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MILAN — Milan offered enough novelty to keep retailers happy at a time when men are becoming increasingly demanding and sophisticated. To help boost business in a lackluster local economy, Italian designers focused on research and innovation — and on ways to restore luster to the city as the Italian Chamber of Fashion maps out a return to fashion’s forefront. Elongated jackets, boxy shapes, technical fabrics, architectural graphics, roomy suits, a new color palette and shorts galore emerged as standout trends.
“The Milan collections offered new and different alternatives for spring-summer dressing. The Milanese were focusing on strong colors, printed fabrics and the use of wool-mohair blend fabrics, whereby you arrive at a cool, crisp dry fabric that is both comfortable and highly sophisticated,” said Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s wear, Barneys New York. “In both the designer and classic luxury sector, we see opportunity for next spring and our budgets reflect this. With a strong focus on accessories and shoes, we see most suppliers thinking differently and all centering their sights on a younger, more modern customer.”
Indeed, men’s wear is flourishing and retailers are generally expanding their budgets to satisfy demand.
“Our budget is up for designer and luxury brands, though the percentage varies from brand to brand,” said Tancrède de Lalun, gmm of women’s and men’s apparel at Printemps. “We are experiencing a healthy growth, which means we will be able to place a lot of reorders during the season. The men’s market is the middle of a huge change. We are projecting substantial growth, while the mind-set of the customer is changing. Before, men were fixated on knits. They said, ‘I need a suit for the office and a pair of jeans for the weekend.’ The new customer is driven by desire — much like women. It’s great, because whenever you present them with something new, they are interested in buying.”
Eric Jennings, vice president and men’s fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue, concurred, saying that the men’s business “continues to be strong and will be bought accordingly next season. We will stock up on woven shirts, contemporary clothing and fashion shoes, in particular.” Jennings noted that men are “developing their own personal style and spending on the best quality they can afford.” While fashion becomes “part of their vocabulary,” they are looking for value. “The latest fad is of little importance at the end of the day. They want something that is current but will still be relevant in seasons to come.”
Prada, Jil Sander, Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Ermenegildo Zegna, Umit Benan, Neil Barrett, Missoni and Fendi were among the collections that received wide praise from buyers.
RELATED STORY: Milan Men’s Spring 2014 Collections >>
While some retailers, like Matthew Singer, men’s fashion director at Neiman Marcus Group, don’t think that Milan Fashion Week “is slipping in importance at all,” as “a good amount of business is done and will continue to be done” in the Italian city, others believe steps should be taken to attract new talent, create buzz around the shows and make them more entertaining.
Jimmy Chan, merchandising manager, men’s division, Swank, Hong Kong, urged Italians to “think out of the box. Buyers are now spending less time on fashion shows and presentations, but focused a lot on business development and market share in such a competitive environment. Revolutionary arrangements should start from Milan in order to maintain its fashion leading position.”
Tiziana Cardini, fashion director, La Rinascente, said, “Milan should attract star power,” citing, for example, Stefano Pilati’s designs for Ermenegildo Zegna, which were introduced this season and “offer beautiful locations,” while also actively and financially supporting new talents. “Umit Benan, Andrea Pompilio and Andrea Incontri, for example, are talented. They need to be mentored and helped with production facilities.” Cardini said brands should engage in making their presentations more interesting. “Think of Umit’s show, it’s so theatrical. There should be more interdisciplinary and cinematic breadth. Collections should be shown in a more spectacular and artistic way. The excellence of Italian fashion, its quality and style is unbeatable, but we need to make it more interesting in a consistent way.”
Here’s more of what buyers had to say:
Jason Broderick, gmm, men’s wear and fine watches, Harrods, London:
Trendspotting: “The florals at Gucci, the Western influences at Etro and Fendi, and the tropical prints at Prada, and an awful lot of great leather, especially Fendi. Also, Zegna and Canali really emphasized their roles as industrial tailoring powerhouses — it was something that really came out this season.”
Sound off: “Men are increasingly looking to build more fashion-oriented wardrobes with trendsetting pieces. Prada and Gucci will hit the spot.”
