Were the digital images of gridded boxes coded with hard-to-decipher labels (C143, H143, etc.) a clue to Rag & Bone's Fall collection? They were projected wall-sized on the West Chelsea venue where the brand hosted its Fall ’14 menswear show, during a few days in New York that is starting to look, thanks to presentations from Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren, as well as from R&B, like a fledgling New York menswear week of sorts. The screens served in a way as a self-diagnostic test for the spectators. The PR people saw seating charts; this reviewer saw a bingo card (analyze that, doctors). But it was hard to connect any hypothesis to the show once it began.
The collection for Fall took R&B a distance from the military-inflected one they showed for Spring and closer to their heritage of English tailoring and workwear. "I'm getting a little nostalgic at the moment," Marcus Wainwright said. "If you look at our first-ever two shows, they were a lot like this." He and David Neville showed a mix of tailored pieces with hardy staples: suits with tees or knits rather than collared shirts, accessorized hooded anoraks worn over pleated pants, and plenty of rugged work boots. There was a fifties flavor to the proportion, with it shorter shorts and higher-waist trousers, but the cut was modern: drop-crotched, carrot-shaped for the pants, with articulated seams borrowed from performancewear.
There were pieces that seemed lifted wholesale from an earlier era, like a few great bowling shirts—but they were stitched not with the wearers' names, but instead with the words (and then, on the back, the numerals) Three or Five. One more riddle to solve, until Wainwright dispelled it: Rag does a strong business in number-printed T-shirts but didn't feel like sending them out on a runway.
That may in fact be the key to Rag & Bone: Given the duo's success, they can now do more or less whatever they want. Asked after the show about the numbered projections, Wainwright revealed that they were the projection company's test cards; they just looked cool, so he asked them to keep them up for the preshow cocktail. (During the show itself, the projections switched to photographs by four photographers—Jeff Henrikson, Billy Kidd, Adam Whitehead, and Brian Ziegler—commissioned to shoot the models during their fittings. It was an effective conceit.) "That kind of is the key to the collection," Wainwright said. "There wasn't a theme, there wasn't a big secret inspiration. It's about the purity of menswear, and what we believe men's fashion should actually be. In my opinion, there's a lot of fashion that really means nothing to a guy."
Though the cut of those trousers seemed potentially challenging to a fashion-averse guy—"The two hardest things in menswear to sell are high waists and pleats, hands down," Wainwright acknowledged—there was plenty that was appealing and salable to choose from, whether the mack-fabric trenches or the shearlings or those numbered bowling shirts. (R&B's men's collections have proven so appealing and salable, in fact, that women apparently buy a lot of them, hence the girls-in-menswear on the runway.)
It's something of a riddle (C143, H143…) that a show premised on purity and real clothing was as styled as this one was. But that, too, was seemingly easy to explain. "I think there's a lot of backlash sometimes against things that are heritage these days," Wainwright said. "People think that's been done. Every menswear piece really comes from that in some way. But people should be focused on how clothes are put together." The duo seem to have done some self-diagnosis of their own lately and settled on confining the tricks to the packaging while giving the clothes the cool but mostly unpretentious vibe of their early collections. The appeal of that isn't hard to decipher.