At the close of the third New York Fashion Week: Men’s, the menswear equivalent to New York Fashion Week is still struggling to establish its identity in a confusing industry climate. (And it’s not even about the syntactically challenged name.)
“It’s in an awkward phase,” said Jian Deleon, menswear editor at WGSN. “Given the market, the general men’s consumer is not someone who take risks. The great New York designers don’t show during men’s week in New York.”
Of the 66 brands that held shows during men’s fashion week, four — Tommy Hilfiger, Michael Kors, Perry Ellis and Nautica — can be considered established in the American menswear market. (Another mainstream brand, Coach, only introduced its first men’s line in London last January.) The rest of the designers are emerging, to various degrees of success. Meanwhile, other major American menswear brands like Ralph Lauren, Thom Browne, Rick Owens and Off-White showed their recent collections in Paris.
New York Fashion Week: Men’s isn’t only up against a lack of appeal to menswear designers. It also launched in July 2015 (the second was held in February this year), right around the time major brands and designers began rethinking how they introduce their latest collections to consumers. In order to streamline operations, as well as cut back on costs, some fashion houses have decided to merge their men’s and women’s collection into one showing, including Burberry, the former anchor of men’s fashion week in London, leaving the future of men’s fashion weeks uncertain.
For New York, it’s also facing a battle in defining itself as a cultural hub for men’s style. Menswear designers feel they can exercise their creativity more freely in markets like Paris and Tokyo, according to Deleon, where men’s fashion is perceived at a higher level.
“New York has a reputation for commerciality and a focus on things that can sell,” he said. “Right now, it’s an identity crisis. Who are the vanguards associated with the city who can restore meaning and relevancy with New York as a men’s fashion capital?”
Christopher Bevans, founder and designer of menswear line Dyne, is showing in New York around men’s fashion week, but not through an official showroom or runway. He said that for a growing business, spending the “$10,000 or so” on a runway isn’t worth it. Instead, he set up a section for his brand at The News, a communal showroom on Broadway led by Stella Ishii. Bevans spoke to a trend that is affecting fashion brands beyond his own small luxury upstart: as New York Fashion Week: Men’s looks to capitalize on the menswear market in New York, fashion brands are minimizing costs and breaking loose from the traditional setup of the fashion calendar.
“The strategy behind men’s fashion originally was to help American designers catch up to the sales schedule,” said Valentine Uhovski, fashion evangelist at Tumblr, a partner of men’s fashion week. “The new schedule gets a lot of the American designers a head start on sales. Now, people are still adjusting to their own calendar, but men’s fashion week isn’t going anywhere. The energy and coverage is there.”
That coverage is a prime opportunity for upstart brands to get exposure away from the crowds of the other fashion week. Even if it’s not yet attracting heavy-hitting menswear designers, New York men’s fashion week is a boon to emerging designers.
“The brands that showed for New York Fashion Week: Men’s continued to exhibit steady and increasing engagement on Instagram — the most important digital platform for emerging designers,” said L2 analyst Elizabeth Elder. “This indicates that emerging designers are less concerned with making big changes to reflect the larger maisons and instead are focused on simply gaining more visibility.”
These brands, for the most part, don’t offer women’s collections and have small, nimble businesses that lend themselves to showroom presentations, which are more cost-effective than fashion shows and better for sharing on social media. Uri Minkoff, CEO of Rebecca Minkoff, and designer of his own menswear brand, used male dancers as his models in order to demonstrate the flexibility and stretch of the items in his collection in his showroom presentation, which made for video sharing.
“New York Fashion Week: Men’s encourages the industry’s community of influencers, creators, photographers, male models — it centralizes everyone and gives it more energy, as well as more attention from buyers,” said Uhovski.
But to attract established brands, the menswear market in New York is going to need to establish itself.
“It takes a couple of seasons to build a platform that highlights the right people,” said Deleon. “We have to find a way to get American menswear designers to appreciate New York in this perspective. It’s not looked at as a hotbed of creativity — so it needs to be reestablished with that identity.”