By and  on July 21, 2011

An array of appealing items for spring on display at the New York trade shows this week buoyed retailers’ optimism that the momentum in men’s wear will roll on.

“There are so many great looks, you have to decide what your store will represent,” said David Rubenstein, of Rubensteins in New Orleans. His wife and sportswear buyer, Nikki, added: “You can buy items so you don’t look like everyone else.”

For the most part, retailers were upbeat, as their sales have picked up in the past couple of months. The strong showing is giving them hope that, despite some economic concerns, shoppers will continue to visit their stores this fall and holiday in a quest to update their wardrobes.

“We’re looking for new concepts that seem unexpected but familiar — interesting clothes with a lot of character,” said Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager for men’s at Barneys New York. Among the brands that Barneys picked up at Capsule for spring were Ovadia & Sons and Ian Velardi.

There are concerns. Among the issues Kalenderian pointed to as roiling the market was the explosion of e-commerce sites. “There are too many Web sites, and I think it’s overexposing some brands too early. There’s a value in a planned strategy for distribution and growth and thinking about a long-term plan,” said Kalenderian, who has a stake in keeping hot new brands within the Barneys fold. “I think the customer ultimately gets bored with brands that become overexposed. There’s no mystique.”

Maurice Cohen, of Sams in Livingston, N.J., liked what he saw at the shows. “When vendors have great stuff to show, it usually means you’ll have a good season,” he said, noting that the store is doing well with tailored clothing and seeing strength in custom suits and shirts. “January, February and March were terrible, but business now is not bad,” he said.

For spring, he said the men’s market is “a little more exciting than it used to be,” and he liked the looks of Hiltl and James Campbell, which is skewed more toward an older customer, this season. In addition, he singled out TailorByrd for its updated shirts and said he “loved Margaritaville. They have a cotton gauze fabric that is great and the product is at a good price point.”

Dana Katz, of Miltons in Massachusetts, pointed to Victorinox and Tallia Orange’s double-breasted cotton sport coats as potential opportunities. “I’m looking for something new and different,” he said. “You can’t just tweak what you did last year and expect the customer to be moved by it.”

David Rubenstein said he was steering clear of denim jeans this time, since the category has slowed down. Instead, he was lured by the preppy and retro influences that he saw in sportswear. In clothing, he expects the influx of color to help boost sales in that category.

Tim Ryan, of Harleys in Milwaukee, also pointed to the “stronger presence of color” as an opportunity. “We’re a color store and our customer responds positively to it.”

At Project, he liked the expanded denim presentation, and also singled out Victorinox as one of the top vendors at ENKNYC. Bugatchi’s colorful shirts were also eye-catching to him.

“We had a very good spring season,” Ryan said, “although we were disappointed with outerwear. The unique, technical pieces were strong, but not the commodity items. Our clothing, dress furnishings and denim were also strong. So we’re looking for more items — things that have unique materials or components. Even if it’s a white shirt, if it has details we can tell a story about, that’s what we’re looking for.”

Ken Giddon, of Rothmans in New York City and Westchester, said he liked Btns’s “cool short-sleeve shirts,” along with Descendant of Thieves, which had unusual polos and knits. Other interesting finds were Miansai bracelets, sport coats from Cashmere Classics, sport shirts from Rufus, the Zachary Prell collection and shorts from Paperbacks.

Giddon, who is relocating his store on Union Square early next year, said he is “reassessing all vendors” in order to have an interesting assortment when the new location opens in January or February.

Craig Beecroft, of Beecroft & Bull in Virginia, found “a lot of great soft sport coats” in the market for spring. “There’s good creativity out there and lots of color, which is good for a Southern retailer.” Beecroft said the company’s sales are “up a little bit, and we’ve had nice steady growth for the last 12 months, so we feel optimistic.”

ENKNYC

From its more traditional Designers Collective to the trend-driven Blue area, retailers had a number of strong brands to choose from at the twice-yearly show.

Parajumpers, a high-end Italian brand of outerwear, shirts, pants and accessories, features designs patterned after the outfits worn by parachute rescue squads, with all the requisite bells and whistles. Its trademark patch, featured on the lightweight nylon or stonewashed cotton jackets, is “That Others May Live.”

Arnold Zimberg, who has a long pedigree in men’s wear, offered a featherlight line of Moroccan-inspired sport shirts at the show. “Men’s shirts are strong, but it’s time for a change,” he said. The collection, which has a Bohemian sensibility, was inspired by the beaches of Saint-Tropez and Ibiza and will retail for $195 to $225. Scarves in similar patterns were also offered.

William Rast still had a focus on denim. A variety of washes and finishes with a clean aesthetic were offered, although the company also had a tropical weight wool trouser in a five-pocket silhouette for stores ready to move beyond denim.

Will Leather Goods offered classic Americana-inspired accessories including bags, belts, wallets and cuffs. Bill Adler, founder, said stores have responded to a line of bags that mix leather with vintage American Indian-blanket prints. Australia’s Zanerobe brought its premium streetwear designs to the show and offered a tight collection of retro-inspired swimwear in classic boardshort lengths for spring. Walk-Over, a shoe manufacturer founded in 1758, took full advantage of the heritage trend with its canvas and leather wingtips and dirty bucks with contrasting saddles. In addition to the classics, the brand brought its Vintage collection of military boots and other distressed styles of footwear.

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