By and  on August 22, 2013

LAS VEGAS — Even as men’s wear continues to show strength at retail, a heightened competitive mood permeated the trade shows here, with brands and buyers facing a mixed macroeconomic climate, a shifting retail landscape impacted by e-commerce players and the perpetual pressure to create new must-have trends and innovative product.

Even the shows themselves have turned increasingly competitive, with the MAGIC Market Week group of shows at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center — including Project, The Tents @ Project, Project MVMNT, MAGIC Men’s and Pool — vying for attention with the Modern Assembly band of shows at the other end of the Strip at the Sands Expo, which included Liberty, MRket, Capsule and Agenda.

Tentpole trends for the season spanned categories and genres. Heritage looks remain a factor but many brands are moving to a more modern stance. Slimmer fits are still the norm, while progressive labels continue to push alternative silhouettes with more volume. Retailers talked up accessories as a prime growth driver. And after an extended dalliance with brightly colored denim and denim alternatives in bottoms, classic indigo washes and vintage-look destruction made a comeback in the jeans market.

“The retail climate is difficult,” said a cautious Francis Pierrel, chief executive officer of the North American business at Lacoste. “There are traffic issues in stores. Less people are visiting stores because they are shopping online and researching online. Thus there is less impulse buying. Our job is to convince people to spend more money with us.”

Despite a 20 percent increase in sales this year at his own brand, AG Adriano Goldschmied creative director Sam Ku was similarly wary about the consumer landscape. “I’m hearing from retailers that it’s tough. The big retailers were overassorted in denim last season,” he explained.

After a “shaky” first quarter, the second and third quarters have improved at Hudson, said ceo Peter Kim. “We have to find the right balance of product, between our core basics and our fashion product,” he explained. Sales were up an enviable 13 percent last year, but Kim dubbed the figure “disappointing” after years of faster growth. The brand’s acquisition by Joe’s Jeans is expected to close at the end of this month and Kim said the two brands will remain independent of each other to avoid cannibalizing sales, while marrying the best practices of their respective companies.

While some major marketers struck a judicious tone in their outlook, the overall men’s market has plenty of positive momentum, said other observers. “The men’s market has experienced healthy increases over the last five years,” said Patty Leto, senior vice president of merchandising for The Doneger Group. The strength has been driven by new fits, proportions, fabrics and colors that are being embraced by the male consumer. If retailers continue to capitalize on the latest updates, they should be able to spark sales for spring and beyond.

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In a presentation called “Mobility in Menswear,” Doneger Group’s trend forecasters said they believed the $57 billion men’s market will be driven by four overriding themes for spring: technology, expanded heritage, tailored clothing and omnishopping.

Rapidly changing innovations in technology showed up in a variety of ways in spring collections. This included performance fabrics and activewear influences in the designer market; tech bottoms; bold colorblocking in shirts; graphic prints, and tech accessories, said Doneger’s senior trend analyst Tim Bess.

The heritage trend is visible this season in everything from bright plaids for the updated prepster, all-American workwear, distressed denim and luxe leather biker jackets for the punk rocker. Printed tank tops, retro stripes and splashy prints in swimwear add to the mix, Bess added.

In tailored clothing, the Millennial man continues to drive the market with slim fits, classic seasonal fabrics, subtle patterns and a dark, saturated color palette. Vintage-inspired neckwear and cool accessories such as flower lapel pins serve to brighten the market.

Nelson Mui, men’s fashion director at Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor, was especially intrigued by the “blurring of the lines between classifications — tailored clothing as sportswear, sportswear as tailored clothing. Outerwear is more polished and sophisticated.”

Mui praised the “casual surf lifestyle” product at the shows, calling the look “more grown up and sophisticated” this season. The overall color story for the season is “more relatable,” he added, with the brights of last year being washed down into a richer, more muted palette. A variety of blues, dark orange and burgundy are all very saleable options.

