More than 50 shades of gray

Images courtesy of HMX Group

Men’s wear famously operates a season behind women’s ready-to-wear and has at times been regarded as “safe.” But as we transition from summer to fall, men’s fashion is decidedly making bold strides – in color, texture and silhouette – even influencing women’s wardrobes.

For the most part, fall runway presentations offered a tour de force of American designers, overshadowing their European counterparts. Case in point – the sporty, concise collection presented by Tommy Hilfiger. This summer, the designer, a Greenwich resident, was honored at the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s awards ceremony with its prestigious Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award for his ongoing contributions to American style.

“Tommy Hilfiger is bigger than ever, bigger than Europe,” says Tom Beebe, vice president of creative services at HMX Group, which represents American heritage men’s fashion lines, including Hart Schaffner & Marx, Hickey Freeman and Bobby Jones.

This fall, men’s fashion is not just red, white and blue – though it’s that, too. There are moody wine hues for slimmer-than-ever pants and color and texture richly layered on top. This is coming off the trend that’s had staying power in women’s wear the past few seasons. Alexander Wang is embracing it, with hot red from shoes to pants to jackets, pairing it cleanly with crisp white button-downs and black accessories.

Denim also steps it up in refined, polished indigo rinses. At Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, James Perse and Brooks Brothers (which is enjoying a successful run right now), khaki-toned bottoms get cool with safari-inspired side cargo pockets. (Also see mod-fit safari jackets by Paul Stuart.)  On top, men should turn to Hilfiger and Thom Browne for bold chest-striped sweaters. Or pair those earthy, structured pants with a sharp, tipped navy blazer or cashmere and wool knits in navy, olive, mustard, brown, burgundy and charcoal. These are what fashion designer Joseph Abboud calls “spicy colors.” (Check out pinks and sea greens, too).

Beebe says this fall men should anticipate the introduction of “colors you’ve never seen before and it’ll be interesting to see how that goes.”

Taking a hint from the Ivy Leaguers, shades of gray will be key to every man’s casual and professional wardrobe. Opt for tweed or flannel charcoal suits from the chic Thom Browne or from Joseph Abboud’s “Sinister” line within the Hickey Freeman brand. With accessories earning the attention of guys, spruce up the gray with colorful bowties and printed socks from the likes of Hugo Boss. And don’t forget the basics done well (with an emphasis on potent colors) at Paul Stuart, the true gentleman’s store.

From Japan, Junya Watanabe’s fall/winter collection for cult brand Comme de Garçons offers a sweet dose of progressive work-wear-inspired clothes with great pockets; layered, printed knit sweaters with suede elbow patches; crisp, cuffed pants; red shoes; and tons of gray and beige outerwear with accessories like prepster gray flannel baseball caps.

Starting this autumn, look forward to the relaunch of “Argyleculture.” That’s Abboud’s collaboration with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. The edgy-preppy sportswear line, which targets the “urban graduate,” is big on, you guessed it, argyle sweaters; herringbone and plaid-print button-downs and vests; trim pants in stone, navy and red; and fun bowties and ties in bright hues like oranges, reds and blues. It’s a texture-rich fall with a lush mix of leather, suede, corduroy, wool and knits in exciting silhouettes.

For the fashion-driven executive of any age, let it be known: The crisp white shirt reigns supreme and the pinstripe is back.

“For fall, suits are going to be big. Tailored clothing is going to be huge and pinstripe is going to be huge,” says Beebe. “Pinstripe looks fresh again and it’s going to be really good.”

And on that note, slim-fit is king.

“Now we’ve watched men get so into fit and a lot of these guys, their legs are actually thinner than girls’, and they wear (slim pants) really well,” Beebe says.

Jackets that embrace a fresh silhouette are a must-have. Armani presents men with special wardrobe pieces this fall, like the luxurious fitted black leather blazer, which he showed with trousers with four fulsome pleats and tapered ankles (not exactly office material, but impressively revolutionary).

Still, Beebe says, men’s wear remains about the essentials.

“It’s just the basics, the basics of fit, of style, of fabrics, and the tailors and craftspeople are my favorite. For me, men’s is very focused with a different heritage. If you talk to Donna Karan or Richard Tyler, Narcisco Rodriguez, these other designers, they’ll all tell you that they love men’s wear and that it’s their thing. They would kill to cut a men’s jacket.

“Men’s wear is not trendy come-and-go style. The young kids don’t know it, but they love having a tie.”

That last point is something that so many retailers like Brooks Brothers and Hugo Boss are attempting to hone in on with greater focus on the young executive’s wardrobe.

The fashion community’s ultimatum sees men rethinking the basics and predicts it will have an even edgier spring with colors and prints that will continue to push the envelope.

Guys, just wait till you see Armani’s take  on Bermuda shorts.

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