By  on December 17, 2008

Men’s wear designer Steven Cox of Duckie Brown has a pipe dream about women’s wear. The plot plays out a lot like the Tilda Swinton film “Orlando”: Swinton starts off as a man and, centuries later, becomes a woman. “I have this secret fantasy that Duckie Brown will turn organically into a women’s line without anybody knowing it,” Cox explains. In reality, he and his partner Daniel Silver are in talks to develop a lower-priced line, which would include both men’s and women’s. Though no date has been set, they’re aiming for fall 2010.

The Duckie Brown duo aren’t the only men’s wear types seduced by the notion of women’s wear. Click here to view women's looks by men's wear designers>>

 Though it’s hardly a new idea — after all, Ralph Lauren started by peddling neckties — quite a few men’s designers have recently tossed their hats into the distaff ring. Kris Van Assche, Band of Outsiders’ Scott Sternberg and Obedient Sons’ Swaim and Christina Hutson already have women’s lines. Daiki Suzuki of Engineered Garments and Fraser Moss and Jimmy Collins of YMC launched women’s collections for fall ’08, while spring ’09 saw the debut of women’s from Endovanera, the relaunch of the category by Gilded Age (after an earlier failed effort) and expanded, full collections from both Oliver Spencer and Nice Collective. Simon Spurr and Michael Bastian are also contemplating the move, Bastian saying it’s not a matter of if but when.

Why the sudden surge? One reason is that, with the economy tanking, companies are trying to tap new turf. “The men’s market is quite small compared to the women’s,” says Marcus Wainwright of Rag & Bone. “I mean, there’s a reason there are more women’s fashion magazines. The men’s opportunity from a business perspective is not that big unless you’re in a mass arena like J. Crew.” Rag & Bone’s women’s line, launched in 2005, three years after the company’s debut, now accounts for 70 percent of overall sales.

“It comes down to brand awareness,” says Spurr. “It’s much easier to establish a brand if you have a women’s arm to it.” And, some note, it’s easier to break into women’s from the men’s arena than as a complete start-up. “The competition for women’s is probably tenfold,” says Endovanera’s Mitch Moseley. “I imagine it would be quite difficult to launch a women’s line now from the ground up.”

Indeed, the fact that women are familiar with, and interested in, a men’s label is often cited as an advantage. “It was a smart transition for a lot of these designers,” says Paul Birardi, who co-owns the Manhattan men’s boutique Odin with Eddy Chai (brother of Richard). “You would see women coming into our store and actually trying to get an extra small or a double-extra small.” Recently, the two opened Pas de Deux, their first women’s outlet, on East 11th Street; many of the pieces they stock are by designers who also sell to Odin. “The women [we know] were a bit alienated by the overly feminine offerings in the market, and we wanted to provide another window,” says Nice Collective’s Joe Haller.

 

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