By and  on January 4, 2012

PARIS — It’s full steam ahead for the men’s wear sector as it chugs into the New Year with a strong momentum that is expected to continue.

In 2011, global men’s wear sales increased an estimated 9 percent to 24 billion euros, or $33.42 billion at average exchange rates, versus 22 billion euros, or $29.20 billion, in 2010. And with high-single-digit growth expected for the next few years, everyone wants a slice of the men’s wear pie, according to Joelle de Montgolfier, a director in Bain & Co.’s EMEA consumer products, retail and luxury practice, who provided the data.

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“Virtually every brand we speak with is increasing its focus on men’s categories and formats to capitalize on the momentum of the male segment. Men’s brands are also moving from specialization in specific categories [shoes, shirts, etc.] to broader offerings,” she said. The sector is also becoming more polarized, noted de Montgolfier, with the highest-end and most accessible luxury brands growing at more than twice the rate of more moderately priced labels last year.

As a result, on the eve of Pitti Immagine Uomo and the men’s fall-winter 2012 runway shows in Milan and Paris, the mood among Europe’s men’s wear players is positively upbeat, though brands remain vigilant.

“We see a year in which we have to tread carefully and be creative, but in general, [we are] positive,” commented Brunello Cucinelli, chairman and chief executive officer of the eponymous Italian men’s wear label. The company, which generated 240 million euros, or $334.22 million, in sales in 2011 versus 203.5 million euros, or $270.3 million, in 2010, is planning on a spring initial public offering, with the listing in Italy.

“This is certainly not a positive moment for the fashion industry, but despite this period of crisis, we were able to carve out our own space,” said Mario Griariotto, ceo of Slowear. At Pitti Uomo in Florence next week, the company’s high-end knitwear brand Zanone will showcase knits in modern fits made with a range of exclusive yarns, such as an evolution of the classic Shetland yarn softened and enriched with Geelong wool.

Marco Bizzarri, president and ceo of Bottega Veneta, said: “Considering men’s wear is usually the part of the business that is affected first by economic downturns, it is key to be able to remain relevant to your clients at every moment, without compromising your values, and continue offering premium, high-quality products.” The company opened its first men’s-only store in May this year, in Shenyang, China.

The brand, controlled by French retail-to-luxury group PPR, in 2011 registered solid growth in all men’s categories, which account for roughly 30 percent of total sales, in particular in footwear. “We launched our first men’s cruise collection in 2011, which has performed very well since its arrival in stores at the end of this year, proving that clients were ready for this additional collection and, in turn, welcomed it,” said Bizzarri.

Robust growth in emerging markets —where male spending dominates — continues to offset a lackluster performance on home turf for Europe’s men’s wear brands, notably in economically troubled southern markets such as Italy, Greece and Spain, with pockets of activity in northern markets, such as Germany and the U.K.

“China, in particular, is key to the future of men’s wear,” said Bain & Co.’s de Montgolfier, citing a new study that estimated 25 to 30 percent growth for men’s wear in Mainland China in 2011 and equally voracious consumption by Chinese when traveling abroad.

Among the leading men’s wear brands in China, Hugo Boss during the first nine months of the year generated a 73 percent sales increase in China and 25 percent in the Americas.

But faced with an increasingly sophisticated, fashion-savvy and value-conscious audience, brands acknowledged key challenges. These include remaining creative and innovative; dealing with pricing issues, and communicating a strong brand identity.

As a pioneer of the upper-casual market, Cucinelli believes the magic formula lies in delivering contemporary collections with a high degree of craftsmanship.

For Maurizio Corneliani, sales and strategic marketing director at Corneliani, the high-end consumer is looking for apparel that evokes emotion — “high-quality product that is less rigid and formal, like lighter jackets.”

With sport coats among the fall 2011 season’s bestsellers, the luxe-casual trend is set to continue for next fall, though tailored looks remain important, brands said.

“It will be a little more dressed up, closer to the image of women’s wear, more elegant,” said Michele Norsa, ceo of Ferragamo Group. Salvatore Ferragamo in September renovated and enlarged its men’s store on Milan’s Via Montenapoleone.

Hugo Boss, which has seen outstanding sales of jeans and jerseys in its sportswear segments in the last year, expects the suit to be strong in 2012, with a return to the formal look.

Those suits are getting more luxurious and elegant. In general, the style now is slimmer and more fitted than in the past, said a spokesman for the brand, which at Pitti will present its made-to-measure service for its luxury Boss Selection line, due to be introduced into select markets this year. The service will allow customers to be measured by a master tailor on designated days at a selection of stores, using a collection of master suits as a basis for the measurements.

Clients will also be able to select fabrics and accessories and have their signature embroidered on the final product. Featuring free-floating interlinings crafted from camel hair and horsehair, the suits will be made at the firm’s headquarters in Metzingen, Germany, using a mix of cutting-edge technology and precision handcrafting.

Carlo Capasa, ceo of Costume National, said: “The market understands the important aspects of the identity of the jacket, that in our case still functions well, in addition to knitwear and sport coats. We believe that casualwear will continue to be important, but certainly from new markets there is a strong demand for creative [tailored clothing] from young manager types with a passion for fashion.”

At Brioni, elegant casualwear continues to grow each season and has introduced the brand to a younger client, according to Jason Basmajian, artistic director. “In tailoring, we have seen a strong reaction to iconic colorful jackets inspired from our archives. We are showing tailoring in a softer, sportier way, which is giving our man options in his wardrobe while still feeling ‘dressed,’ ” he said. The brand is expanding its accessory offerings and adding an eyewear collection, due to launch in March in select distribution.

