Fashion’s Fight Out: Model and Designer Lace ‘Em Up on West 27th Street

Designer Kelechi Odu trades jabs with a model.

Designer Kelechi Odu trades jabs with model Charlie Himmelstein. (Photo by: Federico de Francesco)

Fashion is a knockabout business, but it’s rare for a model to actually deck the designer during a show.

The mannequin was “Rockstar” Charlie Himmelstein, a 6’4” sapling grown in Brooklyn, unusual among the model-slash crowd for his participation in the city’s underground fight scene. He sent menswear designer Kelechi Odu to the mat in round three of a boxing match staged while both were wearing Mr. Odu’s latest collection, Gilded Beast, which debuted on Sunday.

Eleven other male models, who had just “walked” in Jimmy Fusaro’s tiny 12th-floor boxing gym on W. 27th Street, stood by the ring, cheering. The competitors went four rounds, their suits being artfully snipped away with dress shears during the breaks, so that both admirably toned men finished the match, sweating, in their gloves and trousers. A referee generously declared the contest a draw.

Mr. Odu, 35, said his inspiration was to unify Edwardian, Jekyll-and-Hyde ideas of masculine brute force and respectability. A Nigerian partially educated at Eton in the United Kingdom, his collection featured wing collars under lapel-less suit coats with strips of bear fur down the spine and sleeves. Other shirts were beaded in patterns meant to represent male chest chair.

“This show was more a performance piece, closer to the art shows that are coming up than a fashion show,” Mr. Odu said, his chest heaving after the match. “It was more for my buyers and customers in Africa, since they know me as a New York designer, and want to see what I do here.”

The intimate invited audience of around 30 downtown types contained one slender man wearing a woman’s fox fur shrug over a camouflage shirt and two with their hair in samurai-style top-knots. Wan-looking girls posed for pouty pictures next to the boxing ropes, as a small-boned woman recorded it all on a Super 8 camera.

But who wore it best?

But who wore it best? (Photo by: Federico de Francesco)

Mr. Fusaro, the bluff 51-year-old proprietor of the X-Fit gym (“that’s Ex-Fit, not Cross Fit,” he stressed) seemed delighted by the spectacle. “I’ve been here 13 years, and I don’t want to say it’s ‘refurbished,’” he said, indicating the somewhat rag-tag collection of weight benches, heavy bags and martial arts equipment that had been moved aside for the show, “but someone threw this stuff out, and I found it.”

He watched the hipster crowd stream to toward the elevators and the promise of an after-party at the Hudson Clearwater.

“My wife hates me,” he said. “I mend everything with duct tape.”