Backstage at Raf Simons Men's 2018

Raf saved the week.

Designer Raf Simons’ “Blade Runner”-inspired spring show in an alley in Chinatown Tuesday night was undoubtedly the highlight of an otherwise lackluster New York Fashion Week: Men’s, which also was boosted by the inclusion of Hugo Boss for the second time. But because in large part to the ongoing the lack of many other high-profile designers, the latest edition was perhaps the weakest of the last five.

The list of missing names — Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Thom Browne, Joseph Abboud, John Varvatos, Tim Coppens and John Elliott — was seemingly longer than those who opted to participate.

The scarcity of marquee names also impacted the number of overseas buyers and editors who attended — even though the editors’ expenses have often been paid by the brands or the CFDA in the past. And even those who did make the trip essentially skipped the last day of shows on Thursday, which had more spread-out schedule of lesser-known names such as Luar and C2H4.

Despite the challenges, the organizers remain committed to the idea of a separate men’s week.

Mark Beckham, chief marketing officer for the Council of Fashion Designers of America, said the shows “really showed the diversity of designers and collections in America. In terms of fashion weeks, what New York represents is diversity in terms of designers, models, behind-the-scenes teams — more than any other market.”

He bristled when asked whether the scarcity of big names impacted the week.

“As we’ve said before, people make decisions based on their brand,” he said, “and we did have established brands: Todd Snyder, Boss, Raf, Perry Ellis. And we had others who were not as well known.”

Beckham said the CFDA will move to a “decentralized model” for the next round of shows in February and is talking to the Skylight Clarkson Sq owner to find alternatives within the group’s portfolio to house shows. “After five seasons, we want to make sure we’re keeping it fresh,” he said.

Even though many big names were missing, retailers did find lots to like at the shows.

Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus, said: “The high point of the week was the Raf Simons over-the-top ‘Blade Runner’ fashion show in Chinatown” that took fashion people out of their comfort zone.

He also cited the “importance of punk and New Wave influences, which I love,” at Hugo Boss, Ovadia & Sons and others.

He said he didn’t attend the final day of runway shows in exchange for visiting showrooms instead, where he found vintage-inspired Hawaiian shirts, shorts and pink.

What didn’t feel as right was the length of the official fashion week schedule, which Downing said the CFDA should condense to attract more editors and buyers around the U.S. and overseas.

Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s wear for Barneys New York, was especially impressed with Raf Simons and Ovadia & Sons.

“Raf consistently surprises and enlightens the youth culture,” he said, adding that Simons continues to “challenge the status quo and typical codes of men’s wear — and for all the right reasons. Throughout history, men’s wear has evolved dramatically; we are at one of these crossroads affecting not only style but the way men shop. The message from such a thoughtful designer as Raf is much more than just about the clothes. It reveals many layers and theories that provoke and create change — music to Millennial ears.”

Turning to Ovadia, Kalenderian said twin brothers Ariel and Shimon Ovadia know their target customer and have effortlessly transitioned a sartorial luxury brand into an interesting sportswear collection.

Kevin Harter, vice president of fashion direction for Bloomingdale’s, was a little disappointed with the scarcity of big designer names during the week.

“I wish the week was a little meatier, but the industry is going through a big transition at the moment and I give the CFDA and sponsors such as Cadillac a great deal of credit and gratitude for continuing to provide a platform to allow American designers to showcase their collections.”

He said “the creativity” of Raf “as he continues to push the envelope,” was a highlight of the shows. Additionally, “I felt Todd Snyder did a terrific job elevating his collection and moving it to a new direction. The week also showcased some great new designers such as Dyne and Katama, and I was particularly impressed with Robert Geller’s new endeavor with Gustav Von Aschenbach.”

In terms of trends, Harter said the New York contingent didn’t stray too far from their counterparts in Europe by showing relaxed tailoring, technical fabrics, tropical prints and Nineties influences.

Durand Guion, group vice president and men’s fashion director for Macy’s, said there was “certainly validation for the continuing momentum around stripes,” and “the looser, wider silhouettes featured throughout the week are starting to feel more accessible.”

In addition, he said, “the active influence and creative use of mesh fabrications felt very trend right. We are obsessed with the idea of twisted varsity, which is a perfect extension of the active trend so prevalent right now.” And he also believes the cross-body bag will be “the must-have accessory.”

Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director for Bergdorf Goodman, was impressed with what designers presented.

“What I’m appreciating most is the variety of formats that designers are choosing to best represent their collections. Various presentation formats, with creative choices made to best represent collection themes and inspiration, are helping to differentiate lines and give better insight into each brand’s identity.”

He said the opening day, New York Men’s Day run by Agentry PR, provided “a great platform for new and up-and-coming designers to be seen by a variety of editors and retailers in a proven formula that makes the best use of limited time during the week.” Pask also thought it was great for Project to partner with NYMD in presenting a group of their show’s designers, giving them a heightened presence during the week.

During the CFDA’s portion of the show, Pask said Raf Simons’ show was “certainly a highlight of the week. It is heartening to see a new resident of New York taking such great advantage of the city’s rich architectural offerings to really highlight his brilliant collection’s ‘Blade Runner’ references and Peter Saville’s New Order graphics. It was stunning.”

Regarding brands, he said swimwear has been a growing category for the store “and was really creatively presented by Orlebar Brown, Katama and Thorsun in truly original formats and inspiring locations — a glassed penthouse, an anchored ship on the Hudson River, and the Soho House rooftop pool — that well represented each’s aesthetic and identity.”

Jeffrey Kalinsky, vice president and designer fashion director for Nordstrom, characterized the shows overall as good with Raf Simons, Todd Snyder and Ovadia & Sons as the standouts.

“We expect streetwear and athletic trends as well as color to drive our business,” he said, adding that Willy Chavarria “is definitely one to watch.”

Nick Wooster, men’s fashion director of Forty Five Ten, said that despite the “gloomy malaise” that is hanging over the industry, “the energy around and outside of the shows was, for me, the best news of the week.”

He said Raf Simons was “the high point of the week. Unlike anyone else, he assembled a fascinating audience to watch a parade of thought-provoking clothes. This is what fashion weeks are for. And he didn’t disappoint.”

Teddy Ondo Ella “was the coolest new brand I saw this week and for a freshman effort, he managed to have a super entertaining show as well as some of the best prints of the season,” Wooster added. He said he was “also super impressed with what Chris Bevans is doing with Dyne. The clothes coupled with Eugene Tong’s styling and great casting gave us a new take on athletic.”

Roopal Patel, senior vice president and fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue, called Simons’ show sensational, stating, “the originality of his vision and execution created a real moment.” She also enjoyed Ovadia & Sons, describing the line as colorful, fresh and new, along with the Gustav Von Aschenbach collection by Robert Geller for its monochromatic, utility dressing and play on stripes. Trends she observed included the luxe leisure trend, monochromatic dressing and skater-inspired references.

Sam Lobban, buying manager at Mr Porter, liked Todd Snyder’s show and said it was “fun and uplifting, and the undercurrent of Fifties Americana featuring wider leg and pleated trousers, along with short baseball and Harrington jackets all felt like a strong move forward for his customer.”

He agreed the Raf Simons show was a highlight of the week. “The hyper-styling of the show made it a very immersive experience. It was almost a shame the weather didn’t play along and rain the whole way through,” Lobban said.

As far as smaller brands, Lobban cited You/As and said he’d been in touch with the brand for a couple of seasons. 

“It was great to see Tony [Liu]’s Las Vegas-inspired collection come to life during his presentation. A definite one to watch for the Mr Porter team,” Lobban said.

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