift stores and the treasure troves maintained by folks like the vintage-clothes wizard Bob Melet for inspiration. As Mr. Snyder made clear in his Thursday show, his design skill lies in taking the old-school sports jerseys or the weary, toggle-buttoned stadium coats he finds and then — exploiting his savvy way with fabrics and his tailoring background — turning them into covetable stuff like a handsome camel hair overcoat so pilled it looked as though he had skinned a family of teddy bears to create it.
The primary idea driving Mr. Varvatos’s latest collection, he said before his show, involved his conviction that millennial men now discovering the suit want something that keeps them from resembling their fathers. “They want to push out the boundaries,” Mr. Varvatos said. He does, too.
With his fall 2017 collection, the designer stuck to a restrained narrow silhouette for taut frock coats, biker jackets, barn coats and 10-button Edwardian-style jackets. And he confined his experiments to fabrication. Despite the best efforts of moral philosophers like Peter Singer, fur has been steadily making a comeback.
The best designs at the Varvatos show were for things like a lynx print calfskin biker jacket that would make anyone want to become rock star; or a flimsy topcoat lined with cropped shearling — just the sort of stuff to give PETA conniptions.
It’s easy enough to guess at the outrage triggered in the mind of an animal-rights activist by Mr. Varvatos’s wholesale dispatch of livestock. More challenging, perhaps, is imagining what a traditional male might make of the clothes created by Mr. Palomo. Invited to be a guest of the C.F.D.A., the designer — who has generated a lot of press and engendered a small cult following at home — brought with him a group of clothes that seemed relatively tame by his standards.
It included trousers, that is, and a few items you might term suits. True, they came in purple satin brocade with chest-baring portrait collars; or gold lamé with flounces and neck frills; or constituted little more than a white satin bustier worn with thigh boots and a pair of Y-front briefs.
Of all the many design ideas on display during New York Fashion Week: Men’s, Mr. Palomo’s were by miles the most fantastical and giddy. Yet, as the men’s wear industry has been trudging steadily away from gender fluidity and toward masculinity as historically constituted, the sight of a guy kitted out in Cuban heels, a garter belt, a pair of shiny culottes or a flounced figure-skating costume seemed less outrageous than, perhaps, passé.
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