LOS ANGELES — The sexy tomboy look is gaining popularity as Southern California sportswear labels that originated in men's adapt their strengths in tailoring and structure to women's wear.
After several seasons when flirty dresses dominated the runways and streets, trousers, vests and other tailored looks with a masculine edge appear to be picking up momentum. In the last year, Los Angeles brands Monarchy, Z-Brand and Boy. by Band of Outsiders have made the jump into women's wear, and Corpus and Grandma's Glock, both based here, and San Francisco's B. Son by Rebecca Beeson are marketing themselves as unisex lines.
The trend is the latest example of men's labels crossing over to the women's sector. The women's market has previously welcomed men's wear labels and designers, including Trovata, Raf Simons at Jil Sander, Rag & Bone and Thom Browne, who is branching into women's through his collaboration with Brooks Bros.
It makes economic sense for men's lines to court female shoppers. "All the money is in women's," said Greg Armas, co-owner of Los Angeles boutique Scout, which carries Corpus, among other contemporary labels for men and women.
And tomboys are targets for Madewell, J. Crew's casual-chic startup that draws inspiration from a 70-year-old men's workwear label of the same name. Although Madewell doubled the number of dress styles for fall from spring to complement its denim, Lisa Schulner, a stylist who handles all the visual and store displays for Madewell, said the fall collection maintained "a tomboy edge" with saturated tints of purple and tomato red and wide-leg trousers in wool.
Celebrities such as Mary-Kate Olsen and Victoria Beckham have been spotted wearing the tomboy look.
Women's fashion this fall will reflect such men's styling as plaid prints and flannel fabric, said Fred Levine, co-owner of specialty chain M. Fredric, based in Studio City, Calif. The biggest impetus behind the trend is female shoppers' craving for novelty.
"Anything that is new and flattering and sexy is going to be hot," he said.
"After summer, we're going to go back to pants," predicted Alisa Loftin, owner of Aero & Co., a directional specialty shop here.Even Kosmetique Label, a three-year-old line designed by Kanya Miki in Paris, hopes to find an audience with California retailers for its unisex suits and starts its sizes at XS.
"I'm making a lot of jackets, but it's more modern cutting," said Miki, who studied at Antwerp Royal Academy and worked for John Galliano. "It's not a regular type of men's jacket."
The strength of designers who have roots in men's wear is their skill in tailoring, said Betsee Isenberg, owner of Los Angeles' 10 Eleven Showroom, which handles sales for Rag & Bone. "They understand tropical wool, shirting fabric, tweed [and] camel hair," she said. "Putting it into women's is a great progression."
Using fabrics traditionally associated with men's wear adds a stylish look for women, said specialty retailer Humberto Leon, co-owner of Opening Ceremony, which has stores in New York and here. "One of the things I love is suiting on women," he said.
Along with Barneys New York, Opening Ceremony will carry the debut collection of Boy. by Band of Outsiders, which offers a shrunken schoolboy blazer, quarter-sleeve dress shirt, A-line peacoat and other pieces described by Leon as "the perfect introduction of haberdashery for women."
Scott Sternberg, Band of Outsiders' founder and designer, said that while he fits men's clothes on himself, it is "overwhelming" to fit women's clothing on at least four models in order to get a good cross-fit. And female customers are more sensitive to prices and trends than men.
"When a women buys a garment or a piece, a lot of times it's a fashion-driven piece," he said. "They're not looking at it as an investment."
Working with women's specialty retailers also was a learning experience for Z-Brand.
"The women's specialty stores tend to shop more frequently than men's," said Jonathan Wiesner, Z-Brand's president of sales. "They also tend to shop closer to the season than men's. It can be as much as 60 days later than men's."
While Z-Brand must fine-tune its planning for the women's market, its designers find some efficiency in sharing textiles such as sheer jersey and denim washes."We kind of use one mind when we design the men's and women's, and use some feminine detailing and fitting to separate the two," said Richard Slom, Z-Brand's founder and creative director, adding that he strives for an androgynous look. "We don't try to be too cute and follow trends that are moving in and out. We like to believe the number-one element of the line is comfort, and it's got a lived-in and worn-in feel."
Still, there's room for convergence of men's and women's wear, as Beeson learned in launching her unisex label this year. "Because the men's direction is becoming much more fashion-forward and because the women's trend is becoming more oversize…we find that women are buying B. Son for their own wardrobes," said Beeson, who started her eponymous women's business in 1998.
B. Son's sizing runs from S to XXL, but Beeson said she planned to add XS and perhaps even XXS to better fit female customers. The line wholesales from $50 for T-shirts made of Japanese jersey to $250 for waxed fleece peacoats, and B. Son is creating a niche by tailoring jersey.
"We're mixing fabrics that used to be considered casual fabrics into structured looks," Beeson said.
Monarchy, whose celebrity fans include Usher and Jeremy Piven, intends to maintain a rock-inspired rawness in its year-old women's line, which offers less than one-fifth of the number of styles of the men's division. Designer Eric Kim rejected the possibility of including floral prints or a swing jacket in the women's collection. Instead, the company said it scored hits with retail buyers for its distressed leather motorcycle jackets that have removable hoods and Supima cotton racer-back tanks adorned with skinny silver chains. "We've got to stay true to our look," Kim said.
Corpus' look for women, on the other hand, was intended to be "a mirrored image of the men's," said Keith Richardson, who designs the four-year-old label with Jerrod Cornish. Yet, after the spring launch of women's garments under a unisex grouping, Corpus plans to make concessions for its female customers. This fall, it will unveil a shirtdress that is a more fitted variation of its popular button-down shirt with front side pockets.Richardson hopes moving into the women's market will help safeguard his own closet. "Every girlfriend I've ever had has taken my clothes," he said.
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