By and and  on January 9, 2014

FLORENCE — Despite a cloudy economic climate, business is booming at the Pitti Immagine Uomo trade fair, which ends its four-day run here today. The U.S., Far East and emerging markets are bringing “quality growth,” while a new, more knowledgeable and sophisticated customer base is creating momentum for upscale brands.

“I’ve never seen retailers write more orders,” said Eric Jennings, vice president and fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. He said he was particularly excited about the offering in contemporary tailoring. “With so much color, texture and novelty, tailored clothing is definitely the new sportswear. It’s very youthful,” he said, noting that he is looking forward to “a healthy and consistent growth” in the category in 2014.

Josh Peskowitz, men’s fashion director at Bloomingdale’s, believes this is due to a change of attitude. “Guys are dressing up, incorporating tailoring in their wardrobes, and it’s becoming a lifestyle.”

Among the brands riding the trend is Brunello Cucinelli, which more than doubled its booth size this season to accommodate its new suit line, which is leaner and younger and targeted to the next generation of suit wearers, particularly in North America. The brand will open two flagships there in 2014, in Atlanta and San Francisco, with São Paulo and Lima to follow suit.

Kiton, meanwhile, observed a clear shift in the age span of its customer base. “While five years ago, we were mostly selling sizes 52 to 56, today sizes 46 to 50 are in bigger demand,” said the brand’s chief executive officer Antonio De Matteis.

The impact is also felt by Eidos, Isaia’s younger “brother,” now in its third season. The company, whose suits retail for $1,295, tripled its business in just six months, according to creative director Antonio K. Ciongoli.

Isaia continues to build its luxury sportswear offering, which strikes a chord with the former Soviet Union countries and the U.S. alike. “In 2014, China will also be very interesting for us,” said president and ceo Gianluca Isaia. “We plan to open 14 or 15 stores there in the next five years with a new partner.”

In contrast, Jim Heiser, president of Individualized Shirts, said he was expecting to see more of his product sold online rather than brick-and-mortar, which is also a consequence of the youth movement.

Other standout brands at the show included Italian Lardini, which offered a new take on classic tailoring, playing with traditional patterns such as Prince of Wales and houndstooth, while newly launched Gio Zubon made an impression with low-rise trousers. The high-end label, which is under the Lubiam Group umbrella, offers Japanese men’s clothing-inspired pants that are cut short, and are available from slim to skinny.

Meanwhile, knitwear set the tone in Paolo Pecora’s casual yet sophisticated collection, which ran the gamut from sporty bombers to cozy cabans. The brand recently signed a licensing agreement with Gilmar Group for the production and distribution of its collections.

Another highlight was Britain’s Private White V.C. Designed by Nick Ashley, the brand showcased sophisticated outerwear pieces, including a trim moto jacket, lined in classic Harris tweed.

A strong push toward the upper end of the market was felt throughout the fair. “What customers are buying at full price and at the beginning of the season are items that make a difference in their wardrobe,” explained Tancrède de Lalun, general merchandise manager at Printemps, whose budget is up by a comfortable single-digit figure.

This, however, is not met without skepticism. “The middle segment is disappearing,” noted Hirofumi Kurino, chief creative adviser of United Arrows. “It’s a tough situation. Fashion is becoming more democratic; people get it easily and more quickly. But that means we are losing taste and value.” Staying hot is particularly important in Japan, where the consumers are cautious, anticipating a raise of consumer tax due in April.

“What the crisis did is to make the retailer realize that he can’t sell anything and everything, but [must] choose a direction and stick to it,” observed Philip Truyen, G-Star Raw’s international account director.

The Dutch denim specialist’s newly introduced, art-gallery-inspired retail concept, where “denim connoisseurs” and live tailors are catering to the customers’ individual needs, will be employed in “at least three new stores in Italy this year,” said Truyen, announcing 100 more monobrand openings around the globe by 2015.

In June, Pitti Uomo is expected to attract even larger crowds. As the founding organization of the trade show is celebrating 60 years, five Florentine brands — Salvatore Ferragamo, Gucci, Emilio Pucci, Roberto Cavalli and Ermanno Scervino — will organize “special events” to pay tribute to the city’s artisanship, while the Italian government is sponsoring the undertaking with 1.6 million euros, or $2.18 million at current exchange, the single biggest investment of the Ministry of Economic Development for 2014.

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