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June 28, 2010 8:14 PM

Fashion, Men's

A Reeducation

I think I’m getting into men’s wear....

I think I’m getting into men’s wear. Not, mind you, significantly enough to temper resentment of all the space this paper now affords the men’s shows, even while that most important and holy of all seasons — you know that means resort — continues on simultaneously in various of the world’s fashion outposts, and must thus compete (and often come in second) in the race for print space.
Thank God, Al Gore and cyber geniuses everywhere for the Web.

Yet I find, to my not-quite-civilian surprise, that men’s clothes on the runway can be interesting, even when not silly. I used to think they all fell into one of two categories — boring or ridiculous. Since I doubt men’s designers en masse have in recent seasons altered their approach to designing, I must chalk this revelation up to the fact that from my perch, not in the fashion show audience, but in front of my computer, I’m simply paying closer attention than I did when this company’s men’s coverage ran in WWD’s now-defunct brother publication, DNR.

I recall back at his Gucci height that Tom Ford would extol the joys of men’s wear. The excitement, the news, he said, relied not on styling but on the cut of the clothes. Raise a suit button, shrink an arm hole even slightly, and you had major news. Going through the current runs of shows online, I get it. In what seems to be a sedate season, one can see designers striving to distinguish their tailoring while at the same time grappling with our increasingly casual culture. How should men dress day-to-day? Is tailoring relevant, or a necessary anachronism with little significance beyond the traditional workplace?

A quick perusal of the shows offers a visual impression that may resonate deeply, precisely because of the overall social shift toward casual: There’s something fabulously appealing about a man in a jacket. As with women, there’s much to be said for the appearance of a little effort when getting dressed. Yet the season’s tailored clothes are far from stuffy, as seen in the rumpled versions at Dolce & Gabbana, Bottega Veneta and John Varvatos. Nor do they look generic in their polish: Prada’s high, three-buttoned cuts are a quantum leap from Zegna’s double-breasted panache. And while there were plenty of tradition-steeped deep grays, the season offered a light side in beachy hues and in shots of color, as in Giorgio Armani’s suits shown with a vivid blue sweater or, more daringly, with a yellow belt and shoes.

Ah, color — sometimes it works perfectly, especially as designers look to express casual with distinction, whether in feisty knits or the playful patterns that turned up all over in a near obsession with shorts. However, a too-strident play with color can confound even in women’s. In men’s, whoa. While I sometimes loved the audacity of Raf Simons’ choices at Jil Sander — the fabulous geometric sweaters — an electric blue coat belted over a multibright T-shirt was more biddy than bold.

This is where my own chauvinism and, I fear, ignorance come into play. When a nonfashion person inquires about “all the silly things they show on the [women’s] runways,” I can do soliloquies on the distillation of message, cultural resonance, artistic vision, you know the drill. But when I see men’s clothes that fall under similar motifs jumping out from the paper I’ve worked at forever, I sometimes wonder why. A major skull sighting from Rei Kawakubo? Makes perfect sense; she’s Rei Kawakubo. Yet something as simple as a belted suit worn with a fez at Yves Saint Laurent? Or a leopard-spotted blouson from Givenchy? They feel needlessly laborious.

And as for the Dior Homme looks described with admiration in WWD’s review as “billowing sleeveless trenchcoats,” it’s not a concept likely to capture the male sartorial fancy. And it’s not a straight-gay thing; most men who wear suits wear them to work in environments that are, stylistically speaking, conservative, and billow doesn’t blend. Ditto those supposedly earth-moving suits of Thom Browne’s. Fish gotta swim, yes, but on a spiffy shorts suit, they’re better off doing so on a ring-bearing tot at a preppy wedding.

Or perhaps my reeducation is a work in progress. What I need is a couple of sit-down sessions with my brilliant colleague, men’s fashion editor Alex Badia. Then maybe I’ll embrace men’s wear, even in most hyper-styled, runway-only glory.

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