New York Fashion Week commenced with the bi-annual showcase of emerging menswear designers at New York Men’s Day (NYMD), now in its 17th season of introducing new talent to the city’s veteran fashion community. One such veteran, Perry Ellis, relaunched its Perry Ellis America label at the show, alongside eight up-and-coming brands that were also competing for a chance to create a capsule collection on behalf of Perry Ellis for a future season. As of publishing, the winner has yet to be announced. The overall event was a vibrant affair with long lines shuffling in and out of the elevators at Canoe Studios, a celebratory morning dance party among vaccinated models and concluding with the evening’s live rendition of “Tarifa” by Brooklyn-based singer, Sharon Van Etten, accompanied by grand piano.
American Manufacturing sees some Revitalization
Along with an homage to the collegiate classics of American heritage shown by Perry Ellis was a nod to American manufacturing by the other presenters, not only from New York’s garment district but expanding westward. The Cleveland-based William Frederick designed by self-taught Pittsburgh native, William McNicol, moved to Ohio for college and set up shop there. Noting that the brand is one hundred percent made in Cleveland, he described that decision as due to his long affinity for manufacturing and keeping production local while providing local employment.
“Into the 1950s, Cleveland was the second largest producing garment manufacturing industry in the world, only to New York,” McNicol told FashionUnited, citing the industry’s thriving decades spanning the 19th and 20th Centuries during the rapid move to ready-to-wear from household seamstresses and high-end tailors. He has observed that other small brands are trying to make the production process work locally to them too instead of automatically looking overseas or even to New York and California. “I’ve definitely seen a renewed energy in let’s do this locally, let’s tell this story, and let’s help people that actually live near us. I don’t want to call it a trend because I hope it’s more than that, but I’ve seen things moving in that direction.”
For McNicol, and other brands who manufacture locally in their area, there are benefits to being close to the process, especially when it comes to quality control. Aaron Potts, who presented his latest collection along with McNicol in the morning session, was raised in Detroit but now lives and designs for his brand A.POTTS in Brooklyn. “I spend half of my life in the garment district between sourcing and being at the factory, so it’s all local. It’s great in terms of giving people jobs, it’s also great in terms of maintaining quality over your product—when it’s close and you can see it.”
And it’s about to get closer for the Brooklyn resident as New York’s garment district expands further into Sunset Park. The city, through its economic development corporation (NYCEDC), is working to restore existing industrial buildings to make a dream “Made in NY Campus” that will lease spaces ranging from 2,000 to 35,000 square feet to fashion companies working in pattern making, marking and grading, cutting and sewing, and sample making starting this year. Domestic manufacturing as well as re-shoring sourcing and other aspects of the textile supply chain is the topic of a panel discussion this week at the international trade show Sourcing at Magic in Las Vegas—represented by Agentry PR, the founder of NYMD.
Masculinity in Clothing continues to be Redefined
The show for menswear featured a rise in designs with a genderless and unisex intention. McNicol’s collection of classic essentials that he loves for his own closet were shown on male and female models. Potts’ exploration of skin tones for the season entitled “Skinfolk,” featured voluminous layers and airy parachute capes worn by both men and women as well. “I always have the dramatic looks and then I love some of the everybody-can-wear-them pieces that can be worn any day of the week,” Potts said before posing for photos at the show. Separate from NYMD but maintaining that same throughline was Overcoat—designed by Ryuhei Oomaru in his Chinatown product development studio—with a unisex collection inspired by vintage winter sports uniforms, shown in a digital presentation that same morning.
Designer Stephen Mikhail, who was debuting the premiere collection of his line, Atelier Cillian, enjoys pushing boundaries in menswear and masculinity. “I think there are a lot of amazing womenswear designers out there but womenswear doesn’t give me the challenge that I’m longing for, it doesn’t give me the boundaries that I can just crash through.” His inaugural collection was inspired by the Hellfire Clubs in Britain, first founded in 1718, where Members of Parliament and society elites fraternized debaucherously after hours. “They would go buttoned up to work everyday passing laws that they would go and break later on in the evening,” Mikhail described. “Watching how politics were handled during Covid, this was my commentary on politicians behaving badly.”
