Fashion Men's Fashion

The New Tribalism of American Fashion

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So what’s going on with New York Fashion Week? The schedule released by the Council of Fashion Designers of America last week tells a bit of a sad story: a number of the usual must-see menswear designers, like Pyer Moss, Telfar, John Elliott, and Ralph Lauren, are not staging shows. And those who are on the agenda—Tom Ford, Collina Strada, Eckhaus Latta, etc—are mostly planning to do “digital activations,” one of those would-be forward-thinking concepts that American fashion has circled for years without really executing in an exciting way. Going by that schedule alone, you might feel a little sad for old New York, which people on LinkedIn say is dead. Is the city’s fashion—or even fashion itself—on life support, too?

No! Contrary to what that calendar may suggest, many of New York’s best emerging or independent brands are excited about the future of the city’s fashion scene, which, for this season at least, is shaping up to something weirder and more guerilla than usual. Instead of aiming for mass attention with runway shows and star-studded front rows, designers are focusing on projects that serve and represent their loyal followers best.

There’s been an emphasis over the past several years that everything is for everyone—that everyone is a Balenciaga man, that anyone can wear Supreme, that everyone should see themselves in Gucci. But many American designers are headed in the opposite direction, focused on the one thing they have in common: a loyal base of devotees who are actively blurring the line between customer and muse. That has been the secret to the Telfar bag’s success—fashion’s first stan army, ready to defend the sanctity of this perfect faux-leather shopper and its godhead designer at all costs—but it is something that also defines the most exciting designers in America, from small knitwear brands to big elevated streetwear powerhouses.

Last week, for example, Aimé Leon Dore—which has never done a fashion show—released a video campaign on Instagram for their fall collection, with friends of the brand like Chinatown jeweler A$AP Eva and Throwing Fits cohost Lawrence Schlossman tossing basketballs and just hanging, in ALD suiting and sweats, while a boppy Lee Fields song played. The campaign stars aren’t models, and while a few celebrities, like Jadakiss, are peppered in, it was really an expression of an Aimé Leon Dore community rather than a carefully curated set of influencers and personalities. It was refreshing and joyful, like the people actually wanted to wear the clothes (groundbreaking—no joke!). People were sharing it on Instagram all last week. Why do a fashion show, you might think, when you can do something like this?

Conley Averett designs the label Judy Turner, a line of sexy knits for men that seem poised to pop off as the statement staying-inside top. His knitwear is sold at Tres Bien and Ssense, and in the Before Times, had a sort of sub-cult following among fashion and art world cognoscenti. But he realized over the past several months that he needed, well, more friends. “It’s really hard to grow a brand without community,” he said. “And the minute I did that personal work, suddenly it’s like this whole new world emerged.” That world consists of people like stylist Matt Holmes and photographer Grace Ahlbom, who are working on Averett’s new collection, but also the young New York guys who have been discovering the brand over the past several months. Many of these are men and women “who are buying it on sale at Ssense and saying, ‘I love this. Keep going.’ It’s not some high net worth spender who’s like, ‘I’m going to place a $38,000 order.’” He’s showing a fall collection in a West Village garden for a few friends and some press.

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