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An Early Spring Fling

New York has hit a peak with a slew of new and creative young designers on the menswear scene. They have managed to turn a once somewhat predictable spectacle into serious competition for the Milan and Paris fashion weeks. Even our trusty favorites and more established labels have taken risks in a climate that used to be renowned for the preppy and safe. You'll see the best of the fresh designs -- and the hottest male models -- in upcoming issues of Out. But after attending a week's worth of Spring/Summer shows we couldn't wait that long to give you a peek at our favorite eye-catching looks, what we can't wait to run out and buy, and what you should be saving for now in order to properly stock your 2009 wardrobe. Michael Bastian: While thumbing through the Michael Bastian Spring collection look book, it's easy to recognize the signature style that follows through from one season to the next. There have been mutterings throughout the industry that Michael Bastian is the next Ralph Lauren (though gaining such a title is pretty far off), but the comparison isn't totally absurd given that RL is known for his continually timeless classics that transcend season to season, year to year, era to era -- and considering the fact that Bastian once worked for the brand. Bastian's menswear also maintains a similar American venerability, though it's more rooted in contemporary cuts, fabrics and styles. For Spring, there's seersucker, there's plaid, there's khaki and great knits and there's the inherent mixture of casual and formal -- like blazers with shorts -- that typify the Bastian label. And he works at both ends of the spectrum, with both full tailored suits and bathing suits and hoodies effortlessly accomplishing the same degree of balanced style. What we also love about Bastian's collections is the dedication to punches of color, this season's choices being salmon pink, red and yellow -- all daring, but also fun and smart. Among our other favorite surprises from the Spring collections was a Fair isle cardigan and a suede safari jacket -- just for kicks, it seems -- that we can't wait to get our hands on. Thom Browne: The one word we're taking away from Thom Browne's Spring show? Grass. Despite all the other sensory stimuli often happening at a Thom Browne show, this season's overriding aesthetic was one of freshly cut backyard, and a strip of lawn actually served as the runway at Exit Art Studios. Once we saw the collection we understood why and were amused by the appropriate timing of Browne's channeling of Wimbeldon tennis, given that the U.S. Open had just finished in New York. Models wore head and armbands, tennis shorts and sporty polos, and, if the style itself wasn't tennis themed, the pattern was, with suits and trench coats bearing crossed-racket decals. However, the tennis motif didn't last the length of the collection. In fact, there was a noticeable progression of styles that started with the court, segued into the more typical cropped school-boy grays and blues, then into whites and seersucker, climaxing with plaids and finally culminating in more formal black evening wear. Everything seemed to be moving along quite as you would expect, with only the single odd appearance of a pair of low sagging pants to raise a few eyebrows -- that is until the tutus came out (see above). Most were short and detachable, which was a relief, but the final full-length tulle bridal skirt was so daunting we have to admit we were slightly uncomfortable, which was perhaps the intention. But what's a Thom Browne show without a little bit of discomfort and some light tongue in cheekiness? Especially when all of it is paraded to Julie Andrews The Sound of Music.Diesel Black Gold: Now in its second season, Diesel Black Gold (pictured above) felt a bit more comfortable in taking the same liberties that the Diesel label usually does. While the debut Fall collection went for a cohesive and slightly older feel, the Spring collection felt younger and far more eclectic. We knew we were in for something special when the show's soundtrack featured a few choice Quentin Crisp quotes and we quickly realized the collection seemed to have been created by pulling inspiration from several different time periods. From one look to the next anything seemed possible, from a '70s spread collar button down to a '50s era band leader jacket. There were even gently-worn cardigans stolen straight out of a 19th century poet's wardrobe, which Creative Director Wilbert Das cited as a direct inspiration. As far as the garments covered in feathers? Though eye-catching, the jury is still out on them. And, if the clothes alone didn't hammer home the collection's anachronistic nature, the models' hats certainly added to the feel. There were sailor and conductors hats, riding caps and even Civil War cadet Kepis, each seemingly arbitrarily tossed atop a model's head before he hit the runway. No matter which era Das was channeling, he garnished the entire collection with the signature metal detailing of chains and zippers. Diesel Black Gold also debuted their new accessories, which for men meant leather and burlap shoulder bags and will no doubt be paraded up and down Eighth Avenue as soon as they hit the stores. Duckie Brown: As everyone gathered for the Duckie Brown show this year, you could tell there was a hint of intrigue in the air, as there always is with this label's smart and irreverent collections. Last year the models walked without music -- a brilliant staging device that deftly focused the attention solely on the clothes. But this year heavy beats provided the show's soundtrack as the always-gaunt models strutted their lanky selves down the runway in squarish, cropped suits layered over knee-length sweaters and those thick knitted hoodies that DB is always so fond of. At the same time there was a more athletic and synthetic feel to Duckie Brown. Nylons and polyesters were prevalent, and in much darker shades (mostly black). What's more, there were accessorized collars