Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Fashion Industry Seems Detached From the World Around It. Can It Reconnect?

On the first day of this city’s celebration of spring 2017 menswear, the designers of Duckie Brown were fixated on a photograph of an elegantly dressed young woman taken 1,300 miles away.

In their downtown studio, Daniel Silver and Steven Cox were hunched over a tiny cellphone image of Ieshia Evans, the woman in the fluttering sundress whose steely posture was unbowed as she stood between Baton Rouge police officers armed with riot gear and angry protesters decrying the death of Alton Sterling.

No simple pair of chinos on a beanpole hipster could compete.

At the menswear industry’s opening-night party, waiters passed picture-perfect hors d’oeuvres and bartenders poured booze. Common was on the bill. Cadillac sponsored it all.

The party conversation, half-heard over the fashionable din, was about which shows might be good — and which might be a bore. Folks nodded and smiled even if they heard only one-third of what was said. It didn’t matter; just small talk after all.

But then the topic changed. Dallas. They leaned in close — heads almost touching, don’t want to miss a word — when the fashion director of Neiman Marcus began to talk about the mood back in the gleaming Texas city where the company is based: Why here? Why did the shooter target our police?

Fashion — as an industry — feels disconnected from today’s news. Like some oblivious bystander. The industry en masse seems diffident. The power of its collective voice goes unused in matters of social justice, national turmoil, political pandemonium.

Instead, Seventh Avenue is busy bemoaning its own internal upheaval. Should it show you the spring 2017 collection now? Or wait until, say, April? Should it even call these collections “spring” or, simply, “new clothes”?

Fashion burrows on. Its creativity may stir dreams. But will it awaken the mind? A single draped navy blazer from Duckie Brown can deliver a dissertation’s worth of detail about gender. The crispness of a cantaloupe-colored sailing coat from Exley is a history lesson in New England manufacturing.

But mostly, fashion has just been peacocking. Suit Supply peddles tight little suits on hyper-groomed dandies. Uri Minkoff mixes tailoring with performance fabric to offer up short shorts that strain to their limit on the muscular thighs of dancers.

It might do the menswear industry a bit of good to go cold turkey on hiring so many lumberjack-bearded models who are tattooed up like “The Illustrated Man.” It would serve designers well to consider how a brocade suit or a palm frond hat might look on just a regular guy. (Probably not so great.) After all, exactly what percentage of male consumers is made up of the hipster demographic?

Menswear has spent a significant amount of runway time touting the glories of gender-neutral clothing, feminized men’s clothes and masculine clothes that are welcoming to women. But even in the fashion crowd there is little evidence that this style has made the leap from the runway to the audience. Perhaps it’s yet to come. Or perhaps fashion is off the mark, just burrowing in deeper.

by Robin Givhan, WP | Read more:
Image: Robin Givhan