Male models move in style but without grace

The men at New York Fashion Week showcase inspirational looks, says Post critic Sarah Kaufman. Unfortunately, they can't walk.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 13, 2011; 11:05 PM

NEW YORK - One of Fashion Week's awkward truths: Male models can't walk.

They look a lot better off the runway. Take this group: In a waiting area near the show space, a half-dozen beautiful young men lounge on sofas, relaxed and floppy and slightly overlapping one another, like puppies. Nothing runs on time during Fashion Week, and Saturday's Loden Dager show in a hotel basement on West 58th Street is no exception.

So while the guys wait for the signal to get into their "looks" - say, a mink-and-leather biker jacket or adjustable-leg jeans - they're chilling out with earphones and cellphones, and trying not to think about their walk.

Because that will absolutely make it worse. "If you overthink it, then you'll screw it up," says Robert Jackson King III, known as RJ. (In the traveling gypsy band of press, buyers, stylists and publicists who careen from show to show, the models are known by first names only. It's like high school.)

RJ is 18, with a devastating smile and broad cheekbones, newly arrived from St. Louis. He has been modeling for only a month. He's a little concerned about the show that's about to start, not because of the hand-knit cardigan and trousers he'll be wearing, but because he has to carry a book bag down the runway, too.

"I've never walked with a bag," he confesses.

"When I was first learning to walk, they told me to move the arm forward that's opposite to your leg. And I was like, 'That's obvious.' Then I was like, 'What?' And I was screwing it up, and they were like, 'No! Forget it!' 'Cause I am definitely the person to overthink things."

Grace isn't much in evidence here. It's not that the clothes aren't inspirational. The fall 2011 looks at the menswear shows around town are hedonistically rich in buttercream textiles: moleskins and melton wools, shearling flight jackets, tartan waistcoats and hand-knit sweaters as thick and lush as swan's down. In most cases, the models look magnificent in them - overlooking the fantasy-heritage warrior-huntsman-thug look at Rag & Bone and the prim belts on just about everything at Robert Geller. The models look great - that is, until they start to move.

Once the guys head down the runway toward that bank of flashing cameras and flanked by hundreds of onlookers, all their personality and swagger, the confidence of being young, fit and exceptionally hot - poof. It's gone.

In its place: tight steps, wooden torsos. Oddly pitched-forward gaits. Stiffly held shoulders or too much shoulder, torquing the body with an exaggerated sway. And "the brood," that grim, ticked-off look in the eyes that is industry standard.

Granted, you send a dance critic to Fashion Week and you're not going to get a nuanced analysis of tailoring trends and pleating quality. I've been looking at performance. So, too, are the detail-driven designers: Their shows are like rock concerts, with aggressive lighting and pounding music. The models march at a swift pace to boost excitement. Inasmuch as fashion trades on feelings, fashion shows are all about high-pitched emotion, even sensory overload.

"Directional statement" is the buzzword. Even if the drawstring pants and toggle hoodies don't wind up in stores, they send out a signal about the designer's vision.

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