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MICHAEL BASTIAN SPRING 2015

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MICHAEL BASTIAN SPRING 2015

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“The Southwest is a little bit of a challenge,” said Michael Bastian at his studio in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood.

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“I really wanted to avoid all the clichés—no cowboy, no poncho, no fringes. You know, how real guys in that part of the U.S. would dress, or my dream of how they would dress.” For Spring 2015, Bastian took his collection of sportswear to Arizona.

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“Maybe because I grew up in Rochester, but the desert Southwest to me is exotic,” the designer said.

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Clichés were mostly avoided, but not entirely. There were embroidered Western shirts, suede outerwear, and bronze feather accessories from the George Frost x Michael Bastian collaboration.

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The best expression of the theme was in the dusty hues, soft, textured fabrics, and faded denim. As always with Bastian, the tailoring stood head and shoulders above the rest of the collection.

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Sharp suits in a linen-blend “denim,” plaid, herringbone, and windowpane were the highlights.

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All kinds of trousers were reimagined in typical Bastian fashion. Riding pants and cargos were stripped down; motocross pants were made summery in faded canvas and denim; and slim, tapered sweatpants were done in gray piqué.

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Bastian’s vision for guys in the Southwest favored glamour over ruggedness.

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There was something louche in the mostly unbuttoned shirts, short shorts, and, of course, the quintessential Michael Bastian racer swimsuit.

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But the ease of the collection was almost too easy. The designer might have successfully avoided clichés, but all of the softening and fading seems to have removed the grit that makes the Southwest special.

MICHAEL BASTIAN SPRING 2013

Michael Bastian‘s Spring show was scheduled for high noon. High tea would’ve been more apropos, but there’s no room to wriggle on the New York calendar. Some designers might’ve blushed to put so much flesh on display before brunch, but not Bastian. 

There’s always been an erotic undercurrent to his shows, but for Spring he shot it to the fore. “People try to pigeonhole me as preppy,” he said backstage after the show. “I don’t feel like I’m preppy at all. There’s a base of that, but there’s a base of that in any American menswear designer.

The two poles of American menswear are Ralph Lauren as the superego and Calvin Klein as the id—and I want to start going more toward the id. This felt like a big step in scraping preppy off. You talk about American heritage; one of our biggest heritages is sex. I don’t feel like that’s been out there enough.”

Id, he did. Bastian had begun the collection in homage to Helen Frankenthaler, whose watery colors inspired the palette, but the death of Donna Summer, disco queen and gay icon, rerouted his course.

Mid-show, one of his thick-thighed avatars was sauntering out to “Love to Love You, Baby” in a glittery Donna Summer ’81 (“Summer Is Back!”) T-shirt. The scene Bastian had set was a Fire Island pool house, where, he said, “there’s that feeling that you wouldn’t rather be any other place.”

The show’s success was that you believed he wouldn’t. This was Bastian reveling in Bastian-ness. These Adonises, unrepentant in their swagger: He loves to love them, baby. To dress them, too. The Bastian codes are well established, and they don’t veer far from season to season. Here as ever were linen suits, vintage-y short shorts, polos, great knits.

There’ll be plenty to buy. But the achievement of this show was Bastian’s embrace of his own fantasy without apology. Even in a day when sexuality and equality is an increasingly visible political issue, there’s a reticence to speak openly about it in men’s fashion for fear of spooking “normal” guys, “real” guys. 

  NOAH MILLS (WHILHELMINA)

Facing it head on is, in its campy way, brave, even if Bastian dismisses that notion. “The whole conversation, Is it straight? Is it gay? I can’t tell who is what any longer,” he said. “I can’t tell what country anyone’s from, I can’t tell anything. People like things that make them feel sexy—that’s the secret. If something makes you feel better about yourself, you’ll pull out your credit card.” There’s a utopian vision for you. Fabulous.

GANT BY MICHAEL BASTIAN SPRING 2013

The scene, imaginatively at least, at the latest Gant by Michael Bastian presentation was the Galapagos Islands. “It’s so funny, because everyone’s saying, ‘When did you go to the Galapagos?'” Bastian said. “The answer is never. But sometimes your idea of a place is even better than the reality. I did see the documentary on BBC America, which I encourage everybody to watch.”

