NEW YORK — .TC New York -- Men, bless them. When they do fashion, it's nothing like the three-ring circus of the semi-annual women's collections, which are held in tents filled to bursting with paparazzi, star-watchers and crazy couture. American menswear designers, with a few Europeans tossed in, held their first collective fashion showings in Manhattan this week in the cluster of sound stages and recording studios along 54th Street. It all came together in the mix -- centralized, organized and energized.
The collective wisdom had been that male clothing is just too darn dull to sustain any kind of excitement in a runway presentation, not to mention continuous shows over four days. How many guys in suits can anyone stand? Even when the studly models know how to work the clothes. Men had always done business in showrooms, one-on-one, in their private, clubby way.
This week, for the fall '95 previews, they went public and all out for press and buyers, but that old-boy style is still in place. A treat, in keeping with the male attitude about clothing that puts a premium on comfort.
For their first-ever collaborative runway shows, the menswear designers floated the idea of a leaner, meaner silhouette, even though there was a sea of easy, baggy, relaxed fashion. Along with narrowness, there was also more refinement in the fabric finishes -- lots of sheen, some as flashy as ultrabright satin.
Designers did their bit to stave off the sub-zero arctic blasts that battered their debut. At the opening reception, GQ magazine, one of the industry sponsors, sent guests out the door with toasty fleece neck wraps and provided bins of heat packets to tuck into gloves and pockets. Baltimore's own Barry Bricken made sure there was hot mulled cider at his show, and designer Robert Comstock passed out fuzzy ear-flap hats. Nobody cared whether they interfered with a particular fashion statement. They did the job.
That's what separates the men from the divas at the women's fashion shows: no sniffy poses, screeching groupies or cloying scent. Why, the star of the cocktail do was New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, in off-the-rack Hickey-Freeman, and he cut a bolt of gray chalk-stripe to start things off. He ain't Madonna, for sure, but he's nicer and is even willing to let a woman peek at his label. That kind of accessibility holds true for most of the designers, too. No airs. Nick Hilton summed up the difference between male and female approaches to fashion. "Men don't like to admit it, but they care very much about fashion. They just don't want to admit it, because being too concerned about appearance is not deemed masculine," he says. "What men want are clothes that show they're aware without being too fashiony."
00l Good cuts, fine fabrics and comfort are not enough to make show-biz, however, and designers pushed some extra buttons to keep things pumping.
Richard Tyler did pinstripes in glitter and Edwardian suits in pastels. Wolfgang Joop, the German import, sent out triplets in Hans Brinker bowl haircuts wearing red damask tuxedos. Tommy Hilfinger, the current darling of the street-smart, went oversize in fit and plaids.
At Boing! it was plastics and parachute pants and holster suspenders.
John Bartlett, who last year got a lot of attention by showing jackets on male models with bare legs and high heels, this time used sequin eye patches and antlers as hair ornaments. Just a suggestion.
From all that, where will men's fashion be going this time next year? Here's the direction.
* More fit, and a waist. Some versions may be as polished and shiny as a Hollywood lounge lizard's. The more traditional designers just hint.
* Shorter jackets, tighter pants. In the more dramatic versions, jackets barely cover the buns and pants are poured on. There's a definite narrowing down, however.
* Velvet everything. It's the choice for suits, sportswear, coats and as trim on collars and pockets. That goes double for corduroy, velvet's sportier cousin. It's not about your old prep-school staples, however, but lush and deep wide-wale fabrications in cottons and wool.
* Tone-on-tone shirts and ties. By the second day of the showings, many of the snappier dressers in the audience were sporting this look, mostly in blue. Blue shirt, blue tie is easy to like. Look out for lavender, however. That combo popped up in many collections. Unless they're one of the Temptations, men may need some time to get used to it.
* Brown and more brown. For years now, brown has been bad for business wear, but with all the shades and variations throughout the collections it may finally gain wide acceptance. With brown there are also greens in mossy shades and olives.
* The suit. This week, IBM made news by initiating corporate casual dressing days. With so many handsome offerings from all the designers, the fashion rebels may start wearing suits just to shake up the establishment guys who have finally learned to loosen their ties.