NEW YORK — David Hart has never been to Cuba, but that didn't stop the Severna Park native and menswear designer from devoting his entire 20-piece collection to the embattled Caribbean country during men's fashion week.
"Unfortunately since I started development, recent events in the USA have started a rollback and restrictions on easy travel there," Hart said. "This collection is a celebration of the world's view of Cuba and not a literal one. I personally have never been to Cuba, so this collection is based on an idea of Cuba I've been exposed to through books, media and cinema as an American."
To add another twist, Hart chose models from Anti Management, an agency whose founder used to work for Trump Model Management, which was owned by President Donald J. Trump.
Hart explained that the choice of models was merely a coincidence.
But other designers made more deliberate statements in the opening days of New York Fashion Week (Men's), which runs through Thursday. The annual exhibition of menswear appeared to pick up where the women's clothing industry left off in February's fashion week; designers used their platforms to challenge convention and express their views on hot-button issues like immigration, race relations, gender rights and inclusion of all people.
The modeling ranks appeared to be more diverse this season. Attendees of the week's kick-off event, New York Men's Day, were handed buttons in support of Planned Parenthood. Even the ambassador for the Council of Fashion Designers of America reflected diversity. Young Paris, a Congolese, French-born and New York-bred artist, whose material is dripping with social consciousness and peppered with global themes, is unapologetically black — wearing African tribal paint on his face when making public appearances.
"The [fashion] industry is definitely some type of motley crew," said Zoey Washington, senior style editor at Brit + Co, the San Francisco-based lifestyle brand. "That's why politics has always been a huge inspiration for designers and for the industry in general. The amount of designers who are immigrants, the amount of designers who are LGBTQ, the amount of designers who are women, the amount of people who are of color has grown exponentially; these are the people who are going to be affected by this current administration and the current political climate."
Private Policy's collection was called "Trinkets" in response to the "turbulence of the political climate" and the fact that "many Americans feel that their country is spinning out of control," according to its press release. The offerings were composed of Native American prints and patterns, denim — a quintessentially American fabric — and rhinestones to represent Hollywood glam.
Julian Woodhouse, the black and openly gay creative director of Wood House, unveiled another buzzed-about, androgyny-laced collection that pushed the boundaries of masculinity with flowy fabric, bright colors and feminine silhouettes. Wood House's was among a slew of collections that included looks that challenged traditional menswear offerings while embracing gender fluidity.
Woodhouse also took a swipe at the White House with a red hat that read: "Making Menswear Great Again But Really Tho," a play on Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan.
Stevie Boi, who was scheduled to unveil his first men's collection, Noir By SB For Men, Wednesday night, said his collection was inspired by "black excellence." He made it a mission to cast almost all models of color for his show.
"This is so much deeper than the fashion collection. It's just the start of the conversation," said the Baltimore-based designer, born Steven Cordell Strawder.
He also wanted to challenge the notions of black masculinity.
"The whole point of my collection is to get our culture out of its element and out of the norm," he said.
Hart said he's been proud of the recent political expression by the fashion community.
"The new wave of emerging designers are using their collection as a voice," he said. "We're all very inclusive of different body types, people and identities. If fashion can help promote that, we are all happy to do that."
Washington said designers have a fairly safe platform in which to express themselves.
"When designers feel that they have a platform, they talk," Washington said. "The designers who are sitting back right now acting like nothing is happening, those are the designers who seem a little bit tone deaf right now."
Of course, the collections offered more than commentary. There were plenty of fashion trends to keep attendees buzzing and coveting the latest clothing offerings:
Raincoats, motto jackets and other light outerwear were popular throughout most of the collections in New York.
My favorite? A hooded, three-quarter length, color-blocked raincoat in yellow, blue, red, green and clear by Wood House. Michael Bastian showed a light-weight navy blue jacket, which was perfect for layering — especially come the end of summer.
Blue was one of the most popular colors in New York.
About half of Krammer & Stoudt's looks included blue garments.
Daniel Hechter, which made its American debut, showed a number of stunning pieces in blue, including a navy leather jacket. The collection from the Parisian brand will be sold at Macy's this fall.
David Hart provided one of my favorite evening wear offerings in the form of a satin tuxedo in cobalt blue with red polka dots. It will undoubtedly be sought after come awards season.
Designers used sharp, saturated reds for shorts, pants, shirts and suits.
Wood House showed a pair of fitted calf-length red pants with red suspenders adorned with the brand's name. Another look was a red and metallic gold baseball jacket with a detachable portion, giving the wearer the option of wearing it at the waist or just below the knee.
One of my favorite looks from Daniel Hechter was a sleek cherry red blazer, which was paired with blue jeans and a multi-colored polka dot dress shirt.