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Leather pants with tuxedo jackets. Shirts and ties layered under soft-collar shirts. Velvet suits with a suggestion of shine.

And turtlenecks, turtlenecks, turtlenecks.

Oh, what the fashionable fellow will be wearing next fall.

It's Fashion Week in the Big Apple, and the clothing world is looking ahead to September. It's all part of the semiannual unveiling here of designer collections, beginning last Thursday with men's wear and ending Friday with the last women's show.

This year's nine-day fashion extravaganza, named Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week after its title sponsor, features more than 90 shows staged primarily by American designers but also by talents from Russia, Finland and elsewhere.

While some designers prefer to unveil their collections in their showrooms or other spots around Manhattan, the majority of shows are scheduled almost hourly in one of four tents put up in a patch of green known as Bryant Park, a short walk from Times Square.

Many names are familiar - Ron Chereskin, Nautica, Ralph Lauren, Diane von Furstenburg, Betsey Johnson - while others are new to the scene.

And what a scene it is, with hundreds of retailers and media gathered here from around the world to track the trends as well as celebrities and VIPS with fashion on their minds.

The men's shows ran through the weekend, with the fashion world's equivalent to the Super Bowl occurring Saturday night.

That's when rapper Sean "Puffy" Combs unveiled the collection he calls Sean John. No standard fare here.

Picture mink-lined ostrich coats; "sand-blasted" five-pocket jeans; curly lamb cut-offs worn over black thermal long johns, and black combat boots anchoring everything from bleached denims to pinstriped suits.

Media hype was heightened by the fact that Combs is currently on trial here on gun possession and bribery charges from a 1999 shooting at a Manhattan nightclub. His lawyer, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. of O.J. Simpson trial fame, sat in the front row of the show.

Not that Cochran might appear anytime soon wearing Combs' mink vest with corduroy cargo pants.

"I saw a couple suits I could wear," said Cochran, when asked after the show if he would wear any of his client's creations.

Before he could be questioned about whether or not he would wear them with combat boots, however, he was ushered backstage.

But while many of the outfits seen here are designed more for theater than real life, Fashion Week sets the tone - and the trends - for things to come.

The main message for men: Give those khakis a rest. It's time to dress up again.

But don't panic. As Nautica designer David Chu wrote in his program notes: "This does not mean uncomfortable and staid."

It does mean the continued fusion between tailored clothing and sportswear and a few new ideas about how men can pull themselves together for work or play.

The colors to watch for: Orange, in varying degrees from bright to russet. Olive, plum, cranberry and burgundy also made strong showings.

The must-have piece for fall: The turtleneck, from fine-gauge for under jackets to chunky to wear solo with trousers.

The comeback suit: Double-breasted.

And the comeback accessory: The necktie.

That's right, the tie. Although many men were unaware of its endangered species status, the fashion world has been talking about the tie's demise for years.

Now, designers are showing it again - but in more casual ways.

"The tie is back. We don't want to lose the tie from men's wardrobes. We don't have that many things to begin with," said designer Joseph Abboud, who mingled with reporters during his informal fashion presentation.

Abboud added a wool knit tie to an olive cotton shirt, zip-front cardigan and flannel trousers, for example.

He also showed a black and gray wool knit with a gray pinstriped shirt, charcoal wool trousers and a black leather jacket.

Veteran designer Salvatore J. Cesarani had another approach: He layered a shirt and tie under a soft-collar shirt and sportcoat, combining muted windowpanes, tartans, checks and stripes from the season's popular plum and olive palette.

"I want to see the tie come back. There's a need for it. I don't want men to forget formality. I showed a whole age group (of models) up here; there is a flexibility to these clothes - by the way the wearer does it," said Cesarani, after his fashion show.

As mentioned, turtlenecks are everywhere from sporty (Tommy Hilfiger's thin-striped turtleneck under rugby shirt) to dressy (Nautica's orange turtleneck under suit).

Leather showed up in new ways as well, from trims and accents to innovative looks in evening wear. Ron Chereskin paired black leather pants with a black crepe tuxedo jacket - complete with white tuxedo shirt - and also reversed the look by pairing a burgundy patent leather tuxedo jacket with black tuxedo pants.

Notable, too, was designers' use of fabrics with varying degrees of shine. Chereskin showed a shiny olive velvet suit. BCBG's men's collection included Lurex trousers and satin jackets. And a designer known as R. Scott French used the same sparkle suiting fabric for men's tuxedo jackets and trousers as he did for women's evening dresses.

Talk about his-and-her fashion!

TOP 10 TRENDS for men

Turtlenecks, dressy and casual

Corduroy pants

Fabrics with shine

Orange, all shades

Plum and burgundy

Olive and moss green

Three-quarter-length jackets

Casual ties

Long hair (think Fabio), or shaved heads

Double-breasted suits

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