We Sent a Non-Fashion Dude to Review the New York Fashion Week: Men's Shows

Bill Cunningham did not take his photo, but he did learn a thing or two about #menswear.
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Bill Cunningham did not take his photo, but he did learn a thing or two about #menswear.
The finale at Perry Ellis's fall/winter 2016 show. Photo: Imaxtree

The finale at Perry Ellis's fall/winter 2016 show. Photo: Imaxtree

After writer Seth Stevenson gave us his take on what it was like to attend the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show and a women's ready-to-wear show as a non-fashion dude, we decided that the logical next step was to throw him into the #menswear trenches at New York Fashion Week: Men's. Here, he gives us an account of his experience.

For unclear reasons, Fashionista has again dispatched me to New York Fashion Week. Me: a singularly styleless man, prone to combining up to five items of L.L. Bean apparel within a single daytime ensemble. Me: a fellow who owns not even one pair of gold lamé tennis shoes.

This year, the gusts of fashion fate have blown me to the West Village on the morning of Perry Ellis's fall 2016 show. For the most part, I've never heard of the designers featured at Fashion Week, but I've heard of Perry Ellis. I think as a teen I wore a polyester Perry Ellis blazer whenever I needed to look "presentable." In recent years, I've mainly seen the brand's logo emblazoned on the arms of eyeglasses sold at mall kiosks.

As we take our seats, the people behind me murmur: They are thrilled to have spotted legendary New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham in the front row. "Which one is he?" asks a breathless woman. "There, next to the man in the mirrored sunglasses," replies her neighbor. I follow their eyes and can't help but notice that the aforementioned man in mirrored sunglasses is in fact Oscar-winning actor Cuba Gooding, Jr. Celebrity is a contextual notion.

Suddenly the music starts, and the models appear, strutting before us. I would describe Perry Ellis's fall aesthetic as "boarding school boy who got dressed while blindfolded." A wool cable sweater is paired indifferently with boiled wool track pants. A patterned crewneck is worn atop a clashing patterned shirt.

If I were looking to define an emotional theme, I would note that many of the outfits feature thick padding — soft armaments that cushion the wearer from external danger. There are generous, gummy soles on the shoes; fat, shearling collars on the jackets; absurdly floppy necks on the turtlenecks. I wonder: What does Perry Ellis fear? What vile, encroaching invader must be repelled from the Perry Ellis sanctuary?

I can offer no informed opinion on the worthiness of these designs, fashion-wise. I can only tell you that I would not personally wear any of these clothes. I can also report, if it helps, that Cuba Gooding, Jr. smiled appreciatively at a mauve alpaca turtleneck that peeked out from beneath a plum twill trenchcoat.

Waiting for the crowd to shuffle out as the show wraps, I do some quick googling. Did you know that Perry Ellis died in 1986 from an illness suspected to be AIDS? I do because I just googled it. It turns out that Perry's final public appearance was at his fall fashion show in New York in 1986, 20 years ago, when he was too frail to take the stage without assistance. So this kind of a sad anniversary. RIP, Perry. I wonder how you'd feel about your brand's fall 2016 line. I bet there's some sweet classic casual menswear in Heaven.

A look from the Cadet fall/winter 2016 collection. Photo: Imaxtree

A look from the Cadet fall/winter 2016 collection. Photo: Imaxtree

I've got enough time to hit one more event, so I slide into the Cadet show next door. I've not heard of Cadet. But as the models emerge, I could not be more excited. The visual theme is, like, actual naval cadets! Epaulettes! Flap pockets! Watch caps! I bow to no one in my love for functional nautical wear. This variation is very tailored, and vaguely fascist. I would describe the Cadet fall aesthetic as "off-duty sailor standing on a windy freighter dock in Estonia."

But now it's time for me to exit the fashion world once more, to return to my dowdy universe. Outside on the sidewalk, attendees jostle for Ubers. There weren't any super-insane outfits — nothing as strange as I saw last time at Lincoln Center — though one guy wore an enormous khaki trench coat over basketball shorts and sneakers. Some people took pictures of him, but it looked more to me like he was lounging at home and threw on the coat to go buy a bagel outside. Both streetwear fans and older, more dapper dudes wore sneakers, which surprised me — often off-the-rack sneaks like Adidas Stan Smiths — and this made me feel even lamer because I'd worn penny loafers in an effort to look slightly more formal. The men dare an occasional burst of color — a salmon infinity scarf, or an iridescent feather tucked into the bill of a taupe trilby. But the women are all grey and black, from their cantilevered shoes to their fingerless gloves. They slouch-walk to their waiting cars like tween girls arriving at the birthday party of an uncool classmate.

The crowd parts as I try to cross the street and suddenly, amazingly, I am face to face with Bill Cunningham himself. He appraises me for a moment, his camera raised. Will I be immortalized? No. Not when I'm wearing this much L.L. Bean. He turns away, with a smile that almost looks apologetic.

Correction: This story was updated to reflect the fact that Ellis died in 1986, not 1980.