Stirring the Pot

by Harry Sheff

I realized this morning, as I watched another pile of gorgeous clothes parade down the runway, that I’m glad fashion week is almost over. After a while it all becomes kind of overwhelming. But, to go back to last Wednesday, Harry’s blog had me thinking, and this week I was looking to see “the man behind the curtain.”

I’ve been fascinated by the fashion industry since I was 13. I used to ride my bike five miles to the nearest newsstand to buy GQ, and would carry each issue from class to class for weeks. I switched from watching Bugs Bunny cartoons to “Style with Elsa Klensch.” That early obsession, so carefully cultivated in small town Apollo, Penn., led me to college at F.I.T., and, eventually, to my sitting in these uncomfortable little white folding chairs, completely transfixed by the clothes flowing by. Suddenly I realized, in reading Harry’s blog, that I’m a part of the machine! I’m part of this crazy system! These fashion shows aren’t designed for anybody other than a very focused contingent of fashion cognoscenti who (think they are) making decisions for everybody else. Harry’s honest approach made me ask: what do red-blooded American men, the ultimate consumers of this product, think of all this? If they see collections that are more brands than designer statements, being paired with the likes of Heatherette on the evening news or in People magazine, I can’t help but wonder if they might not be somewhat alienated.

Duckie Brown. Photo by Dan Lecca.

Buckler. Photo by Dan Lecca.

“The Medium is the Message,” said media analyst Marshall McLuhan…but I’m not quite sure I’ve managed to figure out just what the message of a fashion show is! That I’ve got a lot of money to spend? That I’m important? That I matter?

And don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that branded products are any less beautiful, wearable or saleable (in fact, some of the women’s designer collections I’d seen this week were much less so). It just all feels kind of lost on a sub-segment of the larger industry (menswear) that has already seen these looks at trade shows and in showrooms.

Michael Kors. Photo by Dan Lecca.

Are runway shows an attempt to enliven the commercial aspect of the collections? Then maybe we need to steal some of the fire away from what is ostensibly women’s fashion week, and move it to the week of The Collective here in New York, so that when we as an industry are seeing these clothes for the first time, we are making a statement. I’ve been hearing talk of such a thing ever since I started here at MR, so why can’t we get something going? Let’s get designers and brands together to make a spectacle, like Sunday night’s Z Zegna show. Sending 49 outfits down a runway the size of a football field in a stark white setting…I was hypnotized! And, yet, are we going to get American men to wear voluminous shorts or plunging open sweaters with male décolletage? Probably not. But designer Alessandro Sartori generated some excitement that will get people talking, and who knows? Maybe next year some guy in Minneapolis will think to himself, “Hey, my shorts are looking kind of skinny and tired…maybe I need to go buy a few new pair…!”

Z Zegna. Photo by Dan Lecca.