At Friday's "How to Make It In Fashion" conference, we asked a group of influential menswear enthusiasts and experts where they feel their segment of the industry is headed. Interest in #menswear has been bubbling over for nearly the past decade, spurred on by street style photography by the likes of The Sartorialist, craftsmanship-focused sites like A Continuous Lean as well as streetwear and sneakers news from Hypebeast. "Fashion used to be a four-letter word for men," said designer Todd Snyder. "I think those stereotypes and barriers are slowly getting beaten down."
Lawrence Schlossman, brand director of Grailed and voice behind Four Pins, agreed: "Early blogs in 2009, 2010 took an approach to men covering fashion in a way you think of how men talk about cars and watches. This under-the-hood approach where it's like, 'Where does it come from? How is it made?' Very tactile, very hands-on. That helped soften the blow for a lot of guys who might've been into clothes maybe secretly or not vocal about it."
As the menswear market continues to grow, it’s also experienced a shift in influences and inspiration, including the apparent decline of the traditional suit. But Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men's at Barneys New York, thinks the suit is not dead but has only evolved. "Suits aren't dead, it's just how guys wear them is different," added Snyder, noting that they're now worn with T-shirts and sneakers, a footwear style that has exponentially grown in popularity over the years. "It's really driven a lot of fashion, from John Elliott to Public School to even me," he said. "I'm wearing sneakers more often now than I was wearing the Alden Indy boot — that used to be the shoe of the moment 10 years ago, so it's really cool that it's shifted."
Jacob Gallagher, Men's Fashion Editor at "Off Duty" of The Wall Street Journal, sees the industry leaning towards "maximalism overload."
"When it comes to fashion, we're going to see somewhat of a minimalism renaissance," said Gallagher, citing the '80s designs of Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons. (The 2017 spring Costume Institute exhibit and gala, which will honor legendary designer Rei Kawakubo, could certainly help with this.) "For someone who's been watching it for a while, I do see a lot of references to the early Japanese designers in many ways," said Kalenderian. He also brought up Jil Sander in her heyday. "I can't think of another designer who commanded a minimalist approach that led the way for Céline and The Row and so forth."
And although Kalenderian notices a turn towards simplicity, too, he also points out youth culture as a strong and influential force in the industry, along with Instagram as the main source for discovery and inspiration for emerging trends and designers. In addition to minimalism, Gallagher hopes for more innovation, especially with fabrics. "While your sneakers might be the most technologically advanced thing in the world, the rest of your outfit is still made from fibers that we've been using for decades," he said. "I'd like to see that focus on whatever Nike and Adidas are doing in Portland through the rest of your wardrobe, because I wish our clothes functioned better." Jian DeLeon, menswear editor at WGSN, sees more influence coming from the outdoors industry than from athletics, with Gore-Tex and nanosphere technologies. "Things that keep you warm when it's minus-five wind chill outside are going to appeal to more men and women," he said.
The biggest concern, however, surrounding menswear's current (and future) state also has to do with New York Fashion Week: Men's, which has been disputed somewhat since its launch in 2015. Luckily, the recent announcement that Raf Simons will participate next year offers a new wave of excitement and hope. "Raf coming next season is ginormous," said Schlossman. "And we might look back at this as the tipping point to make it super impactful. But right now, unfortunately, it gets completely overshadowed by the European fashion weeks for men and then even New York Fashion Week for women."
On the flip side, DeLeon points out that "a lot of America's best menswear designers don't see the benefit of showing at NYFW: Men's," including an established designer like Daiki Suzuki of Engineered Garments who already sees success through market appointments, or a young, promising designer like Abasi Rosborough who might not have the funds to stage a high-cost show. "The market is super thick," says Gallagher. "And it's better to break through with actually making money and getting accounts than it is to break through to get a little bit of buzz doing a show."
Snyder, who has shown his collection during NYFW: Men's, still thinks "at the end of the day, it's better to be a part of women's [New York Fashion Week.]"
"I'll make fun of myself," he added. "I'm the headliner with John Varvatos, which is a little like, really? Even myself, I believe in my brand, but I'm still a baby.… John coming back from Milan is great. If that didn't happen I don't think there would be a men's fashion week. But I think Raf being here is a complete game changer. I was even thinking, 'Do we show? Do we do an off-cycle thing?' But now that Raf is here. Public School is going to do it. We're going to do it. Everybody's kind of focused on that week, which is important."