LAS VEGAS — “I don’t know if you’ve heard this or not, but prices are going up,” grinned Doug Ewert, president of The Men’s Wearhouse Inc.
This story first appeared in the February 17, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The rising cost of raw materials — cotton pushing $2 a pound, oil and leather prices going up along with labor and shipping — was the primary topic of conversation among retailers and manufacturers at MAGIC, Project and the other trade shows here this week.
Eric Beder, managing director of equity research at Brean Murray, Carret & Co., wrote in a research note that wholesale price hikes for fall could be as much as 25 percent above last year, “the first substantial increase in clothing and footwear prices in over a decade.”
The increases were across the board and unavoidable, giving many retailers pause as they ponder how consumers will respond to the hikes. “It’s the real world,” said Ronny Wurtzburger, president of Peerless International. “Anybody who tries to hold prices won’t be here a year from now.”
As a result, retailers had no choice but to accept the inevitable and scoured the aisles at the trade shows throughout town to find the most appealing items to soften the impact. Outerwear with lots of bells and whistles, nondenim bottoms, chunky sweaters, knit shirts, slim suits and dress shirts were among the pieces they hope will be the solution. In denim, vintage washes were making a comeback over the clean looks that have been popular the past few seasons. In tops, vendors were moving beyond heritage looks like plaid and into trends such as checks and prints.
“We’re looking to lock in at the current prices because cotton costs are through the roof,” said Scott Collins, general merchandise manager for Downtown Locker Room.
“At least the cotton issues are consistent,” said Jonathan Greller, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s for Lord & Taylor. “Everything is up.”
Despite the price concerns, the mood among stores was decidedly upbeat at the shows, which included ENK Vegas, MRket, Capsule and the Off-Price Specialist. Men’s wear sales have been consistently strong for several months, as consumers have become weary of holding back and seek out new fashion looks to update their wardrobes.
SHOW MOOD: The continued strengthening of sales boosted the spirits of department and specialty stores shopping the show at Mandalay Bay. From the more sedate mood of the Menswear section to the rollicking pulse of the Streetwear and new Ride Unltd. areas, traffic and attitude were noticeably improved this season.
MAGIC International president Chris DeMoulin said pre-registration of new stores was up 30 percent and there was “a lot of dynamic energy,” indicating an improved attitude among merchants. Collins of Downtown Locker Room said business is “tremendous” and he’s investing in brands that are performing right now such as Levi’s, LRG, Parish, Rolling Papers, Adidas and Rocawear. “We think it will be an excellent year,” he added. “The consumer is shifting into a mode where he’s looking for something he doesn’t have in his wardrobe. So new and fresh items are going to sell very fast.”
L&T’s Greller agrees. “We’re keeping our foot on the pedal,” he said, noting men’s sales are still up in the double digits through February. “We’re layering in different price points and looking for new brands in knits, Ts and outerwear.”
TRENDS: Both Rusty and True Love & False Idols showcased washable earphone technology that was attached to apparel for easy plug-and-play of iPods — even while surfing or stand-up paddling in the ocean. (Both brands are produced by La Jolla.) “Our goal is to have everything wired,” said Casey Fleming, director of sales and marketing at Rusty, which incorporated the technology into rash guards, Neoprene jackets, snowboarding jackets, fleece hoodies and backpacks — at retail prices ranging from about $49.50 to $180.
And how safe is skating or surfing while blasting The Offspring into your ears? “Go to any skate park and the majority of skaters are listening to music,” pointed out Fleming.
Surf brand O’Neill emphasized stretch in both its surf and walk shorts, with appealing prints like beer or cocktail motifs on some designs. “Our hybrid group of boardshorts that look like a casual walk short is one of our fastest growing categories,” said Shawn Peterson, senior design director at the brand. “You can surf in it and then go to dinner.”
One thing not in the line was lots of flannel shirts. “They seem to be dying because they’ve become so commoditized,” noted Peterson, highlighting nylon windbreakers that looked like chambray, slim-fit chinos and fleece jackets.
BEST IN SHOW: The new Ride Unltd. skate section of MAGIC was a high energy — and noisy — showcase for brands like L-R-G, DGK, HUF, The Hundreds, Obey, Analog and Gravis. A 2,500-square-foot street course packed with skaters outdoing each other with ollies and kickflips served as a backdrop for buyers shopping the show.
