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New York Fashion Week: Trends in menswear

After years of favoring laid-back attire, menswear turns more formal for fall, while sweaters make a strong showing too.

February 19, 2012|By Adam Tschorn, Los Angeles Times
  • Billy Reid's fall 2012 collection at New York Fashion Week moves upscale with luxe fabrics.
Billy Reid's fall 2012 collection at New York Fashion Week moves upscale… (Joe Kohen / Getty Images )

Reporting from New York — — The fall-winter 2012 menswear collections that showed during the recently wrapped New York Fashion Week brought the usual riffs on masculine archetypes. Rag & Bone and Tommy Hilfiger served up military men. Michael Kors went for plaid-clad lumberjack luxe, and Scott Sternberg took his duster- and work-suit-wearing cowboys into the desert Southwest.

But after several years of moving toward a more laid-back look, American menswear appears to be headed in the opposite direction, with an emphasis on a more polished, dressed-up panache that stops just this side of dandification.

Among the standouts were Michael Bastian's "The Extra Man" collection, which served up chalk-stripe double-breasted suits, three-piece Glen plaid suits, moleskin topcoats with grosgrain ribbon contrast tipping and shantung tuxedos, accessorized with needlepoint Stubbs & Wootton slippers on their feet and J. Frost floral resin boutonnieres on their lapels.

Another was Billy Reid, an Alabama-based designer known for his take on the rumpled and rough-hewn son of the South, who cited his recent travels abroad as inspiration. "I spent some great time in Paris and London this past year," Reid explained in his show notes. "And I've thoroughly enjoyed mixing that vibe into the collection."

That influence was evident in his three-piece suits in heathered gray cashmere tweed, double-breasted suits in navy blue cashmere flannel and jackets and trousers in cotton velvet. His outerwear offerings were equally upscale with parkas lined in sheared nutria and trench coats and leather vests sporting shearling collars. (Reid's women's wear, which he showed alongside the men's, was also more gussied up than in past seasons.)

The collection Simon Spurr sent down the runway wasn't more spit-and-polished than usual — that would be a tall order for a menswear designer whose razor-sharp tailoring is his sartorial calling card. If anything, Spurr was trying to push things in the opposite direction by riffing on the theme of British modernism in general and Robert Frank's photographs of London in particular.

That was most noticeable in the form of an exploded houndstooth-check pattern printed or bonded to suits, outerwear pieces and sweaters. "People are expecting a bit more in the way of fashion from me," Spurr said backstage prior to the show.

And it wasn't just the luxury menswear brands that were headed in a dressier direction. A look at collections from Brooks Brothers andJ. Crewrevealed a similar trend.

"The collection is more polished and more precise this season — the look, the hair, everything," said Frank Muytjens, head ofJ. Crew's men's design team at the label's Feb. 14 presentation. He noted the "deep, inky blues and blacks — like the colors in an oil slick."

Muytjens said he took the season's inspiration from the poet Edward James. "I found his picture on the cover of a vintage book I found at the Brooklyn Flea Market," he said. "I was also inspired by the explorer Ernest Shackleton."

"That was a long time ago — 1910," he acknowledged, speaking of the era when Shackleton was in his prime, "but I feel the time is right."

Muytjens came to that conclusion last year as he was traveling around the United States visitingJ. Crewstores. "Of the people I was meeting, I noticed it was the men that were more dressed up than the women," he said.

The result is a sharp-looking collection that's heavy on the blue hues, with tailored and trim-fitting suits in Glen plaid, Harris tweed jackets in a dark Black Watch tartan, herringbone military shirts and shawl-collared or double-breasted cardigans. Dressy denim could be found in dark five-pocket work pants, jean jackets, denim shirts and even neckties cut from vintage Japanese indigo. Outerwear pieces included corduroy peacoats, wool hunting jackets and down parkas.

But it was another piece of outerwear — the sweater — that had an unexpectedly hot menswear moment on the runways. Long the unsung utility player of the men's fall-winter wardrobe, the sweater seemed to be back bigger than ever at New York Fashion Week. One couldn't throw a lint brush in Manhattan in the last week without hitting some high-end designer's interpretation. There were cable knit cardigans, double-breasted cardigans, toggle-button cardigans, shawl-collared sweaters, V-neck pullovers and Fair Isle zip-fronts.

The sweaters even managed to take center stage on two memorable occasions. The first was at the Michael Bastian show, where one look included a yellow cashmere sweater with a single black zigzag — an unmistakable reference to Charlie Brown's signature look — and the second came at the Jeremy Scott show, when a key piece of the designer's rainbow-colored homage to 1990s computers and popular culture included another black and yellow sweater, this one bearing an allover print of very different cartoon kid Bart Simpson.

So whether one identifies with Charlie Brown or Bart Simpson — or falls somewhere in between — rest assured that there will be something warm and fuzzy to wear when next fall rolls around.

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