By  on September 17, 2009

When it comes to fashion, Bertrand Pellegrin argues that men have been invisible for too long. In his new book, “Branding the Man: Why Men Are the Next Frontier in Fashion Retail” (Allworth Press), Pellegrin, a former consultant to LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and senior retail strategist for the architecture firm Gensler Worldwide, views men’s changing relationship to apparel as a clear opportunity. The problem? Men’s retail, which he says is often too generic, too watered-down or too feminine.

“Men’s vanity and self-awareness have progressed at warp speed,” he writes. “The questions now become, how can the market best entice this new, emerging male into the store and, once inside, will he buy?” The answer, Pellegrin said, is branding the retail experience so it caters to men psychologically. WWD spoke with Pellegrin about how retailers can better connect with male shoppers and why looking at traditional male spaces — strip clubs, hunting lodges and electronics stores — may provide insights into what men’s stores lack.— Brenner Thomas

WWD: You argue there is opportunity in the men’s category because there have been fundamental shifts in the way men buy and how they dress. What are those changes?

Bertrand Pellegrin: Men are commodifying themselves in a totally different way. They are suddenly more aware of how people perceive them physically. So that’s why,even in a recession, something like 85 percent of men say they would not give up their gym memberships. That’s pretty amazing. They realize that what they look like is very important, and not just professionally, but also in terms of establishing relationships with women.

WWD: You advocate creating a branded retail experience that addresses men’s psychological and emotional needs as a way to drive sales. What are those needs and how are they not being met?

B.P.: They used to have environments that were just for them. Whether it was a man’s club or sports bar, there were classic environments that were for men only. That is very much missing for men: a place they can go that feels distinctly masculine, that feels like it’s just for them. In many ways I’m being radical when I say that, but there’s no reason why a men’s store could not serve as a community center, as a place where guys can hang out and oh, by the way, maybe buy something.

WWD: Your ideas are based on traditional men’s spaces — the strip club, the electronics store, etc. Where is the line between using elements from those places successfully and creating a cliché of manhood?

B.P.: I hope to reference those places more as a case study than as something stores should literally copy. I’m not saying put a Best Buy in the middle of Macy’s. It’s really about what is the authenticity in those environments. What is it that works? They are environments where men feel empowered. That’s the important thing.

WWD: What stores are doing it well and which are doing it poorly?

B.P.: Department stores have not pushed the envelope enough. The neighborhood retailers are actually making more inroads than the bigger stores. I found a great store in San Francisco called Mollusk; it’s a surf shop. It really typifies what a great men’s environment is. It’s all made out of reclaimed wood inside. It has a beat-up sofa in there. It has T-shirts by designers, but also classic surfwear and DVDs and stuff like that. It’s really a guy’s environment and customers treat it as the lodge. They come traipsing in there barefoot and hang out.

WWD: That’s not easily replicated in a department store. How do you achieve the same things in a department store without having to overhaul the way they are run?

B.P.: One simple thing is making sure there is direct access from street to men’s department; it can make a huge difference. I have seen that work time and time again. If guys don’t have to walk through the entire store and go up two escalators to get there, then you already got it. If they have their own entrance that makes it cool and separate.

WWD: Do you think the department store model is outmoded?

B.P.: It’s a lot like the magazine market. Now magazines have become niches — that’s how they are reaching these audiences. I think in many ways, the same thing is happening in retail. There are niche markets and niche customers. There are people playing around with the department store model using this niche strategy. The Dover Street Market in London does some interesting things that make it feel not like a department store. Selfridges has done some interesting stuff in terms of creating different environments within the store.

WWD: You advocate a greater level of detail within store design and strong point of view in terms of merchandise. What’s your take on a program like My Macy’s, which is the company’s answer to regional buyers?

B.P.: My Macy’s is an interesting idea, especially at a time like this. That’s the one thing I like to see in a recession: people still being positive and trying to innovate. Successful retail is about defining a point of view and then not being afraid of it. It’s something luxury retailers do well. There’s no reason why a department store shouldn’t be able to do the exact same thing. Instead of chasing customers and trying to get as many customers as possible, they should focus on building a relationship with a certain demographic. It’s about the edit. Men feel comfortable because they realize the store understands who they are. Men need to be coddled in an apparel environment much more than women.

WWD: You address the recession in your book to a certain extent, but since the economy continues to be challenged, would you change or add any recommendations on how retailers might address a male consumer who is more reluctant to shop than ever?

B.P.: I wouldn’t change any recommendations. The shopping experience for men is still subpar. Yet why is it so optimized for women and not for men? Honestly, I think there is reticence in this industry to recognize men as a meaningful customer. I just talked with a friend who works at They want to really start creating niche markets focusing on men. But they are mystified and have doubts about whether this is a viable customer. But they know they need to do something. It’s very typical of how many retailers are putting one foot in, not both feet, when it comes to men.

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