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Associated Press
Men’s fashion this year is looking very WASPy – cable sweaters and other clothes right out of prep school.

Classics taking cool turn in men's fashion in 2008

NEW YORK – Check out GQ’s February issue and you’ll find an interesting picture. There, on the “backstory” page, stand eight men, one woman – the creative minds behind six young fashion labels.

The “Best New Menswear Designers in America,” the magazine declares. They each wear clothes that seem classic, but not cookie-cutter: plaid shirts, rumpled sweaters, vests, a couple of blazers. And not a tie among them.

“This is the Class of 2008 – the ones to watch,” GQ creative director Jim Moore says.

Don’t read too much into the non-tieness. These designers have no problem outfitting men for Wall Street or weekends. Yeah, they offer suits – cut slim. And ties – skinny ones, worn askew. The kind Holden Caulfield might have worn.

Yep, J.D. Salinger’s mischievous prepster malcontent of “The Catcher in the Rye” seems to have been the fit model for menswear designers this year – upstart and old guard alike. Fall collections are brimming with WASPy tradition: sensible gray suits, cable sweaters, cords, herringbone, Donegal tweed, clothes that take you from prep school to college to Madison Avenue office. But always with that slightly rebellious vibe.

“We’re in a good moment for American style,” Moore says. “Designers have revisited the classics and made them cool.”

That was apparent last week, when GQ threw a pre-Fashion Week bash for its anointed newbies, offering a peek at their fall line-ups. Obedient Sons (designed by Swaim Hutson and wife, Christina) was the most Caulfieldian, with fresh-outta-prep-school Continental jackets, shrunken cardigans and black tweed Rider pants (with leather patches). A two-tone, gray tux jacket with shawl collar looked perfect for someone uber-stylish.

For more collegiate looks, there’s Steven Alan, whose peacoats, down jackets over brushed cotton suits, even bow-ties, come in guy-friendly shades – gray, navy, pops of yellow. Spurr (by Simon Spurr) offers a metro take, layering worsted wool vests and blazers with an oversized oiled-cotton touring jacket.

Engineered Garments (by Daiki Suzuki) has the townies covered, in flannel jackets, plaid work shirts, rumply knits and slushy weather work boots. Rag and Bone (the former denim line from Marcus Wainwright and David Neville) has workwear, including suave, three-piece Connery suits, and vests, vests, vests.

“The vest should be a key item for fall,” suggests Tom Julian, director of trends at McCann Erickson. Checks and plaids stay strong, he adds, as do “jackets that tell a story.”

At Gilded Age – the last of GQ’s faves – the jackets speak volumes, like the leather-trimmed coat inspired by a vintage railroad conductor’s uniform. The line (by Stefan Miljanic) looks plucked from the early years of the Industrial Revolution. Super-soft knits are hand-crafted using artisanal techniques, or vintage, recycled looms; the organic denim and canvas pants are treated with plant dyes, then worked over with sandpaper so they “look like they’ve been through a war or two,” Miljanic says.

More established lines expressed a sense of nostalgia.

Nautica kicked off Fashion Week with a sportswear regatta inspired by ice sailing – a “dangerous, sexy sport,” designer Mirian Lamberth says. The winners: peacoats (in cashmere, nylon), racy tech pants, can’t-go-wrong cables (sweaters, hoodie, robe).

John Crocco at Perry Ellis led a hunting party, with Britishy Norfolk jackets, lodge vests and unexpected, “exploded” prints – oversize windowpanes and a great mongo snowflake sweater.

For John Varvatos, think Edwardian: nipped jackets (herringbones, tweeds), stand-up collars, jauntily tugged-at ties. Coats are narrow in the shoulder and cashmere-soft; leather rocks, in antiqued silver and pewter.

Later this month, a panel of editors and industry experts will name one of the GQ faves top dog – the winner gets $50,000 and a chance to create a collection for Levi’s, plus mentorship from pros such as Varvatos.