By  on January 16, 2014

MILAN — A new kind of tailoring ruled the Milan catwalks and drew praise from retailers looking to fuel a burgeoning men’s wear business.

“There was a global feeling of new casualwear with suits being less formal, telegraphing modernity,” said Tancrède de Lalun, general merchandise manager of men’s and women’s apparel for Printemps.

“Suits were formal and luxurious, yet soft at the same time, incorporating an element of sportswear in a subtle and refined way,” concurred Tiziana Cardini, fashion director of La Rinascente.

Italian designers honed their skills, leveraging quality, craftsmanship and sophistication, while nodding at a younger generation with fits closer to the body.

“We’re seeing a continued trend to luxury,” said Bob Mitchell, co-chief executive officer of Connecticut-based Mitchells Family of Stores. “A lot of men, both young and more mature, are ready to express a more elegant way of dressing.”

A comprehensive offer of terrific outerwear; slim and short trousers; knit pants; technical materials, and a plethora of innovative shoes and boots are all expected to contribute to brisk business for the season.

See the Milan Men's Fall 2014 Collections Here >>

Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s wear of Barneys New York, said, “The Milanese seemed quite comfortable presenting understated, luxurious clothes, shoes and accessories that are true to the DNA of this supersophisticated culture. Coming off the cold winter of 2013, the plethora of greatcoats was a welcome trend; often in yarn mixtures suggesting Donegal, tweed, mohair and, of course, cashmere. Fur was a familiar accents, either in the trim of the apparel or linings of coats and sweaters that replace conventional outerwear.” He singled out Ermenegildo Zegna, Prada, Bottega Veneta, Boglioli, Fendi and Armani as among his favorites.

For Kalenderian, the men’s offering this season “has never been better.” But he cautioned vendors not to inch the prices up too high: “The men’s fashion luxury client is more interested and engaged in the trends than ever before; he is by far the most sophisticated consumer we’ve served thus far. We will end the year up in men’s, with the most growth coming in the second half of the year.”

Odile Boucher, director of men’s wear of Galeries Lafayette in Paris, also said business is doing well: “The men’s business is dynamic with strong upward growth continuing into 2014. Polarization is key with clear opportunities in both luxury and urban segments of the market. Brands like MSGM and young designers like Andrea Pompilio had creative catwalks with print, strong color, backpacks.” Boucher also liked Gucci, Fendi, Bottega Veneta, Brioni, Corneliani, Ermenegildo Zegna and Canali.

Polat Uyal, chief merchandising officer at Beymen in Turkey, said the store was upping budgets for Italian collections by 20 percent for fall collections, noting that “from fabrics to collections,” he felt “the awakening of sartorial elegance in Milan.” This creates an opportunity for business, and as a result, he is “very confident going into the buying season for fall 2014.” He especially liked Bottega Veneta, John Varvatos, Fendi, Ermenegildo Zegna, Canali and Isaia.

David Witman, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s wear at Nordstrom, particularly liked the “soft, monochromatic palette” at Canali. “Conversely, we also loved how Prada and MSGM suggested a confident and unexpected mix of colors,” he said. Witman also singled out Neil Barrett’s mix of sportswear and tailored as a standout.

Nelson Mui, men’s fashion director of Hudson’s Bay Co. in Toronto, found the “simpler, modern shapes and the proliferation of tech materials [Neoprene, etc.] — plus leather and leather detailing — refreshing and compelling.” He said the company is actively working to grow sales in the premium sector and believes new brands in tailored sportswear and contemporary represent the best opportunity. In Milan, he especially liked Gucci, Ermenegildo Zegna, John Varvatos, Neil Barrett and MSGM.

Jimmy Chan, men’s merchandising manager for Hong Kong-based Swank, said the overcoat is a must-buy for the season. “Sartorial elements are coming back,” he said, pointing to Les Hommes, Antonio Marras and Z Zegna as among his favorite collections.

Kevin Harter, vice president of fashion direction for men’s at Bloomingdale’s, said the cold weather in the U.S. has helped the store’s outerwear business, “so it was reassuring seeing outerwear trends such as shearling and finely cut leathers emerge.” Other saleable trends include fine checks in tailoring; subtle paisleys and shawl collar sweaters; shoes with chunky soles, and boots with straps, he said. “Milan offered what it does best: collections with luxurious fabrics, innovation and perfect tailoring for elegant dressing. Our budgets are still being determined, but I have confidence we will be buying flat to slightly up. Men continue to search for investment pieces.” He singled out Ermenegildo Zegna, Canali, Gucci and Neil Barrett as his favorites.

