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Yes — and you can credit the recession.
Behavioral experts say shopping doesn’t come naturally to most men, yet men’s wear was among the star performers this past holiday and retailers are expecting (or at least hoping) the growth will continue in 2011. They’re helped by the fact that clothes do wear out — and men feel that it’s time at last to replace their threadbare suits and holey socks and underwear.
This story first appeared in the January 6, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
According to behavioral finance expert Meir Statman, author and business professor at Santa Clara University, the recession has stirred men’s competitive juices and they see dressing better as a competitive edge. “It’s not just a matter of impressing women anymore,” he said. “It’s also about impressing potential employers. There is a sense that the competition out there is more fierce.”
In his book, “What Investors Really Want,” Statman devotes a chapter to buying clothes. “Clothing are visible status goods. You can have very chic furniture in your own home, but only friends and family see your home. Many more people see your car, your watch, your clothes. People compete with clothes,” though Statman himself isn’t inclined to.
“I am a professor and I’m tenured,” he said. “I buy my clothes at Lands’ End. I have three suits with stitching on the lapels. They look as if they’re bespoke and when I wear the suits, I suck in my tummy and stick out my chest.”
His point: “You can feel good when you buy something new, but I think for men, at least in my case and many others, it’s really not natural to go out looking for clothes. The last thing we want to do is accompany the wife on a shopping trip. However, in an economy where the competition is fierce, men do feel they have to pay more attention to how they present themselves.”
Marc Gobé, president of Emotional Branding LLC, an experimental think tank, cited innovation in men’s wear by both brands and retailers, and a pent-up demand to replenish wardrobes after abstaining for so long, as contributing to the pickup at retail. “It’s also not impossible that men are discovering what women have known all along — that buying new clothes is psychologically rewarding and not a vast expense,” he added.
“From a psychological perspective, fashion is pleasurable. It’s a way to express a sense of hope. A new shirt can change your mood. A new suit can give you confidence. A new pair of shoes makes you look at life differently,” said Gobé. “Fashion is not an expensive way to feel good about yourself. At a time when the economy is tough and people have lots of anxieties on their shoulders, there’s been a big change in how men are looking at fashion.
“I’ve been looking at a few fashion stores. It’s really interesting how retailers have become much better with fashion and style. There’s a lot more innovation offered. Under the pressure of the economy, retailers have been forced to innovate. It’s very possible this innovation has attracted new shoppers. I was looking at the Gap yesterday. I was passing by one on my way to the theater. The pants, shirts and sweaters I thought were very cool. It was good design with innovative textures. Things worked well together. It didn’t look like the boring, commodity offering that you would find there season after season.”
However, Gobé isn’t completely convinced there is a huge rebound in men’s attitude toward fashion — although they are more comfortable now shopping for clothes online. “Don’t underestimate men shopping online, even if they don’t make the buy online. It’s where they can feel more comfortable exploring,” he said. “Traditional shopping is not that comfortable for men. Research shows it’s not regarded as a priority.” With women, however, “Shopping is totally pleasurable. It’s a social happening, for joyful moments of discovery. I don’t think guys take their friends to buy suits.
“For most American men, fashion is not part of their vocabulary,” Gobé said. “If you are with a bunch of guys, no one says, ‘Yeah, I really love that tie’ or, ‘Hey. That jacket fits really well.’ Men don’t talk like that. In Europe, men are a lot more open with fashion. They can have a fashion conversation. There is a real interest in fashion. In America, the whole of men’s fashion at large is not part of the conversation.”
— David Moin
What They’re Buying
As men head back to the malls, tailored clothing and high-end sportswear top their shopping lists.
Suit sales last year were driven by slimmer-fitting silhouettes, and dressy sportswear that doubles as both work and play clothes also connected with consumers, according to retailers and analysts. MasterCard’s SpendingPulse reported that men’s wear sales rose 10.5 percent in the holiday period and Blacks Retail, which tracks sales at independent stores, said men’s apparel sales jumped 20 percent.
But while men’s wear has undoubtedly experienced a sense of invigoration, there are still concerns that temper retail enthusiasm. Unemployment in the U.S. and Europe remains high, American home prices have yet to rebound, fuel costs are rising, consumer confidence is weak and the specter of rising prices looms at retail because of higher raw material costs.
Nevertheless, retailers are eternal optimists and are betting the glimmer of light is a harbinger of better things to come. Stores are revving up their buying budgets for the year and are kicking off remodelings to help entice male consumers. Saks Fifth Avenue, Liberty of London, La Rinascente and Printemps are all planning or have completed renovations of their men’s wear areas, either to expand space for key categories like accessories and casualwear or simply to freshen up the look. Liberty, for example, will increase floor space dedicated to men’s wear by 15 percent this year, for example, according to Stephen Ayres, men’s wear buying manager. February will also mark the unveiling of Ralph Lauren’s vintage RRL in-store shop, the first in Europe. Ayres said the area intends to anchor the store’s new denim room that opened in October.
In 2010, he noted, the store posted double-digit increases in men’s wear sales, with strength in upper-tier items. “Particularly in the second half we’ve seen customers reinvest in higher-ticket pieces,” he said. Outerwear sales were running up 40 percent over the prior year during the holiday season, while sales of men’s bags were double that of 2009.
