By  on July 22, 2010

Shorts, striped wovens, khakis and unconstructed blazers were key categories at the ENK New York show, which hosted 244 exhibitors at The Tunnel-La Venue from Sunday through Tuesday. Fresh bursts of color signaled a cheery spring ahead — at least as far as the fashion palette is concerned — while plaid continued its omnipresence in collections. However, heritage and Americana themes, which have dominated men’s collections of late, appeared on the wane as more modern, contemporary looks took center stage.

“I think the heritage trend has gotten a bit tired. I’m more interested in the Scandinavian and European labels,” said Peter Hananel, who operates two trendy Long Island stores in Southampton and Montauk called Edition. “I’m looking for cleaner, wearable fashion.”

That ethos was evident in the offerings at Tween, which despite its name is not designed for the prepubescent set. Rather, it’s a popular Turkish label that is already distributed in 55 other countries and operates 110 stores in its home market, but is launching in the U.S. this season.

“This is a company that owns its own factories and can provide great marketing collateral to retailers,” said Michael Ryan, president of The Blue Agency, which is representing the line here. “In today’s market, it’s not just the product that retailers are looking at, it’s the people behind it, the production, the marketing. This company produces everything that it sells and gives retailers a great price-value.”

Tween’s contemporary designs included a range of wovens ($43 to $60 wholesale) and sleek sport jackets ($170), with design flourishes like woven collars on knits and knit collars on wovens. “It’s clean, but with nice details,” added Ryan.

Similar collar treatments could be found at Ted Baker, which showcased modern sportswear like shawl-collar polos and chinos in attention-grabbing hues such as pale pink and ice blue. The English brand also introduced a new collection of tailored clothing licensed to Jack Victor under the Ted Baker Endurance label.

“We’ve had a fantastic upswing on semiconstructed jackets as well as shorts, and polos are outperforming expectations,” said Patrick Heitkam, executive vice president of U.S. wholesale and licensing. The company, which does about $16 million in sales in the U.S., opened its 10th U.S. store in Scottsdale, Ariz., earlier this month and will open three more stores by yearend, including a new concept in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District this fall.

Plaid shorts in an array of bright shades ($39 wholesale) popped from the racks at Benson, a new label from New York-based Mac Apparel, a manufacturer that is making its first foray into its own branded business. The line, which also included a basic T-shirt program available in 25 colors ($16), straddled the territory between the traditional and contemporary zones.

“It fits the traditional men’s stores but a lot of those stores are going in a contemporary direction these days,” explained sales rep Amanda Tigges.

While many brands were pushing jeans alternatives, there was plenty of denim in the Blue section of ENK — which this year for the first time was divided into four distinct areas, the others being Designer’s Collective for full collections like Nicole Farhi and J.Lindeberg, Tomorrow for avant-garde labels such as Antonio Azzuolo and Osklen, and Clean for grooming brands including Sharps and Histoires De Parfums.

The 4 Stroke denim lineup included selvage jeans in elegant earth tones, using premium fabrics from Cone Denim and Japan’s Kurabo mill — but with retail prices at the $180 and under mark. The label is the first branded effort from Sioux City, Iowa-based Aalfs Manufacturing, which is a 100-year-old private label maker for companies like Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., Gap Inc., J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and Kohl’s Corp.

At Evisu, the company geared up for its 20th anniversary next year with a collection of special products, including jeans with bold Japanese kanji symbols emblazoned on the rear pockets. Less embellished products included madras shorts, washed cargo pants with leather trim and faded pique polos.

Sharp pricing was a key selling point at Nine Days, a denim brand launched earlier this year by New York-based Kemistre 8, which also owns Prps and Akademiks. Nine Days jeans retail for $118 and feature high-end wash techniques, all in a single classic straight-leg fit. “This brand is all about washing and price-value,” said Kevin Dougherty, brand manager. “Nobody else offers these kind of washes at this price.”

Price was also top of mind at Artful Dodger, the streetwear brand co-owned by Jay-Z and Iconix Brand Group Inc., where horror movie-inspired graphics on tops and cleaver necklaces made for an attention-getting collection. “We’re the opening price point in this market and with a lot of price resistance from buyers that works to our advantage,” said Jennifer Getlan, director of sales. “We don’t have anything that retails for over $148, except for leather.”

More pleasant images of surfing cowboys adorned the T-shirts at Agave. In denim, the brand expanded the offerings in its Silver collection, which targets a younger, more contemporary customer with slimmer fits, stretch fabrics and innovative resin coatings. There were also 100 percent Tencel jeans on display, which owner and designer Jeff Shafer was touting for both their luxurious hand feel and eco-friendly properties.

Shafer was optimistic about the retail climate, noting his company was on track to post record sales this year, following two years of declines due to the recession.

Arnold Zimberg, whose shirt line of the same name has been a hot seller according to retailers, was more cautious in his assessment. “Retail is extremely sensitive right now and very choppy,” he said. “I think people are having good and bad days, but nobody is getting any real consistency. So retailers will keep inventory levels lower than they used to be and are being more selective in their buys. The challenge is to be new but also understandable and wearable.”

Zimberg, known for his embellished shirts, showed off new designs in silk and cut-and-sew jersey. The brand also expanded into bottoms, with a licensed pants and shorts line from Haggar. “Pants are a very specific business and I wanted to work with someone who lives and breathes pants,” said Zimberg.

Paul Delaware, national sales director at Victorinox, said buyers were looking for “color, pattern and fun, as well as price-value.” The brand’s polos featured multicolor insets as well as signature technical details like quick dry and antimicrobial fabric on interiors. Other shirts boasted ventilation seams and UV protection properties.

On the opposite end of the technological spectrum was a vintage program offered by What Goes Around Comes Around. The company sources surplus Army-Navy jackets, old Pendleton and Woolrich jackets, Levi’s jeans, vintage T-shirts and Lacoste polos and creates packages for retailers according to their specifications. Clients include Jeffrey New York, John Varvatos, Lane Crawford and Harvey Nichols.

“We recommend a 3x markup. You can get a better markup with vintage because they are one-of-a-kind and there isn’t a direct comparison to other product out there,” explained company co-founder Seth Weisser.

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