Men's clothing undergoes an unusual revolution


The look for next spring is wrap skirts, hair pulled back in brightly colored scarfs or snoods, sheer blouses under man-tailored jackets and lots of sexy decolletage.

Trouble is, we're talking about men.

The spring 1993 men's fashion season opened in New York last week, and while it reflected a new sophistication brought by women's wear specialists now designing for men, some of it was truly hysterical. About the only things missing at some shows were push-up bras and sequins. (Michael Kors did show gold leather jeans, which will certainly take you from day into evening.)

Defining moments: At the Perry Ellis show in Central Park, when the model came out wearing cotton leggings, Chelsea boots and a denim jacket wrapped around the waist, looking like a winsome Petruchio on his way from the Delacorte Theater to dinner at Claire. Or Donna Karan's show, where muscular he-men wearing pareos, Polynesian-style sarongs, sat on chairs and seemed at a loss whether to cross their legs or not.

Underlying the men's wear collections was what seemed to be a shared belief among designers that as America emerges from economic recession, men's life styles are changing.

Men are dressing more casually and working more at home, where the computer and the fax machine have made the rituals of the office unnecessary.

Calvin Klein is reassembling the men's wear uniform for the jeans generation, a generation he helped to shape. At his show the models wore little cotton Muslim skull caps or bandannas knotted over their heads, for the brain-surgeon look.

Most of Mr. Klein's styles melded sportswear -- hooded sweat shirts, hopsack shorts, linen sweaters -- with tailored clothes cut in featherweight fabrics. Trousers were often held up with rope belts. Ties were often abandoned in favor of shirts open to the waist. A double-breasted suit in paper-thin gray flannel was worn with sandals.

"Men need a cool way of wearing a three-piece suit," Mr. Klein said. "You can wear a suit with a sportswear attitude. That's the way I like to dress."

The program notes for Ms. Karan's spring collection said: "Take the sexiness of Indiana Jones. The earnestness of Mr. Smith in Washington. The relaxed glamour of Gary Cooper." You might want to add, the come-hither charm of Dorothy Lamour. But Ms. Karan's wild idea -- to put male models in sarongs, garments both men and women wear in the tropics -- should not detract from her considerable accomplishments in men's wear after three seasons.

Ms. Karan's tailored clothing, which is manufactured by Martin Greenfield Clothiers in Brooklyn, is terrific. The suits have the kind of drape that recalls 1930's Hollywood glamour, but the fabrics and mixing suggest a more modern sensibility.

Ms. Karan said, "You take your silk blazer, your linen pants, your Lycra shirt, and you throw it all together." Well, when you put it that way, it all makes perfect sense.

The Perry Ellis men's collection, which has been known for fairly classic tailored clothes, emphasized sexy sportswear: Versace-like printed linens, mesh shirts, stretch jeans, safari jackets and psychedelic orange-and-red casual wear. This was more a collection for people who live and work in discos.

"We don't do strange clothes," said Joseph Abboud at his showing at the New York Public Library. Instead, Mr. Abboud makes full-cut classic double-breasted blazers, nice white linen suits and unusual dinner jackets, like a navy blue linen with black satin lapels.

Massimo and Lella Vignelli showed a minimalist collection of loose-fitting Nehru jackets, blouson tops and drawstring pants. It was if Yohji Yamamoto had done the costumes for "Doctor No."

Tommy Hilfiger, a designer with a preppie Americana bent, showed a star-spangled array of safari, nautical and tennis looks. Mr. Hilfiger, whose name means volume at retail, actually had guys come out in seersucker suits with bucks and bow ties and straw boaters. Long may he wave.

Giorgio Armani invaded New York last Thursday to show his Le Collezione line for men and women at the Guggenheim Museum. This collection, which is not his top of the line, kept up the devolution of the men's suit, as the models came down a buckling runway wearing mismatched jacket and pants, shirts untucked. These days only women are allowed to look as neat as a pin in a man's suit.

Michael Kors's ideas for spring included drawstring tops, hTC gingham checked pants and bodyshirts (T-shirt and briefs attached) for easy riding. He also showed monotone looks, like all seersucker -- matched tie, shirt and suit -- or all-white cotton pique.

Are men actually vain enough to be remotely interested in this stuff? Well, at the Kors show on Monday, the male models did pushups backstage before coming down the runway in bathing suits. They wanted to be sure their pecs were properly pumped.

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