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Fine Fabrics, Clean Cuts : Previews: At their first collective showings in Manhattan, American and some European menswear designers float the idea of a leaner, meaner silhouette. But the easy, baggy, relaxed look still flies.

February 23, 1995|VIDA ROBERTS | BALTIMORE SUN

NEW YORK — Men, bless them. When they do fashion, it's nothing like the three-ring circus of the semiannual women's collections, which are held in tents filled to bursting with paparazzi , star-watchers and crazy couture. American menswear designers, with a few Europeans tossed in, held their first collective fashion showings in Manhattan recently in the cluster of sound stages and recording studios along 54th Street. It all came together in the mix--centralized, organized and energized.

The collective wisdom had been that men's clothing is just too darn dull to sustain any kind of excitement in a runway presentation, not to mention continuous shows over four days. How many guys in suits can anyone stand?

But for the fall '95 previews--menswear's first collaborative runway shows--the designers went all out for press and buyers. They floated the idea of a leaner, meaner silhouette, even though there was a sea of easy, baggy, relaxed fashion. Along with narrowness, there was also more refinement in the fabric finishes--lots of sheen, some as flashy as ultra-bright satin.

Does the average man care?

"Men don't like to admit it," says designer Nick Hilton, "but they care very much about fashion. They just don't want to admit it, because being too concerned about appearance is not deemed masculine. What men want are clothes that show they're aware without being too fashiony."

Designers did their bit to stave off the subzero arctic blasts that battered their debut. At the opening reception to honor the event, GQ magazine, one of the industry sponsors, sent guests out the door with toasty fleece neck wraps and provided bins of heat packets to tuck into gloves and pockets. Designer Barry Bricken made sure there was hot mulled cider at his show, and designer Robert Comstock passed out fuzzy ear-flap hats. Nobody cared whether they interfered with a particular fashion statement. They did the job.

Good cuts, fine fabrics and comfort are not enough to make show-biz, however, and designers pushed some extra buttons to keep things pumping.

Richard Tyler did pin-stripes in glitter and Edwardian suits in pastels. Wolfgang Joop, the German import, sent out triplets in Hans Brinker bowl haircuts wearing red damask tuxedos. Tommy Hilfiger, the current darling of the street-smart, went oversize in fit and plaids.

At Boing! it was plastics and parachute pants and holster suspenders.

John Bartlett, who last year got a lot of attention by showing jackets on male models with bare legs and high heels, this time used sequin eye patches and antlers as hair ornaments.

Here are a few directions menswear is headed:

* More fit, and a waist. Some versions may be as polished and shiny as a Hollywood lounge lizard's. The more traditional designers just hint.

* Shorter jackets, tighter pants. In the more dramatic versions, jackets barely cover the buns and pants are poured on. There's a definite narrowing down, however.

* Velvet everything. It's the choice for suits, sportswear, coats and as trim on collars and pockets. That goes double for corduroy, velvet's sportier cousin. It's not about your old prep-school staples, however, but lush and deep wide-wale fabrications in cottons and wool.

* Tone-on-tone shirts and ties. By the second day of the showings, many of the snappier dressers in the audience were sporting this look, mostly in blue. Blue shirt, blue tie is easy to like. Look out for lavender, however. That combo popped up in many collections. Unless they're one of the Temptations, men may need some time to get used to it.

* Brown and more brown. For years now, brown has been unpopular in business wear, but with all the shades and variations throughout the collections, it may finally gain wide acceptance. Besides brown, there are also greens in mossy shades and olives.

* The suit. IBM made news this month by doing away with its unofficial conservative dress code in favor of more casual clothing. In fashion, once a look becomes an institutionalized uniform, it loses panache.

With so many handsome offerings from all the designers, the fashion rebels may start wearing suits just to shake up the Establishment guys who have finally learned to loosen their ties.

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