Passionate, inclusive and politically engaged
Sincerity has unexpectedly formed a theme at New York Fashion Week: Men’s
NEW YORK — Topping off the clear liquid in his plastic drinking cup, Michael Kors signalled it was time to get started. “I’ve refilled my vodka, so I’m ready to roll,” the designer said.
It was at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday and Kors was joking. I think.
From that point on, he was all business, presenting a fine spring menswear collection.
To observe the intensity of Kors’ focus as he describes, say, perfectly proportioned wide-legged chambray denim trousers or a khaki coloured tissue-poplin windbreaker/ blazer designed for some imaginary monied young man on the go is to gain insight into a quality he consistently projects, whether on “Project Runway,” at an investor conference or in department store trunk shows: sincerity.
And sincerity has unexpectedly formed a thematic at New York Fashion Week: Men’s, still fledgling in its third season yet defying naysayers by showing plenty of cause for its continued existence.
Right out of the gate, an unknown 26-year-old U.S. designer appeared with a collection taking inspiration from the wrapped garments of South Korea. That is where, as it happens, the designer — Julian Woodhouse, a gay African-American man — is stationed as a first lieutenant in the U.S. army.
Woodhouse hoarded leave time to come to New York Fashion Week: Men’s and used his military pay to fund the Wood House show. Passion like that cannot be counterfeit.
The pace of fashion week is often so intense, the designer pile-on so frenetic, it is easy to miss that the more crucial message being transmitting has little to do with runway trends.
On a private visit to the Vatican Gallery of Tapestries, the Brooklyn-based designers Raul Arevalo and Brad Schmidt got the notion of building a show of shorts-suits with deep elasticized waistlines and tuniclike shirts with either zippered or pinned shoulder closures on the garb of Roman centurions.
“I thought, let’s play with that, but not be so literal,” Arevalo said before the Cadet show.
The Latin phrases printed on some of the clothes also came about as a result of that European outing. Show notes rendered some of them in English for the uneducated among us. And if it happened that the designers misspelled the best known, Amor Vincit Omnia, they still got points for trying and, moreover, for producing a sweatshirt whose philosophy, FAC Fortia et Patere, has a pointed relevance at this moment in U.S. history.
It is no stretch to ally the motto “Do Brave Deeds and Endure” with the hashtags of the Black Lives Matter movement, some of whose members staged a small but effective silent protest outside the Skylight Clarkson Sq space in Lower Manhattan, where the majority of the New York Fashion Week: Men’s events were held.
With raised fists and hands, and wearing black T-shirts printed with the names of Sandra Bland or Walter Scott and the chilling slogan “Stop Killing Us,” the protesters stood all day outside fashion week headquarters, flanking a curbside gauntlet where the style peacocks — the writer Holly Brubach got it right when she termed them “hot nobodies” — strut for the cameras.
Some stopped to stare at the protesters or to snap pictures. Others, like a young black woman dressed in a Yeezy bomber with a confounding Confederate flag patch on one sleeve, sauntered by with an air of unconcern.
“This industry benefits from black people, from black stylists and black models and black professionals of every kind,” said Hannah Stoudemire, a style blogger who works in sales at Lanvin and who conceived of the demonstration. “But it refuses to acknowledge the importance of black lives.”
If in the morning Stoudemire expressed frustration with the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which organized New York Fashion Week: Men’s, and the industry overall, by late in the day, when the protest broke up, she had judged the action a success.
“I talked to Steven Kolb,” Stoudemire said, referring to the CFDA president, “and I told him I was heartbroken that the industry I loved didn’t love me back, that it didn’t love or recognize black lives, and he listened. He posted our picture to the CFDA account on Instagram, which was huge.”
Whatever its shortcomings, the New York fashion industry deserves credit for engaging with politically sensitive issues that its colleagues across the ocean refuse to recognize, let alone touch.
Over the last five weeks, designers in Europe consistently sidestepped or ignored terrorism, gun violence and the vast humanitarian crisis caused by waves of displaced people flooding the continent.
They blithely showed collections with “military” inspirations or organized around themes of “glamping” and vagabond life. A few staged shows that used white models exclusively. They cast underage kids.
While New York Fashion Week: Men’s has not exactly stormed the ramparts, it has shown a bracing awareness of a wider world.
This can be seen in a beautiful chromatic dispersion both on and off the runways, shows cast using models of every ethnicity — like Cesar Ernesto, a coffee-complexioned 20-year-old beauty scouted on the street in SoHo, the tattooed Brazilian Jonathan Bellini, and the handsome shaven-headed Korean Sung Jin Park — and attended by a population similarly diverse.
It can be seen in the Black Lives Matter protest and the swift reaction to it by an important CFDA official and also in the leather bracelets worn by many front-row types.
The bracelets were created by Donna Karan and Lise Evans as part of an Urban Zen initiative to protest gun violence. Fabricated in Haiti, they are sold to benefit Everytown for Gun Safety.
Each is stamped with three words that have become a rallying cry in the movement to reform gun control laws: “Not One More.”
A presentation from Wood House at New York Fashion Week: Men’s. The label is designed by Julian Woodhouse, a 26-year-old U.S. serviceman stationed in South Korea.
Michael Kors Collection, spring 2017, at New York Fashion Week.