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New York Fashion Week: Men's Is Here – But Why Now?

The answer is complicated, of course. But at its core, there's a simple idea: The talent in America—especially among the younger generation of designers—has hit critical mass.

Jonathan Evans

Robert Geller FW 2015. Photo via Noveau PR

This article first appeared on VICE US

The inaugural New York Fashion Week: Men's is upon us. If you're into menswear, this is a big deal. Previously, men's shows were lumped in with women's in September and February. But now, for the first time in a long time—an ill-fated iteration of the idea launched in 1995 but crashed and burned in 2001—American men's designers are getting a week of their own to showcase their collections.

The shift was a long time coming. The men's market, though smaller than that of the fairer sex, has been outpacing women's of late, garnering more and more attention from a general public that, until recently, didn't seem to care much about what guys wear. Plus, logistically, the old schedule was a mess. Men's designers show and sell their spring collections from mid-June through July. So showing them again in September never made much sense from a business perspective. Even if buyers for stores liked what they saw, the books were closed.

But these problems aren't new, and talk of a men's week has been happening for years. "I've been at the CFDA almost ten years," explains Steven Kolb, CEO of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which spearheaded the effort to get NYFW: Men's off the ground. "So [it's been] a decade of talk about why there isn't a dedicated men's week."

The question, then, is, "Why now?" The answer is complicated, of course, encompassing everything from travel schedules to budgets to sponsorships. But at its core, there's a simple idea: The talent in America—especially among the younger generation of designers that shows in New York—has hit critical mass.

"Five years ago, it would have been tough to put together a strong group and say, 'Let's make this the best it can be,'" says designer Todd Snyder, who's shown in New York since he launched his label in 2011. "But now, I think there's enough content, if you combine all of us, that it makes a lot of sense." Ariel Ovadia, one of the twin brothers behind the label Ovadia & Sons, echoes the sentiment: "In the past, things have definitely been stale in New York. But there's new blood now, with a lot of talent."

And that new blood is the basis of the first New York men's week. "Emerging talent always has a place in fashion," says Erin Hawker, founder of Agentry PR, which launched the ideological precursor to men's week, New York Men's Day, in 2014. "It's what pushes trends and movements forward."

The CFDA certainly recognized that momentum was building. "There's this generation of designers—Ovadia & Sons, Public School, Tim Coppens, Michael Bastian, Billy Reid—these guys, some are more established than others, but they came to prominence around the same time," says Kolb. "And I think that collective energy is really the foundation for what drove us to create this."

Noticeably absent from that stateside group, though, were some of the biggest names in American fashion. Klein. Browne. Varvatos. All of them were forced abroad in the past, victims of an American schedule that didn't sync with their selling calendar. "If you were showing a men's collection at New York Fashion Week, that's more than a month after market is done," explains Josh Peskowitz, fashion director at Bloomingdale's. "It's not going to help your sales at all. So it's kinda like, 'What's the point?' That's why a lot of the big New York designers like Thom Browne, John Varvatos, and Calvin Klein over the years have left to go to Milan or Paris, because from a timing perspective, it makes more sense."

Now, with new show dates, these power players are coming back home. Klein, Varvatos, and Browne—along with Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren—all signed on for events. Not that they necessarily had to. "The big guys could probably function outside of a dedicated New York Fashion Week for men," Kolb notes. But there's value in aligning with the young guns in New York. "They see the power of a stronger industry at every level. They also get to be part of something cool and young and new and fresh, and it's a way to talk about themselves in a new way. So what this core group [of young American designers] has built, they feed off of that."

"It's a symbiotic relationship," Peskowitz says. "The big guys have to be here to make it legitimate, but it's really the young people that are going to make it compelling."

Cooperation, then, will be crucial to a men's week in New York. And that's something the designers involved with the venture don't take lightly. "We will go to other designers' shows," says Laurence Chandler, who runs NYC-based Rochambeau with Joshua Cooper. "The growth of the market supports us all." Designer Richard Chai, also based in the city, agrees. "We're all part of a community, and we have to work in that kind of way."

Think of it this way: if only a handful of greener labels were showing their menswear collections, New York Fashion Week: Men's would look like amateur hour. If it was just the established heavy-hitters, though, the week-long event might look like the old vanguard is just flaunting its feathers in a stagnant circle jerk.

"The big guys have to be here to make it legitimate, but it's really the young people that are going to make it compelling." –Josh Peskowitz, fashion director of Bloomingdale's

While the impact of this new venture remains to be seen, spirits are high. "There is definitely a palpable sense of excitement," says designer Billy Reid. Confidence, too, is in no short supply. Alex Orley, who designs his namesake label Orley along with brother Matthew and sister-in-law Samantha, sums up the prevailing sentiment: "The timing is right, the brands are here, and the talent is in New York. It wouldn't have happened if that wasn't the case."

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