New York Fashion Week, we’re told—at least the men’s version—is dying. Designers are bailing, retreating to Europe. The scale has diminished. The industry, it’s whispered, just can’t support another fashion week.
Well, no one told Justin Bieber. He was one of two guests of honor at the two big men’s shows on Thursday. (The other: LeBron James). And what a time he was having! There he was in the fainting-grade heat at John Elliott in the afternoon, bobbing and weaving with James and Ben Simmons on one side, Whoopi Goldberg on the other and Nick Young in the next section. And there he was again, hopping in his front-row seat to Nirvana at the Kith show later that night, flashing a thumbs up to any model that would accept it.
If menswear and its fashion weeks are in crisis, torn between streetwear silhouettes and logo-heavy branding, Thursday didn’t present a solution. Elliott furthered his post-sweatpants line of wearable printed shirts, detailed outerwear, and footwear collaborations; Ronnie Fieg continued to find new and different ways to work the Kith logo into all manner of menswear (with a little help from Tommy Hilfiger, Greg Lauren, and Donatella Versace). But the day made one thing crystal clear. The secret to bringing fashion week back from the dead has nothing to do with the clothes. It’s about the party.
That’s what we got on Thursday: two large, loud spectacles. And whatever they left on the table in terms of new ideas for how a man should get dressed in 2019, they made up for with sheer effort. There were enough tricks, tunes, rides, drinks, celebrities, and track-rolling sets to remind you that we don’t just treat clothes as museum objects—we buy them to post Instagrams from parties.
Forget making fashion week great again. Can’t it just be a little fun?
At one point, the forecast called for rain. It must have: the milk-crate seats at John Elliott’s show, held in the concrete bowl skatepark at Chelsea Piers, came with the kind of rubberized ponchos more typically seen at Sea World. On a riotously humid afternoon, these were perhaps overkill. We didn’t need any help sweating.
The models, though, strolling through the bowl, up a ramp, and down some stairs, all in Elliott’s patented multilayered, many-textured looks, managed far better than the crowd. That includes the famous folk: Bieber stripped out of his sweatshirt, and Pete Davidson ditched his commemorative JE merch tee, using it to daub the sweat dripping from his dye job. I nearly fainted when Bieber entered, and then at minute 45 out of the office. LeBron James did not; neither did Whoopi Goldberg, who wore a cardigan and what appeared to be a pair of Balenciaga Triple S sneakers carved into clogs. Celebrities!
Elliott brought the heat, too: after a few shows sprinting away from the terrycloth basics he made his name on, the most successful looks, refreshingly, featured hoodies and sweats. A Los Angeles-branded pair here (Elliott has entered into a partnership with his adopted city), a pastel tie-dyed pair there: where his knits used to tilt serious, they now lean toward fun. It’s a welcome change.
But the clothes, while effective, weren’t entirely the point. That wasn’t Elliott’s fault; I spent a little too much time browning out in the heat to be an effective critic. But after New York Fashion Week: Men’s in July shuttled us in and out of a smaller-than-ever photo studio, I was just glad to be outside, even if outside was the surface of the sun. Elliott has a keen sense proportion, whether we’re talking sweatpants silhouettes or celeb fashion show attendees. Fitting for a designer now working with literal cities, Thursday’s show felt appropriately large.
“Young Sheck Wes and I’m getting really rich,” goes a line off “Mo Bamba,” the Soundcloud star Sheck Wes’ inescapable single. Wes walked in Elliott’s show, in peak LA couture: bougainvillea-printed shirt, baggie jeans, high-tech sandals. But no one in New York menswear is living that Sheck Wes line better than Ronnie Fieg.
The Kith mastermind took to the Brooklyn Navy Yard for his show Thursday night, a production the cost of which I’m loathe to guess. (OK, fine: start at a quarter-million, and we’ll go from there.) Finding the location—a greenhouse, tucked right up against the glimmering Navy Yard Basin—was tricky enough. But then the crowd squeezed onto a set of bleachers that seemed to occupy maybe a quarter of the available space, the far-right edge closed off by thick red curtains, and I was confused. “Kith Park™️ is going to be a MOVIE tomorrow night! A FUCKING MOVIE!” Fieg had tweeted earlier in the day. Basketball player LeBron James and singer Justin Bieber and rapper 2 Chainz and professional Kith show attendee Fabolous sat up front. The rest of us squeezed in behind them. What I’m trying to say is: the theater felt small, at least given the scope of Fieg’s stated ambition.
Ah, me of little faith. Fieg used the entire space; it would just take us a moment to see how. He opened with a series of standard Kith looks: the bombers, hoodies, and jeans little brothers across America make the family line up for on family trips to New York. Also ski gear, and at least one topcoat, and also some Timberlands. Ronnie is from Queens, where I’m told they listen to hip-hop songs about Timberlands. And yet it all felt...somehow perfunctory. Scottie Pippen was at the last Kith show. This one had...Tim Hardaway Jr.?
But then we were moving. All of us! The bleachers, it turned out, were on a motorized track. Curtains parted, and Ronnie Fieg’s Wild Ride began. First to a library, where Hailey Baldwin pretended to read while her colleagues showed off Kith x Tommy Hilfiger. Then to a new set, where Creedence’s “Fortunate Son” blared, and models, dressed in collaboratively repurposed goods by Fieg and Greg Lauren, ducked into a tent that I think came with a mortgage. And then, finally, to half a Versace mansion, where Bella Hadid enjoyed some rap music while joined by models wearing prints so bold that even the Versace medusa, her eyes covered with a Kith-branded censor bar, could see them.
The silhouettes largely stuck to Fieg's tried-and-true streetwear formula. This was the point. When we spoke back in February, at the opening of Kith’s first Los Angeles branch in a West Hollywood parking garage, he explained his rationale. “What I want in my closet is what we end up making,” he said. And right now, it’s safe to assume, dude is feeling his Versace, so that’s what we got.
I often find myself wishing menswear would deliver more thoughtful silhouettes, or maybe a little less tie-dye, or at least a few more pairs of complicated pants. But the brands that do all that aren’t the ones that show at skateparks. And they certainly aren’t the ones that model their runway shows after theme park attractions.
I guess what I’m saying is: maybe they should. Bieber seemed to love it. That’s good enough for me. And it just might be enough to save Fashion Week.