PARIS — Against the backdrop of a luxury sector that is slowing down in most parts of the world, a new movement of male, urban and very contemporary French brands is stepping up to fill the middle segment of the market.
Offering easy, high-quality design at an accessible price, these brands have found a niche between luxury and high street, “a niche that didn’t exist in France before,” said Paris-based fashion consultant Jean-Jacques Picart. “In France men could only shop either ‘business style’ or ‘easy to wear.’ There was nothing in between until new names such as Ami, Marchand Drapier, Kitsune, Carven and others appeared.”
Picart said that unlike French women, French men used to dress “quite safe and conservatively” or simply “sporty,” but their sensitivity to fashion has grown following the rise of fashion blogs as well as e-commerce. This “new potential” has not gone unnoticed by a new generation of designers, who launched their labels, set “between too conservative and too trendy,” the consultant said.
But what started as an adventure a few years ago is turning into serious business. Brands such as Melinda Gloss, Officine Generale and Monsieur Lacenaire are quickly moving into brick-and-mortar and/or e-commerce, expanding their global footprint at double-digit speed.
“Their forte is the right balance of design, product and price,” said Picart. Combining the magic formula with what Picart describes as “the French touch,” which has proven particularly successful in Japan and the U.S., they are the new kids on the block.
Brand: Officine Generale
Designer: Pierre Mahéo
Design/Philosophy: “The biggest opportunity in men’s wear today is the loyalty of the customer,” said the brand’s founder and creative head Pierre Mahéo. “We built the brand with the plan to make it last — in terms of quality, but also fashion,” he said. Officine Generale’s strength lies in a simple yet clever wardrobe incorporating workwear and military references made contemporary through modern tailoring and a religious attention to fabrics.
“I don’t negotiate on the quality, but it has to stay affordable,” said Mahéo, whose production is located in Portugal. He claims the Portuguese can do it “just as well as the Italians, but you can save at least 30 percent on the jackets alone. I just don’t think that at this point in time a guy wants to put all of his money into clothing, so he finds refuge in product with value added.”
News Factor: Last week, Officine Generale opened its first stand-alone boutique at 6 Rue du Dragon in Paris’ Saint-Germain neighborhood. Designed by Mahéo, the 230-square-foot venue with an apartmentlike atmosphere, where men can relax on a couch and pick their wardrobe from bookshelves, also stocks a new collection of basics, the brand’s 15 greatest hits, including the chambray shirt and fisherman chino.
Now in its fourth season, the brand is sold at 85 points of sale, including Barneys New York and Shibuya in Tokyo. Mr Porter will offer an exclusive 12-piece collection in October, and the brand is adding 30 percent to its list of stockists every season, while sales are doubling at the same rate.
Price: Although Mahéo sources his selvage denim in Japan and gets his cashmere from Italy, prices for a shirt start at 170 euros, or $231, while a trouser will retail between 150 euros and 220 euros, or $203 and $299.
Strategy: Currently in talks with investors, Mahéo, whose business is 90 percent abroad, notably in the U.S., the U.K. and South Korea, said he has an “aggressive business plan” for the U.S., including direct retail development via freestanding stores. Its next Paris boutique is expected to open by June 2015. NEXT: Marchand Drapier >>
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