Critic’s Notebook: John Varvatos and Todd Snyder Animate Men’s Fashion in New York

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Critic’s Notebook: John Varvatos and Todd Snyder Animate Men’s Fashion in New York

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It was a Kellan Lutz season. The “Twilight” hunk popped up seemingly everywhere during New York Fashion Week: Men’s — a style Zelig. There he was at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, seated at a cafe table in a Chelsea restaurant that served as the setting for a Joseph Abboud show.

Lightly bearded, strawberry-blond hair artfully tousled, the actor was wearing one of the sand-colored linen suits around which Mr. Abboud built his spring 2017 collection.

The suit was well proportioned, double-breasted and had been tweaked by the seasoned stylist Bill Mullen with rolled-back sleeves and a goofy ribbon pinned to the lapel. Though Mr. Lutz is 31, the suit seemed to age him, underlining one of the problems with the designs Mr. Abboud has produced since returning to his label. Youthfulness is privileged in most every aspect of culture. The tendency is to dress like a younger version of oneself.

Mr. Lutz, as one wag pointed out, looked like a young Colonel Sanders, something a reporter noted in a tweet, to which the social-media-savvy actor quickly replied on a feed broadcast to his one million Twitter followers: “My secret identity, Shhhh”

Apparently he has many. Barely a half-hour later, there was Mr. Lutz at Skylight Clarkson Sq studios, fashion week headquarters, dressed in Tim Coppens separates that hugged his bendable-action-figure torso, crowding into a rope line alongside other guests at Mr. Coppens’s show.

When a reporter noted the quick transformation, Mr. Lutz was just as quick with a reply. “I changed in the car on the way,” he said. “I’m not shy.”

What Mr. Lutz thought of the clothes on view one never determined; the actor was soon swallowed in a scrum of guests jostling for a view of the collection. It was a typically austere one featuring blouson bombers and the outsize khaki shorts that have migrated west from Japan and into the collections of many designers here; color-blocked and layered anoraks and windbreakers; drifty coats, vaguely generic performance clothes enlivened through the use of silvery metallic fabrics or panels pierced with outsize grommets and stitched together with nylon cord.

Mr. Coppens also produced what turned out to be the best pair of drawstring track pants seen during a week of shows that had an unmistakable Olympic Village vibe. He showed them on a woman, of course.

This may be the place to note how little gender play was on view during the week. True, some designers, like Joshua Cooper and Laurence Chandler of Rochambeau, introduced such nutty feminine elements as the granny turban worn by the skateboarder Eli Reed to a show inspired, they said, by the Rolling Stones in Marrakesh and other “creatives in exile.”

And the California-born tyro Rio Uribe at Gypsy Sport, explored non-binary dressing, showing flimsy peignoirs over dress-length button-downs printed with club-kid floral patterns or pairing a body-hugging sports jersey with a tiered lace skirt like something a drag queen might wear to make her first communion.

If the Gypsy Sport show was a mite cartoony (Mr. Uribe may have confined his styling gimmicks either to the whited-out irises of Storm in “X-Men” or the Moms Mabley wigs; he chose both), it at least alluded to social transformations occurring beyond the runway.

By contrast, most designers reacted to the currently modish gender flux by clinging to traditional masculine archetypes. You would expect that, of course, from Parke & Ronen, whose designers Ronen Jehezkel and Parke Lutter recently teamed up with David Hart to add tidy varsity squad jackets and blazers in boater stripes to an offering of the skimpy swimwear that earned their label its sobriquet as the gay Victoria’s Secret.

“So many men, so little time,” Mr. Jehezkel said backstage as he smoothed bronzer onto the model Trevor Signorino’s six-pack in advance of the most heavily attended show all week. And it is doubtless true that the mobs crowding into the Platform 1 space would have been deliriously happy had the designers chosen to loop the whole nine-minute show all over again.

Although with his own famous eight-pack, Mr. Lutz could easily have slipped into the lineup at Parke & Ronen, it was one presentation he skipped. His presence during a week with only the barest celebrity quotient was part of a strategy devised by the branding expert Chiun-kai Shih to pass Mr. Lutz in front of the eyes of designers and position him as something more than mere beefcake.

Most memorable of his previous fashion forays was a stint as a poster boy for Calvin Klein underwear. He is aiming now to add to the billion online images of him shirtless one or two in which he is fully clothed.

Thus he was all suited up in Todd Snyder at that designer’s show, one that is as close as New York Fashion Week: Men’s gets to a marquee event. Now in its third season, the men’s wear week continues to suffer from an absence of designers with global presence. Of the designers showing here, Tommy Hilfiger is the most famous and deepest pocketed.

Yet he confines himself to static tableau presentations that, while demonstrating how many changes this clever designer can ring on his signature preppy garb (a tracksuit in the fire-engine red that is already a big street wear trend stood out, as did some short-sleeved floral separates that fell somewhere between leisure suits and pajamas), hardly provide what one British editor called “an aha moment.”

Both Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein continue to show in Europe, with no plans to return home any time soon. It falls then to designers like John Varvatos and Mr. Snyder to make what passed for big fashion pronouncements in a solid though largely uninspiring season. For his part, Mr. Snyder did so by using design to underscore his longstanding relationship with Champion, the classic American athletic wear label.

“We’ve been doing Champion for five years, so we figured we should come out swinging a bit more” at the competition, Mr. Snyder said, making reference to designers like the Russian Gosha Rubchinskiy and the Georgian Demna Gvasalia of Vetements (and Balenciaga), each of whom has recently capitalized richly on Champion, by aping its look or through collaboration.

An affable Iowan, Mr. Snyder is so low-key in his approach that it is easy to overlook the easy proficiency of his design, his ability to fuse inspirations that were a souvenir of a recent vacation to the Côte d’Azur with elements reminiscent of what you wore to play kickball in fifth-grade gym.

Like seemingly every designer alive, Mr. Snyder dialed up his creative partnerships in a show featuring New Balance sneakers of his design as well as repurposed denims (Re/Done Levi’s) and Moscot glasses.

“I love street culture, but I also love the glitz and glamour of the South of France,” said Mr. Snyder, who melded those disparate influences to produce a matte satin pullover jacket, or wind-shirt, dazzle shorts, a Harrington in a particularly fresh green, tie-dyed seersucker jackets, striped terry crew necks and smartened up tracksuits. “I love all that stuff that people who ride around in yachts wear,” he said.

It was just hours after that show, with its references to easy living in the South of France, that reports appeared with news of the attack on crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, which left 84 dead and injured many more. Guests for Mr. Varvatos’s show — Mr. Lutz was there, of course — drank vodka gimlets from coupes and milled around a subterranean bar at the Roxy Hotel, which by sheer coincidence had been set up to resemble a cafe in Provence.

Notes for the show suggested that Mr. Varvatos was aiming for was a “fresh kind of elegance,” which may emerge if the “artisanal character of Provence was cast evenly over a sprawling metropolis.” The show, as it turned out, was among the best in some time from this lauded designer — fencing and deconstructed motorcycle jackets in silk, wool or linen; buffed suede jackets artfully distressed; asymmetric dusters and a hobo bag.

Yet a sense of easy French esprit seemed more than ever a fantasy in light of the tragic events of the day. “All I can focus on right now,” said Ken Downing, the fashion director of Neiman Marcus, “is my friends in France.”

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