NEW YORK — We're smack in the middle of a decade--simultaneously looking forward and looking back. And the men's fashion world appears to be pretty evenly divided into forward- and backward-looking camps.
Those in a retrospective mood come up with traditional clothes sparked by contemporary touches to make them attractive for today's consumers; those looking forward come up with modern concepts that are somewhat grounded in tradition, so that the clothes can function in the here-and-now.
This dichotomy of dressing was displayed at the Designers' Collective held here recently, where 68 designers and manufacturers showed what's new or renewed for fall/winter 1986-1987.
Tweed, Glen plaid, Fair Isle, argyle, pin stripes, houndstooth and herringbone checks continue to be the fashion vocabulary spoken at many companies. The traditional is made more modern by executing these patterns on a bolder scale and then mixing them in a single outfit: A striped shirt, print tie, patterned sweater, checked sport coat and tweed trousers may all be part of the same ensemble.
Sweaters in traditional styles, such as crew-neck pullovers, cardigans, vests and shawl- collared jacket styles are the items with which designers make their boldest statements. They are all well within the status quo.
A variety of sweaters has boldly patterned motifs. Robert Stock's shawl-collared pullover has a husky dog hand-knit on the chest. Bill Ditfort knits a series of sweaters in overscaled Fortuny tapestry patterns. Sal Cesarani's "American Heritage"-themed collection includes a multicolored, patterned sweater with a thumb-hole in the cuff that creates a half-glove effect when the digit is inserted, as well as a huge snowflake sweater and a pullover woven to look like a patchwork quilt.
Barry Bricken's motif sweaters salute the 1936 Olympics or have names of countries knitted on the chest. "Optical Irrigation" is the way Laura Pearson describes her geometric sweater for Tijuca, inspired by looking at the farmlands of Uruguay from an airplane. And Robert Comstock, who is based in Wyoming, uses Navajo designs combined with trapunto leather details for his rugged-looking knits.
Other items with new interest in a traditional vein: Comstock's flannel shirt warmed up with insulation in the lining and his elaborately constructed leather jackets with zip-out liners that can be worn as sumptuous hand-knit Alpaca vests; Jeffrey Banks' duck-motif woven shirt and matching knit vest; Hannes B.'s multicolored plaid cotton corduroy pants (corduroys in patterns and textures are a popular bottom line for fall).
Designers working in a more modern vocabulary are using words like unconstructed, technological and abstract. They talk about alternative business attire and clothes that can be worn for day or night because of their inherent casual elegance.
New Use of Knits
Silhouettes are soft, easy and relaxed--often achieved by a new use of knits instead of woven fabrics, for things like traditional business suits.
There is also a lot of talk about clothes that are trans-seasonal, mostly because of the current buying power of those who live in the Sun Belt. Tropical wools are becoming a winter fabric. Sweater styles that used to be of wool, and strictly for the cold months, are now knit in heavy cottons or combinations of cotton and silk or wool.
Jhane Barnes achieves this modern lightness and comfort with the textured fabrics she uses for shirts, trousers and sport jackets that appear to be winter weight but are, in fact, light to the touch.
The technology Barnes uses in the weaving and knitting process of her fabrics adds subtle, abstract dimensions for a weighty look, which makes her clothes look daringly new and yet wearable for such traditional activities as the 9-to-5 grind. One pattern in a jacket resembles stacks of skyscrapers. A traditional letterman's jacket scores new points with textured, geometric-patterned sleeves. And what might appear to be a basic, white dress shirt is actually woven into a complicated Jacquard and has a collar that stays put via buttons hidden under the collar points.
Paul Bianculli and Victor de la Rosa say they are also stimulated by fabric technology. They give pattern and texture their signature, woven looks in chain-link motifs, adding machine and stick-man designs that they mix in a single outfit. Sweaters have cotton mixed with the wool for lightness, and many are reversible.
Nancy Heller, who is introducing her first full menswear line for fall, and Mary Jane Marcasiano both do collections for the modern man who wants easy, relaxed and comfortable clothes for all occasions.
Marcasiano's traditional tailored pants are softer in wool jersey and souped up with a dot pattern. Her gray wool-fleece sweat shirt, pants and soft sport jacket are the perfect work uniform for a man who does not have to abide by anyone's dress code but his own.