that looked like they had been ripped straight off a North Face jacket and wrapped around the models necks just before they hit the runway. It's those little jolts of contrast and the antithetical detailing that always make Duckie Brown so much fun. Perry Ellis: The midwesterner's answer to high-fashion? Or the regular guy's dream answered? The label shows at Fashion Week so it comes with a certain degree of stylish clout, yet you'll find it at department stores all over the country. That being the case, PE plays it relatively safe on the runways, and this season, though there were a few risks, it was a tame, yet classic collection. The color palette is normally dominated by neutrals and a lot of browns and tans, but this season there was a big shift towards color, largely of the pastel variety. Suits were cut fuller for Spring, almost boxy; knits were prevalent, though more so in interesting cuts like the Henley and sweater vests, and in baggy, pajama-like drawstring pants. This collection, while still quintessential Perry Ellis, hinted at great things to come, and we can only hope such a prediction is able to be fulfilled. Interestingly, in a bold move of self-assertion, creative director John Crocco sent models down the runway one after another in polo shirts, each with a single letter on the breast of the shirt that when ordered spelled "Perry Ellis." It was a cute nod to a crowd-favorite label -- even the models had little smirks on their faces as they walked. On a final note, the casting was spot on, with many of our office favorites including Chad White, Brad Kronig and Noah Mills among those walking the runway. Obedient Sons: On the muggiest day that New York has had to bear with in quite a while, it was a relief to step into the pleasantly air conditioned confines of Industria studios, but even then, you could still feel the humidity in the air -- sort of like being on the ocean. It was an appropriate atmosphere given the nautical extravaganza Obedient Sons offered along with season favorites like pajama pants, cardigans, Breton stripes on tanks and tees, pleated pants, and heavy-knit, though sheer, Henleys and sweaters. They're the kind of items you'd love to throw on just before heading out for a lobster bake or off to the beach for a picnic. As with most collections, there was some straying from the mainly mariner theme, most notably in the suiting, which was cut very slim and in fashioned from eye-catching fabrics. The final men's look was a suit of gleaming white gold fabric covered in a small diamond pattern which dazzled under the lights. Other notable suiting was in gray flannel and covered in multi-colored stitched writing, and all together Obedient Sons designed a solid, classic collection with some original moments. Rag & Bone: For Fall, Rag & Bone showed at the legendary Cipriani's, which is a huge, baroque one room restaurant complete with gold ornamentation and marble floors. The collection that strutted down the runway then was smart and sophisticated, but with that trademark Rag & Bone edge to it. For their Spring show, designers Marcus Wainwright and David Neville decided to take their line to Pier 94 in a space that was far more industrious, and, as expected, the collection followed suit. These two British boys went straight to their roots and presented looks that hearkened back to the birth of Brit punk and mod with a hard-rock '60s and '70s edge. Pants were skin tight, there were lots of leather and exposed zippers, and even when they sent a suit down the runway, it was amped up with a grungy plaid shirt or tie or a pair of suspenders. Though their references were by no means unique, the collection was wearable and cool and will no doubt have fashion savvy New Yorkers lining up outside their brand new Christopher Street store. Rock & Republic: Whereas Rock & Republic's Fall collection was of a more formal mind set, head designer Michael Ball used Spring as a decidedly more casual platform to show looks that were certainly rock, but with just a mild bit of roll. Jeans were skin tight on the ladies, and, though showing little variation with menswear, the tailoring for denim, blazers and leather was as fitted as ever, and, naturally, expertly executed. Most designers usually look to color for Spring, but R&R kept the palette stark with black, white and little in between (see above). It's hard to argue with their decision, as those two colors pretty much envelope any fashion savvy mans wardrobe, and the outcome of such a strict adhere to dark and light came off as classic but also daring. While we have to admit something a little different would have been refreshing, the collection was commendably simple, with just the right amount of zippers here, or piped detailing there. We've come to expect certain things from Rock & Republic, and we always agree it's better to meet those expectations with ready-to-wear looks than overshoot them with runway experimentation. Z Zegna: If you typically go to Zegna for classic, impeccable, European fit and quality, then perhaps you rely on Z Zegna as a window into what the label's fantasy world might look like: swapping trousers for thermal leggings; synthetic fabrics; and surges of unexpected patterns that undercut the collection in a welcomed way. Still you shouldn't think of the line as something avant-garde, if only because GIldo Zegna and Alessandro Sartori seem to be taking cues from the grounded athletic menswear market, with items like blazers and hoodies constructed of unnatural materials. The collection gained steam with the display of bold patterns; beyond the surprising plaid element, there were pieces that appeared streaked, cracked -- worn in some way -- which suggested that, despite the artificial durability of some materials, in the end it's all subject to corrosion by time. Additionally, the color palate was beautiful this season with washed pinks, blues and yellows juxtaposing nicely with the masculinity of the collection. Send a letter to the editor about this article.
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