NEW YORK -- The chemical generation is over. Forget the techy nylon-blend fabrics that have trickled down through the fashion food chain. Instead, designers here are trumpeting luxe fabrics: buttoned-up leather for trench coats, cropped cashmere for cardigans, even a fur shrug or two.
Leather is definitely having its moment: slick, sexy leather coats at DKNY, embossed logo leather jeans at Tommy Hilfiger, glazed leather carcoats at Marc Jacobs and polished leather shirt-jackets at JonValdi. It's clear that designers are flirting with the S&M scene -- but for 2000, S stands for sexy and M for masculine.
Denim also plays its part in this return to the natural and masculine with designers finding new ways of working with this democratic fabric. They're cutting it for suits and trousers and coating it for shiny disco jeans that bear little resemblance to your father's 501's. Marc Jacobs cut a slim and trim casual denim suit for fall; John Varvatos showed elegant denim trousers; NYBASED's models strutted out in slick coated-denim jeans and jackets. But BCBG hit the trend best, combining all of the season's key elements: fur, leather and denim in one handsome jacket.
The week was particularly critical for Tommy Hilfiger, whose show followed closely on the heels of news that he will soon shutter his flagship stores in Beverly Hills and London. Whether he tempered his collection in light of this turn of events or he returned to his preppie roots thanks to a trip to Scotland (as he has stated), the result was a winning collection that feels much closer to what will sell rather than what will create hype: handsome corduroy two-button suits with Scottish tartan linings, ponyskin jeans and soft cashmere cardigans that made a statement without screaming. Of course, the requisite star power turned out to pump up the mood: Harry Connick Jr., Billy Zane, Luther Vandross and Jordan Knight took front-row seats.
On the other hand, coming off the success of his Louis Vuitton show in Paris, Marc Jacobs -- who cuts and designs for a slim, youthful audience -- went for a classic look with Mod-ish leanings. Jacobs showed simple, stylish, structured suits with slim silhouettes and legs (in corduroy, moleskin and iridescents) and basic three-quarter-length coats and parkas. But even if the designer managed to make micro-check shirts and slate-green Prince of Wales check ties look fresh, he didn't exactly abandon sportswear. Cozy cashmere sweaters came lean and long, together with denim jackets and jeans. It was the essence of casual chic.
DKNY stressed in its program that 'Polished is the message,' but the 'polish' designer Donna Karan referred to was the slick, shiny leather jackets that had a finish that looked as wet as lip gloss. The line, which veers all over the fashion spectrum to tap the trends of the moment, seems to lack a cohesive identity. Much of the time the mood is elegant with an edge: three-button wool suits or tweed crombies accented with leather trim, a classic tailored trench turned slightly hard-edged in black leather and matching black dress pants and wool sweater, or for that flash of fur, double-breasted coats trimmed with beaver. But throw in a chunky fair isle turtleneck or even some Lycra and silk shirts and the point of view falls out of focus.
After opting for a presentation rather than a show last season, Nautica returned to the runway last week with an edited, concise collection that encompassed the wide, wide world created by David Chu. Perhaps, though, it was too concise. There were only a handful of looks and the show left some wanting more: more sportswear, more concept. Chu kicked off the show with sporty, fleecy, techy Competition ensembles that seemed right for the slopes. To be sure, Chu's brown corduroy suit, brown checked shirt and brown tie were right-on for the season, as were moleskin sport coats, quilted nylon vests, waxed-cotton pants and big chunky sweaters. But the elements of luxe found elsewhere were missed here, evidence that Chu can create a winner without breaking the bank.
Of course luxe and lean is what the design team of JonValdi do best. Shearling coats, leather jackets and suits in plasticene/knit or stretch cashmere meant more for the artistic Hollywood set than Wall Street. Designers Jonathan Meizler and German Valdi hopped on the denim bandwagon this season, showing coated-denim trousers with fluffy, fuzzy mohair sweaters and ribbed-wool carcoats. But it's with skins that JonValdi looks best for men: fitted goatskin shirts, printed ponyskin jeans and a stunning three-quarter lamb jacket.
There was no leather at NYBASED, but there were pleather pants, slick coated-denim jeans and jackets, sporty corduroy suits and rubberized wool duffle coats. This is sportswear for the body-conscious guy who follows fashion but doesn't want to scream it. Of-the-moment details such as concealed zippers, split legs and Velcro closures give simple items more fashion appeal.
Joseph Abboud slimmed his suit silhouette and softened the shoulder -- the end result being one of his most sophisticated shows yet. His most public endorsement, Bryant Gumbel, was all smiles as Abboud sent handsome single- and double-breasted gray pinstripe suits with rich blue and burgundy furnishings down the runway for day, and velvet tartan single- and double-breasted suits for evening. Another grouping of soft shirt-collar jackets and moleskin plain-front pants gave the designer the opportunity to show his knack for color: cinnamon, nutmeg, leaf and loden.
It's not about color at Tom of Finland -- black predominates -- but about how designers Gary Robinson and David Johnson consistently find new ways to interpret the erotic, military-inspired drawings of the late artist with the same name. This season, the designers partnered with Absolut vodka, working the familiar bottle shape into jeans and jackets. Gimmicks aside, their patchwork leather jeans, camouflage printed suede shirts and sherpa pullovers are precisely what their customer will expect. But sweaters in double-faced wool or mohair added some unexpected softness to a hyper-masculine moment.
Tony Melillo's collection for Nova USA showed the designer's continued fashion evolution from a cult, downtown sporty favorite into a more sophisticated line with upgraded fabrics. Sexy, low-cut tweed trousers, moleskin jumpsuits, slim-cut corduroy short-sleeved shirts, and belted trench coats in a flaming vermilion had a cool classicism that was youthful but elegant, trendy but wearable (assuming of course, that you've got a slim and toned physique to match).
Jose Levy's third collection and first presentation for Holland & Holland continued to be on the hunt for a more modern point of view for what is a quintessentially English label. Set against an Animal Kingdom-cum-Safari backdrop, the collection succeeded when it adapted the country English gent's love for tweedy and chunky mohair textures, but in updated, clean separates. But with golfer Payne Stewart in greener pastures, those knee-breeches were a touch too quaint even for the most romantic and nostalgic of men today.
Combining traditional fabrics with new silhouettes can be difficult unless you're Max Azria. At his BCBG show he made the season's favorite fabric design -- plaid -- look more exciting than ever. It was cut in very modern funnel-neck zip-front jackets and pants with winning color combinations like baby blue with orange and honey browns. Tight denim was also factored in successfully with jackets and pants trimmed with fur. Teamed with all of this were beautiful wool and cashmere turtlenecks, long blanket coats and sexy leather boot-cut pants and jackets for an overall effect of preppie meets rock.
It's hard to figure out just what type of man John Scher is going for. He showed only a few men's looks in his co-ed show, which only adds to the mystery. To be sure, there are some good ideas here: tweed trousers with a wide tab-front waist, houndstooth sweaters and checked wool trousers cut on the bias. His dollar-bill-green tweed pants and jackets were right on the money, but his elastic bands on jackets and pants were off-putting and a waxed-cotton pant/shirt ensemble with inverted pleats was downright unpleasant. Fortunately, two newcomers fared much better. Alan Truong demonstrated that he could experiment with feather detailing, cut a great pair of 'chocolate chip' wool trousers and make luxurious sweaters in cashmere and angora.
And Louis DiCarlo combined all of the season's hot elements in his fur-intensive co-ed show. The key looks for men included knitted shrugs, crocodile arm bands and fur sheaths. But with some of the female models parading down the catwalk in sheer underwear, mink and fox were not the only fur flying.