Menswear is scrambling to stay in the game
In response – against long odds, a decimated retail landscape and, of course, a pandemic – a group of hardworking menswear designers proved last week that you can never rely on creativity. Supported by day jobs and side hustles, aided by parental loans and the generosity of friends, eight independent collections have mounted collections that, while unlikely to alter the course of contemporary fashion, have fought to keep New York in the game.
“It’s a passion,” designer Nicholas Raefski, who trained as an economist, said during his second presentation at New York Men’s Day on Friday. “I had to do fashion. If I really wanted to make money, I would have gone into banking.
Visitors to this rambling assemblage of presentations, held in the light-flooded Starrett-Lehigh building in Chelsea, are always hoping for a new discovery, a surge of creative excitement. Those expectations are reinforced by the moving views that fill the windows of this modernist landmark, the bronze Hudson right there to remind you of the mighty currents, metaphorical and otherwise, that power the city.
Just a decade ago, New York menswear shows deserved their own dedicated week with all the prom, parties, corporate sponsorships and street photographers looking for Instagram fodder. People came in droves, arguing in outlandish costumes that made us look like normcore droogs. Lots of schlocks were produced during those weeks, but they also gave a platform to future stars, people like Willy Chavarria and Emily Bode.
And the hope remains that a designer like, say, Aaron Potts can find a way to quit his day job and mainstream his collections. His talent deserves this break. Subversive of both gendered and racial expectations, APOTTS collections are often rooted in obscure tracts of Black history and experience. He has created collections inspired by Sun Ra Arkestra, designer Willi Smith and upside down dolls.
Now overcrowded with 50 people, Mr Potts takes charge of designing flawless separates for Toccin, a branded department store website that is characterized by providing clothing “appropriate for work but ready for weekend celebrations” . In contrast, APOTTS, like many other NYMD labels, remains a “passion project”.
Her specific passion this season: an exploration of the color black, as rendered in fabrications as diverse as boiled wool, faux patent leather, sporty mesh and knitted faux suede. Proper work they weren’t, unless perhaps you served as a personal assistant to the elder of a secret cult. Trailing tendrils of organza tended to heighten the otherworldly effect, as did a few odd pops of color – Crayola “blush” or a shade of orange inspired by a model’s nimbus of red hair.
The fact that Mr. Potts manages to conjure up poetry with little money (his models worked for very little money and his “sound system” was a boom box) pleads for an angel to come and lift him out of commercial limbo. . “I always do it my way, waiting for my Robert Duffy to arrive,” the designer said, referring to the business partner credited with getting Marc Jacobs into serious business.
The bustle of New York doesn’t get you far in a city where a tuna sandwich from a cafe costs $16. And, while London, Milan, Florence and Paris continue to hold relatively robust fashion weeks, at least partly funded by trade groups or local government, New York barely puts on a few motley presentations. Mr. Potts and his cohort deserve more and better.
It is worth considering how someone like 24-year-old designer Tristan Detwiler, whose patchwork suit from an early STAN collection was purchased for display at the Met, could benefit from financial support beyond that provided by his parents as he expands his explorations. quilting past and trying to scale his business by tapping into rich veins of dead tissue.
Drastically shifting his target demographic from surfers like himself to an older but no less fashionable consumer, Mr. Detwiler presented a tight collection that he sewed himself and that was inspired by his paternal grandfather, who worked as a salesman at Kodak for 45 years. In an oddly on-trend move, he showed off his upcycled textiles on vintage designs, the likes of Halstonette beau Alva Chinn and perennial GQ cover boy Tony Spinelli, both still in business.
Perhaps fashion week’s greatest value is as a platform. Absent a backdrop, framing or heading, chance threatens to trump the creations of true talent like Stephen Mikhail, whose severely tailored Atelier Cillian collection (put that cookie down immediately) has been inspired, he said, by Sir Francis Dashwood’s 18th-century bacchanalia. Hellfire Club. You need a real-life scene to properly examine and appreciate Clara Son’s polished debut, which featured trained dancers and heavily gathered clothing based on her investigations of the moth’s life cycle. Without a show, someone like Nicholas Raefksi would stand little chance of drawing attention to his witty riffs on high school archetypes.
Titled “Meet Me by the Bleachers,” the collection was a mix of clothes that Mr. Raefski, 25, associates with 70s hippies, jocks, punks and nerds, he said. (Fetish borrowings of detail, like a patch pocket based on one from Vivienne Westwood’s 1991 “Cut and Slash” collection, made it clear which group Mr. Raefski belonged to.)
The Raefski collection interpreted this decade long ago in a loose way and, most notably, with a quilted velor tracksuit in the colors of Harvey Wallbanger. It was the kind of outfit you half-hope would spread widely and supplant the cascade of prison sweatshirts and crinkle pullovers of the Daily Zoom.
The suit was worn by 20-year-old model Jacob Marley over a graphic tee that featured an all-over Farrah Fawcett Majors graphic. When asked if he had ever heard of the woman whose face he wore – once considered one of the most famous beauties on the planet – he shrugged.
“Farrah Fawcett? said Mr. Marley. “I have no idea who it is.”