MILAN — Milan offered enough novelty to keep retailers happy at a time when men are becoming increasingly demanding and sophisticated. To help boost business in a lackluster local economy, Italian designers focused on research and innovation — and on ways to restore luster to the city as the Italian Chamber of Fashion maps out a return to fashion’s forefront. Elongated jackets, boxy shapes, technical fabrics, architectural graphics, roomy suits, a new color palette and shorts galore emerged as standout trends.
“The Milan collections offered new and different alternatives for spring-summer dressing. The Milanese were focusing on strong colors, printed fabrics and the use of wool-mohair blend fabrics, whereby you arrive at a cool, crisp dry fabric that is both comfortable and highly sophisticated,” said Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s wear, Barneys New York. “In both the designer and classic luxury sector, we see opportunity for next spring and our budgets reflect this. With a strong focus on accessories and shoes, we see most suppliers thinking differently and all centering their sights on a younger, more modern customer.”
Indeed, men’s wear is flourishing and retailers are generally expanding their budgets to satisfy demand.
“Our budget is up for designer and luxury brands, though the percentage varies from brand to brand,” said Tancrède de Lalun, gmm of women’s and men’s apparel at Printemps. “We are experiencing a healthy growth, which means we will be able to place a lot of reorders during the season. The men’s market is the middle of a huge change. We are projecting substantial growth, while the mind-set of the customer is changing. Before, men were fixated on knits. They said, ‘I need a suit for the office and a pair of jeans for the weekend.’ The new customer is driven by desire — much like women. It’s great, because whenever you present them with something new, they are interested in buying.”
Eric Jennings, vice president and men’s fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue, concurred, saying that the men’s business “continues to be strong and will be bought accordingly next season. We will stock up on woven shirts, contemporary clothing and fashion shoes, in particular.” Jennings noted that men are “developing their own personal style and spending on the best quality they can afford.” While fashion becomes “part of their vocabulary,” they are looking for value. “The latest fad is of little importance at the end of the day. They want something that is current but will still be relevant in seasons to come.”
While some retailers, like Matthew Singer, men’s fashion director at Neiman Marcus Group, don’t think that Milan Fashion Week “is slipping in importance at all,” as “a good amount of business is done and will continue to be done” in the Italian city, others believe steps should be taken to attract new talent, create buzz around the shows and make them more entertaining.
Jimmy Chan, merchandising manager, men’s division, Swank, Hong Kong, urged Italians to “think out of the box. Buyers are now spending less time on fashion shows and presentations, but focused a lot on business development and market share in such a competitive environment. Revolutionary arrangements should start from Milan in order to maintain its fashion leading position.”
Tiziana Cardini, fashion director, La Rinascente, said, “Milan should attract star power,” citing, for example, Stefano Pilati’s designs for Ermenegildo Zegna, which were introduced this season and “offer beautiful locations,” while also actively and financially supporting new talents. “Umit Benan, Andrea Pompilio and Andrea Incontri, for example, are talented. They need to be mentored and helped with production facilities.” Cardini said brands should engage in making their presentations more interesting. “Think of Umit’s show, it’s so theatrical. There should be more interdisciplinary and cinematic breadth. Collections should be shown in a more spectacular and artistic way. The excellence of Italian fashion, its quality and style is unbeatable, but we need to make it more interesting in a consistent way.”
Here’s more of what buyers had to say:
Jason Broderick, gmm, men’s wear and fine watches, Harrods, London:
Trendspotting: “The florals at Gucci, the Western influences at Etro and Fendi, and the tropical prints at Prada, and an awful lot of great leather, especially Fendi. Also, Zegna and Canali really emphasized their roles as industrial tailoring powerhouses — it was something that really came out this season.”
Sound off: “Men are increasingly looking to build more fashion-oriented wardrobes with trendsetting pieces. Prada and Gucci will hit the spot.”
Favorite collections: Prada, Gucci, Zegna, Fendi.
Advice on Milan: “Italy is the powerhouse of the men’s wear industry, and our Italian brands are performing exceptionally well. We’re very happy with the week.”
Kevin Harter, vice president and fashion director for men’s at Bloomingdale’s:
Trendspotting: “Trends we liked included the mix of technical sportswear with tailored clothing, for example Gucci’s technical parkas paired with knit trousers, which seemed to be a new feeling for the house.”
Sound off: “Bloomingdale’s felt confident in regards to the spring offerings in Milan. The color palette was strong and directional, as well as extremely wearable for our customer. Stefano Pilati showcased wonderful shades of blues, greens and earth tones for Ermenegildo Zegna.”
Trendspotting: “We see huge growth in luxury footwear and accessories. We are always on the lookout for the artisanal, exclusive product that Italy is renowned for. We also see opportunity with luxury lifestyle brands, but done in a very modern way.”
