Not sure how I missed this in the NY Times, but great insight into the GQ/CFDA Best New Menswear Designer competition last winter.
I would love to have been a fly on the wall during the panel presentation; Billy Reid, Franky Muytjens and Eunice Lee are a few of my favorite designers.
Tell Us Why You Deserve Fame (You Have 30 Minutes)
By ERIC WILSON
Published: February 10, 2010
IT is commonplace among Serious Fashion Insiders to decry as an outlandish caricature the version of the rag trade seen on reality programs like “Project Runway.” Still, when a group of real designers prepares to be judged before a panel of distinguished industry leaders, the urge does strike to call out, “Make it work!”
The scene: It is 9 a.m., Feb. 4, in a conference room at GQ magazine on the ninth floor of the Conde Nast building, where our panelists are sitting on one side of a very long table to receive the finalists in a contest to name the “best new men’s wear designer in America.”
The contestants: Six finalists who speak to “a new wave of American fashion,” in the words of Jim Nelson, the GQ editor, will each have 30 minutes to make their case with a presentation of their designs. They are, in the order of their appearance, Frank Muytjens, the men’s designer of J. Crew; Richard Chai; Eunice Lee, the designer of Unis; Billy Reid; Vincent Flumiani, the designer of Caulfield Preparatory; and Doug and Ben Burkman, brothers and the designers of Burkman Bros.
The stakes: Each finalist will be included in the March issue of GQ, but the winner receives $50,000 and a chance to create a collection for Levi’s. The winner will be announced on Feb. 12, following a Fashion Week kickoff cocktail party Feb. 11 with lots of male models and ogling.
A slide projector (yes, they still exist) is whirring loudly, as Mr. Nelson calls in the first contestant.
Mr. Muytjens, a salt-and-pepper sort from the Netherlands, is wearing a denim shirt over a white T-shirt, ancient Levi’s and a navy blazer. He explains his influences as midcentury modern design combined with old-school Euro architecture and shows a slide of his college designs that were inspired by Levi’s. This is not to be misinterpreted, but one of the judges happens to be Erik Joule, a senior vice president for the Levi’s brand. After Mr. Muytjens, accompanied by five models in the fall J. Crew collection, leaves the room, the judges confer.
“I like his philosophy,” says Jim Moore, the creative director of GQ. “He’s a modernist, but there are all those traditional elements there.”
Mr. Chai, who started his men’s collection in 2008, follows with models wearing a representation of his work through the seasons. The takeaway is that it is design-y but not so avant-garde as to seem isolating.
The reaction is not so enthusiastic. “From a design point, it looks very jeans-y to me,” says Italo Zucchelli, the men’s designer for Calvin Klein.
“I fell asleep a little at the end,” Mr. Joule says.
Ms. Lee, of Unis, begins her presentation with a charming video, then shows her fall looks on a bunch of non-model guys she cast from her Lower East Side neighborhood. Her best line: “I’m not a man. I don’t know what the pants feel like or the jackets feel like, so one of the things I really have to do is listen to my customer.” The judges love her.
“She’s very scrappy,” Mr. Nelson says.
“I’ve got to say, she’s one of the few girls I’ve ever had a crush on,” says Kevin Harter, the men’s fashion director of Bloomingdale’s.
Next, Mr. Reid arrives wearing the same outfit as Mr. Muytjens. Faux pas!
Mr. Reid, who works out of Florence, Ala., is clearly nervous as he wheels in an overstuffed rack of his Southern comfort fashion. His legs are trembling as he piles look after look onto the table until it is a mosh pit of waxed-cotton barn jackets and boots and Hemingway hats made of nutria, a fat rat that evidently has a bounty on its head in Louisiana.
Though incoherent, his story charms the judges. Mr. Harter notes that Bloomingdale’s already sees Mr. Reid as a major player, since even his most uncommercial design, a red union suit with hunting-themed patches, was reordered five times last season.
Mr. Flumiani, a wisp of a thing whose Louis Vuitton wallet is sticking out of his pants, goes on, and on, about being disowned by his parents before starting a collection inspired by the adventures of an imaginary cad named Finnigan Nash Sinclair, when all he really had to say was “preppy.”
“This was a therapy session,” Mr. Zucchelli says.
Last, the Burkmans present their collection with a group of five models that includes themselves, plus a handmade inspiration book handed to each judge. The look can be summed up in two words: International Lumberjack.
“We’re totally feeling hiker boots this season,” Doug Burkman says. “It’s kind of our move on from the Red Wing thing.”