“Polished but not spic ’n’ span” was the phrase GQ attached to its review of Loden Dager’s colorful runway looks. It could be a joke straight out of “Bruno,” this hedging, contradictory language. Billy Reid’s Alabama-accented suits and sweaters were praised for being “soft” but also “rugged.” It’s not a men-only challenge: Richard Chai told the New York Times his women’s looks displayed “handsome femininity.”
The conflict is exciting — and tiring! Sexual vagueness is gimmicky, except when it works. Designers bend genders with care, and only the skilled will survive. California guru Scott Sternberg again showed his Band of Outsiders collection for women that is appropriately called Boy. And no one mistakes his models for anything but girls. Paul Marlow of Loden Dager required his three dozen models to sit still pregame for applications of guyliner. The young dudes hated it, he said, and then slowly they saw how hot they looked. They were into it.
For decades, designers have employed this ambiguity to stave off ambivalence, the most lethal reaction to Fashion Week’s many stimuli. And ultimately, it’s tough to do well, balancing formal and casual, darkness and light. To convince the skittish male customer, they have to both honor and trample tradition with every creation. The hope: Maybe someone will discover discordant elements that change everyone’s concept of harmony, like when peanut butter first met chocolate.
Sporty but formal. Michael Bastian is the former Bergdorf Goodman exec who witnessed all these male customers buying baggy clothes that rarely reflected their personality, athleticism or success. On Monday, his clothes let men show off all the above, employing plastic gardenia boutonnieres, pinstriped hip-huggers and even shawl-collared, double-breasted white vests. His swift, sleek crew marched out of some backlighted trees and onto a chandelier-lighted runway, reviving studly touches from 30 years ago: A little Ryan O’Neal in the black-watch plaid nylon blazer with corduroy trim, and a little Jean-Claude Killy in the striped sweaters and puffer vests with each tier a different color.
Taken apart but put together. Bumsuk Choi looked to that same era, specifically the 1968 Grenoble locker rooms, to invent his rah-rah outfits. Headquartered in a later Olympic city, Seoul, Choi was more determined in making every deconstructed part pop: Down coats had not just different colors but different textures at each level. Pockets on a coat didn’t match the torso, which didn’t match the sleeves, all in dusky orange, navy, beige. He marshaled different fabrics to fight the elements: fleece, canvas, quilted nylon, reverse-weave sweatshirt material.