Sound off: “Men’s wear is a key growth area for Holt Renfrew, and we are extremely enthusiastic about spring 2014. We are very focused on growing our luxury tailored clothing and sportswear businesses, as well as our luxury furnishings, accessories and footwear.”
Favorite collections: Neil Barrett, Bottega Veneta, Gucci, Prada, Belstaff, Andrea Incontri, Zegna, Canali.
Advice on Milan: “It’s an exciting time for Italy and men’s wear. We are seeing younger men dressing up again, but in a modern way. They are passionate about make, fit, quality and construction, as well as new exclusive, artisanal brands. This is what Italy has always been about, so the time is right for continued growth.”
Eric Jennings, vice president and fashion director, men’s wear, home, food and gifts, Saks Fifth Avenue:
Trendspotting: “Graphic prints and patterns continue moving full steam ahead, whether they are on woven shirts, trousers, outerwear or tailored clothing. White and shades of off-white dominate. Slip-on shoes and basket weave shoes are a trend.”
Sound off: “In general, most collections in Milan played it safe this season. While certainly moving in a more modern direction, most designers stuck to the tried and true. My biggest concern for this spring season is how dark and fall-like the colors were.”
Advice on Milan: “At this moment in time Milan seems to be missing some of the youth, energy, creativity and innovation coming out the other cities. How to improve it is up for debate for sure, but it all starts with being nimble and staying close to the ground with what is happening with your customers. There are some very established houses in Milan that have been doing business in a certain way for a very long time, so they are not as nimble or quick to make intelligent decisions. Men’s wear is really having a moment, you can’t afford to fall asleep at the wheel. Also, look at what is coming out of the fashion schools.”
Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and gmm of men’s wear, Barneys New York:
Trendspotting: “Without question, designer sneakers are a strong opportunity. The business has been dominated by the high-tops; for spring 2014, many collections brought back the canvas sneakers with vulcanized rubber welts and soles for a more old-school look.”
Favorite collections: “Most collections were very innovative. It was an even season.”
Advice on Milan: “Milan is still the epicenter of men’s. Although the Paris collections are supplying a lot of the energy and new discoveries, Italian collections are still doing the heavy lifting and sum up to be the top-volume businesses. The caveat here is that there is a major shift towards growth in the luxury sector in Italy led by Zegna, Isaia, Brioni and Kiton. These artisanal and heritage brands constitute a part of the industry that works very hard to break through — it’s old-school brands creating new-school character. They are leading in the sense that they are pushing for much more change and are moving faster in the direction of the younger customer. They are also nearing the lifestyles of people and how they dress. It’s truly modern luxury. So you really shouldn’t just look at the runways.”
Matthew Singer, men’s fashion director, Neiman Marcus Group:
Trendspotting: “We are loving the more neutral palette. Whites and cream combos feel fresh and elegant. For spring we are excited about the return of the single-pleat trouser. With this Fifties undertone happening, it feels right for our customer. The unconstructed soft sport jacket is also a great piece of the season.”
Sound off: “The Milan season overall is a bit more dressed up but still has a relaxed feeling to it.”
Favorite collections: Prada, Ermenegildo Zegna, Giorgio Armani, Kiton, Isaia, Brioni.
Tiziana Cardini, fashion director, La Rinascente:
Trendspotting: “Couture sportswear: The absolute excellence of Italian brands has rendered activewear chic. The hybrid between formal and activewear has turned into soft tailoring with a strong luxury factor. There were lots of interesting prints, muted colors, melancholic pastels. Anoraks, boxy jackets, slim pants and shorts.”
Favorite collections: Ermenegildo Zegna, Jil Sander, Bottega Veneta, Gucci, Fendi, Umit Benan, Andrea Incontri, Andrea Pompilio.
Darren Skey, head of men’s wear, Harvey Nichols, London:
Trendspotting: “The blouson and bomber jackets are really taking off — every collection had a variety of them. Overall, there’s a sportier feel to the collections and a move away from tailoring. Look at Gucci: We’re used to seeing tailored clothing come down the runway, but this collection was a real change in direction with all the technical fabrics and outerwear.”
Sound off: “Milan does a job, and we know we’re not going to find too much that is new. It’s about the big-volume brands, and nothing stands out as cool except for Neil Barrett.”
Favorite collections: Neil Barrett, Umit Benan.
Business strategy: “We may cut budgets very slightly in Milan. We’ve done well with our [Italian] logo products in the past, but the brands want us to invest more in fashion products instead of the obviously branded ones.”
Advice on Milan: “Milan needs to start backing some younger brands. I just got to Paris now and saw two new brands, and they got me salivating! Milan is also at risk of being overshadowed by London, but they are lacking the cool element — except when the stripper ran down the runway at Dolce & Gabbana. It was hilarious and it lightened the mood of the show.”
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