Reporting from New York—For men, next spring's wardrobe choices will look a lot like the current ones — a sea of khaki, more camouflage accents (camo print flip-flops and neckties, anyone?) and the continued presence of work wear. But there were some bright spots — literally and figuratively — in the collections for spring and summer 2011 that designers showed during New York Fashion Week, which wrapped up at the end of last week.
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Standouts included Michael Bastian's Navy-frogmen-inspired collection, which made liberal use of yellow on neoprene scuba tops, striped rugby shirts, sweaters, nylon belts and diver-print flip-flops — the latter part of a new collaboration with Haviana — and bold, color-blocked (and functional) sailing gear at Brooks Brothers.
At Lacoste, Christophe Lemaire's final collection went out in a blaze of head-to-toe "mercury orange," and Timo Weiland turned heads with a striking two-button men's blazer.
With the continuing popularity of plaid, it should come as no surprise that madras — its lighter-weight cotton cousin — has found its way into some of next spring's most memorable menswear collections, including those of Tommy Hilfiger, who gave his neo-prep a pair of eye-popping pink madras trousers, and Billy Reid, who used a blue patchwork madras in hand-tailored blazers and high-water beach pants.
Madras ended up as a major element in the sophomore Gant by Michael Bastian collection, where Bastian used it to full nostalgic effect in a collection inspired by Marilyn Monroe's 1953 movie "Niagara" and the assorted men in her life. The same pattern appeared in a range of menswear including button-down shirts, blazers and shorts, as well as in the lining of washed corduroy blazers. This season of the Gant collaboration introduces Bastian's first-ever women's pieces, and there was plenty of madras for the missus too, including head scarves, shirts and bikini tops.
"Madras just feels like this fantastic, all-American fabric," Bastian said. "And the pattern is from this vintage piece I've loved and held onto for years and could never afford to have made to my specifications.
"And that's been the great thing about working with [Gant] — they can just send the piece to India and have it made, just like that."
The sleepwear-as-sportswear aesthetic that climbed out of bed and shuffled onto the men's runways here and in Europe a few years ago thankfully seems to have slunk off somewhere (perhaps for a power nap), but some of the influences have continued. There are softened and unlined jackets. Brooks Brothers is leaning heavily on the soft-shouldered jacket for spring, and Tommy Hilfiger offered up a double-breasted navy peacoat in cotton piqué (think polo shirt material).
Michael Kors' menswear collection was full of loungewear influences from the subtle (slouchy hemp-linen trousers, and linen gauze tank tops and blazers that looked roomy and comfortable enough to sleep in) to the not-so-subtle (blue-striped taffeta blazers and pajama pants).
Presented against a backdrop that looked like a boarding school dormitory room (complete with a stack of vintage Playboy magazines), Band of Outsiders was another label that gave guys the luxury loungewear look, with a range of pajama pieces that included blue-and-white-striped poplin, blue diamond-print cotton and black rip-stop-nylon pajama pants (the latter, presumably for nighttime sorties to the girls' dormitory) and shirts to match, with a punch of contrast piping.
Nostalgia was a common theme throughout the menswear collections this time around. Some lines went deeper into the rich mine of American work wear, most memorably Rag & Bone, which riffed on protective smocks, sending khaki one-piece painters coveralls, hickory-stripe railroad engineer jackets and multi-pocketed utility vests down the runway.
But this season wasn't just about parroting the past. It was clearly about using it as a springboard, which made many collections feel, as Kurt Vonnegut might have put it, "unstuck in time." This could be said of whole collections, such as Tommy Hilfiger's preppy 2.0 collection, and pieces like the homey-looking one-off sweaters and sweater vests that looked as if they could have been lovingly knit by a grandmother — if that grandmother happened to be into diving helmets and navy frogmen (Michael Bastian) or fighter jets (Marlon Gobel).
Gilded Age's collection of rumpled leather jackets, button-front woven shirts and lightweight khaki jackets mined the 1930s and the notion of luxury travel ushered in by the Pan American Airways flying clipper ships. N. Hoolywood, a 10-year-old Japanese line making its New York Fashion Week debut, drew inspiration from mug shots of the 1940s. And the Gant by Michael Bastian collection was a telegram straight from the edge of Niagara Falls in the mid-1950s, complete with vintage postcard T-shirts, retro-flavored bathing trunks, blazers and varsity jackets.
It becomes all the more nostalgic when one realizes that Bastian grew up not far from the famous waterfall. Yes, it'll be back to the future for next spring's most memorable menswear — but it's a future so bright, you're going to definitely need shades.