A group of tenacious men’s clothing designers demonstrated this week that you can never count on creativity, despite the odds, a shattered retail landscape, and, of course, a pandemic, by fighting back. The support of day jobs and side hustles, as well as the assistance of parental loans and the generosity of friends, allowed eight independent designers to put together collections that, while not likely to change the course of contemporary fashion, fought to keep New York City relevant in the industry.
Designer Nicholas Raefski, who educated as an economist, said during his second presentation at New York Men’s Day on Friday that he was “passionate” about what he was doing. “I had to do something in the fashion industry.
Attendees of this jumbled collection of lectures, which takes place in the light-flooded Starrett-Lehigh building in Chelsea, always hope for a new discovery or a jolt of creative energy. The thrilling vistas that fill the windows of this Modernist monument, with the gunmetal Hudson right there to remind you of the tremendous currents, metaphorical and otherwise, that power the city, serve to supercharge those expectations.
In only the last 10 years, New York men’s wear presentations were the subject of a separate weeklong celebration complete with parties, corporate sponsorships and street-style photographers scouring the city for Instagram material. Many people showed out in large numbers, dressing in outrageous costumes that made the rest of us seem like droogs in comparison. Despite the fact that a lot of schlock was created during those weeks, they also provided a platform for future stars such as Willy Chavarria and Emily Bode to shine.
And there is still optimism that a designer like Aaron Potts, for example, may be able to leave his day job and make his designs more widely available. That opportunity is well-deserved. The APOTTS collections are often anchored in hidden byways of Black history and experience, which makes them subversive of both gender and racial assumptions. He has produced collections that are influenced by the Sun Ra Arkestra, the designer Willi Smith, and topsy-turvy dolls that are culturally loaded with meaning.
Mr. Potts, who is now 50 years old, makes his living by creating innocent pieces for Toccin, a company that, according to one department store website, provides garments that are “work suitable but ready for weekend parties.” In stark contrast, APOTTS, like many other NYMD labels, continues to be a “passion project” for its creators.
This season, he has a particular interest in the colour black, which he explores in a variety of materials such as boiled wool, fake patent leather, sports mesh, and knit faux suede. They were not suited for the workplace, unless you happen to be the personal assistant to the head of a secret sect or something. Trailing tendrils of organza, as well as a few unexpected splashes of colour — Crayola “blush” or bright orange inspired by one model’s nimbus of blazing red hair — contributed to the surreal atmosphere.
It is possible that Mr. Potts may be rescued from commercial limbo by an angel since he manages to conjure poetry on a shoestring budget (his models worked for very little money, and his “sound system” was a boom box), but this is not likely. “I’m still doing it in my hustling way, waiting for my Robert Duffy to come along,” the designer added, referring to the business partner who is credited with placing Marc Jacobs on the map as a major player in the fashion industry.
In a community where a tuna sandwich from a coffee shop costs $16, the tenacity of a New Yorker will only get you so far. And, although fashion weeks in cities like as London, Milan, Florence, and Paris continue to be quite successful, with at least some of the costs covered by trade associations or local governments, New York barely manages a few ragged presentations. Mr. Potts and his associates are deserving of greater and better treatment.
In considering how someone like the 24-year-old designer Tristan Detwiler, whose patchwork suit from an early STAN collection was purchased for exhibition at the Met, could benefit from financial support beyond that provided by his parents, it is worth considering how he could benefit from financial support beyond that provided by his parents as he expands his explorations beyond patchwork and attempts to scale his business by mining rich veins of fabric deadstock.
Mr. Detwiler presented a tight collection that he stitched himself and that was inspired by his paternal grandfather, who worked as a salesman at Kodak for 45 years. By shifting his target demographic from surfers like himself to an older but no less fashionable consumer, Mr. Detwiler demonstrated his ability to adapt to changing times. Using antique models like as the lovely Halstonette Alva Chinn and the perennial GQ cover boy Tony Spinelli, both of whom are still working, he demonstrated his repurposed materials in an unusually on-trend gesture.
The Raefski collection paid homage to that long-ago era in a casual manner, most notably with a quilted velour track suit in the colours of the Harvey Wallbanger ad campaign. It was the kind of outfit you hoped would become immensely popular and eventually take the place of the endless stream of prison sweatshirts and rumpled pullovers at the daily Zoom.
The outfit was worn by Jacob Marley, a 20-year-old model, over a graphic T-shirt with a full-face depiction of Farrah Fawcett Majors on the front. When asked whether he had ever heard of the lady whose face he was wearing — who was once regarded to be one of the world’s most beautiful women — he responded with a shrug.