NEW YORK — Sleeves that drag on the ground, rucksacks roomy enough to stow a pony keg and enough summer whites to keep a fistful of Tide pens busy through next Labor Day. If the menswear at New York Fashion Week had a common theme, it was that the little-boy look of past seasons is experiencing an ungainly growth spurt -- changing size, shape and dimension seemingly all at once. And while the familiar preppy influences still reign, spring/summer '08 is an important baby step in another direction.
Thom Browne's surf-flavored runway show -- at least the parts that didn't border on theater of the absurd -- hit all of the overarching themes. Short-sleeve jackets were layered over sweaters that reached just past the elbow; underneath were woven shirts with straitjacket-length sleeves that would have reached the floor if they hadn't been knotted behind the back. (Rei Kawakubo did similar layers for the Comme des Garçons Paris show earlier this summer.)
Browne played with volume and proportion on the bottom too: Though still ending at mid-calf, his trousers were cut a bit roomier, and shorts were either shrunken to the point of underwear (briefs, not boxers), or blown out into a baggier board short silhouette, complete with drawstrings, Velcro and back-pocket grommets. Backstage, he said one of his goals this season was to play with volume and proportion. "I was influenced by the summer and the beach," he said. "I wanted to do a mixture of fun and really serious clothes."
By fun clothes, Browne was no doubt referring to the gray suit festooned with so many appliquéd flowers that it seemed dreamed up by a cake decorator for a bullfighting accountant, and the outfit covered in so many strips of red, white, and blue ribbon it seemed like a refugee from an Independence Day parade. And what to make of the parade of button-on codpieces, in cashmere, gray flannel, seersucker and patriotic rosettes? It felt like a not-so-subtle answer to critics who continually dismiss his shrunken jacket and short pants aesthetic as a "little boy" look.
Of everything that Browne threw at the audience, it's the surf trunks and layered length suit jacket combos (perhaps with the shirt sleeves tailored to a usable length) that showed the most hope of leaping from runway to retail.
The show closed with the Jimi Hendrix version of "Star-Spangled Banner" -- another piece of classic Americana turned on its head by a virtuoso. It also should serve as a cautionary tale that even if one is destined to leave a lasting legacy, it's still possible to burn brightly and flame out far too early.
Steven Cox and Daniel Silver's Duckie Brown label was pure fun -- from Henry Mancini's playful "Pink Panther" theme song opening to the disco-meets-chain mail hoodie closer. The duo toyed with color and proportion; bright exploded floral print trousers and shirts that brought to mind the Jams craze of the '80s and button-front shirts were so long-waisted they were essentially nightshirts. Standouts included a white handkerchief linen, drop-shoulder shirt paired with raspberry red pleated trousers and a rain-slicker-yellow nylon knee-length trench over khaki shorts and a white short-sleeve shirt.
Before the Perry Ellis show, creative director John Crocco said his collection had been inspired by a sunset cruise in the Dominican Republic, but he needn't have said a word; the collection was unabashedly nautical and nice -- rope belts, rip-stop nylon dress shirts that billowed like sails and a gray turtleneck with a silk anchor jacquard. The colors were sun-faded yellows, oranges and grays paired with crisp whites that felt like a breath of sea air.
Robert Geller may not be a household name, but his sophomore outing under his own nameplate (he was previously at Cloak with Alexandre Plokhov) established him as one to keep an eye on. His knack for melding So Cal skater-boy influences with European sensibility -- which stems from a childhood in Germany and four years living in Los Angeles in the '80s -- resulted in neon-yellow skinny jeans paired with a gray, contrasting-lapel jacket and bright blue skinny jeans with a gray sweatshirt emblazoned with the word "Oceanside" over a shrunken collar dress shirt. The result is Orange County skate punk with a hint of world weariness.
The only designer who opted not to board the preppy, globe-trotting yacht was John Varvatos. Instead he cited: "gypsies, folk artists and rich hippies" as "quintessential Americana" influences.
His show was staged on the stripped down, industrial 45th floor of 7 World Trade Center, a backdrop that could easily steal focus, but actually complemented Varvatos' collection that has moved away from earth tones and into cool silvers and grays in a collection that is all at once industrial as well as vintage.
Voluminous stovepipe trousers were the antithesis of Browne's calf-stranglers, in textured-stripe gray wool linen paired with a slightly trimmed two-button jacket.
"I wanted to mix it up," Varvatos said. "So we played around with proportions, either slimmer jackets with fuller trousers or skinnier trousers with breezier tops."
Varvatos also experimented with an asymmetrical button closure on several jackets that looked futuristic but simple, and used some unusual fabrications, such as a hooded trench in a micro-houndstooth pattern and a cardigan silhouette in goat leather.
Like Browne and everyone in between, Varvatos' spring offering was more an evolution than a revolution, but unlike most of the rest, nothing he sent down the runway prompted the question, "Who on Earth would wear that?"