Thursday, February 09, 2006

It's a man's world


"I want to look like a 40-year-old man. I don't want to look like an idiot," said John Bartlett in an interview following the presentation of his fall men's wear collection - one of his strongest in years - last Friday.

The designer's statement about dressing his age reinforces a trend blowing through men's wear - that of dressing for reality, not subscribing to some designer's - ideal of what modern masculinity should look like. It's about subtle sophistication rather than gimmicky artifice.

Following hot on the polished heels of the recent men's wear presentations in Milan and Paris, the New York shows (often looked down upon due to their emphasis on real-life ensembles) suddenly seem right on the money. And with heady growth already being witnessed in both the men's clothing and grooming sectors (see below), retailers are looking forward to a very profitable season. Kenneth Cole was, and always is, about realism - in his ideology and his collections. Cole kept it simple for fall, sticking to clean lines and making his coats - in luxe shearling and polished wools - the statement pieces.

For John Varvatos, the interest is always in the surface details. Varvatos worked with coated leathers and textural wools to give his belted trench coats and knit jackets a softer, almost worn-in appearance.

Known for taking inspiration from sources as diverse as military uniforms and the English landed gentry, Ralph Lauren paraded a high-low mix of Saville Row tailoring, officer embellishments and ripped and torn denim. All before a bemused Mayor Bloomberg. But it's doubtful we'll see Mayor Mike sporting Lauren's lean trousers cropped high to reveal a bare ankle. It's a look more associated with designer Thom Browne, but Lauren's version will be the one that makes it acceptable to the mass market.

In a season awash in tones of gray and beige, or a mixture of the two, it was a visual relief to see some technicolor brilliance at Lacoste and Duckie Brown.

Lacoste in particular was a veritable rainbow flag. Blouson jackets, loose, three-quarter duffel coats, trousers and even sneakers marched down the runway in DayGlo shades.A kaleidoscopic shock to the eye shown all together, but as separate pieces mixed with everyday denim and darker tones, they should be a big hit.

At Marc by Marc Jacobs, trousers were super narrow or super wide. Note to non-model types: Try the super- wide variety at your peril.

But it was Bartlett, - cleverly using "real" people (friends and associates) as well as models on his wood-chip covered catwalk, who has set the tone so far. His plaid cashmere peacoats, check patch-pocket jackets and corduroy trousers in shades of forest green, black and camel could have walked off the runway and onto Sixth Ave. A rare feat. His guys looked chic, sensible and, what is shaping up as the biggest trend of the week, real.

Pass the moisturizer, honey
Getting dolled up isn't just for girls anymore. What started with metros swiping their gals' concealer and cashmere socks has blossomed into a booming fashion and beauty industry for boys. Could dirty sports tees and unruly nose hairs finally become relics of the past?

"Guys are becoming much more attuned to fashion," says Steph Cardino, Macy's men's fashion director. "But now the trend is really starting to hit."

These days, it's not just men about town who dress to the nines. Average Joes follow fashion trends, too.

"The men's business was stagnant until about a year or two ago, and suddenly it exploded," says Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates, a retail consulting firm. "The malls now have tremendous demand for shops like the Men's Wearhouse, men's catalogue sales are up, Internet sales are up, everything is up."

But don't expect to see baggy sweats or baseball caps on the runway anytime soon. "This generation grew up with their dads dressing down," says Cardino. "So dressing up looks very new and very fresh to them."

And men aren't just choosing natty threads. They've picked up chick-worthy grooming habits, too. L'Oreal debuted a guy's skin-care line in 2005, as did designer John Varvatos. Clarins also has one, and cosmetics heavyweights like Clinique and Lancome are revamping and expanding their men's collections this spring. A diet of pizza and beer can wreak havoc on the complexion, after all.

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