At New York Fashion Week: Men’s, “Everyone’s Fucking Sad”
John Varvatos, Sánchez-Kane, and Willy Chavarria show us some apocalyptic men as the world’s end draws nearer.
Photograph by Gonzolo Marroquin for Getty Images.
New York Fashion Week: Men’s, which started Monday, actually started last Friday with an early entry from John Varvatos, who tethered his show to Grammys weekend. That was also the day the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved up the Doomsday Clock by 30 seconds. Whether or not Varvatos was cognizant that mankind was now considered to be the closest to its annihilation since the 1950s, the clothes seemed to be ready. The collection, which he showed in the Angel Orensanz Center—a desacralized Gothic revival synagogue on the Lower East Side that seemed primed to the religious zeal Varvatos maintains for the trappings of rock and roll—was in fact more muted.. There were louche, crumpled velvet dusters and belted leather car coats, but much of it leaned apocalyptic, more Cormac McCarthy’s The Road than Road to Ruin: washed wool parkas in muddied browns and grays; heavy, elongated knits that skimmed the floor; chunky wool socks worn over pants; and everything layered, like you had to grab all your warm clothes and stay off the grid for awhile. At the end, the models reappeared in t-shirts with the word “Equality” printed on them and held their hands to their hearts while Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a big thumping gesture that someone in my vicinity took in with an audible groan.
Following Bode, which opened NYFWM proper on Monday morning, “New York Men’s Day” is a grab-bag of presentations by emerging designers that has a kind of electricity that Men’s Week, as a commercial experiment, has lacked at times. It’s held in a warren of white box spaces in the same Financial District building as Standard & Poor’s North American headquarters, which gave it a kind of immersive theatre quality: narrow, interminable corridors leading to rooms that either delight or horrify or bore.
The best of them, like Head of State, by the 19-year-old Nigerian designer Taofeek Abijago, offer a vision of New York fashion’s future beyond its tired workhorses. Abijago, who showed at Men’s Day last year, returned to the images of Malian photographers Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keïta: models posed as if for portraits, one sitting upright, one standing at his side with a hand resting on the other’s shoulder. And he continued his exploration of West African youth culture bridged with his American assimilation (Abijago recently graduated high school in Albany), hence familiar European and American shapes augmented by a distinctly non-Western sensibility, like tailored trousers cropped just so, nubby half-zip track tops, and PVC-coated jackets in earthy hues. There were some standout pieces at Diplomacy’s debut, a streetwear label by the Queens-by-way of-the-Caribbean designer Eric Archibald, like coated wool tartan jackets, anoraks, and jumpsuits that resembled the checkered plastic laundry carriers favored by bag ladies, and at Bristol Studio, a streetwear label by the LA-based Japanese-American designer Luke Tadashi, who showed thick-napped sweatpants with oven-mitt patch pockets and generously cut break-away track pants (1999 is alive!). Tadashi said that the collection was an homage to his grandparents, who emigrated from Japan in the 1950s, which translated into crinkled cupro camp shirts with asymmetric hems in bones and clays that looked as delicate as sophisticated ceramics merchandised to affluent urban creatives.
Sánchez-Kane had everything: a wearable sunglass display; bondage straps; pectoral cut-outs; models conjoined by braid; a shirt made of flip-flops; interpretive dancers wearing only jockstraps making papier-mâché penis sculptures but then giving up and smearing the plaster on each other’s torsos; a t-shirt printed with the word “SEXXXINFLUENCER.” The Mexican-American designer Bárbara Sánchez-Kane, one of the few female designers showing during NYFW:M, said her Fall 2018 collection was rooted in sexual education and its repression in the Mexico schools of her youth, where such topics are taboo, but also gender norms/gender-normative codes that insist boys play soccer and women be demure. “I think it’s very funny how people assume I’m a guy,” Sánchez-Kane said. “They see the name and the sex and the erotic and think a woman cannot express herself sexually, and a guy just can.”
This time last year, Willy Chavarria debuted his aggressive sweatshirts and polos with phrases like "born of immigrant family" and "capitalism is heartless” on an entirely black and Latino cast, who streamed from a chain-link internment camp set piece, a full-throated reaction to the political climate. By late afternoon on Monday, the Dow Jones had sagged over 1100 points; bad feelings abounded again. Chavarria said the collection was about realness, reflective of our current emotional state. “I thought, Do I want to do a sad show, or not? And I decided, yeah, I want to do a sad show, because I feel like everyone’s fucking sad. Everyone’s bummed out.” So Chavarria’s streetcast black and Latino models looked like they were near tears, with wet eyes or with a teardrop jewel affixed to a cheek. The clothes were heavy, volumetric denim dusters, leather jackets, and plaid overshirts that continued his exploration of Chicano and Cholo culture and his challenge to received ideas about masculinity. There were also cropped corduroy jackets in a dour palette of faded black and grays that conjured a different kind of workwear. “A lot of the silhouettes were based on what you would see on a guy working at UPS, or on a guy in the Bronx,” Chavarria said backstage. Prison was another reference point. “There’s pent-up aggression. The stuff we hear on the television that, for me, of Mexican background, it’s just like, you feel so bad." Realism may look bleak, but the collection managed a few points of hope. Chavarria has a flair for logo appropriation, and “Sanctuary City Sport” sweatshirts, riffs on Ralph Lauren’s Polo Sport designs of the 90s, offered a crack of light in the darkness.
Ovadia & Sons held their Monday evening show at Irving Plaza, the New York concert mainstay for misspent youth, and the door featured an aggressive security apparatus involving a wand and full body pat down that I first thought was a faithfully intense homage to the venue’s recent history of violence (a 2016 T.I. concert there was the site of a shooting involving the rapper Troy Ave). In any case, the designers and twins Ariel and Shimon Ovadia know how to drum up a lot of excitement, opening the show with a video of quick cuts of CBGB, punk mayhem, and cheetahs that invoked some abstract ideas about New York nightlife, but ended up with mostly muddled references: bowling shirts and plaid check pants, lounge lizard camp shirts, a shirt with the Bitcoin logo, intarsia sweaters, some loose Western motif embroidery and steel-tipped lapels. By the time Pennywise started blaring, it was clear this was the CBGB of early 90s hardcore, which was too bad.