By  on October 14, 2009

Saks Fifth Avenue has injected a contemporary twist into its men’s department.

The luxury retailer last month completed an overhaul of the seventh-floor contemporary space at its flagship here, adding new vendors in a move intended to help boost sales.

“The emerging contemporary business is one of our key opportunities for growth,” said Tom Ott, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s wear. “We’ve showcased new designers and added classifications, and the business has been great….Part of what we set out to do was to transform our contemporary area to be updated and have a point of view. This pushes us into a new zone.”

Although Saks has carried contemporary merchandise, the department “had become dated,” he said, pointing to the new fixtures, lights and props — antique baskets, reclaimed wood, rusted metal walls — that provide the floor with an industrial-vintage look.

“It has a turn-of-the-century feel with a modern fix,” said Eric Jennings, vice president and men’s fashion director. “It’s new mixed with old.”

Even the music piped into the area is more contemporary.

In terms of merchandise, “it’s also not as jeans focused,” Ott said. Although denim is still represented, contemporary designer sportswear from brands such as Commonwealth Utilities, Yigal Azrouël, McQ, Gilded Age, Woolrich and Rogues Gallery predominate. Most of these labels are new to Saks or, in the case of Rogues Gallery, expanded into new classifications, Jennings said. Saks also created a collaboration with Gitman for vintage-fit shirts and is offering exclusive styles of shoes from Timberland. Yuketen shoes — “a Pitti find,” Ott said — also have been added. In the past, the shoe assortment centered around sneakers.

Other brands, including Converse by John Varvatos, Diesel and Marc by Marc Jacobs, remain a part of the mix.

“We put together an assortment that is unique to Saks,” Ott said.

“It’s an elevated assortment,” Jennings added.

Saks has layered in more accessories — shoes, bags, belts, scarves and hats — to help the contemporary customer complete his outfit in one convenient location.

“The collections and accessories provide a total lifestyle presentation for this customer,” Ott said. “The emphasis is on the complete look. We’re really telling a story here.”

Jennings added: “It’s also more sophisticated. We will show a washed cotton oxford and a skinny tie to go with denim instead of a tattoo T-shirt.”

The early success of the department — the store recently hosted an event with GQ and several of the new designers — is prompting an expansion of the strategy. Ott said the men’s stores in Chicago, Beverly Hills, San Francisco and Boston will get “elements” of the look, “and we will look to roll it out beyond that.”

Jennings acknowledged, “sometimes it’s hard to get guys in to shop, but we know there’s definitely a demand for this kind of product.”

To introduce the line to customers, Saks is completing the details for direct mail pieces and magazine inserts that are “focused on this zone,” Jennings said.

“And we’re looking to do events with targeted audiences,” Ott noted. “We want to get the word out, we’re really proud of what we have here.”

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