Favorite collections: Prada, Gucci, Zegna, Fendi.
Advice on Milan: “Italy is the powerhouse of the men’s wear industry, and our Italian brands are performing exceptionally well. We’re very happy with the week.”
Kevin Harter, vice president and fashion director for men’s at Bloomingdale’s:
Trendspotting: “Trends we liked included the mix of technical sportswear with tailored clothing, for example Gucci’s technical parkas paired with knit trousers, which seemed to be a new feeling for the house.”
Sound off: “Bloomingdale’s felt confident in regards to the spring offerings in Milan. The color palette was strong and directional, as well as extremely wearable for our customer. Stefano Pilati showcased wonderful shades of blues, greens and earth tones for Ermenegildo Zegna.”
Favorite collections: Gucci, Belstaff, Umit Benan, Corneliani, Canali.
Advice on Milan: “Still would like to see Milan introduce new talent. Our hats off to Mr. Armani for his showcasing of Andrea Pompilio.”
Brooks Thomas, vice president, men’s wear, Holt Renfrew, Canada:
Trendspotting: “We see huge growth in luxury footwear and accessories. We are always on the lookout for the artisanal, exclusive product that Italy is renowned for. We also see opportunity with luxury lifestyle brands, but done in a very modern way.”
Sound off: “Men’s wear is a key growth area for Holt Renfrew, and we are extremely enthusiastic about spring 2014. We are very focused on growing our luxury tailored clothing and sportswear businesses, as well as our luxury furnishings, accessories and footwear.”
Favorite collections: Neil Barrett, Bottega Veneta, Gucci, Prada, Belstaff, Andrea Incontri, Zegna, Canali.
Advice on Milan: “It’s an exciting time for Italy and men’s wear. We are seeing younger men dressing up again, but in a modern way. They are passionate about make, fit, quality and construction, as well as new exclusive, artisanal brands. This is what Italy has always been about, so the time is right for continued growth.”
Eric Jennings, vice president and fashion director, men’s wear, home, food and gifts, Saks Fifth Avenue:
Trendspotting: “Graphic prints and patterns continue moving full steam ahead, whether they are on woven shirts, trousers, outerwear or tailored clothing. White and shades of off-white dominate. Slip-on shoes and basket weave shoes are a trend.”
Sound off: “In general, most collections in Milan played it safe this season. While certainly moving in a more modern direction, most designers stuck to the tried and true. My biggest concern for this spring season is how dark and fall-like the colors were.”
Favorite collections: Missoni, Bottega Veneta, Ferragamo, Gucci.
Advice on Milan: “At this moment in time Milan seems to be missing some of the youth, energy, creativity and innovation coming out the other cities. How to improve it is up for debate for sure, but it all starts with being nimble and staying close to the ground with what is happening with your customers. There are some very established houses in Milan that have been doing business in a certain way for a very long time, so they are not as nimble or quick to make intelligent decisions. Men’s wear is really having a moment, you can’t afford to fall asleep at the wheel. Also, look at what is coming out of the fashion schools.”
Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and gmm of men’s wear, Barneys New York:
Trendspotting: “Without question, designer sneakers are a strong opportunity. The business has been dominated by the high-tops; for spring 2014, many collections brought back the canvas sneakers with vulcanized rubber welts and soles for a more old-school look.”
Favorite collections: “Most collections were very innovative. It was an even season.”
Advice on Milan: “Milan is still the epicenter of men’s. Although the Paris collections are supplying a lot of the energy and new discoveries, Italian collections are still doing the heavy lifting and sum up to be the top-volume businesses. The caveat here is that there is a major shift towards growth in the luxury sector in Italy led by Zegna, Isaia, Brioni and Kiton. These artisanal and heritage brands constitute a part of the industry that works very hard to break through — it’s old-school brands creating new-school character. They are leading in the sense that they are pushing for much more change and are moving faster in the direction of the younger customer. They are also nearing the lifestyles of people and how they dress. It’s truly modern luxury. So you really shouldn’t just look at the runways.”
