Gentlemen, you’re up.
Next week begins the first-ever fashion week in New York City singularly devoted to menswear. NYFW: Men’s runs for three days starting Monday and encompasses 56 American menswear designers. Iconic design houses such as Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Tommy Hilfiger will show along with such recent hot-shots as Public School, Thom Browne, and Rag & Bone. Small but lasting brands will include David Hart, Timo Weiland, and Duckie Brown. Most of them will show at Skylight Clarkson SQ, a well-known studio in SoHo.
It’s an event that buyers and designers have long clamored for, according to the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), the parent entity, because the event conveniently syncs the menswear shows with market week, when buyers for department stores and boutiques revisit each collection to select the runway looks they’ll actually put in their stores. Market week now falls in the days directly following the shows.
But the New York event has also exposed some pressure points in the industry about the high priority that fashion brands give to the European shows. That impulse is pitted against the strength (or lack thereof) of designer loyalties to the Anna Wintour-allied CFDA. And a larger issue is whether much emphasis should be placed on the fashion calendar and market-week schedule at all.
In short: Even though some have asked for it, there is considerable debate about whether or not the industry actually needs a men’s week in New York.
Helter Skelter Fashion Schedules
Historically, menswear fashion editors, designers, and buyers have spent June and early July traipsing across Europe attending trade shows (Pitti Uomo) and branded fashion weeks (London, in particular, is impressive). They absorb the new looks from Saint Laurent or Versace over sunny golden days punctuated by double espressos, cigarette-break gossip sessions, and late-night dinners. In America, meanwhile, the months that elapsed between February’s Fall/Winter shows and July’s market week loomed like a black hole that drained buyers of any energy they had felt during the shows.
“There was a disconnect,” says Steven Kolb, the chief executive officer of the CFDA.
Kolb says NYFW: Mens will allow the excitement of the runway shows and presentations to translate immediately and directly to the market floor when store buyers from Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman make their purchases.
“It makes more sense to sell while you’re showing,” he said. “And the American menswear editors and buyers saw a lot of homegrown talent in their backyard. They felt it was time to put that forward.”
Indeed, the effort strongly affirms American menswear in general, which has so far played a secondary role to American womenswear. That has to do, in part, with how, until now, any menswear shows in the U.S. were interspersed randomly among the womens shows during New York Fashion Week. It also gives domestic labels that can’t afford to show in Europe their own spotlight, on their own turf, during a week when womens shows won’t eclipse their fledgling status.
Consumers Want Instant Gratification
Debra Scherer, a former editor of Paris Vogue and Vogue Italia and the founder of the fashion and culture ’zine The Little Squares, says the branded fashion weeks that have emerged in virtually every global cosmopolitan center indicate a broken business model altogether. The whole thing is totally out of sync with how most people buy clothing. For instance: A seaplane last weekend flew over Hamptons beaches pulling a banner advertising that Net-a-Porter.com could deliver a summer dress for a fete that night, if a lady so desired. In other words, a buying culture built on instant gratification disregards what has become an outdated fashion schedule.
“The [store] buyers are a problem because they’re not in sync with how people shop anymore, timing-wise,” Scherer says. “That Net-a-Porter plane—that’s how people shop. The whole system is broken. It would be great if the CFDA looked at how things are broken down and how could we take advantage of that.”
What’s more, a contingent of designers and editors has expressed something rather less than jubilation about this fashion calendar addition. (And Tom Ford famously eschewed New York altogether this year, choosing instead to show his Fall 2015 womenswear collection in his home base—and primary market—of Los Angeles earlier this year.)
NYFW: Men’s directly follows the much more prestigious men’s fashion weeks (London, June 12-15; Milan, June 20-23; Paris, June 24-28), adding considerable work for designers during a time that has traditionally been reserved for tanning in Mallorca or eating lobster rolls in Amagansett. And while it makes the mens shows more accessible for editors (especially those based along the West Coast) who didn’t have the financial or personal bandwidth to travel to the collections in Europe, it creates a monthlong travel marathon for those who do.
“Another branded fashion week is the last thing we need,” Scherer says. “It’s too much, and it’s bad for the industry because it dilutes everything. That’s the grumbling I hear from everyone.”
Support From the American Icons
Adding to the mental and emotional fatigue for some is the fact that the well-established American menswear labels—Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger—that could be acting as boosters for New York’s fledgling men’s week won’t be showing their newest, best work. Most have chosen to stage presentations rather than runway shows. Lauren will present the Spring/Summer 2016 Polo collection (not the high-end Purple Label it showed in Milan) on Tuesday, and Klein will conduct a presentation of the runway looks he already introduced in Milan. Spokespeople at each house strongly denied any reluctance to present in New York, but many brands announced their participation with less than a month’s notice.
“I don’t understand why those bigger designers wouldn’t totally embrace it,” says Sydney Reising, the founder of an eponymous publicity firm that has built a reputation for boosting emerging brands such as Siki Im and Hood by Air. “For my agency, it’s exciting to have the mens stuff here. The summer months are a really big lull in terms of cash flow; it’s good for us to have additional projects to work on.”
John Varvatos, on the other hand, made a strong move of support toward NYFW: Men’s with his announcement that after seven years he wouldn’t show in Milan at all this summer, waiting instead to introduce his new line in a New York runway show next week.
Designers Michael Bastian and David Hart say they would have shown in NYFW: Men’s regardless of Varvatos’s or, say, Lauren’s involvement.
“I think it’s really important that all of us American menswear designers participate,” says Bastian, who has shown full collections in Milan and at the Pitti trade show but in recent seasons has held only private appointments for key editors to view his work. “I’m an American designer, and I always felt a show somewhere other than New York might look or feel out of context."
Reising says her own young clients—including Richard Chai who is participating—“are going to do what they’re going to do, wherever they can, whenever.” But everyone agrees that the presence of major brands helps the cause significantly.
“Having those big names does legitimize the week,” Hart says. “It makes it feel like the menswear community is really embracing this.”
The Money Test
The real test—for everyone—will be if the inaugural NYFW: Men’s results in increased sales. After all, even the most darling of CFDA designers must prove his worth with tangible financial results. It costs tens of thousands of dollars to produce a show—a prohibitive expense for some—and investors need tangible results.
“The best indicator of success will be if we get more accounts looking at the collection and actually buying,” Bastian says.
A spokeswoman for the CFDA declined to say exactly how much it costs for a designer to participate in NYFW: Mens but did emphasize that such sponsors as Dockers provide a healthy “platform” that enables rising designers to show. Others, such as Bastian, have partnered with corporations like GMC to produce peripheral projects that augment their reach.
“Men’s industry events like the emergence of Men’s NYFW will only help to heighten the awareness of menswear,” says Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of menswear at Barneys. “It will certainly have a positive effect on stimulating sales.”
Kolb says NYFW: Men’s isn’t meant to become “a spectacle” built around pop culture and celebrity-filled front rows. He said it is positioned as an industry event focusing on “clothes and market week.”
But NYFW: Mens could certainly stand to expand. Kolb admits as much: Riccardo Tisci's decision, at Givenchy, to show his spring/summer 2016 women’s collection in New York rather than in Paris this September is something to shoot for.
“I would love to see us grow in stature in terms of additional brands,” Kolb says. “Givenchy showing womens in New York is very validating. One day would we like to get Givenchy to show their mens here? Maybe. I would love that.”