While 1998 doesn’t seem like such a long time ago to me, in menswear years, 17 (which is how many years New York has been without a dedicated menswear week), seems like an eternity. For many of the younger members of the industry, the Feb/Sept New York Fashion Week has been the only thing they’ve really known, but back in the mid-’90s, Fern Mallis, then executive director of the CFDA, remembers menswear week well. “We started Seventh on Sixth back in ’93, and after a couple of seasons, many of the menswear designers on the Board and in the CFDA got, shall we say, jealous,” she explains. “We looked into having a separate men’s event, and in ’96, ’97, and ’98 we did dedicated men’s shows in February and July: at the Bryant Park Hotel, at a tent set up in a parking lot by the Republic Bank, at Sony Studios on 54th, and we had sponsorships from General Motors, Men’s Health, Esquire, Details, and GQ. It was very successful but when Helmut Lang chose to show in New York instead of in Europe, and wanted to show before everyone else, the women’s shows shifted so close to the men’s that it made no sense to do two separate weeks.” While that might sound like it’s all Helmut’s fault, the blame falls at no one’s feet. Times change. For instance, pre-empting even Ms. Mallis’ menswear efforts, the Men’s Fashion Association organized their dedicated Press Previews throughout the ’70s, ’80s, and into the early-’90s. Menswear veteran Tom Julian, now the men’s director at Doneger, served as fashion director of the MFA. “The Men’s Fashion Association press previews attracted between 500 to 1,000 industry insiders, and were supported by manufacturers like Haggar, PVH and Hartmarx, as well as menswear designers like Alexander Julian, Andrew Fezza, Jhane Barnes and Tommy Hilfiger,” he recalls. “But they were press focused: the MFA never dealt with buyers or the trade show business models. Fern Mallis and the CFDA aligned the men’s shows with the trade shows, which synced the buyers and the press.”
With influences like Pitti and other European trade shows, Milan, and Paris (and Helmut, ahem) American menswear fractured. “With New York Men’s bundled in with the women’s shows in September, our selling season was already over by two months,” explains menswear designer Michael Bastian. “We have to turn in our orders by the end of July, so the shows were really just marketing: they didn’t help sales at all.” “It all makes so much more sense now!” agrees Robert Geller. “New York deserves to have a fully dedicated men’s week. I’ve never wanted to show anywhere else and I feel like the bigger companies that left just left because of the schedule.” “I’m very patriotic, and New York is the world leader in menswear,” says Todd Snyder. “It’s not like we’re trying to organize a men’s week in Des Moines, Iowa (I can say that, because I’m from Des Moines, Iowa) but we’re trying to put on a men’s week in New York City.” In the best part of two decades, one outstanding effort to assemble New York-based menswear designers in one dedicated space was Erin Hawker’s New York Men’s Day. “At Agentry PR, we had emerging talent that really needed financial help and support,” she says. “We took it upon ourselves to start supporting them and we received so much support from the industry, we were able to expand. We got everyone thinking about it seriously, and the CFDA was able to take it to another level.” Adds CFDA CEO Steven Kolb,“It’s been like building a puzzle. There are so many moving pieces from securing partners to scheduling shows; at times we didn’t know if it would all come together, and a perception that ‘the industry doesn’t need another fashion week’ was something we had to overcome. There has been a coming together of the industry: designers, editors, trade shows and buyers. Seeing them work together, putting competition aside, has been incredible.”
But the coming together of the industry didn’t happen spontaneously. Kolb has spent the last few years fitting those puzzle pieces together, wrangling our homegrown talent back from the three other corners of fashion, and securing major sponsorships from companies including Dockers, Cadillac, and headline sponsor, Amazon. “We’re thrilled we can help provide American menswear designers a local home to showcase their collections when buyers are actually in market,” explains John Lohnas, GMM, men’s clothing, Amazon Fashion. “When we heard the CFDA was in need of support to launch a New York-based Fashion Week for menswear, we were the first to offer our help. We’re supporting not only because we have an engaged male customer across Amazon Fashion, East Dane, and MyHabit, but more importantly because this is where the industry needs our help right now.” And with Cadillac already aligned with NYMD, the announcement of their additional NYFWM’s sponsorship was exciting. “When we first started talking about Cadillac making the move to New York and we began to identify opportunities within the New York community to signal our arrival, we found Erin, Agentry and NYMD,” explains brand director Melody Lee. “Now we’re sponsoring both NYMD and NYFWM, and that integration of both platforms is so important to us: we get to celebrate with everybody, from the Ralph Laurens and the John Varvatoses to the Carlos Camposes and the David Harts.” With facets of the New York fashion calendar increasing by the season, from shows on site/off site, to Milk’s MADE, to NYMD, the trade shows, and market week, what the industry needed was someone to bring the pieces together. “It’s been so important to the CFDA and to menswear in general, to have the entire industry supported and supporting each other,” explains NYFWM project director Mark Beckham. “The great testament of this week has been that not just the designers are signed on, but that the media, the retailers, and the trade shows are signed on. Everyone is working towards the same goal.” While bringing everyone together in spirit may be simple, the main challenge was realigning the fractured schedule. With so many buyers and business done at the trade shows, unity is essential. VP of menswear at Business Journals, Lizette Chin has built the MRket show into the biggest men’s trade show in New York. “The CFDA has worked closely with us during the NYFWM process,” she explains. “We are all for any initiative that supports the advancement of the American menswear industry. The CFDA’s efforts to not only launch this dedicated week, but to collaborate with us, maintaining a dialogue as we work to align the timings of fashion shows and trade shows have been exceptional.” “The CFDA has created a calendar of events that offers both big names and emerging brands an opportunity to participate, with several presentation options at various price levels offering affordable options for even small designers,” adds co-founder of Capsule trade show Edina Sultanik. “We’ll be presenting a group show—featuring the SS16 collections of some of Capsule’s most innovative designers from the U.S. and around the world.” But what do the retailers think? Now that it’s built, will they come? “I think we will always attend the shows just because we’re curious by nature and exploration is part of our world,” says Bergdorf Goodman VP and men’s fashion director Bruce Pask. “But since it’s more in line with market weeks, we will certainly get an enhanced attendance of buyers.” Saks VP and men’s fashion director Eric Jennings agrees. “There was no business being done for the men’s brands that were showing in September with women’s. They were getting some press but zero business out of that fashion week. Now they are going to be in the middle of the market season when the buyers are buying. It changes everything.” So the stars align, and the designers will show, and buyers will buy, but beyond the business, what is truly driving this fashionable gravy train? “I think the real value of this fashion week is that it signifies a zeitgeist: menswear as equally as worthy as women’s,” explains artist and designer Greg Lauren. “I know that people are saying that it’s all about the business, but there is a renaissance of ideas happening in menswear at the moment. Because of the changing attitudes of men towards fashion, menswear is no longer playing second fiddle to women’s wear or to men’s fashion weeks in other countries.”
With New York so center-stage, and with Milan, Paris, and London all showing men’s, the time is now. “I think as American designers it’s important to highlight what’s going on in New York and in the U.S.,” says David Hart. “My collection is so rooted in New York and Brooklyn that it’s important to show here, not just for my brand, but to support the infrastructure and all of the economic benefits that this week will generate for New York City.” The greatest city in the world.