Channeling this theme through looks of black and gray tweed suits styled with historically authentic top hats opposite red draped turtlenecks and tattoo-revealing sheer sleeves with fingerless leather gloves is the medium where Mikhail questions masculinity as well as who defines it. He points to men like King Louis XIV who embraced wearing heels to feel more powerful. “You look at all these different iterations of what was considered quintessentially masculine over the centuries. For me, in this collection, you see a lot of tailoring, which is now associated with masculinity, but then you have this delicate draping and menswear done in womenswear fabrics. I think that gives a really beautiful duality to the clothing that a lot of different people can see themselves in, which I think is special.”
Women Designers Shine in Menswear when they break through
Following in the footsteps of Emily Bode—who became the first female designer to show at NYFW: Men's in February 2017—is Clara Son, while still paving her own way. Born in South Korea, Son launched her brand while studying at Parsons and FIT, where she earned her BFA and MFA respectively. But women can blend the boundaries of masculinity and femininity too. “I never thought that I was going to do menswear, I grew up playing with Barbie dolls,” she told FashionUnited. “When I was eighteen, I was in a class doing live nude model drawing and that was the first time I was looking at the male body and thinking that men do have curves but very different curves and it is beautiful in that way. So, I think it’s very fascinating to me and it’s that simple.”
Her debut collection was inspired by a trip to Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum where she had an emotional experience while observing the work “Black Cloud” by Carlos Amorales, a paper cut-out ode to the monarch butterfly migration from Canada to Mexico. “It was very eerie. I used to love bugs growing up and when I was really having a challenging time, I told my friends that I felt like a bug.” She wanted to metamorphose the negative energy into beautiful artistry. Son plays with contemporary and historical shapes through ruching techniques and mixes heavyweight with lightweight materials to emulate the hardshells and soft underbellies of bugs. The looks, while fantastical, are not without commercial appeal. The name of the collection, “Exuvia,” is described in an entomologists’ glossary as a cast-off outer skin—a shedding of what is no longer needed.
It helps to look for signs of optimism from the designers to determine our collective mood for the next few months—are we going to be more formal? Are we going to be more fun? Will a return to the office give us a reason to be buttoned up at one point in the day and decadent the next?—an ask Stephen Mikhail, who is both New York and London-based, was willing to answer. “Yeah, people are over it. I hear all the time people just want excuses to dress up, so let’s give them a reason to.”
New Jersey-born Nicholas Raefski, also new to Men’s Day, reminds us with his collection, “Meet Me By The Bleachers,” to keep pushing forward and not dwell on the past—even those pesky pre-pandemic times that we hold nostalgia for, like the 1970s highschool memory of streetwear he created for the show, while being born a few decades too late to have actually experienced it. Raefski was inspired by nostalgia and false nostalgia; remembering the past better than it was and yearning for something you never actually had. In his statement about the collection he said, “I enjoy the challenge of taking something that I know little about from the past, thinking about it in the present, and designing it for the future.”
At the show, he described his expectations for this first fashion week. “The biggest goal was just to have fun. This season was about breaking boundaries, designing a lot of things, and just enjoying myself. I personally don’t wear that much color, so I wanted to design something that I didn’t do, right? To put color out there and have these bright oranges, and pinks, and blues is something I am super happy we were able to accomplish.” He put his hands to his head, sharing that the high emotions of the day left him a little speechless. “I think that’s the beautiful part of design, right? Just because I wear black t-shirts and black pants doesn’t mean that’s what I’m feeling. So, to push the boundaries, have some fun and just, you know, make it an art form—that to me is what fashion’s all about. I’m having the time of my life today.”