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How Did New York Fashion Week: Men's Stack Up to the Women's Version?

From backstage to the front row, we were on the ground at the inaugural menswear event. Here's how we thought it went.
A model at the Orley presentation. Photo: Orley

A model at the Orley presentation. Photo: Orley

Last week, the tight-knit menswear community of editors, buyers and bloggers came together for the first-ever New York Fashion Week: Men's, an initiative led by the CFDA to allow designers to show their collections separately from the constraints (and scheduling conflicts) of the women's calendar. Kicking off with a low-key day of presentations in the West Village and closing with John Varvatos's highly publicized return to New York after eight years of showing in Milan, there was plenty to see in between. Collections ran the gamut from conceptual — like CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist Thaddeus O'Neil's vampire surfer-themed show — to classic and commercial, like Tommy Hilfiger's all-American presentation, complete with models wielding tennis racquets. 

Team Fashionista (consisting of a Fashion Week veteran, a backstage beauty enthusiast and an eager first-timer) was on the ground throughout the four-day event. Our consensus is that while the inaugural NYFW:M still has some kinks to work out, it should definitely be considered a success — and that the women's version could benefit from adopting a few of its elements. Read on for our observations.

The vibe was much more 'chill'

From publicists to journalists who cover Fashion Week every season, the most frequently used adjective used to describe NYFW:M was "chill." People seemed to be in good spirits, and because fewer designers were on the calendar — and the venues were closer together — showgoers were less harried than usual. I mean, Richard Chai handed out vapes in his gift bags for crying out loud. It doesn't get more laid-back than that. —Alyssa Vingan

Less street style 'peacocking,' more actual style

The barrier to entry for menswear seems to be lower than for womenswear (it's more feasible to throw down $150 for a cool pair of sneakers than $3,000 for the latest "It" bag). NYFW:M attendees seemed to exude more actual "style" than we see during the women's ready-to-wear and couture weeks, where street style stars borrow photogenic looks from designers — and are sometimes paid to do so — or throw on as many recognizable runway items as possible in the hopes of getting Tommy Ton's attention. For the guys, a well-fitting t-shirt, tailored pants or a jacket and a baseball hat put together just-so will do the trick. But bonus points for Raf Simons Stan Smiths or Yeezys, of course. —Alyssa Vingan

The front row is much less recognizable

While the usual suspects like Nick Wooster, Dirk Standen, Kate Lanphear and Robin Givhan still could be found in their normal front row spots, I generally had no idea who many of the people seated at the shows were. Aside from a professional athlete here and a Jonas brother there, the seating chart seemed much less political than during the other fashion weeks, which was refreshing. —Alyssa Vingan

Both male and female models took part in the Public School presentation. Photo: JP Yim/Getty Images

Both male and female models took part in the Public School presentation. Photo: JP Yim/Getty Images

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Thoughtful venue proximity

This is hopefully a good indicator of what the new NYFW will look like in its post-Lincoln Center era. With most shows and presentations taking place at either a Chelsea gallery space or Skylight Clarkson Square on the border of Soho, moving to and fro was much less tedious than it is during NYFW, as was hitching a ride up the West Side Highway. Uptown can be cool and everything, but we're not mad we didn't have to go there. —Alyssa Vingan

Less in-your-face marketing at the shows 

The tents at Lincoln Center sometimes looked like Diet Coke/Mercedes-Benz/American Express threw up all over them in terms of branding, but the NYFW:M sponsorship situation was more tasteful. Aside from a few Amazon and East Dane logos, an adorable Bloomingdale's pop-up picnic area and a Shinola setup that doubled as a site for market appointments, I don't recall any blatant marketing displays that took away from the space aesthetically. —Alyssa Vingan

A much calmer backstage experience

The difference between the energy backstage at the women's shows and at NYFW:M was startling enough to make me wonder whether I was in the right place when I showed up at Thom Browne on Tuesday morning. In the lead-up to womenswear presentations, the hair and makeup area is hectic, clouded with hairspray and lit up by camera flashes; as a reporter, it's a constant game of trying to stay out of everyone else's way. Men's, by comparison, was basically empty, and in the words of a number of hairstylists and PR people, "super chill." That owes to a few things: Guys only need about ten minutes in the makeup chair, and menswear editors haven't yet caught on to backstage beauty reporting, so there's less fuss overall. May that never change. —Eliza Brooke

More diversity on the runways

The runways at NYFW:M were noticeably less homogenous than they are at women's fashion weeks. Not only were there less white models, but the models had a wider age range — for example, 54-year-old Nick Wooster modeled in the Public School presentation. Designers cast a motley crew of guys with varying looks: some had tattoos and piercings; some had facial hair; some were muscular beefcakes and others were androgynous waifs. It seems that, for the most part, women’s fashion is less willing to experiment when it comes to casting, and it also highlights a fact that we all know too well: the burden of conformity falls heavier on women than men. —Jonathan Square

Models at the Gypsy Sport presentation. Photo: Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images.

Models at the Gypsy Sport presentation. Photo: Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images.

The 'Zoolander' effect

Is there any real correlation between the looks seen at NYFW:M and how men on the streets are actually dressing? At many of the shows we attended there was certainly a discrepancy, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Fashion is a form of creative expression, but given the classic brands that many men wear — and the commercial nature of many of the looks we saw during the week — we wonder how many of them are willing to adopt the comically oversized proportions of Gypsy Sport or the zombie-surfer aesthetic of Thaddeus O’Neil. —Jonathan Square

More gender fluidity

Rather than hardening rigid distinctions, we found that NYFW:M welcomed and encouraged gender fluidity. During previous fashion weeks, it was rare to find a male model included in a womenswear show. However, Public School, Michael Bastian and Theory all sprinkled female models into their presentations — some styled in men’s clothing and others in women’s. At Orley's presentation, the buzzy label showed its women's knits on a cast made up entirely of male models as well. —Jonathan Square