“Are you kidding me?” was my husband’s reaction to a recent New York Times article on New York Fashion Week: Men’s. He was referring to the suits with shorts, bold printed sportcoats, cropped pants and creative but hardly wearable (at least by suburban accountants) outfits that were featured in Guy Trebay’s excellent review on July 14th. (I loved that Trebay wrote about the Black Lives Matter protests outside Skylight Clarkson Square, thereby tying men’s fashion to meaningful social issues, and making Fashion Week more relevant than the fashion itself.)
Although I rarely mention my husband and men’s fashion in the same breath, his reaction is typical of a large number of American men from all age groups who don’t quite relate to the fantasy world that menswear designers work so hard to create. Don’t get me wrong: I support these efforts and the press generated, and applaud fashion that provides both escape from reality and direct confrontation with it. At last month’s shows, I particularly loved Joseph Abboud’s ode to Ernest Hemingway (soft linen suits in shades of ivory and tan, stovepipe trousers, desert-bleached footwear, safari-inspired hats and bags) and Nick Graham’s tribute to Havana in the 1950s (tropical printed suits in vibrant florals and graphic designs, seersucker and madras, sexy showgirls shaking it up to live samba music.) But the challenge seems to be translating the best ideas from the best designers to a level that more mainstream guys can understand and appreciate.
Case in point: I recently interviewed NBC sportscaster Dave Briggs, who is on his way to Rio de Janiero to cover tennis at the Olympics. (According to NBC, the Rio Olympics will be the biggest media event in history, with 6,755 hours of programming.) While he was delighted with his blue linen side-vented sportcoat (and the rest of his stylish American-made clothing wardrobe by Hardwick, crafted in Cleveland, Tennessee, to be worn with beautiful ties by David Donahue, made in NYC), we ended up in a heated discussion over pant lengths. “I hate the new styles that barely cover the ankle; I’ll continue to wear my trousers with a slight break,” he told me, somewhat defiantly.
So here’s a suggestion as we head off to the Las Vegas shows to shop for spring ‘17 fashion. Why not cater to your traditional customers but gently lead them to a bit more fashion, inspired by the runways but toned down for reality? By offering too many basics, you’re putting your customers to sleep. A standard retail rule at the beginning of each season is to rank your vendors by performance, and drop the least profitable 10 percent, thereby opening up dollars for new. In our current precarious climate, why not up the ante to 15 or 20 percent invested in fresh ideas from new makers? Why not take a (perhaps temporary) break from your old standby resources that are no longer producing the margins you need?
I guarantee you’ll find tons of great stuff in the aisles at Project and MRket. See you in Las Vegas!