New York Fashion Week: Men's is officially in the books and now it's time to reflect on every single aspect of the event so we can hand it a grade and determine whether or not it was a success. So, in the interest of being super official, we caught up with Steven Kolb, the CEO of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the man who played one of the biggest roles in making it all happen, to get his perspective. Considering that we're all here, alive and unscathed now that our hangover has finally worn off, it's safe to say it went off without too much of a hitch, but here's what Mr. Kolb had to say about the debut.
Starting off, how do you think NYFW: Men's went from your point of view?
I’m biased, right? I felt it couldn’t be in between—it had to be really good or it would suck. If it sucked, that would suck. But if it was really good, it meant that we accomplished something important and we delivered our word. The idea that had been floating around for so long was in theory a good idea. I look at it from a couple different ways. From a logistical perspective, I think it was pretty brilliant. I think the venue at Skylight Clarkson Sq. was the perfect location. There was a balance between commercial sponsors, fashion shows and designers. When you walked into the venue, it didn’t feel like you were in the duty-free shop of the airport, but in a sedate club. That says a lot about the partners involved from Amazon’s photo exhibit to Cadillac’s street style. It was all legitimate integration with fashion.
What have you heard any feedback from anyone about the event so far?
The feedback from editors, buyers, designers has been positive. From a critic’s perspective, some people would look at American collections and might talk about the collections being too commercial or not pushing the envelope enough. You have to build trust and certain people trust an idea while others trust you to do it first. I thought when you looked at the range of collections, guys like Gypsy Sport on the Docker's platform, who is young and at the forefront of genderless dressing, that was a huge statement to have him in our official schedule. From Tim Coppens to Public School, there was a lot of street-inspired stuff, but it also ran the gamut. Was there a big SLP production? No, there were no big sets or fireworks, but that wasn’t the intention.
It wasn't a full week, so you had to hammer down and get things done in more like three days.
I think the shows were pretty well scheduled. There were some that were off-schedule shows that people still went to and the aggravation that happens with going around town was so minimal in this situation. The attendance was perfect. You have front row filled with people from the Washington Post, L.A. Times, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal. There were 15-25 international editors from the U.K., France, Italy. The celebrity wasn’t flash-bulb blinding and paralyzing, it was subtle.
The celebrity presence was pretty big. Did you arrange with them to be there? There were a ton of NBA players and a few big names for sure.
We had a dozen or so ambassadors and some were more actively involved that others. I mean Dwyane Wade and his wife were there a lot. So was Joe Jonas. Whether you’re a fan or not they are guys that like fashion.
On the topic of scheduling, are there plans for future iterations to spread things out a bit, making it feel more like a week? Tuesday in particular was filled from top-to-bottom, which is a testament to the strength of he designers, but it was damn tiring.
I think that Monday we’ll still have New York Men's Day with those two slots in the morning and afternoon. But there is space in between those to fill up. The great thing about the central space is that it was back-to-back a lot, but it is in that one place. We were really happy with it and I think that the general consensus is that as well.
The event attracted some big name designers no doubt, with Thom Browne opening the week, Calvin Klein presenting and Tommy Hilfiger as well, while John Varvatos closed things out. But was there some criticism that those names repeated their collections they already showed in Europe or that they didn't go deep enough? Do you have ambitions to bring some other New York designers into the fold?
Thom’s presentation was different. I’d read he may have done something similar at Pitti or somewhere else, but it was still fresh. I’d love to see Philip Lim do something, Alexander Wang, I don’t think Marc’s [Jacobs] men’s business is big enough at the moment. But the thing with Calvin and Thom is that a lot of people don’t get to Milan so they don’t see it there. If you went to Milan, it may have been a rehash, but for someone who doesn’t go to Milan, it’s the first time they get up close with it. I’d love to have designers feel New York can be a home base for them. I also thought the balance of runway and presentation was good. Personally, I think runway is overrated. We love a runway show because it’s exciting and we’re at a show. But in terms of the business of fashion, a presentation is so far superior. Designers talk about their innovation in fabric development, but how do you know that if you’re just watching a runway show? There was a nice balance. I thought Rag & Bone was so fucking fresh. I’d heard someone be negative about them just doing a presentation. They didn’t just do a presentation. They’re taking the concept of what you do in fashion week and reinventing it in a modern way. That’s what NYFW: Men’s can offer. It doesn’t always have to be one way.
What do you think about the idea that we can't necessarily judge NYFW: Men's as a success until the clothes presented actually sell?
I talked to designers. Todd Snyder told me that he had more interviews than he’s ever had before. Ovadia & Sons told me that they had editors and buyers who they’d reached out to consistently and never heard back from attend their show. I can’t tell you they sold 10 more jackets than they did before, but I can tell you that the engagement has been greater for most of them. That’s some measure of success.
From some of the insiders that travel around the world to fashion weeks, there were some groans about "fashion fatigue" as if NYFW: Men's might compound that. Is it even possible to fix that?
I think regardless of NYFW: Men's, there’s fashion fatigue. But I would say that it’s part of your job and anyone who feels tired because they have to go to New York and have to sit in a room and see cool clothes needs to re-evaluate what they’re doing. I think the fashion week model is in a sense something that continues now because it is. If you’re going to ask about fatigue, you need to look at all fashion weeks and whether things should be shifting online, or what Donna Karan has always said about showing fall clothes in February and spring clothes in the summer. It’s such a giant animal that I don’t think you can tame or change it and the only way it’ll change is through combustion. I don’t think you can harness all of that and change it. The person who can do that should have my job. I do think three or four days, if you count that Monday, is better than six days though.
I saw you around the venue quite a bit. What shows did you attend and what did you like?
I hadn’t been to a John Varvatos show in a long time since he was showing in Milan. I was talking to John’s wife Joyce about their seven-year-old daughter. She’s never seen a John Varvatos show. I loved that moment when he came out afterwards and he grabbed his daughter and she was so happy. I love those family moments. From a show perspective, I thought Max and Dao-Yi’s presentation was very smart. I’m always proud to see their success as we consider them CFDA “anointed” and have been with them since the beginning. Tim Coppens as well. Alexandre Plokhov to be able to do a show again. I’m not a writer or buyer, I’m just there like the school principal making sure everything is working. I’m not there late at night loading out or loading in, I’m just there to make sure it feels good and to be available if anyone wants to complain. But nobody did! The partners were great too. Nobody was trying to sell you dog food. Sometimes when you have corporate sponsors or partners, they suck the blood out of it, but this was a fusion of something interesting.
In terms of making each show or presentation unique, the space didn't allow too much buildout for sets like we see in Europe. Is that something you're looking at for next time?
The time constraints made it hard for designers to build something unique and get it out in time. We knew that was going to be the case. Some people managed to do it anyway—John did the umbrellas for example. We have to figure out a way that there could be more production if the designers chose to do that. The big comparison that people were making was against London. We didn’t want to be London in New York, but New York in New York and I thought it worked.
So the next season is already confirmed and on the books for January 28th to 31st. What are some things you'd like to add?
One thing that would have been nice—and I’m surprised we didn’t pull it off because it feels like a natural fit—I really wanted from, say, 5pm until 8pm for there to be a beer thing. I felt like there should have been a beer garden or a keg or something. It felt like it’s guys, there’s beer. We could have done tequila shots, but that’s a bit much. I felt like a cold beer on a hot day would have been nice. I’m pretty confident we’ll have that next time. I’d also like to see the third platform expand a bit so that the space is more conducive to collections and i think the load in, load out timing and adding shows to that Monday are the primary things.