Streetwear Gets the Spotlight at the New York Men's Shows

General Idea_Kenneth Ning_Represent_Split - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of General Idea; Courtesy of Kenneth Ning; Courtesy of Represent

As fashion-show schedules evolve, under-the-radar designers get the chance to shine.

Much has been made of the designer exodus from New York in recent months, though the bulk of that news has been on the women’s side, with Monique Lhuillier, Proenza Schouler and Rodarte among those who have decamped to Paris. On Wednesday, Joseph Altuzarra announced that he, too, would shift his show to the City of Light, debuting his spring 2018 collections when the French capital hosts its Fashion Week between Sept. 26 and Oct. 3.

Menswear, meanwhile, has not been immune to this. Thom Browne likewise chose Paris to show his spring 2018 men’s collection (like Altuzarra, he’ll show his women’s line there in the fall), while Ralph Lauren opted for Milan in late June for the launch of his spring men’s collection. John Varvatos eschewed a show altogether in favor of one-on-one appointments. What’s notable about this, though, is that the men’s shows take up only half the time of the women’s season — four days, as opposed to eight — and removing three of the biggest names might make the schedule look a bit sparse. (And admittedly, buzzy front rows were not plentiful; instead, the Council of Fashion Designers of America once again appointed a cadre of CFDA “ambassadors” that included Nate Berkus and husband Jeremiah Brent, as well as Young Paris and Jon Batiste.)

What emerged out of this week’s scenario, however, was a brighter spotlight on both up-and-coming designers and the streetwear labels that don’t enjoy the cache of the more high-profile brands that can dominate a fashion-week schedule. Such was the case with Shanghai-born, L.A.-based Yixi Chen, who showed the C2H4 label she founded in 2014 for the first time in New York this season. Her “Zero Gravity” spring 2018 collection was imbued with a futuristic vibe, and that’s by design: C2H4 is the chemical formula for ethylene, and Chen said her desire was to create a look that might seem at home in a lab in the year 2082. Largely designed in a palette of black, white, bright yellow and icy blue, this was a sort of sterile-meets-street collection, clean and yet decidedly athletic-driven. (In L.A., you’ll find her pieces at The Well and WildStyle.)

George and Mike Heaton, the brothers behind the label Represent, aren’t based in Los Angeles; Manchester, England, is their home, but they’re huge fans of the L.A. club scene, and you can see that easily in their casual, denim-centric approach. The Heatons dubbed their spring 2018 collection “Wide Awake,” a name they said was inspired by a Winston Churchill propaganda poster during World War II. A little research also revealed an image of the British prime minister depicted as a bulldog above the phrase “Holding the Line!” with the Union Jack behind him. That felt in keeping with these clothes, which mix British patriotism with a touch of punk in plaid shorts and pants and hoodies proudly emblazoned with “England.” But what also came across in the loose silhouettes and soft fabrics — velour tracksuits, roomy knits — is that this is a comfort-driven collection, another aspect that should increase its L.A. fan base.

Conversely, Kenneth Ning’s invite to his show at Cadillac House resembled a draft notice, but from the first look, the New York-based designer dispelled any notions that the show might have a strict, militaristic theme. Instead, it was the sartorial equivalent of burning your draft card: not military but militant, with more than a bit of in-your-face attitude. Ning’s pieces felt more polished than a streetwear collection, and yet his desire to upend conventions was seen in what he called “deconstructed tailoring”: a pinstripe suit jacket missing its sleeves and worn asymmetrically across the body or a jacket that looked like a vastly oversized oxford-cloth shirt. Slim cropped pants paired with boots by Dr. Martens drove home the point that, while wholly different from Represent, Ning likewise was making a punk statement.

Speaking of counterculture, General Idea’s Thursday-afternoon show referenced that ultimate protest period: the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. South Korean designer Bumsuk Choi addressed that idea in lengthy tunics and bandana prints, but while doing so, he also hit on several trends seen during these spring men’s collections, namely stripes, graphic tees and a newfound attention to color. In Choi’s case, that translated to a spicy saffron mixed with navy, deep purple and citrus orange. Like many designers seen this week, General Idea may not be a mainstream label, but the ideas it presented are striving for mainstream appeal.