By and  on July 8, 2010

PARIS — Mirroring the trends seen on the Paris runways, highlights at the men’s boutique trade shows here last month included technical fabrics and workwear. Among the key items were trenchcoats and washed linen shirts, with barely a suit in sight.

Retailers were largely impressed. “The market is very strong this season,” said Wanda Colon, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of men’s Co-op for Barneys New York, while browsing Capsule’s new Garage Turenne venue.“We’re going into the season with great energy and bringing in new brands,” she said, citing military, tailoring, navy, heavy sweaters and the varsity jacket as key directions for the season.

Exhibitors at Capsule, Rendez-vous and Tranoï reported strong turnouts, particularly from British and Japanese buyers, many of whom increased spending by around 20 percent or more. “We’re 50 percent up,” said Takeshi Imae, chief buyer for Rawlife, a trio of Tokyo-based stores.

Designers displayed business-savvy mind-sets. “Everyone’s taking a commercial approach, which it has to be at the moment, but it’s also fresh, with a twist,” said Stacey Smith, men’s wear buyer for U.K. fashion chain Matches, whose online men’s wear sales doubled over the past year. “Designers are being very smart, evolving on the successes of last season,” observed Barneys’ Colon, naming washed shirts as an example. “Even though they’re washed, there’s still structure in shirts, so you can still wear it in a business environment.”

Price, however, remained prohibitive for some. “Haversack’s one of our favorite brands, if only I could afford it,” lamented Jake Bancroft, men’s wear buyer for Sarah Coggles, the U.K.-based e-tailer. Highlights at the Japanese label included a trenchcoat with attachable panels to prevent it from flapping when on a bike.

Buyers applauded a return to technical details. “Everything’s been so heritage-based, it’s refreshing to see some technical wear coming back,” said Ben Elsdale, managing director at London boutique Sefton, pointing to Canadian outerwear brand Arc’teryx-Veilance, where even simple button-down shirts had water-resistant coatings.

Color palettes included plenty of pastels, as seen in Riviera Club’s relaxed, surfing collection. “For summer I want to see something really sunny,” said Arnaud Castel, owner of Kapok, a Hong Kong boutique, adding he’s fatigued by the Americana trend. “Too many brands look the same.” For others, classic looks remain the priority as they try to galvanize business. “Men’s wear has been a challenge,” said Marina de Alto Alvarez de la Cuadra, men’s buyer for Saks Fifth Avenue Mexico, citing Marchard Drapier’s lined cotton suits at Tranoï as a favorite.

Shopping for Stockholm’s fashion-forward men’s store Nitty Gritty plus its two-month old online business, creative director Hugo Bergstrom hunted brands that specialize in one product exclusively, such as Yuketen loafers.

“They manage to do a really good product at a decent price,” he said.

Swedish brands Our Legacy, Filippa K and Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair earned praise. Uniforms for the Dedicated, a creative collective from Sweden, took British workwear in the Seventies as its inspiration. Highlights included acid-washed jeans and a looser take on the varsity jacket. British designers at the London Showroom, which occupied an entire floor at Tranoï’s new Parc Royal location, were also a hit. Christopher Raeburn’s streetwear parkas — made from reappropriated parachutes and snow camouflage fabrics — were snapped up by Harvey Nichols Hong Kong and Isetan, among others. Raeburn is collaborating with Swiss Army knife maker Victorinox on an outerwear line.

Among brands making forays into accessories were British designer Carolyn Massey, who added woven belts and leather bags to her lineup, while Capsule marked the first day in business for eyewear brand SunPocket. A relaunch of the once iconic Eighties label, the foldable, retro shades were picked up by Manchester’s Oi Polloi and Tokyo’s Beams.

At Tranoï, Switzerland’s denim specialist Kohzo unveiled its first total look collection. Highlights included shirts made from carbon paper, plus chalk-dyed T-shirts embellished with 18-karat gold.

At Rendez-vous, nascent French label Blue de Paname debuted women’s wear with a capsule line. With its men’s collection of workwear-inspired styles, the label increased wholesale accounts by 30 percent, adding Opening Ceremony in Tokyo. The brand will also unveil a corner at London’s Dover Street Market. Also due to introduce shop-in-shops is casual label Burkman Bros., whose new retail concept selling everything from limited edition gloves to throw rugs, will debut at Liberty and Ron Herman this fall.

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