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Fashion Week for Dummies: The Myth, The Mystery, The What!?

Twice a year, in four major fashion centers (and a bunch of minor ones), the most celebrated designers of the year get together to tell men what is truly fashionable. It’s a living, breathing, ephemeral art gallery, where the artwork moves aggressively toward the audience, and the same showing is never repeated twice. At its best, it challenges viewers to think about life, gender, cultural values, and self-expression. At its worst, it looks a lot like the result of a tragic incident involving a rack of Goodwill clothing, a vat of crazy glue, and an industrial woodchipper.

So, what do you need to know about this mad ride to fashion town?

Fact #1: There is No One True Fashion Week

Really. The name is totally misleading.

The “Big Four” fashion cities (New York, London, Milan, and Paris) each host four major fashion weeks, every year: Spring/Summer Women’s, Spring/Summer Men’s, Fall/Winter Women’s, and Fall/Winter Men’s. In addition, there are a handful of other thematic fashion weeks (Bridal Shows, Paris Haute Couture, Miami Swim Week, etc.) that keep “Fashion Week” alive year-round. If you do the math, they generally add up to over 30 Fashion Weeks per year.

(Think about that math for a moment. Yeah.)

Fact #2: Some Fashion Week Fashions Are Actually Wearable

True. It’s crazy talk. But there are some runway looks that are both comfortable and trendy. And if you’re not willing to shell out for the many-thousands-of-dollars on the price tags, you can mix and match from your own collections. This year, the emphasis seems to be on understated earth tones, and exaggerated casual, as in Lou Dalton’s installation presentation.

Lou Dalton fashion

Or Harry Mitchell’s jazz-inspired mix of pinstripes and corduroy.

Harry Mitchell’s jazz-inspired mix of pinstripes and corduroy.

So, this winter, you’ll want to think about mixing textures and then punching up your wardrobe with solid splashes of color. The top ten colors for the fall are:

 top ten colors for the fall 2018

(But remember that the best color is the one that looks best on you. Think about adding small wardrobe items in these key accent colors, but if you really want to look your best, check out our earlier blog on picking colors that work for you.)

Fact #3: Most Fashion Week Fashions Are Not Wearable (Part 1: Experiments in Color and Texture)

For the majority of guys, however, the extremes of fashion week are not something you’re likely to add to your closet (in part because you have to be a professional model to wear them without tripping and concussing yourself).

Some of them are whimsically comical, like Harrison Wong’s winter look:

Harrison Wong’s winter look

But others are just odd in a post-Apocalyptic-camping-accident sort of way (Charles Jeffrey finale); FYI, you are seeing the model from the front:

Charles Jeffrey finale

Yet others are disturbing in a really-unhappy-childhood-regression (by Per Götteson) sort of way:

Per Götteson - Peter Pan?

But these pieces aren’t really designed for streetwear. They’re explorations of color and texture that will translate (in very moderated form) to actual clothes sold by retailers. (In other words, don’t worry about wearing the latex-kite-stuck-to-my-head, but keep an eye out for trending shades in burnt orange and dusky blue.)

Fact #4: Most Fashion Week Fashions Are Not Wearable (Part 2: High Art)

The other category of high art is less pure exploration of color and more of an exploration of concept. Take, for example, the “progressive ready-to-wear” brand Blindness, founded by Seoul-based designers Kyu Shin and Ji Park. Their Fashion Week presentation “dissect[s] the subject of ‘First Love’ and the incomparable vulnerability of those who experience it.” And they accomplish this through the use of “exaggerated and amorphous silhouettes, flowing tulle, and hints of opulent costume.” In other words, these designs showcase the defenselessness of the models, who are garbed in flimsy, inadequate armor that highlights both the poignant bravery and painful absurdity of first love. If you look at these images and cringe, they’ve done what they’re supposed to do.

Which is the fancy way of saying that their models look like this:

first love vulnerable and silly clothing style

And yet, the designers themselves dress like they just rolled out of a fantasy college dorm, where the t-shirts are made of silk and the Keds are always shiny white and new. Their clothing is comfortable, baggy, and opaque—hiding more than it reveals. Far less vulnerable:

the look of the fashion designer

In other words, the concept-art outfits worn on Fashion Week bear some resemblance to ordinary street clothes in the same way that Jaws bears some resemblance to Finding Nemo. While Jaws brilliantly and profoundly changed the way that audiences understood anticipation (in the process, psychologically scarring an entire generation), Finding Nemo makes us hug our children and reminds us to be brave in the face of life’s everyday challenges.

Fact #5: Men’s Fashion Week Isn’t Really About Men

To be more accurate, and (with apologies, more serious) Men’s Fashion Week is a series of statements about masculinity, but the results (especially in the high-art concept categories) are often heavily skewed to a few facets of masculinity—brokenness, vulnerability, rejection, outrage, embarrassment, displacement—you see these designs and you may (in the tiniest corner of your innermost self) admit that they do successfully embody uncomfortable truths. But at the same time, you rarely see a runway model and think: I wish I could be just like him. You may even wonder to yourself—Do most fashion designers even like men? How can clothes celebrate masculinity when the model boards for so many shows (like this one from Xander Zhou) look like a casting-call for Rent (young, unkempt, gaunt, and soon to die of some tragic wasting disease)?

unique image of skinny expressionless models

Some designers pride themselves on casting off the street, or, like Harry Mitchell, including models who are older and more heavily muscled; but the overwhelming majority of the runway “stars” are unnamed, painfully thin, pale, young, and expressionless—as if their individuality is utterly irrelevant and the fashions designed to highlight a moment of self-loathing.

And is it? If the ultimate function of any artistic project is to make you think, then you have to take responsibility for your own reaction. What message will you take away from this year’s Fashion Week concept? In the wake of feminism and shifts in global power structures, are all men locked in a moment of brokenness? Or is it a truth that real men can take damage, make mistakes, and then still keep moving and growing and changing?

When we at Otero think of fashion, we want to inspire men to show the best of themselves. Our designs are here for the guy who is mature, confident, controlled, and comfortable with his own self-worth. We like creativity and color, but we also believe in the fundamental value of men. The guys who model for us have names, careers, relationships, and a wicked sense of humor. They are athletic. They style hair, write music, and throw killer dinner parties. They are mature enough to care about how their actions impact the world. They, like you, like those unnamed boys, have value.

It would be interesting to see a Future Fashion Week in which models could also be role models. Where are the professors, the soldiers, the industry leaders, the responsible fathers, the trustworthy friends?

Right here. Look in the mirror.

Otero Menswear: Anything but Average

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