Men’s Spring 2018 Review

Prada, Craig Green, Ralph Lauren, Wales Bonner Spring 2018 Review

If there is a queen of Italian fashion, she is unquestionably Miuccia Prada. When surveying the current menswear season, I can’t help but see how much Prada’s particular brand of subversive masculinity (smallish silhouettes with clunky shoes and oversized outerwear), her sort of awkward sensuality has so thoroughly influenced the work of other designers. Like schoolboys, all the men of Prada seem somehow both elegantly self-possessed and imbued with a rumble-tumble spirit whose expression is just a bit off. One of the few designers who creates wardrobes as successfully for men as she does for women, Prada has kept the fashion world and her loyal customers entranced for decades.

This collection will no doubt be a highly collectible one given the numerous comic book-inspired graphic elements that permeated the show. “They are hand-drawn, human, simple and real,” Prada told Vogue. “Even if they contain of course all the worst fantasy, they look simple. . . . They are little fragments of life, which is what you get now from the information, the media: So I was more and more attracted by them. Even if I never liked them.”

It is this kind of cultural analysis that makes her work so potent and so intellectually rewarding to unpack…or at least attempt to. The collection was full of her usual navy blues, dusty pastels and charcoal grays, which were punctuated by shots of crimson and the aforementioned graphic details. Jumpsuits and aviation-inspired materials felt nonchalant and offer the ease of being clothed in a single garment, but they also brilliantly harken back to one of Prada’s earliest eternal hits: the nylon backpack. Her groundbreaking use of materials deemed too ugly or utilitarian by others has allowed her the space to continue playing with them with little real competition and it is astounding to see how many ideas continue bubbling to the surface.

Craig Green is one of the few young designers to recently emerge from the London scene who continues to gain serious traction. Though his runway shows may appear off-kilter at a casual glance, there is something deeply comforting about his vision of contemporary dressing. Nearly every piece he creates is quilted, patchworked or both. This freeform use of techniques often associated with the stacks of blankets in your grandmother’s closet combined with their sculptural forms that beautifully incorporate the movement of air makes them something special. Here, he was borrowing a bit from Rei Kawakubo’s playbook with a few looks that totally obscured the wearer but hinted at his voluminous sense of fit. There is something of traditional Asian martial arts garb in Green’s sense of proportion with loose tops and trousers that float over the body, but seem ready to help the wearer move whichever way necessary as he navigates his day.

It’s no secret that Ralph Lauren has undergone some extensive, and often troubling, changes over the past couple of years. Multiple CEOs, the closing of several flagship stores and slumping stock prices are all cause for concern. It often makes me wonder how those shifts will showcase themselves in each collection, and I think the overall instability was particularly evident in this one. This collection was far from terrible, but it was most definitely a mixed bag. The beginning seemed trying to grab onto a youthful audience through the contrived use of crests on shiny baseball jackets, white denim and, as with Prada, flight jumpsuits rendered in heavy fabrics. They were incredibly rigid in attitude and no one those garments were attempting to target will actually purchase them. From there, the Purple Label team moved into more comfortable territory with soft suiting that had an Italian quality about it mostly created through the use of expert draping. Most were exceptional though a few, like one with button flap patch pockets (why?), seemed to push away from Lauren’s signature pragmatism. However, there was one passage that could prove to be the new way forward for the entire brand.

Sportswear elements have always been a part of the Ralph Lauren heritage, but they were often of the Polo playing variety rendered in a way that seems stale. This season’s sporting elements are a game-changer with a slickness that’s usually found only in racing attire. One standout look was a slim short sleeved red-and-black top with a flat collar that hugged that neck worn with equally slim black joggers in a crisp technical material that tapered at the ankle and finished with sneakers. It was brashly sexy in the way it revealed the outline of the body and felt fresh without straying from the Ralph Lauren ethos. Brilliant.

Wales Bonner is one of the few women in the industry who designs exclusively for men. She is deeply inspired by her heritage and presents a look at masculinity, particularly black masculinity, in a way that simply no one else does. Even though she’s young, she has developed a signature line that is unmistakably hers with its elongated proportions. Bonner doesn’t needlessly complicate her message with over styling and usually keeps to one or two pieces per model. This season was incredibly louche with a few shirtless models you could imagine striding toward the beach and several others sporting tops or jackets that seemed more than a little reluctant to remain closed. Tailoring is undoubtedly her strong suit, but it is her particular way of knocking the stiffness out of it that makes it so appealing. It isn’t often that facets of menswear get a thorough reboot, but Bonner’s aesthetic strength could be powerful enough to cause a change not seen since Thom Browne’s namesake label came on the market nearly 20 years ago.