Although mightily challenged by a fragmenting retail landscape, and lamentable calendar placement as the caboose on the global men’s wear train, New York Fashion Week: Men’s was like “The Little Engine that Could,” refusing to give in to naysayers perennially pronouncing doom.
“Sure, there’s no Ralph, no Calvin, no Tom,” Steven Kolb, the chief executive of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, said before a polished show by Carlos Campos, referring to Mr. Lauren, Mr. Klein and Mr. Ford.
With only the modest but sturdy all-American designer Todd Snyder to serve as its tent pole, the men’s week may have lacked some of the showbiz pizazz associated with big-name designers, as Mr. Kolb conceded. “But it has found its right size,” he said.
And if no single breakaway star emerged from the roughly 40 shows and presentations rolled out over three days, there was plenty to applaud.
There was the gritty determination of independents like Willy Chavarria, Krammer & Stoudt and David Hart. There were the unabashed helpings of male pulchritude served up by the sportswear designers Parke & Ronen. There was the evolutionary leap forward from Etsy-style patchwork to globalized sophistication at Bode. And there was the emergence of cannabis culture — “smokewear,” the Sundae School designer called it — as a brave new fashion frontier.
Unusual among contemporary designers, Mr. Hart charts his own quirky and erudite course to inspiration, organizing collections around themes as disparate as the Malibu surfers immortalized by the photographer LeRoy Grannis, spaghetti Westerns, Bauhaus photography or the supremely elegant jazz musicians that once recorded on the Blue Note label.
This season he trained his eye on, of all things, Woodward and Bernstein and the days of bell-bottom trousers, wide lapels, fat ties and polyester — a material that once stood as shorthand for sartorial sleaze but that to someone of Mr. Hart’s generation reads as “really luxe.”
“With tailored clothing, we’ve been with the slim skinny things for so long, it feels like we needed a little excess,” Mr. Hart said before a show so off kilter (and off trend) that it may be prophetic of a return to an era in which a shady American president once chose to resign before he could be impeached. We are speaking here in strictly sartorial terms.
And, while the fit on some of Mr. Hart’s suits had an air of budget prom rental, there was an admirable wackiness in the patterned satin brocades on suits with lapels as outrageous as vintage Cadillac fins; the ruffled shirt fronts and outsize pointed collars; the high-waist hopsack trousers worn with, say, a micro-daisy print shirt and a paisley foulard; and an overall color palette (brown plaid with pink) that strained the limits of acceptable taste, in the best possible sense.
Accessories have figured little in Mr. Hart’s past collections, yet here he ornamented almost everything with the embroidered eye brooches created for him by the French artist Céleste Mogador. And he showed two-inch Cuban-heeled shoes from a fresh collaboration with Christian Louboutin.
“I want those shoes, and I want them now!” an exiting guest was heard to say. GUY TREBAY
Khadi, the hand-spun Indian fabric, is probably not destined for a fashion week takeover. It’s not likely to displace denim in the hearts and minds of most men’s wear designers.
But Emily Adams Bode, the designer of Bode, writes histories in textiles. For her new collection, shown on the final day of New York Fashion Week: Men’s, she turned her attention to the family history of her longtime collaborator, Aaron Aujla, with whom she has worked on furniture design.
Mr. Aujla is of Indian-Canadian extraction — his grandfather left India for British Columbia in the 1920s, bringing his family to join him after Indian independence in 1947 — and the khadi in the collection is Ms. Bode’s tribute to him.
With a light touch, Ms. Bode wove together family history and political history: Khadi cloth represents the resurgence of domestic cloth manufacture to India, a cause championed by Gandhi. It lends her pieces, delicately embroidered or printed, in loose, boxy shapes a vintage tinge, a sense of place and time remote from the fractious present.
The past, of course, was likewise unruly. But Ms. Bode gives a lovely sense of the way that migrants can inflect and adapt their new cultures to their old, to the enrichment of both. (The rugby outfits, the towel-cloth suits: O, Canada!)