“It’s cool that MAGIC is embracing this market. We can do business here but it’s a little free-form and exciting for retailers,” said Seamus Deegan, brand manager at Zoo York, which had one of its skaters, Eli Reed, performing on the skate course.
The brand, which is owned by Marc Ecko and Iconix Brand Group Inc., showed new licensed sunglasses at the show, which included Eighties fold-up styles that retail for $25. In apparel, wovens featured more texture, shoestring pulls adorned hoodies and magnetic snaps closed pockets.
“It’s the details that bring everything together,” said Deegan.
In the Menswear section, Haggar moved outside its comfort zone with the introduction of a new collection, Life Khaki, for fall. The younger, more-updated assortment of bottoms included five styles and three fits of cotton-blend casual slacks that will retail for $36.99 and include complementary in-store graphics. The Texas-based brand also unveiled its Haggar Heritage collection, a new line that will be exclusive to Macy’s for fall. Available in both casual and dress styles, the line of cottons, cords, twills, flannels and solid wools feature a variety of fits and a slew of details to separate them from the pack. Retail prices will be $39.99 to $49.99.
On the outerwear front, Weatherproof had good success with its ultratech “Obama jacket” as well as microfiber and microsuede bombers and slightly longer versions. Fake wool jackets and the 32 Degrees collection of technical outerwear were also popular.
Dockers showed its Alpha Khaki collection that morphed a dress pant with denim construction to appeal to the guy who is seeking a comfortable fit with a dressier look. Dakota Grizzly offered a more reasonably priced alternative for retailers seeking authentic Americana styling. Originally targeted to outdoors stores, the brand is now branching out to more contemporary retailers with snap-front Western shirts, heavy flannels and vibrant plaid wovens.
In streetwear, Rocawear showcased a collaboration with the Peanuts cartoon, with characters on T-shirts that were emblazoned with corresponding Jay-Z lyrics, such as Linus and “Brush your shoulder off,” or Snoopy with “Forever young.” A varsity program featured leathers, fleece and rugby styles, while asymmetric zippers on the neckline of a hoodie, leather pullstrings on Windbreakers and leather American flag patches on baseball caps injected fashion elements to the line.
“In denim our regular fit has been the bestseller, it’s not the baggy fit that some people still associate with the brand,” said Tanya Bryson, national sales director, pointing out a basic jeans program that retails for $58. “We’ve really held the line on price as other brands go up,” she noted.
At Akoo, the line backed by hip-hop star T.I., denim was priced at $72 to $125, with crossed riding crops emblazoned on back pockets. Suede flaps embellished other denim pockets, while preppy themes like gingham were used for tops.
SHOW BUZZ: The finals of the Maloof High Ollie Challenge, a new pro-am skateboard competition, on the trade show floor drew a crowd to the new Ride Unltd. action sports area.
SHOW MOOD: Over 200 brands showed at ENK Vegas this season and there was a greater emphasis on men’s wear, which accounted for about 75 percent of the floor space.
New brands showing at ENK Vegas included Hugo Boss, J. Lindeberg, Façonnable and the Portland Collection by Pendleton.
“Buyers are taking less notes and leaving more paper,” said PPD co-founder Paige Adams-Geller. “People aren’t as afraid and they’re coming here with their budgets more prepared.”
TRENDS: Ken Giddon, president of Rothmans in New York City, liked No Excess’ chunky sweaters and fun, European-influenced outerwear, as well as W.R.K.’s “very edited, sophisticated” sportswear. “We’re less concerned about collections and are being more selective,” he said. “We’ve made the mistake of buying too much from individual vendors and now we’re looking for great pieces.”
No Excess offered an “Americana-esque look with a European flavor,” according to brand manager James Costa. Sweater-knit jackets with a plaid lining and pullover sweaters with shawl or mock turtlenecks, toggle coats and down jackets with fur hoods were among the highlights.
At Victorinox, the brand blended technical attributes with fashion flair for its outerwear and layering pieces. “You can wear these golfing or watching a soccer game,” said Jim Bresnahan, vice president of sales. Other strong pieces included sweaters with military influences and a lightweight nylon ripstop jacket.
