By and and  on February 25, 2010

Denim and contemporary brands predominated at ENK Vegas, which was staged in adjoining ballrooms of the Bellagio hotel. Vendors and retailers said sales have been picking up steam in recent months, but remain cautious about the remainder of the year.

At Hudson Jeans, sales are up 20 to 25 percent in the first quarter, said president and chief executive officer Peter Kim, following a flat 2009. The brand has benefited from an injection of funding from investors Fireman Capital Partners and Webster Capital last year, which has allowed it to beef up management and infrastructure and invest in its first high-gloss advertising campaign, featuring Georgia May Jagger, daughter of Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall.

Hudson is one of the few major denim brands that has stuck to its core business without branching out into tops, licensed products or its own retail stores. “We’re focusing on our brand message right now, and waiting for everything else when it makes sense,” said Kim.

For fall, the men’s denim lineup included a wide range of both clean and vintage wash options, either with Hudson’s signature flap pocket or a traditional five pocket — with the latter selling better. Adding some diversity were lightweight corduroys in poly-cotton blends with appealing highs and lows in the fabric, retailing for $230.

Engineered cords and chinos with a single pleat, which retail for about $100, were selling well at Farah, a brand operated by Perry Ellis Europe in the U.K., but which was originally founded in 1920 in Texas before fizzling out in the U.S. market. “We’re repatriating the brand back to its home market,” said Mark McCann, European sales manager for the brand. The collection features a contemporary look with retro touches, which, apart from its core bottoms business, encompasses Fair Isle sweaters, flannel shirts and duffle coats.

Victorinox had a case of wanderlust this season, and its modern traveler is equipped with weather-ready layers that balance function and contemporary casual style. The brand produced a range of outerwear including a four-in-one parka, knit blazer, glossy hooded anorak and insulated blouson — many in the season’s signature color, purple. There was also a strong ski influence in the color-blocked knits, snow-proof jackets and chalet-approved fleece pullovers and cardigan sweaters. After cutting prices last season up to 20 percent, Victorinox said pricing remained steady this season.

Across the hall, sport shirt resource Culturata continued to ride the demand for slimmer fits and updated styling. “Our fits are updated but not too aggressive,” said director Nadine Price. “Retailers like that. We’ve found strength as a contemporary vendor for more traditional stores.”

Among retailer favorites, according to Price: the continued preference for tonal checks, subtle plaids on poplin rather than flannel and solid mélange shirts. “There’s a lot more open to buy this season,” she added. “Especially for dark and denim-friendly looks.”

Denim maker Agave unveiled its first licensed product, a knitwear collection from Vancouver’s JMax Global Distributors. The line included Supima cotton zippered cardigans and overprinted pullovers with raw edge seams.

Wally Naymon of Kilgore Trout in Cleveland said the men’s market today is “all about great sportswear. Suits have become a made-to-measure business and we’re reacting to the new reality. Now we have to figure out how to capture the gross profit dollars we need to have a profitable business.”

For Naymon, this boils down to providing his customers with compelling fashion at every level. He was shopping Tailor Vintage, a sportswear collection that has “reinvented preppie,” according to its president, Richard Rosenthal. The men’s collection, targeted to 35- to 55-year-olds, featured comfortable twills, patchwork and washed tartan bottoms, including reversible styles with corduroy on one side and tartan on the other. Shorts retail for under $98 and pants for around $148.

Accessories maker Bodhi showcased an assortment of washed linen bags that ranged from duffels and dopp kits to backpacks and iPad cases, including styles in a rich, purple Italian leather. Bodhi also launched dress and casual belts featuring screwhead eyelets or other metal embellishments. Dress belts, some of which were reversible, were priced to retail at $98, while the casual options were $148 to $198.

Eyewear brand Randolph Engineering rings up 70 percent of its sales to the military — its aviator sunglasses are standard issue to Navy and Army helicopter pilots — but was aiming to expand distribution in fashion accounts at ENK. Designer Michael Bastian has used the company’s technically advanced sunglasses in his runway shows — and the designs are priced at $99 to $159 retail.

T-shirt brand Paste delivered clever designs, such as a humorous style with the screen-printed words “angel wings, guns, skull, rhinestones,” lampooning the motifs ubiquitous in the premium marketplace. “Buyers have been broadening their price ranges and filling in items, which has helped brands like ours,” said Jason Laurits of his $35 Ts, which have been picked up by Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s.

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