“The collection is born in the same tradition of excellence as Brioni’s tailoring. Handworked horn, crystal lenses, and attention to details create a timeless and fresh collection,” said Basmajian. New Brioni flagships are planned for Los Angeles, Munich, Hangzhou, China; Doha, Qatar, and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The brand has also recently refurbished its New York store on 57th Street.

Helping drive sales in mature markets is what Bain & Co.’s de Montgolfier termed the “fashionization” of the male consumer, with the “men effect” spilling over into leather goods and shoes, as well as skin care and cosmetics.

“Men have actually learned from women as they set more value on what they wear and how they look. Accessories such as pocket squares, detailing and matching shoes, belts and bags are becoming more and more important to create a total look,” confirmed a spokesman for Hugo Boss.

David Fisher, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s and kids at Bloomingdale’s, agreed that men are mirroring female consumers in the way they shop in terms of building wardrobes based on pieces from across different brands and price points that can be put together to create looks.

“[Up until now for men] it’s been all about the simple way of dressing. When they’d buy a suit, they’d say, ‘OK, it’s a pinstripe suit in blue or it’s a black such-and-such suit, or it’s a brown suit. [I can put the darn suit on while I’m still asleep] and at least I’ll have a top and bottom that match.’ ” But now, he said, men have learned to mix brands for a complete look. “They’re saying, ‘I can buy something from Theory and something from Hugo Boss and Ted Baker, and it will all work together,’” said Fisher.

With more and more brands looking to merchandise their collections in terms of key items, Fisher said the number-one priority for Bloomingdale’s is the creation of adjacencies, so that when the customer walks in, there is some sense to the flow of merchandise. “We’ll be mixing up certain apparel pieces on mannequins, and we’ll be doing more and more of that as we get into 2012 and 2013,” he said.

Anita Barr, director of men’s wear at Selfridges, said that although 2011 was “a difficult year, we prepared ourselves for it and we managed to trade ahead year-on-year through introducing sales-driving initiatives, including several brand launches and exclusive shops for brands such as Tom Ford and Brioni. In our regional stores, men’s wear has been a huge focus, and we have bolstered our offering in Birmingham, Manchester Trafford and Manchester Exchange.”

Barr said tailored clothing and printed T-shirts were the best-performing items last year, and she expects the categories to continue to perform in 2012. “Our tailoring package is really exciting at the moment, and we have some really great new brands, such as Brioni, Tiger of Sweden and Smyth & Gibson,” she said. “Our buying teams work with existing brands to create some special exclusive pieces for us, which is one of the reasons tailoring does so well.

“Printed T-shirts do really well for us, too; we introduced the T-shirt shop this year with some creative brands such as Blood Brothers, Hype Means Nothing and Sons of Heroes. Next year we’ll be working with some designers, starting with new and exclusive projects with Shaun Samson as part of our Bright Young Things initiative, as well as further exclusive prints that we’re working on with new casualwear designers, too.”

Accessories such as cuff links, bags, shoes and neckwear were also strong, as men sought to “rejuvenate” their wardrobes, she added.

In order to maintain the momentum, Barr said the key is to “keep challenging ourselves to excite and inspire our customers.” In the young men’s area, for example, Versace men’s wear will be added for the first time, she said, and “with 2012 being such an exciting year for London, we have a lot of plans in the pipeline to tie in with the Queen’s Jubilee and the [Olympic] Games, including refurbishing men’s footwear.”

This year, Barr expects men’s wardrobes to get even more sartorial, “with sophistication, refinery and investment being key words for our shoppers.” And even casualwear will be “highlighted with fantastic tailored pieces,” she said.

Jason Broderick, general merchandise manager for men’s wear at Harrods, said the store experienced strong sales over the holiday season from Maison Martin Margiela, Yves Saint Laurent and Paul Smith, as well as early spring receipts from Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana and Lanvin. “Combined with our winter sale, which successfully started on Dec. 27, with reductions of up to 50 percent off, men’s wear achieved a double-digit increase over last year.”

He said the company is “brimming with optimism” about 2012. “We have seen changing habits in the way that men shop over recent years, and our men’s wear department reflects this shift. It is always the right time to strive for excellence, and with our men’s wear customers becoming more discerning, we are keen to exceed their expectations. As men are investing more in their wardrobe, we have seen a growing demand for premium international labels, particularly in limited edition and unique pieces.” For spring, Harrods will offer more color options, along with “prints that may have traditionally been seen as too fashion forward. However, our customers are increasingly more confident in experimenting with their wardrobe.”

Specifically, he expects strength in the “upper-casual” offering that allows men to achieve “a dressed-down cool style with tactile fabrics and design details which exude luxe comfort. However there will always be a demand for our made-to-measure suits and formal tailoring, as it represents the most elegant aspect of men’s wear dressing. The breadth of U.K. tailoring brands we have in store, [including] Hardy Amies, Mr. Start, Richard James, Paul Smith, Rake and Dunhill, continues to provide their own unique flourishes while still being formal.”

Another future trend, according to de Montgolfier, will be “omni-channel” retail.

“It’s not just about e-commerce or m-commerce. It’s about establishing multiple touch points with consumers regardless of where they are, reinforcing relationships through connections that deliver value-added information, influence, convenient transactions or enhanced experience,” she said.

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