BEST IN SHOW: “Men like the feeling of a sweatpant and this really feels like a sweatpant,” said PPD’s Adams-Geller, of the brand’s supersoft jeans. Even styles with a raw look had a lived-in feel. Also in the fall lineup were canvas jeans — which Adams-Geller said were replacing the twill styles that were popular in past seasons — and more skinny fits.
Genetic Denim also focused on clean washes and raw denim with a soft hand. The Los Angeles-based company revamped its logo, getting rid of its fussy double-helix signature that adorned jeans and replacing it with a minimal “XY” metal stamp. “It’s a cleaner and more modern take on the logo,” said the brand’s co-founder, Ali Fatourechi.
At Citizens of Humanity, overdyed twill jeans in brown earth tones, tapered chinos and skinny corduroys stood out in the collection. Lush, chunky sweaters and outerwear were the emphasis at Hugo Boss’s Orange line, such as a sherpa-lined coated canvas bomber that retails for $350.
Façonnable brought its newly launched jeans collection to ENK. “It’s for a slightly younger customer who wants more style and a contemporary feel in his clothes,” said president Bob Green of the washed and rugged line. Green also revealed that the first freestanding jeans store will open in Nice, France, in March, and the company is looking for space in New York and Los Angeles as well.
The 7 Diamonds collection had lots of immediates available for spring delivery, with a focus on shirts. “Plaids are still doing well for us,” said David Dagnino, head of marketing at the Orange County, Calif.-based brand. Western chambrays, workwear styles and stripes were also key trends, with prices in the $89 to $110 range helping drive sales.
Expatriate was a new brand from Company of We co-founder Jayzel Samonte — the latter was shuttered this season — that offered luxurious soft jackets in Loro Piana cashmere fabrics at sharp prices. One style with a rabbit fur collar retailed for $695, while a camel hair blazer with contrast lapels was $395. “I use a broker that sells excess fabric from companies that overcut,” explained Samonte of his pricing strategy.
SHOW MOOD: Improving business trends among independent specialty stores resulted in a positive vibe at the show, which increased its floor space 20 percent at this edition. “Retailers are a lot more confident,” said Britton Jones, president and chief executive of Business Journals, which runs the show. “There’s a positive flow of energy again.”
TRENDS: Hybrid jackets, nondenim bottoms and slim-fitting suits and furnishings were among the items that drew the attention of retailers shopping the show. “There’s a lot of good product here,” said Mike Zack, owner of Circa 2000 in Plano, Tex. “Fun” outerwear pieces along with knitwear attracted his attention. “Guys want something different,” he said. “Our job is to get people in the door and re-energize them.”
BEST IN SHOW: Mac, a large German brand that has just begun to infiltrate the U.S. market, offered chinos, corduroys and gabardine pants with stretch that answered the demand for nondenim bottoms. A variety of fits, sizes and color options and retail prices that average $155 to $195 offered stores lots of choices and good margins. Hawke & Co. showcased outerwear that blended fashion and performance, including everything from down parkas and carbon cotton vests to more fitted hybrid jackets. Phillips-Van Heusen’s furnishings division offered dress shirts and ties from designers ranging from John Varvatos to Michael Kors. “Stores want to buy collections,” said president Mitchell Lechner, noting that slim fits in both dress shirts and neckwear were most popular with stores.
Peerless Internationals’ Wurtzburger also said slimmer silhouettes were “drawing the business. We’re an industry that goes 100 percent one way or the other. If it doesn’t have the word ‘slim’ in it today, retailers aren’t interested.” Rainforest, which also offered updated outerwear options, pioneered a new way of selling at the show: via the iPad. Retailers were offered the option of perusing the collection on the screen, where they could tag their favorites and have a pdf or iPad app version to bring home. “It won’t replace the trade show,” said president Jack Wu. “But it’s the next step.”
SHOW BUZZ: MRket’s decision to open at 8 a.m. on its first day was a hit with retailers struggling to see thousands of vendors at various locations around town in three short days.
SHOW MOOD: An independent spirit permeated this show, which features emerging brands for both men and women.