The recession also appears to have entrenched consumers’ fashion patriotism, with European retailers reporting strong growth from homegrown labels. At Liberty, Ayres said brands including Oliver Spencer, Margaret Howell, Paul Smith and Burberry London and Prorsum performed strongly last year. La Rinascente had similar success with Italian labels, according to men’s wear buyer Vincenzo Napolano, who singled out Brunello Cucinelli, Stone Island and Fay, among others, as being well-received by shoppers.
This year, Napolano said the department store chain plans to refresh the men’s fashion floor of its Duomo site, adding brands and contemporary lines. According to Napolano, it will be the first time the store has a “true fashion men’s offer.” The new look is expected to be unveiled in the second half.
“We renovated the men’s second floor 18 months ago, and I think we’re only now seeing the results. It’s takes some time and word of mouth to bring in new customers,” said Napolano, who noted men’s sales rose last year, with particular strength in outerwear and knitwear. He credited the growth to the store’s renovated brand mix and an increase in international tourists compared to 2009.
Printemps is slated to revamp its men’s accessories floor this year following the renovation of its women’s accessories floors in 2010, according to Tancrède de Lalun, general merchandise manager of men’s and women’s apparel. De Lalun said the new-look area aims to offer more space to showcase men’s luxury footwear.
New contemporary brands are leading the market at the Paris-based retailer, de Lalun said. “They are pitched at consumers who want this product immediately, and won’t wait for it to [go on] sale,” he said, referring to labels such as Acne, Sandro, APC, and Paul Smith Jeans. According to de Lalun, the company posted double-digit growth compared to last year, and intends to maintain sales momentum by signing new brands.
Richard Johnson, men’s wear buyer for Harvey Nichols, also revealed its Knightsbridge store is set to unveil a new Givenchy shop in the early part of 2011 and identified its recently opened vintage-themed denim gallery in the store’s contemporary area as bolstering 2010 sales.
Buyers emphasized the importance of working closely with suppliers to develop unique products that bolster sales.
Johnson pointed to in-store collaborations such as Moncler’s Visvim collection and Markus Lupfer’s first-ever collections. He also identified the store’s new “sneaker wall” as successfully luring shoppers with labels including Christian Louboutin. Johnson said he aims to build on its success by adding niche footwear brands such as the Californian label Radii and British label F-Troupe.
At Selfridges, David Walker-Smith, director of men’s wear and beauty, said the store’s men’s business had been successful in 2010, with particular emphasis on shoes. “We’ve had a fantastic season with Prada, Gucci, Paul Smith and Tod’s because there is a real return to the classic loafer and the driving shoe,” he said crediting the sales hike to a trickle-down effect from the opening of the Oxford Street’s new women’s shoe hall — said to be the largest in the world at 35,000 square feet — in September. He also highlighted tailored clothing, outerwear and “fashion” as the year’s strong categories. “What I mean by fashion are the ‘superbrands,’” he explained. “Prada, Dior Homme, Balenciaga, and Alexander McQueen, who continues to trade amazingly well. His pre-collection has got off to a phenomenal start.”
Private label also continues to gain traction in the luxury sector with the ability to offer retailers a competitive advantage — the right product at the right price. Printemps will bolster its existing private offering — shirts, knitwear and accessories — with a complete ready-to-wear line slated to launch for spring while Liberty is set to roll out an ambitious ready-to-wear collection with an event at the British library in Florence during Pitti Uomo on Jan. 11. “It’s different than what people expect,” Ayres said. “It’s not all about prints; there are blazers, trousers, knitwear and polos, it’s very fashion forward.” The collection — also available at wholesale — is set to sit in Liberty’s design room next to designers including Dries Van Noten, Vivienne Westwood, Marni and Jil Sander. The 200-piece line is Liberty’s first licensing pact and is manufactured by its Italian partner, Slowear Group.
Saks’ private label Men’s Collection led the store’s men’s wear performance along with outerwear and accessories, according to Tom Ott, senior vice president and general merchandise manager. The accessories area was given a makeover at the company’s Fifth Avenue flagship last fall and results have been stellar ever since.
As a result, Ott is anticipating the strength to be maintained this year. “We think it will continue in 2011,” he said. “It’s especially refreshing that the luxury business has come back.”
At Pitti Uomo, Ott said he’ll be visiting “small, artisan vendors” in an attempt to find lesser-known brands in accessories, outerwear and other luxury categories. “That’s a novelty for us,” he said.
David Fisher, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s for Bloomingdale’s, has, like other retailers, noticed wholesale price hikes but is hoping they will have minimal impact at retail in 2011. “The price increases in cashmere and cotton are real,” he said, “but we’re negotiating them down. We’re not taking anything out of the product, but we think we can mitigate the situation by sourcing differently. I don’t see it affecting us very much.”
Looking at business trends, Fisher said he expects the strength of tailored clothing and luxury sportswear — keys to the men’s sales increases in 2010 — to continue this year.
“The men’s business was good all year,” he said, attributing the uptick to pent-up demand and the return of the younger, more fashion-conscious customer. “And we feel good about spring. We have an aggressive plan. We’re looking at 2007 as our base for sales and profitability numbers.”
At Pitti and the other shows, Fisher said he’ll be looking for “more newness in casual bottoms” as well as some lesser-known vendors to update the assortment. “We’ll be looking for new vendors, new ideas for the more-sluggish categories such as dress shirts and casual bottoms, and innovations in sport coats, jackets and outerwear.”
— Kerry Olsen and Jean E. Palmieri