Matthew Singer, men’s fashion director, Neiman Marcus Group:
Trendspotting: “We are loving the more neutral palette. Whites and cream combos feel fresh and elegant. For spring we are excited about the return of the single-pleat trouser. With this Fifties undertone happening, it feels right for our customer. The unconstructed soft sport jacket is also a great piece of the season.”
Sound off: “The Milan season overall is a bit more dressed up but still has a relaxed feeling to it.”
Favorite collections: Prada, Ermenegildo Zegna, Giorgio Armani, Kiton, Isaia, Brioni.
Tiziana Cardini, fashion director, La Rinascente:
Trendspotting: “Couture sportswear: The absolute excellence of Italian brands has rendered activewear chic. The hybrid between formal and activewear has turned into soft tailoring with a strong luxury factor. There were lots of interesting prints, muted colors, melancholic pastels. Anoraks, boxy jackets, slim pants and shorts.”
Favorite collections: Ermenegildo Zegna, Jil Sander, Bottega Veneta, Gucci, Fendi, Umit Benan, Andrea Incontri, Andrea Pompilio.
Darren Skey, head of men’s wear, Harvey Nichols, London:
Trendspotting: “The blouson and bomber jackets are really taking off — every collection had a variety of them. Overall, there’s a sportier feel to the collections and a move away from tailoring. Look at Gucci: We’re used to seeing tailored clothing come down the runway, but this collection was a real change in direction with all the technical fabrics and outerwear.”
Sound off: “Milan does a job, and we know we’re not going to find too much that is new. It’s about the big-volume brands, and nothing stands out as cool except for Neil Barrett.”
Favorite collections: Neil Barrett, Umit Benan.
Business strategy: “We may cut budgets very slightly in Milan. We’ve done well with our [Italian] logo products in the past, but the brands want us to invest more in fashion products instead of the obviously branded ones.”
Advice on Milan: “Milan needs to start backing some younger brands. I just got to Paris now and saw two new brands, and they got me salivating! Milan is also at risk of being overshadowed by London, but they are lacking the cool element — except when the stripper ran down the runway at Dolce & Gabbana. It was hilarious and it lightened the mood of the show.”
Tancrède de Lalun, gmm of women’s and men’s apparel, Printemps:
Trendspotting: “There are two groups of trends. One is the “street luxe” or “new casual” with Ferragamo, Neil Barrett, Calvin Klein and Jil Sander. Here you see suit jackets, but made casual with strong colors, new shapes and fabrics. The second one is an international urban chic (Zegna, Bottega Veneta, Gucci, Trussardi); it’s a global wardrobe, with a lot of hybrid pieces such as blouson-jacket combinations. And then you have Prada, which in itself is a trend, a masterpiece. This season, it introduced a new silhouette for pants. Before everything was fitted and narrow. Now it’s larger and more fluid. In both groups, microprints and classic prints with revisited dimensions are key.”
Sound off: “There was a good energy in Milan, with Prada definitely being the one.”
Favorite collections: Prada, Zegna.
Advice on Milan: “We need more new, interesting brands out there. There is a void to fill in the contemporary segment. French brands such as Melinda Gloss, Ami and Carven are good examples. They are still creative, but accessible. That is also what is missing from Milan Fashion Week, which is based on big players that do big business. I don’t see the new generation. Where is the future Prada, the future Zegna? It’s difficult to say. While in London, for instance, you have Burberry, but also Christopher Kane and YMC stepping forward. However, Milan is very important. Along with London, it’s the center of the art of men’s fashion. There is a huge culture there. Just look at an Italian guy and the way he dresses.”
Mei Chung, men’s wear buying director, Browns, London:
Trendspotting: “Sporty tailoring, but at a very luxury level, and lots of fluoro colors from the Eighties.”
Sound off: “We have a very international clientele, so we have to strike a balance between the younger generation — the twentysomething Arabs, Russians and Asians —who want a collector’s piece, and the older customers who want something very basic with a beautiful cut and fabric. The younger men definitely want to be trendsetters, and the pieces they buy don’t have to be well-known.”
Favorite collections: “Jil Sander and Markus Lupfer, who did a whole collection of T-shirts, sweatshirts and knitwear — some with embellishment — based on Club 27, artists who died aged 27.”
