26-Jul, 05:26

23:58, July 10 69 0

2017-07-10 23:58:02
Fashion Review: Hopeful Upstarts Kick Off Men’s Fashion Week in New York

There is a fledgling 19-year-old Nigerian-born designer who boasts of a nascent cult following in Japan; a Sudanese immigrant model discovered at his prom in Albany; a gay African-American Army veteran who pitched his spring 2018 men’s wear collection toward lightening the country’s mood.

A variety of ways present themselves of looking at New York Men’s Day, the opener of New York Fashion Week: Men’s. You can see it as the continuation of a seemingly unending loop of clothes going around in circles two months a year in cities like London, Milan or Paris. You can consider it a valiant, and possibly futile, effort on the part of the Council of Fashion Designers of America to reclaim its rightful place for American fashion on a global stage. You can view it as a commercial hodgepodge in search of a unifying tent-pole concept. Or you can think of it as another excuse for the click-baiting Instagram loons to break out the pink bunny slippers and harem pants.

Another possibility exists, however, and it is a hopeful one. No less in fashion than in other ostensibly more serious fields, people confused and alarmed by the current state of politics are resisting a new world order that looks to shut them out.

Designers have stories to tell about an America whose hijacked narrative they would like to reclaim. Even fashion design can do that, lest anyone forget.

Consider Taofeek Abijako, a young American of Nigerian ancestry who, though just out of high school, staged a startlingly sophisticated show of street wear inspired by post-colonial African clothing, the kind that might have been worn by the fashion-conscious young Malians featured in the classic studio portraits shot by Malike Sidibe or Seydou Keita in the 1960s.

“I’m interested in the way the natives adopted European styles and made them their own,” said Mr. Abijako, whose label is called Head of State. He quickly added, “I can say natives because I’m African.”

On a group of models cast on New York streets (or, in the case of the young Sudanese model Mohamed Ali Ibrahim, discovered by the designer at a prom) and with the kind of looks often excluded from mainstream fashion, Mr. Abijako showed 10 separate outfits that included oversize jackets, trousers and shorts and in colors that hewed to a limited palette of primary colors.

What made them interesting was the slightly off-kilter shape of trousers tailored close to the leg but then belted to look as though borrowed from an older brother or else the boxiness of zippered jackets that appeared to have been pulled from the bottom of a prop trunk.

The odd fits were intentional, the designer explained: “I like that aesthetic you see in the Sidibe portraits, where you know he put the sitters in clothes he had around the studio.”

If those natty clothes were occasionally ill fitting, the poses struck by Sidibe’s subjects, bright gazes fixed on a new African future, were prideful enough to bring anything they wore to life.

Julian Woodhouse, a former Army lieutenant who started the label Wood House, was one of the designers who returned to New York Men’s Day on Monday. “I called the collection Field Day, because I was feeling so heavy about political shifts,” Mr. Woodhouse said. “I wanted to show something shiny in a world of confusion.”

Seeking to inject a jolt of humor into a grim news cycle, he put models like Daje Barbour in colored shower-curtain mackintoshes or voluminous cargo shorts worn with suspenders left hanging or else overalls with pegged ankles and bibs cut low for efficiency of escape. There were also ball caps emblazoned with the slogan “Make Menswear Great Again.”

“We all need some humor right now,” Mr. Woodhouse said.

It is either that or yank the covers over your head, said David Hart, another of the designers featured at the morning presentation held at Dune Studios in the financial district.

“I’m kind of staying in my own world and my own bubble,” Mr. Hart said. Titled Tourism in Cuba, the collection’s design was undertaken before the Trump administration reversed President Barack Obama’s decision to ease restrictions on travel to that country. “I was planning to go with some friends,” he said, “and now I can’t.”

Hence he summoned an image of Cuban fashion as it might have appeared in the Batista years — one that, while at odds with the neon bling characteristic of contemporary Havana style, looked a good deal fresher than some of the literary hokum left behind by that island’s immortal literary expat, Papa Hemingway.

The hues of Mr. Hart’s smartly cut suits of linen or cotton woven by the storied Albini Group in Italy — styled with rolled cuffs and billowing pocket squares — shirt jackets fashioned after guayaberas and high-waisted pleated trousers were a riff on the candy-color ’50s Chevrolets still seen tootling along the Malecon. What gave the David Hart collection an edge was the subtlety of the designer’s tonal color selections — palest banana; faded ocher; mint green; Necco-wafer pink.

It is his ability to refresh a weary design trope like Cuban tropicalia that, one imagines, might recommend Mr. Hart to one of those great American brands now casting about for a design talent to steer a course back toward profitability and relevance.

No need to name names: They know who they are.