A collection's progress from conception to execution is really only half of its journey. After that, it enters the great big world. What happens to it there is out of a designer's hands, but a smart one will pay attention. Neil Barrett is one who does. He had a hit on his hands last fall with his statement sweatshirts, so he's repeated the trick every season since. But he noticed when the previous Fall collection was bought and worn that young guys chose to wear those sweatshirts as fully fledged outerwear, sans coat or jacket. Lo and behold, that's how he showed them tonight.
It's not that he didn't show coats. On the contrary, there were marbled-leather toggle coats, coats in ombré that resembled Rothko canvases, and a stunning one that seemed to bleed from leather to suede. (It was, in fact, one giant skin with different treatments.) They too had been through the Neil Barrett Lab. Two years ago, Barrett had a hit with his exaggeratedly A-line military coats. Some were stiff and wide enough to look like the Liberty Bell. But he'd taken stock of how they worked—not in the studio, but in the store and, as importantly, in the closet. What walked the runway tonight was the evolution of what began then. "You have to make it more real," he said. "By living it, you understand what's right for you and your brand."
Then, expand; now, contract. It was perhaps the contraction of those earlier ideas that gave the collection its from-concentrate tang. There was a long procession of clothes that will look good in stores. The ombré pieces (great in black to blue; good in shades of brown) come to mind, and the guys who loved the geometric-paneled sweatshirts Barrett introduced last season will cotton to the lightning-clap versions here, the best with leather bolts pieced into the fabric itself. They all sat large (Barrett loves big, bouncy bonded fabrics) atop what was basically a single pant silhouette: slim, cropped, sometimes cuffed with sweatpant ribbing. By necessity, this collection didn't have the shock that some of the designer's best do. But by the cyclical law of the process, that may be the next round's privilege. This one read wearable. Which Neil knows firsthand is not the easiest thing to achieve. He's not just the president; he's a client, too, and this is how he wants to dress. "And," he added, "I have more trouble dressing myself than anyone else."