I Hear That Pleated Pants Are Coming Back!

Suzy Menkes, the doyenne of fashion journalism, started it. Writing about fashion for the International Herald Tribune, she tells a world-wide audience who is on and who is off in the latest Paris runway presentations. She’s the Siskel and Ebert of fashion, the first and foremost critic of clothes; she might even pan a designer’s efforts once in a while. She considers designers to be real artists; she conceives the whole women’s clothing industry to be an artistic endeavor, and her opinion is that of an art critic writing for any medium. It is interesting to consider how to distinguish art from commerce; but the modern runway show has blurred the lines. Did the Brand Name world we live in now evolve because of talent, or hype? Rarely do you hear of a fashion product that gained fame by being the proverbial better mouse trap. The extreme cases of this are things like make-up lines with super-model brand names. The more outrageous and extravagant the fashion show, the more "artistic."  The more outlandish the outfits on the runway, the more the fashion press corps saw "art" in the presentation and so justify printing the pictures. That kind of news was sure to be picked up by the Kansas City Star.

So eventually these shows would be done for men’s clothing. The catch, however, was that menswear that actually sells in stores is pretty predictable. Men don’t relate to clothes as artistic. Men are into function, for the most part. Propriety. Practicality. Show a regular citizen of Middletown a picture of a guy in harem pants and a tunic and he’ll think you’re putting him on.  No one ever has the chutzpah to say this. In menswear everybody is so respectful. Even the humdrum offerings from the industrial likes of Tommy Hilfiger and Perry Ellis (who’s been dead for decades) get gushing tributes. It’s a combination of fear of damaging fragile egos and the threat of losing ad revenues. No one ever says anything bad. No one knows what would happen if a writer panned a men’s wear show. It’s never happened. It’s The Emperor’s New Clothes with a twist. Because the "newness" in men's fashion shows is mostly unwearable. Instead of stimulating business, this PR has the opposite effect.

Let’s face it. Menswear design really doesn't take the kind of talent required to make a gold lamè-trimmed, silk tulle hooded, sleeveless evening gown with slippers, cape and matching Rolls Royce interior. That’s for the geniuses in Avenue Montaigne: the real designers. The editors and journalists who cover menswear want to be the Suzy Menkes of their side of the aisle. They don’t find a pair of grey serge trousers or a blue broadcloth shirt to be of any interest; not even the more obvious news stories, like the disappearance of the "enormous," or the changing size of shirt collars, gets much attention. All this would amount to little more than a curious characteristic of the fashion journalism business, except for the fact that someone needs to tell men about the tides of change, about the evolution of style. Weird, useless “art” clothes – skirts, kimonos, and the like – in magazines and newspapers don’t help men or help the men’s clothing business. Aside from adding to the notoriety and hype surrounding a designer’s name, aside from the self-congratulation among industry insiders, they leave the average guy, young, old, straight, gay, urban, suburban, hip, callow, all of them, at best uninformed, at worst, turned off completely. 

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