Several international editors only flew into New York to see the Raf Simons and BOSS shows on Tuesday, choosing to skip the final two days of the menswear season - they missed out. On Wednesday and Thursday, emerging talents staked their claim to the fashion capital, addressing themes of family, identity, sex, and politics.
Shayne Oliver was watching on as HBA co-founder Raul Lopez presented his new brand, LUAR (that's 'Raul' spelled backwards - "It was my name on AOL," the designer laughed backstage). Watched from the front row by nightlife icon Lady Fag, musician Ian Isiah, No Bra singer Susanne Oberbeck, artist Jeanette Hayes, and the best dressed crowd we've seen all week, the collection took on and subverted the codes of corporate America. Deconstructed, twisted and augmented pinstripe tailoring, ties stitched together to make skirts, or crisscrossing white shirts with the trailing ends holding the garment to the chest like a halterneck, as well as cut out T-shirts and a gorgeous chiffon work jacket.
LUAR spring/summer 18. Photography Akram Shah
"The show was really inspired by corporate America, and my upbringing in New York from then to now, how much things have changed -- the government, politics, economics, and global warming," Raul told i-D backstage. "Also how corporate men have to wear this mask in front of everyone, but maybe when they go home they dress up as a woman, from their wife's closet, or they're into fetish play!" Clearly thrilled for his former co-designer, Shayne Oliver beamed, telling i-D, "I love that he's getting more political, I'm really into that. I feel like the time is right for people to state what affects them the most, and react to it. He has 'business clothes' because he's not necessarily doing things that fit the market, and the market sucks, and the retail world is falling apart, and it's time to break the walls so that people can be open to buying whatever they want".
Willy Chavarria spring/summer 18
Another designer exploring fetish and queer culture was Willy Chavarria, who presented his collection at Eagle leather bar on West 28th Street. The narrow space was decked out with funereal flower crosses and wreaths, and lit by candles on the bar, a mournful setting that was explained by a lip print T-shirt that read 'Silence still equals death' - the iconic and important HIV/AIDS anti-stigma campaign mantra. The models didn't storm down the short runway, they cruised, provocative and slinky, looking showgoers up and down as they went. Returning to a silhouette Willy has explored before, there were 80s shell suits in black or lilac with contrast silk panels, oversized leather jackets and blue collar button-up woven T-shirts in baby pink and blue. Wide cut and pleated chino or denim trousers were cropped slightly high and tied at the waist, or finished with heavy turn-ups, and accented with a black leather band worn as a belt. Long and short sleeve tops were printed with 'Resistance is Power' and the question 'How can I tell my mom and dad" with an image of Christ on the cross. Logos had been appropriated, Christopher Shannon-style, so that Coors beer became 'Cares' on a baseball shirt, and the Marlborough packet design read 'Mayhem' on a jacket and trouser leg. Headwear included baseball caps that said 'Cruising' and black leather military caps with gold chains. Great accessories and provocative text, reading 'Come see me', was also seen at Linder, where wide leg denim jeans had a second set of belt loops six inches from the waistband, with diamanté mesh belts or strings of pearls threaded through, worn with D-ring loaded black cross-strap sandals.
Bode spring/summer 18
Taking us momentarily away from the hustle, bustle and insane gridlocked traffic of the city was Emily Adams Bode, who presented her sophomore Bode (pronounced 'Boh-dee') collection in a sleepy setting, with a beautiful cast of boys chilling out on little single beds. It was a reference to Emily's uncle's room in the attic of her grandmother's country home in the South of France, the fabrics found there, and her grandmother's memories, as well as her acceptance of her own death. The collection is made from fabrics found in France, including antique quilts, stripped off mattress covers, bed linen, towels and tablecloths, which Emily shipped back to New York to fashion into simple, elegant menswear shapes with a 70s inflection. "It's kind of about a generational relationship with things like 1960s towels and linen from the 1800s, and the attic as a space that symbolised memories and reflection on our own mortality," Emily told i-D. Her debut collection last season focused on the death of her grandfather, and i-D noted the existential focus. "I did my bachelor [degree] in philosophy, and my bachelor fine arts in menswear, so I do try to keep with this storytelling notion and understanding of where people come from and their history," she explained.
Sanchez-Kane spring/summer 18
Also focused on family and upbringing was Sanchez-Kane by Mexican-American designer Barbara Sanchez-Kane, who debuted last season with V Files and presented her first solo show on Wednesday. One of the most more conceptual shows of New York Men's, Barbara said she focused on how, "When you're born, your parents have a plan for you, and then you go through a process of constantly developing and redefining who you are" -- a process that was symbolised by models photocopying their hands and sticking the printouts to the walls, showing the world who they are, over and over again.Tailoring inspired by pinwheels saw lapels extended to crisscross the chest and panels folded around on themselves. There were flowers embroidered on trouser legs and patches on jackets that read, "We've been told since we were children that time is money," and "The moon touched me and the sun told me it was with you". Barbara herself held court backstage wearing a powder pink three piece suit and crocodile boots.
C2H4 spring/summer 18
A sporty thread ran through both Landlord and C2H4 Los Angeles, but neither had any real intention of playing sports. Landlord was inspired by the reggae culture of both Dalston, London, where designer Ryohei Kawanishi used to live, and Harlem, NYC, where he lives now, using Rastafarian red, yellow and green on button-up knit shirts, with 'Jerk Chicken' celebrated alongside a weed-leaf crest on T-shirts. Camouflage print covered a Burberry-style check on shirts and shorts, and the phrase "Serious business" appeared on a knitted vest. In contrast, Yixi Chen's C2H4 took us to the extreme sanitised environment on board a spaceship with a mad scientist sportswear collaboration with Kappa, where crisp white popper trousers and lab coats were accented with strips of the iconic seated figures of the Kappa logo in seafoam green.
Though New York Fashion Week: Men's may not have as strong a reputation as its London counterpart -- and rightly so, considering the much wider variance in design and production quality -- editors who dismiss it altogether should probably stick around a few more days to discover what the new wave of designers have to say. Representing diverse cultures and experiences both in New York City and beyond, their voices are as important now, under the current regime, as they have ever been.
Text Charlotte Gush