Stephen Ayres, head of fashion buying and merchandising at Liberty in London, said checks and tailored pieces are performing well for the store, “and the slimmer pant is more prominent again. It’s good to see that come back.” In Milan, he especially liked Bottega Veneta; Zegna, which he called “the ultimate in luxury sportswear,” and Gucci: “the first half, before it got dark.”

Adrian Ward-Rees, men’s wear general merchandise manager and fashion director for Lane Crawford in Hong Kong, also sees opportunity with outerwear, as well as “relaxed tailored formats. Novel layering pieces from waistcoats to knitwear to create more personality to tailoring are also key trends.” As a result, he said, the store is “very confident going into fall-winter 2014.” He particularly liked Dsquared2, Dolce & Gabbana, Z Zegna, Versace, Canali and Neil Barrett.

Ken Downing, fashion director for the Neiman Marcus Group, was “very glad about the return of the single-pleated pants that are cut very narrow. There was also amazing footwear: monk straps, sneakers, Chelsea and ski-inspired boots.” His favorite collections of the season were Salvatore Ferragamo, Fendi, Bottega Veneta, Canali and Tom Ford.

Eric Jennings, vice president and fashion director of men’s for Saks Fifth Avenue, said the fall pastels offered a strong contrast to all the blacks that were shown on the runway this season. “This was a somber season, just look at Prada or Jil Sander,” he said. “But we loved the offering of new designers like MSGM or Andrea Pompilio, who is stalwart. Their collections were fresh and exciting, and this is exactly what Milan needs.” Jennings also liked the “very slim and short trousers. The knit pant was key — it was almost like a sweat pant done with elastic hems and drawstrings. Rounded silhouettes dominated on top.”

Printemps’ de Lalun characterized the season as a whole as “conservative” from a trend perspective, although he thought Prada was a standout. But the store’s budget is still up in the single digits, and he expects to hold back the dollars for reorders in season with brands that are performing.

Toby Bateman, buying director at Mr Porter in London, felt the offering of Neil Barrett, Bottega Veneta and Canali were among the strongest collections, along with oversize double-breasted, softly structured coats with belted waists, tailored track pants and checks on everything from coats and jackets to trousers and suits.

Emmanuel De Bayser, owner and buyer of The Corner in Berlin, said the store’s business is “booming,” with sales up 30 percent over last year. As a result, he will “stock up on cool luxury sportswear, cute sweatpants and sweatshirts done in leather or cashmere, which is a global trend, and cool sneakers are always bestsellers.” He said this shows that the Italian designers are “increasingly following trends instead of setting them — except for tailoring, which was very cool, focusing on comfort instead of structure.”

Jason Broderick, fashion director of men’s wear, sports and watches at Harrods in London, also noticed the “somber mood” of the men’s shows and found “no overt trends coming out of the season. There was quite an independent spirit in Milan, and themes were slightly out-of-this-world, and thought-provoking. But we are looking for more newness in Milan. The schedule is dedicated to brands that do exceptionally well at Harrods, but we would love to see more newness and excitement. Paris and London seem to be picking up the slack with regard to new talent.”

Nevertheless, Broderick said he did like Ermenegildo Zegna, Dolce & Gabbana and Gucci: “We thought Neil Barrett was brilliant and love the way Dsquared2 is modernizing. The sartorial theme continued at Etro as well as Mr. Armani’s opening looks both at Giorgio Armani and Emporio Armani.”

Darren Skey, head of men’s wear at Harvey Nichols in London, pointed to the variations on tartans in suits and outerwear as among the most prominent trend. He also liked the checked suits at Gucci and Z Zegna that “played homage to the Sixties Mod trend. Many designers kept things alive with the use of color popping, particularly with warming tones, such as oranges, mustards and tomato reds. My key items would be the cropped, narrow trouser and the chunky tread-soled boot, which was seen from almost all fashion houses.” He especially liked Neil Barrett’s “striking lightning print, which we loved and is a stark move from his use of blocked panels. We’re still lusting after the Neoprene sweats, which will still be a strong trend for AW14, and always do well for Harvey Nichols. This season, we have noticed a real focus on men’s shoes, with many statement styles coming through.”

He said that overall, designers remained “very true to their aesthetic. Silhouettes were commercial, and the use of color was an add-on to a more muted palette.”

Terry Betts, director of men’s wear at Selfridges in London, noticed a “tangible feeling of respect for heritage in Milan this week: The opulence that we always expect was definitely there, but offset with some really nice understated details.” He cited the influence of art in the Neil Barrett collection, and a “playboy vibe” in the suit silhouettes at Etro and Zegna.

Stacey Smith, men’s wear buyer for in London, gravitated toward the outerwear in the market: “I loved the marine-colored peacoats at Gucci, and the longer lengths at Dolce & Gabbana. It’s also been interesting to see the sportswear-inspired shapes we saw for spring evolving into something a little more relaxed.”

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