Advice on Milan: “Italy generally is having a tough time, and the business is affected by the government situation. No one is happy. People are having to move their money around — like in France.”
Polat Uyal, chief merchandising officer, Beymen, Turkey:
Trendspotting: “Colors and prints. Shoes and shirts will be very important.”
Sound off: “While we are confident with spring 2014, we still act cautiously and yet we’re budgeting up 20 percent.”
Favorite collections: Prada, Bottega Veneta, Neil Barrett.
Advice on Milan: “Milan is not slipping in importance. However, Paris and London are finally pushing for men’s. So potential competition obviously will lead Milan to be more creative and improve its offerings. Up-and-coming designers would inject a fresh attitude into the more traditional identity of Italian fashion.”
Hirofumi Kurino, chief creative adviser of United Arrows Ltd., Tokyo:
Trendspotting: “This season we saw some very interesting brands, which presented collections with a new feel and attitude. They showcased a kind of new elegance for contemporary gentlemen, who wear simple but interesting clothes in a deep color palette of autumn tones, breaking the old seasonal rules. This might be a solution to this strange weather hitting many areas, including the European countries and Japan. African fabrics were very important as well.”
Favorite collections: Prada, Umit Benan.
Buying strategy: “The budget is the same as last season, but, because of the strong euro — it’s up 30 percent vs. the yen — we will buy a little bit less.”
Jimmy Chan, merchandising manager, men’s division, Swank, Hong Kong:
Trendspotting: “Ultralightweight jacket, overall printed yet in a semitransparent polyester fabric, is definitely a sure winning item. In terms of accessories, monotone sneakers and bicolored doctor’s bags are strong for the season.”
Sound off: “We saw a lot of conservative collections for the season while innovation in fabrications should be the key. Buyers are looking for newness and uniqueness in all collections to give a turnaround in such a global retail recession, yet it is greatly dependent on the creativity from designers.”
Favorite collections: Les Hommes, Larusmiani, Giacomorelli.
Carla Sozzani, owner, 10 Corso Como, Milan:
Trendspotting: “Colors, and there was harmony of hues, with touches of fluoro at Jil Sander, for example. I liked the fact that jackets returned to a longer length, not too short.”
Sound off: “This was a good season. There was more effervescence than usual.”
Favorite collections: Prada, Jil Sander, Z Zegna.
Magali Ginsburg, head of buying & category management, Thecorner.com:
Trendspotting: “We saw a lot of prints [batik, wild] inspired by travels or architectural graphics [Bauhaus for Neil Barrett or East Germany for Jil Sander]. In terms of shapes, I admired the boxy and less skinny looks [at Neil Barrett and Jil Sander]. There were still a lot of shorts like last summer and jackets were longer. In the details or allover the pieces, the main colors were orange and yellow; the combination of white and red was everywhere, and of course all shades of blue. Generally, the traveler is a reference this season with backpacks, bombers streamlined with outerwear and technical fabrics, and running shoes with heavy soles, and of course Oriental and tropical inspirations [at Umit Benan and Jil Sander].”
Favorite collections: Jil Sander, Neil Barrett, Missoni, Ermenegildo Zegna, Umit Benan
Business strategy: “For Thecorner.com, we will keep on growing and nurturing new talents while reinforcing the business with all of our existing brands.”
Sebastian Manes, buying and merchandising director, Selfridges, London:
Trendspotting: “Sportswear continues as a trend; jackets and trousers with piping, graphic lines, black-and-white and flower prints.”
Sound off: “I was there for three days and it went very well. I’m happy with what I saw. It’s not the biggest market for us, however, compared with Paris. Business is good and we’ll continue to increase our budget.”
Favorite collections: Jil Sander, Neil Barrett.
Advice on Milan: “Milan tends to get squeezed between the new and up-and-coming designers from London — which has become a strong week — and the very established Paris men’s week. There is not so much newness coming from Milan, and I think they will have to start pushing a new generation, because they cannot live only on established brands.”
