A strong first effort, but where does it go from here?
This story first appeared in the July 22, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
That is the question hanging over New York Fashion Week: Men’s as it basks in the glow of what was generally considered by retailers, buyers and designers to be a success — with a few caveats.
For one, few major American designers other than John Varvatos took part with runway shows. Ralph Lauren presented his Polo collection; Tommy Hilfiger ran through the same collection he presented in London a month before — only this time on models rather than mannequins; Michael Kors walked editors through his men’s collection for spring; Coach showed what it did in London; Calvin Klein presented the collection it showed in Milan in June, and Thom Browne showed a new line of gray suits — but in the same type of format he had used in Florence several years ago. Sure, there were runway shows by the likes of Billy Reid, Michael Bastian, John Elliot + Co, Todd Snyder and Robert Geller, but the large number of presentations seemed to indicate many designers were reluctant to dive in wholeheartedly.
Some of them still seem that way. “We were impressed…by the success of the first New York Fashion Week: Men’s, and will continue to participate in addition to showing during Milan Men’s Fashion Week,” said a spokesperson for Calvin Klein.
Even Varvatos seemed to hesitate when asked at his after-show party whether he would stay in New York come January. “It was fun being in New York. I felt proud to be an American. I felt proud to be a New Yorker. I’m excited about New York Fashion Week,” he said, before adding about showing again, “You know, I don’t know. We’ll see what happens with New York Fashion Week, but I loved today.”
Steven Kolb, chief executive officer of the CFDA, said brands were responsible for deciding their format. But the large number of presentations — many off the schedule — meant buyers and press were shuttling all over town. Perhaps that was one of the reasons few editors in chief of the leading men’s titles were that visible at the various events. The spread-out nature also diffused some of the excitement of the four days of shows, observers said. While well-organized and pristine, the events lacked the energy of, say, the Saint Laurent show in Paris, or the Etro one in Milan — no screaming teens waiting for Lucky Blue, for example.
“I thought it was a good first start,” said Nelson Mui, fashion director at Hudson’s Bay Co. “It was encouraging to see everyone take part, from the larger brands like Ralph Lauren to the smaller brands. It gave it critical mass. There were a lot of shows that weren’t a part of the official CFDA calendar. It would be helpful if the shows were more centralized. It was a good start, but my sense is that to keep people coming back there needs to be two to three more established anchors.”
Kevin Harter, vice president of fashion direction for men’s at Bloomingdale’s, wasn’t troubled by the fact that there were more presentations than shows and said he actually prefers the presentation format so he can better see the clothes, although he expects more shows next time. “It was an outstanding four days,” Harter said. “What I really appreciate is that we had Ralph and Varvatos, but there was also the opportunity to discover new and upcoming designers. It really serviced everybody.”
Harter declined to tip his hand, but said he found a few new collections that were worth going back for a second look.
His one suggestion was to have fewer designers show in different locations in the city. “I wish Ralph had showed downtown,” he said of the designer’s midday presentation in his showroom at Madison Avenue and 60th Street.
Eric Jennings, vice president and men’s fashion director for Saks Fifth Avenue, said, “I was really happy with the week and pleasantly surprised with how robust the calendar was. They packed a lot into three days, and they were all things that I truly wanted to see.”
Even amidst the praise, though, Jennings admitted this was a wait-and-see season for designers. “I guarantee you [that] people will step up their game next time and you’ll see more retailers and editors,” he said. “And more brands will do proper runway shows.”
He also found things to buy after attending the shows. “And that’s the beauty of the timing. Now we’ve seen the best of New York and we can go to the trade shows next week while it’s still fresh in our minds. And there’s no overlap. I think it’s just going to get bigger and better.”
Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s wear for Barneys New York, believes the introduction of a separate men’s fashion week was “very important and galvanized a very strong message that will drive business.”
Kalenderian found intriguing new product and labels at the shows, even if he didn’t write an order immediately. “Everybody thinks you go to market with a pencil in hand, but it’s more about information gathering. You shouldn’t measure success on the basis of orders.”
Billy Reid, who held a runway show on Wednesday evening, was particularly happy about the buyer turnout.
“For the first time we have a room full of retailers here,” Reid said. “We’ve wanted this for so long.”
The key sponsors — Amazon Fashion, Cadillac and Shinola — were also pleased with the event and, given they plunked the money down to get it off the ground, they better have been.
Shinola had a space within the venue that served as an appointment location for buyers and editors and featured its redesigned collection of men’s handbags and accessories from recently appointed design directors John Truex and Richard Lambertson. “We had a wonderful experience….The layout provided the best platform for us to launch our newly expanded range of leather goods,” said Shinola’s chief marketing officer Bridget Russo, who noted that the brand would consider sponsoring the event again in the future.
“We thought it was a great inaugural event for New York Fashion Week: Men’s,” said Eneuri Acosta, communications manager of Cadillac, which had a pop-up photo studio for street-style shots outside of the venue. “Our activation allowed us to seamlessly integrate into the fashion community.”
Cadillac was also the presenting sponsor for New York Men’s Day, which opened the week. Erin Hawker, the owner and founder of Agentry PR, which organizes NYMD, was upbeat about the day.“It’s the most traffic we’ve ever had,” Hawker said. “Once editors and buyers got behind the week, I think it swayed everyone else’s opinion.”
Kolb said that in the future the CFDA will consider adding shows on Monday between Agentry’s two time blocks of presentations in order to expand the brand roster. He also thought platform three, which featured emerging designers, could have been bigger, but overall he said the event exceeded his expectations.