Gender, Menswear, and Couture.
When someone asks you about men's fashion what usually comes to mind? Suits, blazers, overly hyped sneakers, mortgage payment priced designer t-shirts? What if there was more to it than that? What if there was an elevation filled with hand stitched lace tees and silk boxing shorts with Swarovski crystal embellished waistbands? Couture level garments created using traditional couture techniques. Sound like a dream? Well designer Neil Grotzinger is making it a reality. The recent Parsons MFA graduate broke all the traditional menswear rules, and some couture rules, to delivered a socially enlightened and refreshing technical Graduate collection during New York Fashion Week in September. Along side a few other "underground" designers, Neil has opted to elevate menswear and while Dior had the New Look, Grotzinger has given us his New Idea on dressing.
Jim Duran: Tell me about your graduation collection.
Neil Grotzinger: "My Graduate collection was developed around the concept of subverting masculine stereotypes, specifically those I felt I had a difficult time understanding while I was growing up. A great deal of the initial stages of development for this collection involved a process of getting dressed up in clothes that signified a fictional masculine archetype. I was trying to embody those archetypes in an ephemaralized, exaggerated way, just up until the point when it began to feel feminine. As the process went on, I began to think about how I could use textile to subvert certain recognizable garments into facades of themselves. A t-shirt within the collection, for example, was made entirely out of lace, and hand sewn together using red beads wherever there would normally be a cover stitch or rib trim. Other garments, like wrestling singlets were also made out of lace, as a way of teeter tottering between athletic sportswear and erotic lingerie."
JD: What did you want the industry to take away from this collection?
NG: "I wanted the industry to recognize that there is a vast grey area within Men’s fashion, as it remains relatively unexplored to its fullest potential in our current day and age. Fashion is becoming very political right now, as people are beginning to address their sentiments towards their social climate in more complex ways. This collection was my way of addressing how fictional our concept of masculinity really is."
JD: Did you have a moment when putting together this collection where you thought you had something very special?
NG: "I think there were little moments throughout the entire process that were very rewarding, but I can’t think of one moment when it all came together. Working on the embroideries for the collection, and finding ways of embedding symbolic garment details into couture bead work felt very exciting because I could really feel the balancing act at play, but the whole process was exciting overall."
JD: Tell me what role gender plays in your designs.
NG: "Gender is the basis of what I do. Understanding the vastness of gender perception and identification, as well as trying to figure out how to contrast that with the narrow-minded framework of gender clarification in America throughout history is my way of building social commentary into my clothing."
JD: How do you think the idea of gender is changing in fashion?
NG: "I think the underground is starting to play a big role in fashion, and gender looks very different in the underground. I think people are starting to become more stimulated by the idea of social stereotypes being challenged in fashion, which is making them reconsider what it means to be a certain way or seem a certain way."
JD: How do you perfect the balance of masculinity and femininity in your work?
NG: "It’s a difficult process, but it usually isn’t always necessarily about balance. For me, it’s about finding the right way to make something contradict itself. If it feels like I’ve challenged masculinity, or infused something with a heightened sense of effeminacy, then I’m usually satisfied."
JD: How has life changed since fashion week?
NG: "Since fashion week, I’ve started teaching at Parsons and developing new concepts for my next collection. I want to transform my ethos into a sustainable brand, and build a very tangible market for Couture Menswear."
JD: You've said that your goal is to create a men's couture market. What do you think will be the biggest obstacle in accomplishing this?
NG: "I think it can be challenging to get people to recognize this as a social necessity. Because of the fact that menswear has been on the same plane for so long, it’s difficult to get people to recognize that it has the capacity to be something else."
JD: Do think it will be difficult to change people's perception of what couture means?
NG: "I think the process of establishing yourself as a couturier was structured to create a society of custom “dressmakers,” which may have made sense in the late 19th century, but it doesn’t really make sense now. It’s just a matter of reconsidering the parameters of what it means to be a couturier, because couture is hurting itself every day as it remains so exclusive to one very specific type of person."
JD: Do think it more difficult now for young designers to find an original voice than ten years ago?
NG: "No, I actually think it’s easier. Young designers are finally being listened to in fashion again. In some sense it can be hard to find a voice today because there is so much out there, but at the same time social consideration for alternative fashion has grown so much in this day and age that I think it’s the perfect time to make a statement as a young designer."
Photos courtesy of Neil Grotzinger.