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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Menswear at New York Fashion Week typically takes a backseat to the more showy and better-known women's lines, but the collections unveiled this week show U.S. menswear designers coming into their own with strong performances, buyers and trend analysts said.
While male consumers often favor comfort and ease in clothing over the latest styles, the looks on the runways this week are likely to trickle down into mass retail clothing lines as these designers gain influence, they said.
"The men's shows in New York this season have been incredibly strong," said Eric Jennings, men's fashion director for Saks Fifth Avenue, a top U.S. store.
At New York's semi-annual Fashion Week, where hundreds of designers are unveiling their fall and winter 2010 lines through Thursday, only a handful of shows feature just menswear.
Standouts include Philip Lim, Robert Geller, Richard Chai and Simon Spurr, said Kevin Harter, vice president of fashion at U.S. department store Bloomingdale's.
"This is the most exciting time for American men's designers. They're starting to really emerge," he said. "I think these American designers are going to rival the Parisian and Belgian menswear designers."
Plaids made a frequent appearance in several collections.
Design line Duckie Brown featured playfully mismatched plaids on jackets and narrow trousers, shortened to the calf, with thick socks and large boots. Rag & Bone combined more toned-down plaids with textured tweeds.
Jim Moore, creative director of men's magazine GQ, said for men, plaid has become a staple.
"A plaid shirt has hit that iconic status," he said.
Playing with urban warrior and mountain man images, designers put great emphasis on thick leather boots.
Every outfit in designer Robert Geller's show featured such boots, while designer Tim Hamilton gave his boots a futuristic look by distorting their shiny leather.
Boots "hold the weight of the outfit," Moore said.
Men's designers also toyed with layered warm textures and colors. "It's going to be a heavy knits cycle," Harter said.
Clothing retailers, who took a huge hit when the U.S. economy soured, said they are seeking quality and price over hitting every trend.
At Saks, Jennings said he was taking a "relatively conservative approach" and would focus on two factors -- "accessible price points and exclusivity."
Similarly, Ryan Conder of Los Angeles menswear store Southwillard said concern for cost and a greater awareness about how clothing is made has prompted "a return to value" for his customers, amid less concern for the newest trends.
Apparel "made in Italy, England, America and Japan now hold real value," Conder said.
"When I opened my shop everyone thought I was crazy to have nothing made in China," he added. "Now nobody is going to buy a $600 sweater made in China.
For some designers the economic squeeze has served as a reminder that while the fashion cycle of trends and collections can be important for their brand's image, they aim to produce designs that stand the test of time.
Designer Patrik Ervell, who showed a crisp and utilitarian menswear collection, said he hopes his clothes manage to "keep the fashion cycle at arm's length."
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Paul Simao