KEY TRENDS: Ts with vintage-inspired graphics continued to dominate the offerings for men’s wear. Accessories such as leather bags, trucker caps and heavy, masculine jewelry were also showcased.
BEST IN SHOW: Homage, a three-year-old Columbus, Ohio-based business, paid “homage to the good ole days,” according to founder Ryan Vesler, with Americana-inspired graphic Ts “rooted in sports and pop culture.” Fellow Columbus brand Babcock Apparel offered “graphic Ts for adults who don’t want to be branded with a company’s name,” according to owner Seth Harris. “Our shirts have a sense of humor and are snarky.” Some even sport naughty sayings. For fall, the brand has added hats, leather goods and a gas-station attendant-style jacket.
SHOW BUZZ: Pulling down the walls between Pool and its sister shows, Project and MAGIC Menswear’s section, encouraged retailers to browse Pool’s 203 brands more easily, according to show director Lara Matthews
SHOW MOOD: “I think this is the strongest sector of the men’s market — it’s the consumer who cares about brands with history and wants to buy into that artisanal passion,” said Capsule co-founder Minya Quirk of the 200 progressive brands at the show. A significant presence of progressive Scandinavian and Japanese labels — such as Kiffe and Momotaro Jeans—gave the floor an appealing international vibe.
“We call it buying ‘glocal’ — it’s locally made things but from all over the world. You’re buying the best brands from wherever they happen to be from,” said Quirk.
TRENDS: Heritage and Americana themes still pervaded collections, but new trends like stylized prints, checked shirts and ethnic motifs — ikat anyone? — were strong influences, as well. “We’re minimizing flannels because there’s so much out there,” pointed out Doug Burkman, co-founder of Burkman Bros.
Corduroy was a popular alternative to denim and moleskin popped up regularly in outerwear. “Of course everyone is dealing with pricing and the increases in raw materials and production costs,” noted Kevin Dougherty, national sales manager at John Varvatos Star USA, where leathers, light jackets, textured wovens and knitwear were key sellers.
BEST IN SHOW: Burkman Bros. used ikat prints and dobby techniques to enliven twill pants and oxford shirts, as well as a jacquard motif on drawstring canvas pants. The brand has continued to grow in the challenging retail climate, and the two founding brothers have focused on keeping pricing accessible.
“We have a shirt with leather piping that sells for $198 and we took a margin cut on it because of cotton prices, but we don’t want it to go over that $200 mark,” said Doug Burkman. “We want the retail prices to be where they need to be for consumers.”
The company will launch its first e-commerce site in March, selling the collection as well as antiques and trinkets from the designing duo’s global travels.
Epperson Mountaineering had a wide range of eye-catching backpacks in multiple colorways and Japan’s Lovege showcased jackets and shorts in clever multicolor jacquard camouflage designs.
Gilded Age showed its first women’s line next to its twisted-seam men’s denim, washed canvas pants and double-layer cotton shirts in plaids, checks and stripes. “Everyone is trying to move away from plaid so we have a lot of checks,” pointed out Paul Witt, a sales consultant for the brand.
Pierre-Henri Mattout, previously the designer of Victorinox, was showing his recently relaunched namesake label, with elegant corduroy sport coats with denim linings, leather-trimmed sweaters and camel-hair knit blazers with leather elbow patches. Polyester ribbons adorned shirts and one sweater featured a laser-cut neckline.
SHOW MOOD: Over 1,000 brands showcased new collections at Project, with retail registration up more than 30 percent from last February and on par with this past August, which is traditionally a more popular show, according to show organizers.
“We feel optimistic about the current retail climate. We are seeing comps up double digits because of newness,” said Susan Kellogg, president of VF Corp.’s contemporary brands, including Seven For All Mankind. “The biggest competition is the consumer’s closet, so newness is key. Men’s continues to be a bright spot for us. It’s currently outperforming our plan.”
The same was true at True Religion. “Guys are not as price sensitive as women and men didn’t see the shift to nondenim that you saw in women’s,” said Lynne Koplin, chief operating officer. Women’s wholesale has been the softest part of the company’s business, noted True Religion president Michael Egeck, who added that straight-leg styles have been the brand’s biggest sellers for guys.
