By  on July 7, 2011

Club Monaco is aiming for a hipper men’s crowd.

In October, the specialty chain will open reimagined men’s shops in its Flatiron District and Bloor Street flagships in a partnership with the popular men’s blog A Continuous Lean. Michael Williams, founder of the blog, was tapped on a consulting basis to help merchandise the New York and Toronto stores with a mix of independent, third-party brands such as Tanner Goods leather accessories, Wolverine footwear and Archival Clothing bags, with the aim of creating a more distinctive and eclectic shopping experience at the contemporary retailer.

“Our desire is to continue to build our assortments to meet the evolving needs and tastes of the Club Monaco male consumer. We try and make it easy for him to have all of his favorite things together in one shopping experience,” said John Mehas, chief executive officer of Club Monaco, which is owned by Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. “Club Monaco is a lifestyle brand, and these third-party products help us convey and cater to this lifestyle in an authentic way.”

The two test stores will undergo facelifts to create a more rustic, less minimalist environment for the men’s shops. Dedicated corners will highlight the new outside merchandise and rotating pop-up spaces will showcase particular brands for a month or two.

“The idea is to create an ever-evolving and dynamic shopping experience for guys,” explained Mehas.

Club Monaco operates 35 stores in the U.S. and 24 in Canada. Internationally, there are 47 points of distribution, including a mix of freestanding stores and shop-in-shops.

Other brands that will be carried in the new men’s shops include Cunningham Classics sports equipment, London Undercover umbrellas, American Optical aviator frames, Goruck bags, Dandux totes and Terrapin/Stationers Engraving & Printing Co. stationery. For the pop-up shops, Williams is in talks with companies like Ancient Industries, an online purveyor of traditional British and European household goods, and Garrett Wade, an old-school toolmaker, about participating.

“It’s a bit of a challenge because Club Monaco has never done anything like this before. But we want to see how people will react and do something new and interesting that guys will respond to,” said Williams.

In addition, Williams worked with the team at Club Monaco to create a special collection of made in the USA suits, shirts and neckwear that will carry a higher price than traditional Club Monaco offerings. The suits will retail for $820, the shirts for $139.50 and the ties for $89. Domestic manufacturing is a particular passion of Williams’, and his blog covers American-made products in depth.

The new shops are not the first time that Club Monaco has carried outside brands. For the past 20 years the retailer has offered items from companies like Levi’s, Persol and Converse, but the partnership with A Continuous Lean evolves the program forward into a more sizeable and recognizable statement, noted Mehas.

Additionally, the men’s shops will bring a new look to Club Monaco with their use of reclaimed wood, vintage furniture and found objects — all of which will be for sale along with the merchandise. “We’re not totally walking away from the Club Monaco look, but it won’t look as modern as it was,” noted Williams.

The Club Monaco effort recalls the high-profile program by J. Crew to merchandise a wide array of heritage brands within its men’s assortments, which the company has dubbed “In Good Company.” J. Crew currently offers several dozen labels including Filson, Globe-Trotter, Red Wing, Sperry and Saint James in its men’s offerings.

However, Club Monaco is looking more toward traditional men’s shops for inspiration than chain competitors, countered Mehas. “We took inspiration from classic men’s specialty stores — ones that our fathers and grandfathers shopped in,” he noted. “The shops often sold their own collection and then their favorite assortment of shoes, coats, bags and everything else you need. It’s well edited and interesting for guys without being too overwhelming.”

If successful, the new men’s concept shops may influence the look and merchandise offerings at other Club Monaco stores. “We will continue to evolve our men’s experience through a process of organic growth. We constantly draw inspiration from various sources — both internally and externally — and these new men’s shops will play a part in that process,” said Mehas.

For the 12 months ended April 2, Club Monaco stores posted a 14 percent increase in same-store sales, compared to a 1 percent increase in sibling Ralph Lauren stores.

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