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New York Fashion Week Men’s Fall 2016 took place and the Americans do what they know best: They brand!

The CFDA awards have been a top society event in New York since the mid-90’s. The American fashion industry celebrates itself with a designer of the year award for women and men and over the years many categories like best International designer helped bring in some of the top European talent to attend the awards. It’s a big party and the red carpet photos from it go around the world. Lately, New York fashion week had a bit of a problem though. The venues were changed too often and the new aggressive marketing strategy by IMG to open the shows to the public has irked many established designers. Still, under the smart stewardship of Steven Kolb the Americans have now established a proper separate men’s season. Debuting for the first time in June 2015 and now for the second round in February 2016, ultimately the season was a success and a win for American fashion and New York. We saw a lot of shows. We did not see too much fashion but we saw many designers in top form when it comes to branding themselves.

At the very top of the list stands Greg Lauren, yes, that’s Ralph’s nephew. He recreated a 1920’s boxing ring in a West Chelsea art space and it looked like the magnificent set of a Jack Dempsey period movie. Talk about Manassa Mauler Mode! The clothes: a mishmash of designers like The Viridi-Anne, Rick Owens, Japanese designers and Carol Christian Poell. Greg Lauren has movie star looks and a movie star wife, Elizabeth Berkley. “I am an artist who channels all events that took place in my life into these clothes” explained Lauren dressed head to toe in his own clothes and receiving greetings from Ralph’s wife Ricky and entourage. Using 18th century linen and hand dying is not easy for many designers to achieve but it certainly helps when you have the family resources. But apart from the nostalgic clothes Lauren has a definitive knack to create a lifestyle, a world in which his clothes don’t play the main role but will be happily bought and absorbed by those American men who look for an identity via a designer purchase. The fact that he makes all his clothes in Los Angeles is also significant. Attention Hedi!

New York Fashion Week Men’s Fall 2016
Manassa Mauler Mode using hemp

What’s remarkable about American men’s designers is that they do not seem to have a long shelf life. Where is Scott Sternberg of Band of Outsiders, Simon Spurr, Tim Hamilton or Cloak? Names that used to create heat in Europe not too long ago and are not longer around. You’re in and out rather quickly but let’s talk about the best show of the week right away. In fact, it was not a show but a presentation by designer Patrik Ervell who has been under the radar for a long time and if you ask him, that’s perfectly ok. “I am not sure a show in New York is the right thing for me at the moment. I focus my budget and resources on my clothes.” Explains a soft-spoken Ervell in his new Howard Street studio up above Opening Ceremony. It’s clear right away that Ervell has a knack for cool looks. Using traditional upholstery fabric he made a cool black parka and applied black plastic strips on wonderfully made mohair sweaters. He is not in the bomber jacket ball game – an immensely irritating trend – and he makes some of the nicest denim around with clever graphics of an imaginary software company. Ervell should be a candidate for some of the open jobs in Europe, as he thoroughly understands the job of fashion designer: It is to make clothes.

New York Fashion Week Men’s Fall 2016
Yes, the material of the coat and the upholstery of the couch are the same

Another stand out show came courtesy of Robert Geller. Manhattan designers all benefit from a healthy structure of deal making and sponsorship support. But it is still unusual that Hamburg-born Geller has a manufacturing deal in Japan. His clothes are all made in Nippon, something most other designers would salivate over. This means top fabrics, top manufacturing and in Geller’s crafty hands good men’s design. Geller learnt his design chops with Alexandre Plokhov of Cloak back in the day.

Geller has a good sensibility for soft tailoring as his wide and voluminous pants and double-breasted jackets proved. The trend of the turtleneck to replace a shirt is also taking hold in New York and Geller also styled them under his many tunics in black leather and dark grays to give an air of protection. As we mentioned, collaborations and co-branding are everywhere in New York and Geller has one with sneaker kings Common Project to make derbies with Velcro straps. Ah, yes, he also used some Casio G-Shock watches on the runway, surely to his financial advantage.

New York Fashion Week Men’s Fall 2016
Robert Geller’s tailoring

Ovadia & Sons have a great story – twins who were born in Jerusalem and now live in Brooklyn. They touched a nerve by using classic silk fabrics from Hassidic Jew traditional clothes to make interesting belted coats with layering. The ubiquitous sportswear element in all shows, here camouflage patterns and bomber jackets disturbed this cleverly tailored show.

New York Fashion Week Men’s Fall 2016
Fabric detail at Ovadia & Sons

Talking about underwhelming. Michael Kors is a billion dollar brand but his showroom presentation of his men’s collection on West 42nd street felt like a trunk show in a Nordstrom’s somewhere deep, deep, deep in Middle America and not in cool New York. Kors knows how to spin classics into high fashion, at least for his women’s wear. In menswear, his contrived cargo pants with odd sideway zippers and too basic jackets and cardigans did not cut it. Even if Michael will also be a witty commentator of his designs.

New York Fashion Week Men’s Fall 2016
Maybe a bit too basic? Kors men’s ideas

One of the better stories from the week involved another German. Former Hugo Boss designer Ingo Wilts has found a new home at Tommy Hilfiger and he is craftily helping Mr. All America to pump up the high-end tailoring part of his collection. Wilts knows shapes and fabrics and his new pea coat made from original French military fabric brought a solid foundation to the collection. Italo Zucchelli added a clever twist to his successful Milan runway by taking the alchemist coloring from the show to add fine details on lapels and hems to make a natty evening wear only collection. Perry Ellis showed a lot of suits, maybe too many, in appealing colors and shorts with leg warmers (yes, why is the question to ask?). Tim Coppens proved that he is a force to be reckoned with since he is a proper designer who studied in Antwerp and not unlike his fellow Belgian Raf Simons can decode youth culture and make it come alive in clothes. His baseball glove stitch detailing on bombers was well executed and looked clever. This show felt the most European but then no surprise when the guy hails from Antwerp.

New York Fashion Week Men’s Fall 2016
Coppens opening look

Another highlight came from the Orley family. Two brothers from Detroit Michigan who filled the branding template a bit too much by declaring they started by doing knitwear to more easily own a category. But they actually had some interesting and well made bonded knit cardigans and a beautiful floral print on sweaters. This being their first runway show, more good things are expected from them.

Judging from the abundance of retailers present at all shows this men’s season is likely to be a success. Mark Lee, boss at Barneys, the teams from Bergdorf or Neiman’s, retailers like Gilt’s Brooke Cundiff were omnipresent and bode well for business. Not so on the editorial front. The decimated American editorial ranks, the shock news being the departure of David Granger at Esquire, no Details team and generally nervous Conde Nast editors made for a not so happy week. Oh yes, before we forget, there was no Hood by Air show for men, something we missed as it could have brought much needed raw New York energy and club drama to the scene. Although Guy Trebay of the New York Times is already over the brand calling it “nothing but a $800 sweatshirt”. Local heroes Public School invited students to their cleverly staged show in West Chelsea. Using the sidewalk as part of the catwalk they made clear why the New York fashion community loves these designers. The Asian-African American duo has a cool, inclusive vibe and their padded vests and sweatshirts lead the trend of New York clothes: souped up sportswear.

New York Fashion Week Men’s Fall 2016
Sidewalk catwalk at Public School giving meaning to the name of the brand

Are their design chops enough to make the DKNY adventure take off and their own brand into something? Remains to be seen. Oh, and dining at the Polo bar, Ralph Lauren’s delicious West 55th Street restaurant makes clear who the king of branding still is, even without a show. Everyone who is anyone wants to dine at Ralph’s kitchen. That simple.