New York plays catch up with Europe in launching its first men's fashion week Monday, a four-day showcase for US spring/summer 2016 collections in an rapidly expanding market.
Big-name labels Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Michael Kors and Polo Ralph Lauren will rub shoulders with the up-and-coming such as Public School, Thom Browne, Michael Bastian and Rag and Bone. Designers will present more than 50 shows, spread across four days and concentrated at the Skylight Clarkson studio in trend-setting West Soho.
The menswear market is champing at the bit for recognition after being drowned out for years by the twice-yearly fashion weeks in the Big Apple, which feature hundreds and hundreds of womenswear shows. "American menswear has never been stronger or more creative," said Steven Kolb, CEO of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
"New York Fashion Week: Men's" will now be held twice a year, in July and January, following established events in London, Milan and Paris. Kolb called it "an opportunity to demonstrate the collective talent of an important segment of our industry. Patricia Mears, deputy director of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, said interest has picked up in recent years for menswear.
Bloggers have led the way in driving interest, filling a void left by the fashion press and travelling to Europe to see the shows. "With so much interest, a huge number of American retailers, bloggers and followers, it just made sense that that needed to happen here," she said.
Millennials lead the way
Menswear has seen phenomenal growth in the last six years. Sartorial tastes are more developed than a generation ago. And all sectors of the market -- luxury, casual and discount -- are buoyant, experts say. From 2009 to 2015, US online men's clothing sales grew at an astonishing,average annual rate of 17.3 percent to 9.6 billion dollars.
In-store sales in the US grew at an average annual rate of 4.1 percent to 10.9 billion dollars from 2010 to 2015. "The women's clothing market right now is really saturated," says Will McKitterick, a senior analyst for business intelligence firm IbisWorld. "The men's market is actually growing."
IbisWorld projects that online menswear sales will continue to grow at a rate of around 14.2 percent a year in the next five years. "The millennial generation is coming of age, the male population is a little more fashion-savvy than the previous generation so that means there's a whole new market that is untapped," said McKitterick.
"It definitely signals that companies are paying attention to what's going on in terms of style and there's a much more rapid evolution of the industry than there has been in the past," he told AFP.
Beyond the glut of womenswear shows, American designers had another problem with traditional fashion week. September was too late. Buyers order men's collections in July, when the European shows are all held.
Some US designers therefore shuttled across the Atlantic to get greater visibility and to fall in line with the buyers' calendar. Calvin Klein, for example, has already shown its men's collection in Milan. Mears said men's fashion week would particularly benefit talented designers like Bastian, who would be otherwise overlooked in September.
"This is going to do more for him -- the press will pay more attention, and summer time is kind of nice. It generates a different kind of energy than September showing," she said. (Jennie Matthew, AFP)
Images: Getty Images and AFP, Calvin Klein Men's SS16