One in a series on the clothes that had a moment at New York Fashion Week.
NEW YORK — Politicians like to romanticize the idea of a “real” America, where nuclear families live in picturesque small towns, drive John Deere tractors to plow their legacy farms, heave bales of hay with a pitchfork and sit down to a dinner of homemade meatloaf and apple pie. Washington insists on seeing patriotism and authenticity as defined by back-breaking labor and the consumption of saturated fat.
Fashion holds a similar point of view. Menswear designers aren’t necessarily encouraging flag-waving and marching with their work pants and wilderness parkas — but it regularly peddles those things as emblematic of a kind of American authenticity and cultural sincerity.
There is truth in that ideal. But it isn’t the whole truth. Certainly not anymore.
There is a real beauty in the workwear-inspired styles from N. Hoolywood, where designer Daisuke Obana collaborated with Timberland Pro. This collection within a collection was modeled by men found working at a construction site. And the broader collection, with its bold colors and strong lines, exuded a rugged urbanity that was elevated by the designer’s eye for proportions.
But N. Hoolywood was something of an exception. All too often, fashion goes overboard. Deep into the deep end. It doesn’t just aim for rugged, it goes full-on survivalist. It isn’t enough to create a luxurious parka; designers create clothes that look as if they are to be worn by men who must march across a frozen landscape in search of a moose to slaughter in order to survive the winter famine.
Who are these men of the mountains that fashion is aiming to dress? Or, more accurately, why would the men of urban America — designer-label-wearing America, with Ubers at their beck and call — want to dress like they commute by dog sled?
Fashion designers can’t quite shake the fantasy of rugged individualism. The man who needs a pair of Wranglers for his 9-to-5 is not buying his work clothes from N. Hoolywood or Engineered for Motion or any other up-and-coming fashion label. He probably can’t afford to. And those who can probably spend their 16-hour days staring into a computer screen, not splitting logs.
Fashion is aiming to dress men for lives they mostly don’t lead, which is why designers such as Raf Simons and Tom Ford — and to some degree Ingo Wilts of Boss — stand out. They aim to romanticize, celebrate and exploit the Amex-wielding man of 2018: an urban-dweller full of existential angst, a creative soul weighed down by privilege and despair, a working man whose hands are as soft as a baby’s bottom.
Ford is a masterful tailor who understands how to balance lean, clipped proportions with peacock colors and extravagant sheen. A pale pink shiny suit, you say? Yes, says Mr. Ford. It is the perfect shade of pink, cut with just the right amount of sparkle and a silhouette that is mathematicaly precise.
The clothes are sexy and grown-up. Mature, but not old. They are a tad tawdry. Can tawdry ever be intoxicatingly fun again?
Simons was inspired by a 1981 film, “Christiane F.,” that he first saw as a Belgian high school kid. The movie, set in 1970s Berlin, looks at drug addiction through the eyes of two young anti-heroes. Simons mined the film, and other works of fiction, in an effort to explore the preponderance of drugs — both illicit and prescription — in our culture.
He set his runway show against the backdrop of a bacchanal. His catwalk was essentially a long, winding table edged with open wine bottles, stacks of of artichokes, pomegranates, salami, lemons, candied waffles, loaves of bread and enormous bowls of blueberries.
It was a tale of excess, of the price that a culture pays for having so much — too much of most everything, except what is important.
His models, in richly-colored oversized pea coats and car coats, deconstructed sweaters, skinny trousers with knee pads emblazoned with “Drugs” or “LSD,” wound their way around the catwalk, again and again. They made multiple passes, crossing in front of and then behind each other as they moved with aimless intent.
They were beautifully dressed, sad, disoriented creatures.
And Boss, the menswear behemoth famous for its suits, injected athleticism and ease into its tailoring. Jackets were roomier and with large patch pockets. Matching trousers were cut more like track pants than dress pants. Blazers were paired with sweaters instead of shirts and ties. And baseball jerseys, albeit in luxurious suede, were tucked under sweeping overcoats. This is business casual for 2018. It’s a way of dressing that celebrates success with a style somewhere between stuffy and sloppy.
Designers like Ford and Simons and executives like Wilts refuse to costume men in rough-hewn workman attire. Authenticity for them is not defined by steel-toe boots. For the average man, a parka is a matter of style, not a base camp necessity. That’s good thing.
The travails of 2018 are addiction, not dust bowls. We wrestle with excess, not scarcity. The glow of city skyline can’t compete with a night sky lit up by stars, but there’s beauty in both. Callouses are admirable, but so is an innovative mind.