It was a lovely vision, sensitively executed. Ms. Bode’s label is growing, having recently expanded past the bounds of her tiny studio, finding favor at stores and on the backs of men of style. (Donald Glover recently wore it on “Saturday Night Live.”) And, just as important, she is more and more able to use antique textiles as inspiration pieces but reproduce them at greater scale.
All of which means that, in six months’ time, you are likely to see more Bode than you did six months ago. For the moment, suffice it to say that Ms. Bode quietly put on, in this critic’s opinion, the week’s finest show. MATTHEW SCHNEIER
Krammer & Stoudt
As two middle-aged partners — one a former scenic painter at Disney, the other an ex-model — who met through a 12-step program and forged an unlikely future together in the unknown world of fashion, Courtenay Nearburg and Mike Rubin are at home with risk.
Driving cross country from Southern California five years ago with all their earthly possessions in a U-Haul, they staked their future on the conviction that it was still possible to bootstrap your way to success in New York.
“We thought we were crazy because nobody just walks into this business,” Ms. Nearburg said before a Krammer & Stoudt presentation that justified the industry recognition bestowed on the pair in January, when Fashion Group International presented them with its Rising Star award. “It was New York that said that you can.”
And, while the show was themed around the couple’s first trip to Japan early this year, it was the energy of their adopted city that was showcased in a series of three 45-minute presentations that melded a jagged video montage of Shinto shrines, remixed music from a runaway pop hit with subversive lyrics about school shootings, an improv violinist and a gifted group of local Flex dancers to showcase the designers’ singular take on men’s wear.
Nothing felt literal about Mr. Rubin’s adaptation of kimono to make quilted swing jackets, or his proportioning of trousers to resemble those of traditional Japanese farmers or in the shorts suits he showed on nonbinary models. Somehow a collection easy to imagine Japanese hipsters wearing at Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo also looked like just the thing for steamy summer days here on Tar Beach. GUY TREBAY
To make it in fashion, you need a side hustle. For the California-born, New York-trained, Copenhagen-based designer Willy Chavarria, that means collaborating with, among others, labels like the Danish soccer brand Hummel.
To make it through life, you need a position. For Mr. Chavarria, that means a belief that calling oneself a fashion designer is not equivalent to having a hall pass out of politics.
In just four seasons of showing here, Mr. Chavarria has presented collections that challenged the constrictions of gender binaries, the homophobia that exists in Hispanic communities (Mr. Chavarria is Mexican-American and gay) and, for his spring 2019 collection, the parlous state of current immigration policy.
Splitting his show into two parts, he first presented a series of active sports clothes in the XXL proportions that are his stock in trade — think super-roomy shorts and sweat clothes emblazoned with an inverted AMERICA logo or an upside-down American flag. Then there was a separate series of denims and work clothes that paid homage to the wellspring of his creativity: the streets of East Los Angeles and the South Bronx in the last years of the 20th century.
Appreciation veered in the direction of quotation in some of the vast denim trousers, the Velcro-fastened work wear, the roomy drifter coats and mesh crop tops he showed. It would not be too hard to find images from those places and those times interchangeable with the ones the designer was conjuring. To those he added the melancholy fillip of a glittering image of the World Trade Center on one T-shirt and, on another, the face of Representative Maxine Waters, among the most vociferous critics of President Trump and his policies.
“I was raised in a family that came from the civil rights movement,’’ Mr. Chavarria said before his show. “When I started my own label, I wanted to make sure that was at the core of everything I did.” GUY TREBAY
Provocation has a time-honored place in fashion, both as spur and goal. Wedged in among the cheerily printed short shorts and assorted oddments of New York Men’s Day, there it was, at Sundae School, a year-old brand with the most targeted of sales pitches. Finally, a label by and for Korean-American stoners.
