By  on January 23, 2014

PARIS — Bold, new ideas and saleable collections are turning the City of Light into a fashion capital for men.

“Paris is terrific; it’s definitely having a moment,” said Eric Jennings, vice president and fashion director of men’s for Saks Fifth Avenue. “There is energy and excitement and youthful exuberance.” Paris used to be “very avant-garde and directional,” he added, “but now the collections have also become commercially viable without losing their edge.” Although the bulk of his business is still coming out of Milan, Jennings said, “We are investing more in the Paris collections.”

Josh Peskowitz, men’s fashion director at Bloomingdale’s, called it the “perfect mix of big and small brands — French and international. With so much individuality, there is a real opportunity to find new and exciting stuff.”

At Harrods in London, where the men’s wear business keeps growing (a new contemporary room for men’s fashion is in the works), “Paris is particularly important this season as the French brands have had the highest percent of growth in 2013 in our business,” said Jason Broderick, the department store’s fashion director of men’s wear, sports and fine watches, adding his team would “significantly increase” its budgets.

See All of the Paris Men's Fall 2014 Collections Here >>

This season, the buyers identified a new movement — on and off the catwalks. “There was a lot of what I call ‘urban couture,’” said Jennings. “It’s that street-inspired sweatshirt or sweat pant, but done in extremely luxurious fabrics such as soft lambskin leather.”

Hirofumi Kurino, chief creative adviser of United Arrows, spoke of “sportswear-inspired chic,” while Tancrède de Lalun, general merchandise manager at Printemps, observed: “There is a strong elegance that comes out of everything, [it’s] less of a pure fashion stance, more something casual in the ‘sporty dandy’ sense,” said de Lalun, whose favorite collections were Lanvin, Saint Laurent and Kenzo. He also cited the strength of outerwear as well as luxury knitwear.

“The great thing about Paris is that the catwalk looks are perfectly saleable. The customer connects with them instantly,” said Emmanuel de Bayser, owner and buyer of The Corner in Berlin. “Just look at Saint Laurent and Valentino,” he said, also citing Kenzo’s and Givenchy’s efforts as “very close to the street.”

With sales up by 30 percent compared to the same period last year, de Bayser agreed that “casual urbanwear made of high-end fabrics” is the new, most bankable trend. “Fabric is incredibly important; customers don’t want anything stiff, they look for comfort.” He listed hybrid outerwear and the Balenciaga sneaker as bestsellers.

Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s wear at Barneys New York, said he was stocking up on “the coat of the moment which is the Teddy, otherwise known as the varsity jacket. It is the single most prevalent coat of the season and done in every permutation from short to long.”

RELATED STORY: View From Europe — Fall 2014 Men's Trends >>

Other key trends included short bomber-length jackets; luxury sweatshirts in interlock and jersey, often bonded to other fabrics; mohair sweaters; fur as a trim or coat lining; exaggerated volume in trousers and outerwear; art on apparel, and a return of the backpack. His favorite collections were Givenchy, Lanvin, Balenciaga and Balmain.

Saks’ Jennings said he was surprised at the flurry of color. “It was really bright and vibrant, which is great for us. Men used to shy away from it, but now they are embracing it. Color creates emotion and that triggers sales. Also, brown seems to be the new black; it was everywhere from tailoring to sportswear.” He especially liked Valentino, Givenchy, Kenzo, Dior, Ami and Thom Browne.

According to Barbara Atkin, vice president of fashion direction at Toronto-based Holt Renfrew, “A sophisticated melding of the sartorial with urban sport makes separates dressing the new foundation of the male wardrobe.” Fuller pants, generous coats, roomy knitwear, sneakers and young-spirited suits caught her attention, along with fur, various shades of blue and prints such as plaids, checks and graffiti.

“There was definitely much more color and texture this season,” observed Peskowitz. “Hunter green, aubergine and camel are still very important, while bouclé, houndstooth and blanket motifs set the tone.” Peskowitz, who lists Louis Vuitton, Umit Benan, Paul Smith and Lanvin among his favorites, said: “Men embrace not fashion, but style,” and that is “not likely to change anytime soon.”

Gabrielle Gomez, designer men’s wear buyer at Le Bon Marché, said the retailer’s men’s business performed very well in 2013, and the store has added new brands including Raf Simons, Thom Browne, Valentino and Alexander McQueen for spring, and will continue to buy them for fall.

In Russia, meanwhile, spring has been tough, admitted Georgy Rostovshchikov, head of men’s fashion at Podium. He spoke of flat budgets for fall, but said he would be increasing allotted funds for standout collections, including Thom Browne, Givenchy, Kris Van Assche, Balenciaga and Tillmann Lauterbach. “Our core customers like strong fashion pieces, [and] this season we have seen a lot,” he said, adding that the buying team is increasingly taking special orders from customers, and is trying to personalize its offer accordingly.

Catering to the needs of the Japanese buyer, who is paying more attention to the level of creativity and quality these days in anticipation of an increase in sales tax this April, Kurino said he found “excellent fabric quality and uniqueness” in the collections of Lanvin, Dior and Louis Vuitton. Due to unfavorable exchange rates, however, he said he would stock up on more Japanese brands this season.

Jimmy Chan, men’s merchandising manager for Swank in Hong Kong, added that although “the market is foreseen to be tough,” he was “glad that Paris shows are full of passion and surprises,” noting that several brands lowered prices by 8 to 12 percent “to increase competitiveness.” Among trends likely to drive business are wide shoulders, sweatshirts, message T-shirts and sporty elements mixed with tailoring, Chan said.

Mei Chung, men’s wear buying director at Browns in London, remarked that established men’s wear designers are creating more pieces for the younger consumer. “The new generation, they are very impatient. When they see something, they really, really want it right now.”

Tiziana Cardini, fashion director of La Rinascente, feels men’s wear is on the rise overall. “They buy more, they’re more demanding. At the same time, they spend more,” she said, adding that men’s accessories are also an important new category.

“There’s such an energy right now in men’s wear,” she added. “Men’s wear is definitely a booming market, both from a style and business point of view.”

Her favorite shows were Saint Laurent, Raf Simons, Givenchy, Rick Owens, Valentino and Comme des Garçons.

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