FGI Presents “The Total Man” — Experts Weigh in on Men’s Wear

While another women’s wear fashion month has just ended in Paris, New York is apparently quite busy with bridal. Last night’s FGI “The Total Man: A Shot in the Arm for Retail” covered the “third base” with a menswear discussion held at the Joseph Urban Theater at Hearst Tower. Moderator Alex Badia, Men’s & Women’s Fashion Director at WWD captained the team of Matthew Marden, Style Director, Esquire Magazine; Eric Jennings, Menswear Industry Expert, Todd Snyder, Designer, Todd Snyder New York and Donrad Duncan, Designer, EFM Engineered for Motion. Like baseball there was a uniform among these “boys of fashion” which included the wearing of the color navy (Jennings injected a splash of red among them with his EFM knit blazer), sneakers (Duncan wore brown suede loafers), and no socks (only Badia wore white socks with his white sneakers).

The conversation opened on the topic of athleisure or what is now called Streetwear/Active lifestyle, followed by designer collaborations, denim trend, pink trend, and suiting trend, after which questions were fielded from the audience concerning social media, fast fashion, grooming, and fine jewelry.

“Active lifestyle includes gym to office to drinks at night,” said Marden. “You can recreate a Gosha (Rubchinskiy) look pretty easily.” He also mentioned the importance of a factor of “relatability to what you’re wearing.” Duncan spoke of how his company EFM was created on that lifestyle and that this will be the way we continue to live, “it’s become a major part of the industry” since the birth of the metrosexual about twenty years ago. Badia remarked that if you’re near the (fashion) shows it’s often impossible to tell who’s going to the supermarket and who’s going to a show. Snyder came from the world of J. Crew which was defined by “the chino, the jacket and tie — sport used to remind me of the ’80s. I would thumb through the fabric books and pass all the stretch fabrics — now it’s all I look at. It’s an easy, adaptable trend because it’s comfortable.” The panel discussed how rappers and musicians started these looks and influences such as Princess Diana going to the gym in the ’90s inspired Virgil Abloh’s Off-White collection.

On the subject of designer collabs Badia said that “Supreme became a game changer in menswear with their collaboration with Louis Vuitton. Scarcity is one factor and it always helps both brands particularly when you’re mixing cultures and there’s nothing organic about it.” Snyder agreed that often brands that don’t seem to belong together work. “I knew I would never be able to get the advertising alone that I did with the collaborations. It gave me a launchpad.” His collaborations include Todd Snyder x Champion six years ago as well as Timex and Red Wing more recently. Duncan agreed that the “cross promotional aspects are very beneficial.” He has worked with Dockers (Levi’s) in the past. Jennings likes the idea of a heritage brand mixing with a newer brand such as Sacai x North Face as a “win/win that creates excitement and buzz.” Snyder sees future collaborations involving completely different industries such as automotive or interiors.

Badia opened the denim discussion calling out the idea that denim is a trend as “ridiculous. “There’s ‘90210’ denim, ‘Friends’ denim, all this ’90s denim. Men aren’t so interested in trend, they are more interested in brands,” he added. Jennings pointed out that “women’s trends are ending up in men’s wear and vice versa, maybe six months apart.” Duncan said that “denim is a classic fabric on the upswing” which has been updated for comfort.

Are the gentlemen feeling in the pink? Badia swore off the phrase “millennial pink” (much as he had “athleisure”) but added that they are “pushing the boundaries of color for men” while noting how consistent the panel members were with their love of navy. Jennings remarked that “head to toe pink is for the runway (Versace and others showed it) and not commercial” however pink sneakers sell. Snyder credited Kanye West’s collection for “changing people’s perception” vis-a-vis pink (the sort of ballet pink or nude hue that he used). Marden agreed: “You’re not going to see a full pink look coming down the street” and by the way “spring for men is not the big season — fall is.”

Suiting was next on the agenda. Badia said the emphasis is on “tailored clothing in a comfortable way.” Duncan added: “You have to respect the classic. The suit jacket is a major part of a man’s wardrobe — we’ve introduced it without the rigidity — to soften it up. We’ve done knitwear utilizing a semi structured silhouette. It’s been a major adjustment for the market.” Snyder spoke again of his days at J. Crew where he had introduced a more fitted suit. He gave props to Thom Browne who introduced the shrunken suit or Bleecker fit. He feels now that we’re back to an “Armani in the ’80s look which feels right again. It’s also big in women’s wear now.” Jennings said that “the foundation of menswear is the classic suit however in 2017 the classic suit represents the smarmy politician or the entry level worker. It doesn’t have the power that it did.”  What about the impact on sales? “Thirty percent of our sales is in suiting. You spend $800-$1,000 on a suit rather than a sweatshirt.”  Jennings remarked that the new office casual seeks to replace suits with “lots of other sports wear pieces that total up to the same amount.”

What of the overall men’s market? “Many designers are not doing men’s shows anymore,” says Badia “but men are still shopping.” Marden says that social media such as Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and friends are great for inspiration but when men want information or more “curated content” they still turn to magazines. Snyder adds that his customer is 35+ so Facebook is a “big piece” for them. His digital marketing has had a huge growth in the past two years as has the importance of “influencers” who used to be relegated to the back burner and are now seated at his shows next to the editors and store buyers, particularly if they have two million followers. “The trick is to appear small to get big,” he explains. He likes the idea of “looking like an organic company” along the lines of Vineyard Vines or Marine Layer rather than a Ralph Lauren — “these companies are doing well.”

How to deal with fast fashion? Jennings thinks that the return of logos that “tap into a brand’s IP” are helpful since a fast fashion outlet can’t do that (without getting sued at least). Snyder remarks that “fast fashion has changed everything. Zara will put out something in the same season that it’s on the runway. It’s great — it makes us all think of new ways to be creative.” Badia brought up the Gucci/Forever 21 lawsuit over the red and green stripes. As for fast fashion: “It’s just mental pollution. Every week or so there’s another collection.”

How does grooming make a difference? Marden remarked that “a horrible collection can be made by the grooming and vice versa.” The panel agreed that men all used to use the same grooming items (Clinique was big) but now they are not “staying with the pack” sometimes getting tips from Korean skincare which is 2-5 years ahead of the US market and is often advertised on men. They didn’t even mention the makeup trend with models such as IG bloggers Jeffree Star and others.

Jewelry is another arena where men can show their individuality. Again the shrine of Gucci is worshipped for this trend. The wearing of necklaces, rings, bracelets is something men enjoy because they are very personal items.

Lastly, a men’s wear designer in the audience mentioned unisex/androgynous clothing collections and the panelists thought this was a “seamless” idea. “How many times do you buy a pair of jeans in the women’s department?” asked Badia. “Said no one ever,” quipped Jennings.

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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