Cannabis has been making steady inroads into the American mainstream, but in South Korea, its use is still stigmatized and illegal. “Weed is very, very taboo,” said Dae Lim, Sundae School’s creative director. “I’m Korean-American, and I love our culture. But that is one little block for me.”
The title of the collection combined a Korean slang term for marijuana with a word meaning “scholar.” One of his models, a strapping, bare-chested hunk in an open cardigan, had the words “STONER” and “SCHOLAR” written across his neck.
Sundae School’s collections to date have focused on T-shirts, hoodies and hats — mostly slickly designed, street-wear-style graphic items with weed puns and traditional Korean illustrations. For spring, Mr. Lim pushed further, with crushed suiting and organza overcoats (inspired by the work of the Korean artist Do Ho Suh), complete with cigarette pockets.
There was, of course, a printed sweatshirt, whose tiny motif featured miniature Korean scholars studying the rolling of joints and the ripping of bongs.
Mr. Lim does not have the classic pedigree of the provocateur. He graduated from Hotchkiss and Harvard, with a degree in math, and went to work for McKinsey & Company before decamping to VFiles, the upstart fashion incubator, showroom and shop, where Sundae School was born. His Korean parents were, initially, less than pleased when the full details were revealed in an article in Vogue Korea.
“All hell broke loose,” he said. His mother didn’t speak to him for days. Eventually, though, she came around.
“After I quit my job, she said, ‘You have to show me the numbers,’” Mr. Lim said. “Then the numbers checked out.” MATTHEW SCHNEIER
The incursion of politics into runway fashion makes for some surprising moments. It’s not unusual for a garment to look different coming down the runway than it does going back up. Even so, eyebrows were raised at Nihl, the label by Neil Patrick Grotzinger, when one of the guy-liner-lidded warriors marching down the runway turned around to reveal what you would have to call a full-moon view. He was wearing an embroidered, beaded jockstrap.
“It is definitely social commentary,” Mr. Grotzinger said. He titled the collection Subservient Authorities and described it as “queer empowerment.” “It was all about taking this idea of a figure of authority and manipulating it to seem very effeminate.”
Mr. Grotzinger hand-works his way to authority, taking shapes and ideas from sportswear and athletic attire and decorating them to the elaborate hilt. His pieces at the moment, are essentially American-made couture: beaded, embroidered or chain linked painstakingly by hand in his New York studio, just a man and a team of interns.
He expressed a desire to turn the collection into something more accessible, something readier for commercial production, but for the moment Nihl’s greatest asset is its punctiliousness, its commitment to hard labor for the sake of fabulousness. (Mr. Grotzinger first attracted major attention when an earlier collection, of hand-beaded wrestling singlets, was shortlisted for the LVMH Prize.)
“This overcoat took maybe five days to make,” he said backstage, gesturing to one of the collection’s showpieces. “I would say maybe 70 hours linking all the rings together? My hands are broken.” MATTHEW SCHNEIER
That sort of hand-work was evident at the Jahnkoy show as well. Maria Kazakova, Jahnkoy’s designer, is an evangelist for craft.
To preserve techniques rapidly being undermined by mass production and globalized corporate fashion, she outsources her work to collectives in Brooklyn and India. (Born in Russia of Siberian descent, she works in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.) Her collection is supported and underwritten by Puma, which provides much of the clothing she customizes.
The show took the form of a hectic, multipart dance, with performers representing everything from factory workers to cheerleaders to hip-hop girls to a “Jah army.” (A second part of the performance will be staged in Moscow.)
She described it as a parade, though here, too, the political broke through. At one point, the soundtrack, which had earlier included a TV news snippet about children being separated from their families at the border, broke into the wail of a siren. The models, most of them people of color, hit the floor.
“That’s the reality that we have,” Ms. Kazakova said, though she leaned, insistently, into optimism. “The culture, I believe, will bring everyone together,” she said. “Unite through culture.” MATTHEW SCHNEIER