Cindy Ho, fashion director, 360 Style, Kuwait:
Trendspotting: “So refined and rich. The details and craftsmanship are remarkable at Bottega Veneta. I just love all the details. Jil Sander is about simplicity yet most stylish. Amidst the white, the lobster or coral red stands out and is now acceptable as a men’s color. Well done. As at Prada, the idea of mix and match is very brand new and bold for men’s wear. The trend for next spring-summer is definitely shorts in all styles, straight or flared. They are like a skirt for ladies and, depending on the occasions, you can play with them easily.”
Sound off: “We see all kinds of directions of men’s fashion. I like the fact that it is a mix-and-match idea for many houses by means of patterns, fabrics, silhouettes and colors. Our gentleman is getting more and more choices.”
Favorite collections: Bottega Veneta, Jil Sander, Prada.
Business strategy: “Our buying budget is a bit up as the men’s business is growing.”
Advice on Milan: “I think the efforts of the Italian Chamber of Fashion are very impressive, and for me, Italy is still the most important country in men’s wear style. Pitti Uomo is truly a success and, every season, it is getting more and more interesting by bringing new designers from all over the world and all sorts of events. As a matter of fact, this is what is missing in the men’s fashion week. Besides shows, there are nearly no happenings — a same pattern for many years. I suggest the last show should be at 6 p.m. and then, for the rest of the night, all buyers-journalists can enjoy the other part of fashion week such as an exhibition, an event, gatherings. It will bring more fun.”
Emmanuel de Bayser, owner and buyer, The Corner, Berlin:
Trendspotting: “Sporty chic is still the prevailing trend, building on the friction between casual and elegant. It’s carrot pants with sneakers. Sneakers, leather jackets and knitwear — also in the summer — are bestsellers. It’s pieces you can combine easily with others. We get a lot of tourists in Berlin, and they don’t come here to buy three suits but separates, which is what I’m after.”
Sound off: “Milan showed a lot of color and prints. It’s very optimistic fashion, and you get the feeling that they are really pushing the location, trying to establish a strong presence. However, it’s one thing seeing the prints and colors on the runway. Selling them, in Germany especially, is difficult. When it’s sunny outside, people are more upbeat, but when the weather is bad, like this spring, it’s a different story. Also, men’s purchasing patterns have changed in general. They are more daring. Even lawyers are leaving the traditional gray suit at home, which makes our work more exciting, too. They are also very well informed, they know what they want and they want it fast — a speedy delivery has become crucial. The sooner we have those pieces in the store, the sooner we can sell them. Waiting lists are also on the rise — much like in women’s wear.”
Favorite collections: Bottega Veneta, Massimo Piombo.
Business strategy: “We opened a second, this time men’s only boutique in September 2012 and saw sales jump 100 percent in just three seasons, which is why we are buying twice as much.”
Advice on Milan: “Milan has lost some of its luster, and that’s despite the fact that they have the best production sites. They better shape up. The ingredients are all there, but Milan itself is not exactly electrifying. Unlike Paris, where tourists shop, but also go out and have fun. [It would help ] if a new international name appeared on the Milanese fashion calendar. Someone who would stir things up and bring in some freshness. Again, Italy is about quality and savoir-faire, what’s missing is a master plan to put this to the fore.”
Toby Bateman, buying director, Mr Porter, London:
Trendspotting: “What really came through was black and white: layers of white, or layers of black and black-and-white checks. Large-scale checks — most of the collections had checks of some sort. A hint of stripes —thick or wide set — and a bit of print, but not as much as this time last year.”
Sound off: “This is a general comment about men’s wear: There has been a gradual rise in prices over the last couple of years, and less choice at opening price points. But it’s not necessarily representative of what the consumer wants. They’re asking, ‘Why do we have to pay 20 percent more for this that we did last year?’ At the same time, there is a group of superluxury brands — like Tom Ford — at very high prices, and there is a demand for them.”
Favorite collections: Missoni, Neil Barrett, Jil Sander.
Advice on Milan: “Milan is a city where business is done and they struggle with the creative aspect. Buyers and press who are looking for creativity will skip Milan and go to London. But maybe Milan might be happy with that. It’s a question of what they want to be.”