Irrelevance does not sit well with New York. Yet such is the state of the city’s menswear industry: with no real fashion week of its own, it is forced to settle for unwanted slots in the early days of the womenswear collections, meaning the male runways are almost entirely overshadowed by the female shows.
No wonder that, though New York is still home to some of the biggest menswear brands in the world, many such as Calvin Klein Collection, Thom Browne and John Varvatos choose to show abroad. Ralph Lauren did show his new collection in New York, but as a presentation, a week before the womens’ shows. He is said to be planning a proper on-schedule catwalk show next season. In Paris.
Of the labels still showing in New York, the biggest is Tommy Hilfiger, whose brand has been reinvented by owners PVH as a lifestyle label. It makes the rarefied air of its autumn/winter 2013 runway collection feel like a marketing exercise, and as such it was a successful one. The notes cited 1960s English tailor Tommy Nutter as an influence, but really the show was about aligning with the editorial-friendly trends of the European menswear shows last month.
Tailoring was matched with sneaker-soled shoes, and there was so much oversized Prince of Wales check, it sometimes felt like a joke. The designs were most successful when kept simple, as with a Prince of Wales double-breasted suit. Hilfiger acknowledged help from Simon Spurr, a promising New York-based British designer who quit his own label last spring.
Also slipping on to the schedule were Patrik Ervell, with his boyish bombers, and Duckie Brown, who loved bombers so much they were worn on top of overcoats. Many eyes are watching Public School, a brand whose neat leather jackets and shorts over trousers had promising attitude. Still, most of the city’s contemporary brands avoid the official calendar whichever way they can, rather than appear second-best.
Rag & Bone, for example, followed Ralph Lauren’s breakaway movement by showing their variations on the flying jacket a week before the shows.
The reality of menswear in New York is that business comes first. “I always advise every student to get a job when they graduate,” says Simon Collins, the dean of fashion at Parsons. “It’s so much better to make mistakes with someone else’s money.”
Case in point: Belgian-born Tim Coppens, who graduated from Antwerp’s Royal Academy in 1998 but only launched his own label in 2011 after years of working at Ralph Lauren in New York. This week, he showed himself to be the city’s best hope of a new way forward in menswear, with a collection of clever, sporty purpose. There is much that makes Coppens stand out, like his playfulness, with hidden neon flashes inside his tailoring, and the evident thought process in design. He’s also canny, growing slowly, supported by key stockists (Barneys in NYC, Joyce in Hong Kong).
Which presents New York with its biggest problem. The lack of an official menswear show infrastructure has become such an issue – especially now that London has established its own ballyhooed men’s fashion week – that the Council of Fashion Designers of America is looking at staging its own, possibly this summer. But you cannot conjure a menswear week from nowhere, and it takes years to develop a young brand. Besides, New York’s 21st-century male sartorial identities – Mad Men suit-wearer and tattooed hipster – have long existed without the need for a catwalk. It’s a conundrum with no immediate fix. Acknowledging the problem is, at least, a start.