What Is New York Fashion Week: Men’s? Pt. II | Q&A with Steven Kolb, CEO of the CFDA

stevenkolbImage by Dario Calrese

Since it’s brand-new and fascinating to us, we asked our Men’s Fashion Director Jorge Valls for a primer about New York Fashion Week: Men’s–or #NYFWM if you’re hashtagging. He gave us solid notes over a jazzy soundtrack.

Now that we’re out here in New York to investigate, we asked Steven Kolb, CEO of the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) to go further in depth about this “week,” which lasts four days on the calendar from July 13-16.

What is this thing? Specifically, what does it mean in the big picture of menswear that a standalone men’s fashion week is happening on American soil for the first time ever?

Kolb put #NYFWM in the context of an increasing flow of capital, since menswear is booming business in the U.S. He has an interesting analysis of the cultural swirl around the consumer ultimately buying all this menswear in 2015, and from the designers’ standpoint, Kolb sees justice: American menswear designers are being recognized as equally talented as the predominantly European designers who show at men’s fashion weeks in London, Milan, Florence and Paris.

Here’s Kolb talking about all that, plus identifying one up-and-coming brand to watch, naming which legends deserve props–and arguing whether or not fashion is art.

Nordstrom blogs: Why CFDA Men’s in New York? Why now, and what is the significance of this event?

Steven Kolb: New York is the only fashion capitol of the four–being Paris, London, Milan–that doesn’t have a stand-alone fashion men’s week. But with American menswear designers, their creativity and talent equals their European counterparts. Given the opportunity to celebrate that and promote it, we created New York Fashion Week: Men’s.

What’s behind that new appreciation?

I think it’s just a shift in the men’s market, which is one of the fastest growing segments in the fashion industry. There are a number of factors in that growth and interest. As customer and shoppers, guys are more aware of options. They see it daily through technology, blogs like you write, social media feeds. It’s impossible not to be in touch because of how our lives are connected to information. I also think the democratization of fashion has touched a customer who might not normally pay attention, whether that be Alexander Wang at H&M or Caroline Issa at Nordstrom or other retailers partnering with designers. I also think there’s been more connection to fashion with personalities that guys look up to, like sports figures. Basketball has become so associated with fashion, even moreso than maybe musicians. Those figures who resonate with guys are expressing themselves with style, and that trickles down. I also think as the younger Millennial enters the workforce, he’s comfortable using style to express himself, and that influences other older people he works with. And then the last thing is the active lives that we as American guys live. You have a big, active leisure influence in everyday dressing, a streetwear influence in everyday dressing, and you see that versatility and flexibility that a guy looks for as he bounces around throughout the day becoming more prominent in the way he dresses.

This is happening in New York in the same year as the brand-new New York Times’ Men’s Style section. Do you see those things as synchronous?

Yeah, I think it’s the recognition of those of us who follow fashion or work in fashion or report on fashion that there’s an appetite for it. They wouldn’t do it if they didn’t think they would attract advertisers and didn’t know the interest was there. The New York Times doesn’t work in a vacuum. It’s a big moment for men’s fashion.
What shows are you structuring your days around?
Well, as the CEO of the CFDA I never like to pick a favorite. But I’m excited about the roster of talent. Great range and representation of young talent and established designers, like Varvatos. The thing I’m looking forward to most is going to celebrate Jeffrey Kalinsky’s 25th anniversary party you guys are having [ed. note: it’s private]. He’s one of the nicest guys in fashion and I always love to see what he’s wearing. Looking forward to hanging out with him.

I’m going to take that as 100% sincerity but that is also a very politically correct answer.

It is sincere. He’s my friend and I like him. I wouldn’t bullsh*t you.

Finale question: I understand CFDA’s function as being formally economic, bringing buyers to market and having brands show their wares. But beyond money, in what ways do you feel you’re culturally relevant?

You’re correct in that we’re a trade organization, but we’re bigger than fashion week and market. We’re an organization that promotes and supports fashion designers to help them succeed in a global economy. And we do that in a lot of different ways, from fashion week, to working with schools, to manufacturing. That’s our bottom line, is business. But culturally when you look at fashion globally, there’s something very unique here, and what’s unique is the entrepreneurial spirit. If you’ve got an idea, whether you’re a fashion designer or a car designer, an idea alone is enough. You can kind of go with that. There’s something very spirited about that. It’s also an industry that’s competitive, and yet there’s a sense of family that the CFDA has created among designers who sit side by side on selling floors. Culturally I think it’s really about that can-do spirit and this shared sense of the more powerful we are as a group, the more successful we are. I’m not someone who’s going to say fashion is art. To me, fashion is commerce.

Would you care to elaborate on that last point?

I think fashion is creative. But not art. And success in fashion, to me, is selling. And who’s wearing it. It’s a creative business, but not as if you’re in a studio somewhere painting or sculpting for the purpose of self-expression. Your success comes, I believe, from someone buying it. Certainly fashion is creative and innovative. But it’s creative for commerce.

–Andrew Matson

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