New York Fashion Week has long been the home of wearable sportswear, just as Paris is the home of the avant-garde. But this season, America's current crop of homegrown talent showed that they were capable of more. Indeed, a number of American designers broke out of that box this year and showed collections that were still wearable, but had a sense of imagination behind them that hasn't always been apparent. The Public School boys grew out of their minimalist roots and showed a fully realized collection, while Michael Bastian experimented with theme in a way we haven't seen from him before, resulting in one of his more adventurous collections to date. Even menswear stalwarts Ovadia and Sons (pictured directly below) ventured into rock'n'roll territory, a clear departure from their more subdued beginnings.
While Public School has been in the limelight consistently for the past year, winning both the Swarovski and Vogue/CFDA awards within a few weeks of the other, their F/W 14 show was still something of a breakthrough for the young powerhouse label. Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow, the duo behind the brand, ooze NYC-cool, and a less enthusiastic observer could have leveled the criticism that some of their past collections used this as a crutch, rather than a starting point. This season however, the Public School team realized the sweet spot they exist in and exploited it; which made for a collection that came with a familiar mood but noticeably upgraded style - the Public School man we have been waiting for all along.
Fans of the label were treated to the black and white, minimalist cool for which the duo is known. However, instead of leaning on the expert styling of Eugene Tong to get the point across, the duo sent down their iteration of nearly every wardrobe staple a man could want. Reimagined moto-jackets, in everything from a checked grey wool to a surprisingly subdued green leather, and the onslaught of perfect overcoats were arguably the highlight of the collection. The designers also injected hints of color throughout, whether it was the occasional pops of red that highlighted some of their new womenswear, or the shimmering emerald green fabric used on a handful of bomber variations. With a denim and shoe line, their first stab at womenswear and their strongest menswear collection to date, all in their rearview mirror, there’s no telling what the Public School gents could accomplish next.
Mark McNairy certainly knows how to entertain. Whether it be in the form of his New Amsterdam label or his NYFW shows - the man does not disappoint. The McNairy offerings we’re used to tend to jump from one extreme to the other, a pair of digitized camo 8-pocket cargo pants one day, a vintage preppy blazer in deadstock fabric the next. This season, McNasty made the most of this dichotomy and combined the two in nearly every respect, and the end result was a thoroughly American riff on what the modern man should be wearing right now. Or at least, what the modern man could be wearing, assuming they had Mark McNairy’s gift for humor and, to paraphrase the man himself, not giving a fuck.
Traditional suiting (Made in America, of course) was relaxed to the point that the very essence of the suit was changed into something more casual and something not at all fit for the office. This alternative take on a man’s uniform was the nearest approximation to the designer’s own uniform we’ve seen yet. His other main conceit - a quilted shirt jacket paired with roomy, cuffed trousers, a McNairy staple, worked equally as well; translating McNairy’s trademark aesthetic into something more wearable than, say, the daisy-printed trousers from seasons past. And if there was any doubt that McNairy truly marches to the beat of his own drum, you need only look to the finale. No, not eveningwear as is usually the case, but capes. And not just capes, but capes co-designed and modeled by rapper Cam’ron and his wife.
America’s long-standing and under-appreciated answer to the avant-garde, the Duckie Brown boys (Daniel Silver and Steven Cox), showed their first womenswear collection this year, and they were no doubt influenced by their newest customer, as the menswear had a hint of the feminine, as well. Under-layering has been the name of the game for the past year or two, and while the trend is grounded in streetwear, a number of other labels and genres have appropriated the look - Duckie Brown did so, and in a thoroughly Duckie Brown manner. Instead of layers of monochromatic, drapey jersey, the design duo gave their man silk and satin printed shorts to wear over their lime green pants; accented, of course, by the slippers each model wore. The result was more androgynous than goth, but, this being Duckie Brown, that androgyny gave way to a number of wearable individual pieces. A voluminous bomber, a standout in a season where nearly every show had some form of the jacket on display, was especially telling that this duo isn't purely for show; they are making real, wearable clothes, too. A voluminous burgundy-hued peacoat told the same story - there is more here than meets the eye. For those brave enough to wade into the Duckie Brown waters, this revelation should be no surprise at all.
For Ovadia and Sons' first catwalk presentation, the brothers behind the label decided to take a different direction. Instead of showing the classic-meets-modern tailoring for which they are known, the Ovadias went with a fusion of Saint Laurent and Michael Kors - to mixed effect. The show was initially rather confusing, as the first few looks were marked by the combination of plaids and animal prints paired with finely tailored suits, including a flannel tied around the waist - a page ripped from Hedi Slimane’s playbook for sure. This abrupt departure from the duo’s trademark aesthetic was met by another, slightly less abrupt departure: full-on Michael Kors. Not-quite minimal looks, dominated by a variety of color blocked sweaters and slacks, screamed for the kind of understated American luxe that the Project Runway judge is said to embody. There were standouts of course: an over the top, black suede moto-jacket was hard to miss, and there was a rich, navy Ma-1 jacket that will no doubt be a hit once it arrives on store shelves next year. But, ultimately, this might have been too-drastic, too-soon. The boys are undoubtedly talented though, and everyone is entitled to some growing pains.
Michael Bastian made his case yet again for why he truly is America’s next great designer, in the pantheon next to names like Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren. The Ralph Lauren reference is especially prescient because, like Lauren, Michael Bastian can deliver an entirely new collection each season, each with its own standout themes and ideas, all the while, eliminating any doubt as to who’s collection it might be. For instance, this season he took inspiration from Japan and the men there who combine the best American and European looks to create their own unique, and often imitated style. The Japanese influence was maybe more prominent than some might have expected from a Bastian show, but it worked all the same. The giant kimono over Michael Bastian’s signature paratrooper sweatpants was a definite highlight, and something at least one “street style star” will attempt in the near future. Then there were the classic American basics that the Bastian customer demands, from the range of covetable suiting to the array of casual but luxurious outerwear. And there was even a hint of playfulness present in a dinosaur sweater layered underneath a plaid suit - a trait that is not often found in the designer’s repertoire, but a welcome one nonetheless.