Mui pointed to the reinvented Haspel label, Shipley & Halmos, Kent & Curwen, Gant, Theory 38 and Harry’s, a recently launched shaving brand, as standouts at the shows.

Randa Accessories is aiming to capitalize on the heightened interest in men’s accessories such as lapel pins, tie bars and jewelry. “They’re open to re-merchandising their floors,” said Richard Carroll, vice president and creative director for Randa Accessories, of retailers. “They’re listening to how they can make changes and tell a story. Everyone is looking for the next big idea to differentiate them from their competition. And they’ve identified accessories as a major growth opportunity. Accessories allow you to tell a story quickly and they’re high margin.”

Bow ties have become one of Randa’s biggest success stories. “We’ll sell two million bow ties this year,” Carroll revealed — but the patterns have to be continually updated to drive customer interest. “The more we reinvent them, the more we sell,” he said, pointing to denim and chambray models for spring.

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Summer sales have been sluggish for most stores, but Murry Penner, owner of M. Penner in Houston, shrugged off the slowdown. “Summer is always challenging,” said Penner. “It’s never easy but that’s what summer is all about.”

At his store, he’s starting to get some traction on early fall selling, raising his spirits for the remainder of the year.

“I’m very optimistic — I’d better be or I’ll be out of business,” he said with a laugh. “But seriously, in general, people are more positive and there’s a lot of money being made in this country. [If we can] stimulate our customer with new merchandise, there’s no reason to think we won’t get our share.”

Craig Andrisen of Andrisen Morton in Denver said he has experienced solid early-season business from brands such as Brunello Cucinelli. “There’s pent-up demand for luxury goods,” he explained, noting that his customers demand pieces that stand out from the sea of product in the marketplace. “We’re in the ‘want’ business, not the ‘need’ business,” he said, on the hunt particularly for innovative denim, shorts and knitwear at the Las Vegas shows.

Both Bryan Reynolds, divisional merchandise manager and director of planning and allocation at Scoop, and Josh Peskowitz, men’s fashion director at Bloomingdale’s, singled out the abundant athletic influences in many spring collections. Peskowitz particularly liked the new S&H Athletics label from Shipley & Halmos and the Champion by Todd Snyder partnership. “It’s a nice way to extend the brand,” he said.

At Scoop, Reynolds said the denim category has rebounded from last year, when casual pants stole some of its thunder. Scoop opened new stores in Beverly Hills and Bal Harbour, Fla., this summer, with the company’s 18th location set to open next week in San Francisco. Another three units are planned for 2014, said Reynolds.

Turkish denim maker Mavi is also opening new stores in the coming weeks, selecting two locations in hipster-saturated Brooklyn, one in Park Slope and another in Boerum Hill. The neighborhoods are rife with the affluent college graduates Mavi is targeting with its entry-level premium denim range, priced mostly from $98 to $128, said senior vice president of sales Ardie Ulukaya.

The new stores represent Mavi’s return to U.S. retail after shuttering an underperforming unit in Manhattan’s Union Square. The company has a renewed emphasis on the U.S. market, which accounts for 10 percent of its global business but which Mavi is aiming to grow to 25 to 30 percent. The company is a major player in Europe, where it operates about 400 stores, a mix of company-owned and franchised, including 235 units in Turkey.

Not to be edged out by its denim cousins, the Levi’s-owned Dockers highlighted an expanded offering around its new Alpha Collection. The updated khakis, which are available in a variety of fits, are now augmented by shorts and tops to tell a fully integrated story. The brand also showcased a new Fly Weight Collection of lighter-weight cotton pants and related products in updated styles such as seersucker.

One major young men’s retailer, who asked not to be identified, has been experiencing strong sales as customers react to the popular streetwear trend. “If you have the right stuff, business is tremendous,” he said. Over the years, the young men’s market has evolved from collections to items as the urban customer evolved and grew up. “If you evolved with them, then business has never been better.” At the shows, he especially liked Hudson jeans and the more art-inspired T-shirts at the Agenda show.


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