Minus a great walk, the spectacle fails.
To be sure, designers have studied every last nuance of their looks and their shows, and many are aware of the motor issue with male models.
"The thing about men and movement is, the more natural the better," says Michael Bastian, whose collection for Gant features frisky mountainwear with a firm sense of purpose - brushed alpaca sweaters, snowboard pants, down motorcycle jackets.
"The minute a male model looks like he's doing a runway walk, it falls apart. It should look like they're just walking," Bastian continues. "The minute you see a guy doing one of those Naomi Campbell catwalk-action kind of things, it falls apart. A lot of hips and the scissor walk? No! Men always need to be men."
Soon to branch out with a Georgetown store, David Neville of Rag & Bone is also going for a masculine projection: "Even though these clothes are a little pushed" - he means the kilts, the streaks of electric blue and all the flapping leather - "we don't want anything too frail. We want more of a guy's guy."
Code for "not gay," perhaps? That's an issue in menswear, which doesn't want to alienate straight shoppers. But going butch has clearly gone too far. An effort to edit out swishiness has left the field with bizarrely stiff-legged soldier boys. The long-legged ones are generally the worst afflicted. We are talking about 18-to-22-year-olds mostly, and absent a sense of body awareness or skilled training, getting grace out of all that length and youthfulness is . . . harder than it should be.
This is one reason a Russian model named Arthur Kulkov stands out. Jim Moore, GQ magazine's fashion director, spots him as having the best walk on the runway: "He walks with determination, like he owns the clothes already and he's just going out for a walk down the street. It's not martial, not regimented."
He's right. Kulkov held all eyes in the impressive Band of Outsiders show, in which the first few models descended onto the runway from ropes in the ceiling. (That's one way to improve their moves.) When it came to walking, Kulkov turned his oxford-cloth peasant shirt and chinos into pheromones in motion. He could have been wearing a bath towel and the effect would be the same - magnetic. Graceful, relaxed and on top of the world. A former soccer player, he has a broad-shouldered, muscular build, but the secret was in his legs, which are compact, even short. They sailed him forward with an athlete's confidence. Soccer's fluidity scored on the runway.
Style vs. emotion
"Girls' walks are a style," says the endearing RJ, chomping on a granola bar as he describes the way female models stomp on their heels and crisscross their feet when they walk. "But guys' walks are an emotion. You're intense, or relaxed, or angry." He walked in one show where he was told to clench his fists and look tough. For another, he was told to walk as if he were heading for a store that's three blocks away and is about to close - "You're in a hurry, but there's no tension in your face."