Ben Sherman booked 123 appointments over three days at Project. “This is our busiest show ever,” said Joseph Cook, senior vice president of sales and marketing, highlighting the top-end Plectrum collection where chunky sweaters at $149 to $229 were key sellers.
“We had a really good fall and that’s continuing into spring,” said Mario Bisio, who operates stores in Seattle and Portland, Ore. “We need to be on the offensive with innovative and fresh merchandise. We’re looking for soft jackets, great outerwear and inspired sportswear — that’s what’s selling.”
TRENDS: After several seasons of clean, dark washes in jeans, vintage washes and nicks and abrasions made a comeback for fall. In nondenim bottoms, an array of options in canvas, twill, chino and cargo styles pervaded many collections. Earth tones in browns and beige were popular alternatives to conventional indigo shades.
Price bumps abounded due to widespread increases in raw materials and labor expenses. At Lacoste, prices increased on average by about 6 percent said Steve Birkhold, ceo of Devanlay US, the brand’s apparel and accessories licensee. “Retailers understand the increases because they have their own private label businesses impacted with the same issues,” he added.
However, Lacoste held the line on its iconic L1212 polo at $79.50. “We’re at a natural price point under $80, and there are certain thresholds for consumers we don’t want to cross,” said Birkhold.
BEST IN SHOW: Alternative Apparel has enjoyed 30 percent sales growth in each of the last two years, according to founder and chief creative officer Greg Alterman. The company specializes in vintage-inspired Ts, shorts and lightweight sportswear that are incredibly soft and faded. “We invented the burnout for the T-shirt,” said Alterman, fingering one style that looked like it had been through a hundred wash cycles.
Key accounts for the brand include Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Dillard’s and Urban Outfitters. It also supplies blank Ts to high-profile clients like Ralph Lauren and Marc Jacobs. The company will open its first freestanding store in L.A. next month.
“We have product readily available in stock which allows retailers not to commit to a lot of inventory,” said Alterman of the retail climate. “That means we have a lot of cash tied up in product, but that’s the business we’ve chosen to be in. Sometimes it’s the guy with the product that gets the order.”
The Levi’s Made & Crafted collection of premium denim showed in the U.S. for the first time with a line of natural indigo jeans and jackets, enhanced with luxury details like hand-distressed buffalo bone or olive wood buttons. Ninety percent of the line’s fabrics are proprietary, such as Japanese madras shirts and cotton duck canvas pants, noted designer Jonathan Cheung.
Sales were up 21 percent at AG Adriano Goldschmied last year, said Sam Ku, design director at the brand and son of company founder Yul Ku. “It all stems from the product but it’s a combination of service, quality and better brand recognition,” he explained. For fall, the brand used lasers to replicate the authentic whiskering and wear of a pair of jeans worn for two years straight with minimal washing by a sales rep named Dwight — and named the style for him.
J Brand introduced its stylish Trooper men’s cargo pant, with a skinny fit and inventive seaming and darts, with the aim of replicating the success it’s had with its women’s Houlihan cargo pant. The men’s style launched at Barneys New York this spring and has been “a bonanza at retail,” according to Julian Medina, national sales manager at J Brand.
Lacoste showcased the Live line geared towards younger consumers, with polos adorned with enlarged croc logos in contrast colors, brightly hued down jackets and fine-gauge cardigans. The brand’s jeans collaboration with Earnest Sewn continued into fall with additional corduroy styles, designed to bulk up Lacoste’s bottoms programs.
In the expanded Workroom section geared toward directional, boutique brands, Filson introduced a new capsule collection for the fashion-forward stores that have made its waxed tin-cloth luggage trendy among city dwellers — and who probably aren’t the duck hunters and fly fishermen the brand traditionally caters to. Dubbed the Passage collection internally at Filson, the line has jackets and vests with a slimmer fit than the brand’s core designs.
SHOW BUZZ: At the Gant by Michael Bastian booth, Project introduced a new online tool powered by Visuality that will be rolled out to all vendors and buyers in coming shows. The digital platform allows brands and stores to interact year-round and improve management of orders and deliveries. “It’s a fashion portal that extends the connections made at Project,” explained Andrew Pollard, president of Project, promising more details in a few months.