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Sunday night’s SAG Awards made it clear that artists will be making political statements in every way, shape and form during the coming months, and the menswear shows that kicked off Monday in New York only reinforced that idea. From overt messages of protest to the more subtle ways clothes communicate thought and emotion, menswear designers are wasting no time addressing the country’s current mood — and conversely, many are offering an antidote. Welcome to the fall/winter 2017 shows, the chaos and comfort edition.
Off to the side of Robert James’ presentation Monday afternoon, a sign announced his current state of mind, he said: “As the world turns dark around us, the use of clothing as protection becomes more literal than ever.” Ohio-born and based on New York’s Lower East Side, James offered up a collection that was largely sportswear-driven and decidedly militant in tone: Camo prints (already a key trend of the week) dominated the moody palette, while outerwear and boots were imbued with military details. Indeed, there was nothing sunny or optimistic about these pieces, but that was precisely James’ point, to create clothes that felt like armor. In such looks, it seemed natural for several models to hold aloft protest signs that ranged from “#Refugees Welcome” and “#Free Science” to the more tongue-in-cheek “I’m Addicted to Foreign Oil.”
Camouflage and military themes likewise drew the focus at Robert Geller’s 10th anniversary show at the Skylight Clarkson North space downtown, though Geller added a lighthearted touch by offering those camo prints with accents of pink and purple. The edgier pieces were softened by pairing them with silk pants in pale jewel tones. But with many models covering their faces with neoprene ski masks — in black or bright neon tones — Geller admitted backstage that protests were on his mind, but the threads of optimism seen throughout the collection also called to mind another word: “hope.”
Juxtaposed against such messages, other collections seemed positively cocoon-like in their design and tone. B.J. Novak, Jake Lacy and Colton Haynes were in the front row for Billy Reid’s intimate presentation Monday evening in The Cellar at The Beekman Hotel, where the Florence, Ala.-based designer presented a show that was as uplifting as it was luxurious.
Cedric Burnside (wearing a beautiful plaid brushed-wool coat) and Karen Elson (equally chic in a roomy camel suede duster) delivered acoustic performances, while at the show’s middle point, Tony-winning actor Alex Sharp appeared on the runway to offer up “Avenue A” by Beat poet Frank O’Hara. Reid said he was inspired by the Beat Generation for this collection, and O’Hara’s opening lines, “We hardly ever see the moon anymore/so no wonder it’s so beautiful when we look up suddenly/and there it is gliding broken-faced over the bridges …” indeed added to the wistful, romantic vibe of these clothes. Soft, lived-in textures — shearling, corduroy, suede, camel hair and relaxed knits — mixed effortlessly with a silhouette of slightly oversized coats with draped, pleated pants. Ultimately Reid’s collection felt like the fashion equivalent of wrapping yourself in a cashmere blanket.
Hugo Boss offered up drape and texture in the first stand-alone men’s show by chief brand officer Ingo Wilts, who produced a polished collection that was all about easy layering and a palette largely comprised of burgundy, charcoal gray and black. It was a smart move to veer away from past showings that combined men’s and women’s collections: The womenswear, designed by Jason Wu, always drew the lion’s share of attention.
On Tuesday evening at Skylight Modern, focusing solely on the men’s pieces paid off for Wilts, from beautiful suitings — including several double-breasted looks, a jacket cut that continues its comeback — to tailored trench and buckle-front coats, fur-collared parkas and comfy cable-knit sweaters with lengthy matching scarves over relaxed pinstriped pants. Zachary Quinto and Edgar Ramirez were in the front row, and you can picture them wearing these pieces on a red carpet, because they felt tailored and polished without veering into stiff or strict.
Perhaps most importantly, they felt calm and, like Reid’s collection, comfortable. In stressful times, these are fashion buzzwords that resonate.
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