Bastian dreamed up a pair of young backpackers making their way through the islands, dressed in a combination of their preppy best, their new island finds, and the technical gear necessary to weather the clime. That new technical gear, in the form of nylon windbreakers with Aertex linings, represented the newest category addition to the label. As for the rest, it was the better-than-basics it has been for several collections, with highlights including the camouflage cargo pants, knits (like a reversed Fair Isle), and Baja hoodies with South American motifs. Bastian has been designing the line for several seasons now—seven, precisely—he said as he surveyed the scene. It was meant to be one or two. 

That’s a measure of the sweet spot he’s hitting, as well as the good time he’s having doing it. No wonder he chose a voyager theme. “Gant’s like my vacation,” he said. “There’s never a very heavy emotional subtext to it; it’s just cool clothes.”

GANT BY MICHAEL BASTIAN SPRING 2012 MENSWEAR

DAVID AXELL (CLICK)

Hawaii, not Manhattan, is officially the island of New York fashion week. All right, perhaps not officially, but it’s above and beyond the preferred destination this collection season. Add Michael Bastian to the luau-loving bunch, even though he has never actually visited the state. “What I know of Hawaii is from watching the Brady Bunch shows from the seventies,” the designer said at his Gantpresentation. “But sometimes your idea of something can be even better than the real thing.” Bastian’s dream combination of Hawaiian fever and seventies love translated into a hippie-dippie version of all-American classics. 

Even the models were cast with Marcia and Greg in mind. “This collection is about being happy and fun,” Bastian said, grinning ear to ear. “It’s about what you can throw into your bag for a summer weekend and just go.”

FRANCISCO LACHOWSKI (FORD)

For women, there were sweet sundress renditions. One saccharine frock had embroidered watermelons, smocking on the bodice, and straps that tied into floppy bows. Another floral-printed version was more attractive, if not for its roomy tunic fit, then for its nickname: the “Drunk Mommy dress,” Bastian called it. But it wasn’t only girly girls who were catered to. Tomboys also had options, in a rainbow-striped vest and cargo pants.

RODRIGO CALAZANS (NEXT)

Predictably, the men’s designs were stronger. Denim, in candy colors, was nicely tapered and rolled just above the ankle. Camo, amped up in red, was layered in with the requisite Hawaiian flower and tiki motifs. Bastian also showed a knack for tweaking rugby shirts with agreeable details such as an exaggerated contrast placket, or lacing instead of buttons. Swimwear, though, was where things really got fun. A pair of pink swim trunks with a hippo print was merry enough for both Maui and East Hampton. Meanwhile, one beefy male model seemed to be wearing nothing but a mint green Gant logo cotton tank top (if you looked closely, you could see tiny swim briefs underneath). If anything, it brought plenty of smiles all around.

GANT BY MICHAEL BASTIAN FALL 2011

Gant is a historic American label—full name: Gant of New Haven—but the second-act success story of its revival owes as much to the Swedes as to the WASPs; it’s now Nordic-owned. The label’s dual citizenship gave Michael Bastian a jumping-off point for Fall. “We’ve been spending so much time in Stockholm,” he explained. “We really wanted to celebrate the two sides of Gant’s life: the whole U.S. heritage, but also now this cool, modern, sexy Scandinavian thing that has crept into the label in a big way. What you’re seeing is a hybrid of America and Scandinavia.”

The individual pieces—sport coats, parkas, puffer vests, embroidered khakis, camo pants, and so on, for men and for women—are true-blue U.S.A. But the styling, according to the designer, comes from the Swedes. “Swedish winters are not for the faint of heart,” Bastian said. “It’s dark, it’s freezing, but somehow they manage to look cool, chic, and sexy while totally layered up—which is hard in a big parka.”

A big parka’s not the half of it. It wasn’t uncommon for looks to include three or more shirts, plus a coat, plus hats and belts, watches and ties, color piled on color, print on contrasting print. But take off any piece, put it on a rack, and you’ve got what smells like a sale. And, even layered nearly to the point of exhaustion, the pieces did have the kind of off-kilter, cocky cool that’s native to rambunctious kids. What sort, exactly? “We thought of the guy as part of a cross-country ski gang—which is kind of funny, because cross-country skiers don’t form gangs,” Bastian mused. “Then these girls were schoolgirls who were almost abducted by this gang.” Freedom fighters, meet the Winter Olympics. Stranger things have happened.

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