By  on June 11, 2009

MILAN — Although leading European manufacturers are steering clear of heralding the appearance of green shoots in the men’s wear market, many see seeds of hope for a relative pickup toward the end of the year.

“Things are beginning to stop getting worse and there is the hope that, come the fall, they will appear at least to improve, if only because we will be comparing ourselves with the drops in the last quarter of 2008,” said John Hooks, deputy managing director at Giorgio Armani.

Despite the optimism the market may be close to bottoming out, executives anticipate cautious orders from retailers for spring-summer 2010. None expect business to return to the levels of yesteryear any time soon, underlined by an unwillingness to make concrete projections. Major retailers will be in Europe beginning next week for Pitti Uomo in Florence, followed by the men’s runway shows in Milan and Paris.

“I don’t think there will be a sudden turnaround. I think business will be difficult for many for a long time and a period of readjustment will happen,” said Sir Paul Smith.

This is particularly true for men’s wear. As Christian Dior president and chief executive officer Sidney Toledano summed it up: “Men put on the brakes for longer and take longer to step back on the accelerator.”

When the recession does abate, executives said they expect the Middle East and Asia, particularly China, where men’s wear is still growing, to lead the way. In the meantime, they are continuing to focus their efforts on design, quality and service while protecting margins.

“Now more than ever, clients are informed, careful and critical regarding the item they buy,” said Dolce & Gabbana group managing director and board member Cristiana Ruella. “Our response to this behavior [is] the utmost attention to detail in every phase, from the creative process to production to distribution, and by bringing to life the complete brand experience in our stores and offering the best service that our clients deserve.”

In men’s wear, executives said this means demonstrating a brand’s legitimacy in the marketplace and offering value for money. In some cases, this translates to changes in design or materials, and in other cases, focusing more on opening price points.

“Men tend to buy from a limited number of brands anyway but in tough times, they are even more focused on shopping from those they consider to be the top brands,” Ferragamo chief executive officer Michele Norsa said.

“Men want codes,” Toledano said, citing the importance of “the integrity of the brand and the product. If you win [men’s] trust, they are much more faithful.”

In practice, executives said this amounted to brands balancing what they are known for with the demands of the market.

“This is the time to concentrate the offer rather than dilute it,” Ruella said.

Givenchy ceo Fabrizio Malverdi said the label had completely reworked its collections of men’s bags and small leather goods in terms of product offering and design in order to stimulate spending.

“Our tactics are focused on having a balanced construction of the collection both in terms of offer and prices, increasing the upper casual/casual part that we think [is] an area of growth we [have] underestimated for a long time,” Malverdi said.

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