By  on February 10, 2009

CHICAGO — Men’s wear retailers at the Chicago Collective this month exuded realism, caution and hopefulness.

“Could it be better? Yes,” said Thomas George, owner of E Street Denim in Highland Park, Ill. “But it could also be a lot worse. This isn’t a blip in the road, it’s a fundamental change in the industry. Retailers have gotten the message, now manufacturers need to find other ways to satisfy their margin.”

The show, held Feb. 1-3 at The Merchandise Mart, brought out a strong showing of buyers from across the country.

“Our business is up; we seemed to have dodged the real estate bullet in our area,” said Steve Humble, owner of The Squire Shop in Fort Worth. “We’re coming off the best [holiday] season we’ve ever had.”

Location appears to have been a factor for Joe Moseley and Roy Hollard, co-owners of Moseley & Hollard in Lafayette, La., which recorded a sales increase for 2008 that continued into January.

“We’re fortunate our city doesn’t follow the rest of the country,” Hollard said. “Our economy has held up, so we go in every day and try to keep a positive attitude. We’re out on the [sales] floor working hard with our customers six days a week.”

Retailers know they have to be disciplined.

“We’re entering the year cautiously, and we’re going to be watching our inventory very carefully,” said The Squire Shop’s Humble.

Joe Moseley echoed that sentiment. “We’re only buying what we sold last year,” he said. “But we’re bringing in new and different things about every six months. Change is the name of the game.”

And that change may turn out to be a good thing for many manufacturers.

“Buyers are taking their time, looking for new lines that are going to have a good price-value benefit,” said Bruce Schedler, vice president of men’s wear for The Chicago Collective. “Retailers are reassessing what’s on their shelves and that’s creating new opportunities for more than a few manufacturers.”

One of those manufacturers is Santorelli, a California-based company that specializes in tailored men’s wear crafted in Italy. The company was making its first appearance in a trade show after 20 years of appointment-only showings.

“We thought that in this climate, the time was right to show because of our price-value,” said Patrick Heitkam, vice president. “Our in-stock program has been very strong. Retailers are really watching inventory levels and want to buy as close as they can.”

Santorelli’s contemporary line, Rockin’ Sartorial, was on trend for the season, with colorful linings and distinctive accents on suits, sport coats and vests.

“It was originally designed for denim stores, but we’ve gotten a bigger response from tailored stores…looking to appeal to a younger crowd,” Heitkam said.

Bolder suit patterns — often layered with contrasting shirts — and detailed sport coats seemed to lead the way among tailored manufacturers. Jack Victor showcased pinstripes with elbow patches, Coppley served up some natty plaid sport coats and Ike Behar featured a strong windowpane plaid.

On the contemporary side, it was all about printed and embellished wovens with paisley relegating stripes to the back of most racks. Bogosse’s selection featured solid-color wovens with printed plackets and cuffs. And Bugatchi Uomo previewed splashy floral and paisley prints in sophisticated grapes and wines.

“We think lavender and purple are going to be big this fall,” said Fred Derring of DLS Apparel Group, which represents specialty stores across the country.

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