The metrics will determine whether the long-planned New York Fashion Week: Men’s was the success its organizers hoped for. Yet immediate reaction to the first consolidated men’s wear week since 2001 suggested an industry in an unexpectedly buoyant mood.
By separating men’s wear from women’s and moving the shows closer on the calendar to a month of similar presentations in Europe, the Council of Fashion Designers of America corrected an imbalanced scheduling sequence that forced editors and buyers to wait until weeks after the shows in London, Paris and Milan to see what American designers had on offer.
It also underscored a shift few could have anticipated in the days when the nonprofit Seventh on Sixth folded men’s wear into the distaff presentations held under the Bryant Park tents. That is the runaway growth of men’s wear, driven by generational shifts, a crazily democratized Internet and something else no one predicted: casual Friday’s positive trickle-down effect.
“When casual Friday first hit the scene, it got interpreted into a nightmare for most men,” Michael Kors said. “ ‘Wow, you mean I get to look like a total slob?’ The reality is it tumbled down the walls,” Mr. Kors added, making way for “an entrepreneurial global man who is interested in fashion for the weekend, for work clothes, for play clothes.” Fashion is not, Mr. Kors said, just for the dandies and peacocks of the world.
In the decades since the term “metrosexual” was coined, the perception of fashion as a preoccupation of a well-shod and moisturized elite has been supplanted by an influx of mainstream lugs. For the last five years, sales of men’s wear have grown faster than women’s, with the result that every major fashion house has broadened its masculine offerings, most rushing to open flagships dedicated to the newest shopping obsessive — men.
Seen in that light, a week that returned major American labels like John Varvatos to home turf took on a lot more than symbolic import. “What legitimized the week was having someone like John Varvatos come back and put his money where his mouth is,” the designer Todd Snyder said. “It put a stake in the ground.”
Although other American designers and labels — Calvin Klein, Thom Browne — that typically show in Europe contented themselves here with presentations, rather than full-fledged fashion shows, Mr. Varvatos mounted a runway blowout with all the attendant hoopla, crowd scenes and star athletes who are fashion’s most devoted hangers-on.
“It also says a lot that the European press and buyers came,” said Matthew Marden, the Details magazine fashion director, citing representatives from The Financial Times and foreign editions of GQ and Esquire, as well as buyers from influential British retailers like Harrods and Selfridges. “New York designers are as important as anyone else.”
And, while presentations here largely lacked the high theater of some recent shows in Paris, there were still impressive feats of showmanship, like the infinitely mirroring glass box that Thom Browne built for displaying a grouping of gray fingertip-length suits. “Everyone always says London’s avant-garde, Paris is creative, and New York is just commercial,” Mr. Marden said. “But you can’t really say that after you’ve seen Thom Browne or Duckie Brown.”
With its distorted volumes, acid palette and unexpected elegance, the Duckie Brown show was by consensus a highlight of the week. Yet it was far from the only evidence that creative spirits both rigorous (Garciavelez) and rumbustious (Boyswear) stand ready to take rightful places alongside industry heavyweights. Just the chance to be seen in proximity to Ralph Lauren or Michael Kors had benefits for independent designers like Jackson McKeehan of Boyswear or Carlos Garciavelez Alfaro of Garciavelez.
“For starting designers like myself, kicking off the week provides a level of attention previously impossible to obtain from buyers, press and on social media platforms,” Mr. Alfaro said. “I already got appointments with Barneys, and a meeting with Saks.”
“The men’s wear market is growing fast, and the week made everything more integrated in terms of the fact that men’s is its own category and its own presence,” he added.
For Nick Wooster, the influential stylist, New York Fashion Week: Men’s was a long overdue step taken by an industry that, not atypically, was far from swift in reacting to demographic and social change.
“It was a herculean effort that paid off handsomely in establishing New York as a source for great ideas,” Mr. Wooster wrote in a text message from Shanghai. Still, “It’s always the sophomore album, book, movie or collection that solidifies your reputation,” he added, referring to the next New York men’s wear week, scheduled to begin Jan. 28, 2016. “Now the real work begins.”