If you hold it, will they come?
That’s the burning question for organizers of the inaugural New York Fashion Week: Men’s.
After two years of negotiation and discussion, the Council of Fashion Designers of America this summer will launch a stand-alone showcase for American men’s fashion. The first edition will be held July 13 to 16 at Skylight Clarkson Sq in SoHo. Amazon and its fashion sites—Amazon Fashion, East Dane and MyHabit—will be the presenting sponsor. DreamWorks and Shinola will provide additional support. The event will include a combination of runway shows, presentations and special events.
Designers who have committed to participate include Calvin Klein Collection, Michael Kors, Rag & Bone, Public School, Billy Reid, Todd Snyder, Michael Bastian, Ovadia & Sons, Robert Geller, Duckie Brown, Patrik Ervell, Timo Weiland and Kent & Curwen. Tommy Hilfiger, an early champion of the initiative, will take part in some form. But not all of the designers will hold runway shows. Calvin Klein, for instance, still intends to show its collection on the catwalk in Milan, while Thom Browne is not ready to jump ship from Paris. John Varvatos still intends to show his main collection in Italy, but is considering presenting his more-moderate Star USA collection in New York next year.
Which designers will stage shows and which ones will participate in different ways in New York is still being hammered out, according to Steven Kolb, chief executive officer of the CFDA.
Perhaps the biggest American name—Ralph Lauren—is noticeably absent from the participation list. Lauren has taken to showing his collection off calendar twice a year at his Madison Avenue showroom. Kolb said the CFDA has been in discussion with vice chairman David Lauren and Malcolm Carfrae, global head of communications, but admitted, “we don’t know where Ralph is going to land on this.”
Adding another wrinkle to the whole issue is the timing of the trade shows that draw retailers to New York every summer. The Project show, which had originally planned to align with New York Fashion Week: Men’s, reverted to its original dates of July 19 to 21, while Liberty, Capsule, Agenda and MRket are all slated to start on July 20.
The fact that men’s wear needs its own independent forum is not in dispute. For years, men’s designers have complained that their shows get overshadowed by women’s in February and September. While the timing is less of a problem in February, since it is only a few weeks after the men’s runway shows in London, Milan and Paris, the September dates come some six weeks after the buying cycle for the men’s industry, meaning the men’s shows in September are strictly for show.
Now that the decision has been made to hold a separate men’s week in New York, the question is whether retailers and editors will actually show up.
Ed Burstell, managing director of Liberty in London, said: “The answer really is wait and see. If you are going to have a longer time frame, then the content has to be valid. It seems a lot is currently driven by streetwear and there really aren’t any ‘discoveries’ we don’t already know about. Hopefully that will develop.”
Darren Skey at Harvey Nichols is planning to be there. “Yes, we plan to attend the New York shows in July. We have recently picked up a number of new U.S. brands who show during New York, such as Rochambeau, Pyer Moss, John Elliott and Public School, and feel it is right to attend and support these brands, and, of course, we’re excited to see what other new talent will be showing. In the same way as LC:M has become an integral part of the fashion calendar, I expect to see New York become the same.”
Andrea Dorigo, president of Brooks Brothers, called it “an exciting moment for American men’s wear, and it deserves its own platform. We hope that it will be supported by international media and retailers. We have not locked in our presentation format for July but we will be prepared to show our spring collection.” Brooks Brothers participates in New York Fashion Week by presenting its flagship collection as well as Black Fleece.
Tony Chambers of Wallpaper, weighed in: “Sure, it’s another commitment in an already hectic calendar, but I think it’s very important to support such new ventures. And it’s always interesting to see how things are approached. London Collections: Men has proved to be a great success and that has, in part, been as a result of international support. Only fair to return the gesture.”
Dylan Jones, editor of British GQ, has a different take: “British GQ won’t be attending, as most of our editors tend to be on holiday during this period.”
Eric Jennings, vice president and fashion director of men’s wear for Saks Fifth Avenue, said: “I don’t think it’s about getting foreign press— they’ve already seen so much in Europe in June. It’s just good to have a dedicated men’s market. The timing is better—you don’t want the energy from Europe to lose too much sizzle while men’s is still on our minds.”
Jennings believes the men’s shows will be “especially important for emerging designers—but we need the heavy hitters to give it credibility.”
Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president of men’s for Barneys New York, agreed that it would be ideal for the big-name designers to participate and he’s hopeful they’ll be a part of it in the future. “Most shows are planned way in advance. It doesn’t mean that it won’t be different next time,” he said. “Some of the designers have already established a platform in Europe and that will continue, but it’s a business issue, too. Maybe they’ll keep a foot on both shores.”
He said the New York event will be “important to emphasize and communicate the men’s business. This is trade oriented, but it will trickle down. What it speaks to is that the industry is growing and there is a lot of talent out there. I’m excited for the young designers. It galvanizes all their hard work and helps them make a statement. New York Fashion Week is a very dense and crowded platform. This will create a simpler, less-cluttered venue. It’s a grand gesture for men.” But, he acknowledged, “for foreign visitors, it’s an additional, costly trip.”
Kolb said there are plans to provide some financial help to bolster the global attendance figures. “That is our intention,” he said. “It is too soon in the planning to know who or how we will pay for this. But we do plan on hosting some international editors.”
Marcus Wainwright, managing director of Rag & Bone, said his brand will participate in some way. “We’ll be supporting showing during that time frame,” he said. “The question is though, are there enough men’s wear brands in New York to get people to fly here? Can you create critical mass to draw people from abroad?”
While Matchesfashion.com has not yet decided whether it will attend, Damien Paul, head of men’s wear for the London-based company is a proponent of the idea. “It certainly makes more sense for the New York shows to take place earlier, and to fall in line with the men’s wear calendar—so I think it’s a really positive development. New York designers have become an increasingly important part of our business —the likes of Public School, Tim Coppens and Orley are names we’re incredibly excited about, and that we’ve seen a real response to.”
Kolb hopes to replicate the success that London Collections: Men has had since it launched more than two years ago. The first edition was in summer 2012 and the shows have gained momentum every season, with key English brands such as Burberry and Alexander McQueen eventually jumping on board.
The creation of a separate men’s fashion week in New York, Kolb said, is intended to give American men’s wear designers the same level of exposure and stature as those in Europe. “We’re not trying to be London, Milan or Paris. But American men’s designers are equally as creative and deserve their own platform.
“American men’s wear has never been stronger or more creative,” Kolb added. New York Fashion Week: Men’s provides “an opportunity to demonstrate the collective talent of an important segment of our industry. We’re not naïve enough to think that we’re going to create a huge, international mega men’s fashion week immediately. We know we have to build it from the ground up. But we’re going to do a good job, and we know we’ll be able to compete on a more global basis in the future.”