After a solid holiday season, the polar vortex has cast a pall over the men’s business during the first three months of 2014 as shoppers stayed home to escape from the cold instead of venturing out to stores. While overall sales have not yet recovered, many retailers are seeing pockets of strength for spring and are expecting a further uptick as the weather improves.

“Nobody wants to blame the weather, but we got hit really hard,” said David Zant, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s wear for Belk. “But we’re seeing business beginning to come back.”

“To find really escalating spring business, we have to look deep,” admitted David Fisher, executive vice president and gmm of men’s for Bloomingdale’s. “It’s a weird season. It’s not a disaster, but it’s softer than we would like.” Nevertheless, Fisher pointed to strength in outerwear and sweaters as well as emerging designers as top performers for spring.

Saks Fifth Avenue is seeing an uptick among “young, emerging brands,” according to Tom Ott, senior vice president and gmm. “There’s a real changing of the guard, more than I’ve ever seen in my career. And where we’re updating stores to be young and hip, we’re getting good traction,” he said.

“Spring business is very promising in spite of the ups and downs of the cold weather,” said Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and gmm of men’s for Barneys New York. Luxury clothing; better, handmade dress shirts; men’s designer sportswear, and accessories are among the most promising businesses for spring. “We’re having a very positive start to the season,” he said.

Specialty stores are also seeing an uptick in men’s sales.

Laure Heriard Dubreuil, chief executive officer and founder of The Webster, said, “The men’s business is growing at a steady and healthy pace. The proof is that we are about to open a new location entirely dedicated to men’s in Bal Harbour. The men’s category is evolving a lot, in a more refined, detail-oriented way. They are not only looking at suits, but also paying attention to a lot of details for some more casual pieces such as a good pair of jeans, clean sneakers, button-downs, etc.”

Bob Mitchell, copresident of Mitchells Family of Stores, said, “I’m not one to blame the weather, but January and February had a slow start right out of the gate, and weather has definitely been a factor. But the mood of the customer is very positive, so I’m still optimistic. Anything new is selling.”

Sam Ben-Avraham, owner of Atrium in New York and Florida, said the “early-bird” shoppers “give us a good indication if the season is hit or miss, and gives us time to react.” This spring, “we’re definitely seeing some trends,” notably non-denim bottoms, athletic-inspired dress sweatpants and layering pieces.

Outside the U.S., men’s sales are also doing well. At Beams in Tokyo, Takashi Hattori, men’s buyer, said “new products start to sell earlier” every year. “Right now the ratio of people who actually buy things they’ve put on hold for spring 2014 is quite high.

In tailored clothing, Italian styles are leading the way and “the slim silhouette is a key element. Customers that were once only interested in business apparel have started to buy casual items to complement their wardrobes, and thus expanded our gentlemen’s market. We do not necessarily have new customers, but one customer buys more,” said Shuhei Yoshida, tailored clothing buyer.

At I.T in Hong Kong, David Fung, head of merchandising for men’s wear, said sales in 2014 are outperforming last year, with European and American brands such as Thom Browne, Valentino and Ami performing well for spring.

The results are strong in Europe as well.

In France, the men’s business is running 8 percent ahead of last spring, according to Maud Tarena, director of men’s fashion at Le Bon Marché, with designer jeans and sport shoes doing especially well. And in the U.K., has seen a 200 percent increase in its men’s business over last year, and the retailer will respond by introducing 20 new labels for this coming fall season.

“It’s also highly encouraging for us that the average basket value of our clients continues to increase, reflecting the strong fashion literacy of our men’s wear customers, who are responding particularly well to collections including Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Christopher Kane and Balmain,” said Damien Paul, men’s wear buying manager.

Eleanor Robinson, buying manager for men’s contemporary at Selfridges, said customers are flocking to the store for “word-of-mouth premium streetwear labels, particularly those by designers with huge social media followings — Virgil Abloh, the founder of Off-White, is a great example of a face behind a label who has real power in that market. Men are increasingly interested in the personalities behind the brands they buy into, especially when those are bona-fide creatives with a fresh take on the fashion industry.”

NEXT: A Closer Look at the Season's Top Sellers >>


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