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FLORENCE — Faced with a tense economic climate and a foggy outlook entering what is traditionally the men’s market’s weakest season, exhibitors at the Pitti Immagine Uomo men’s trade fair here are hoping color and prints will save the day.
This story first appeared in the June 21, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Vendors were mixed in their outlook, with tailoring brands upbeat and contemporary players exhibiting a more jittery stance. Conservatively eyeing the future, buyers, who braved an unrelenting heat wave that transformed exhibitor tents into ovens, said their budgets were stable.
“Brands are taking more risks to be fun and fashion-led, which is good, as men have become more experimental with color and print,” said Stephen Ayres, head of fashion for men’s, ladies’ and children’s wear at Liberty of London. “It’s a real visual thing that’s happening that will hopefully create instant connections with customers and make them buy now rather than wait. It will encourage people to have more of an emotional attachment to the product.”
Signaling paisley as a key trend, especially on wovens and printed garments, Ayres also sensed a West Coast vibe coming through. “That’s really nice for summer — relaxed and fun,” he said, pointing to Hawaiian shirts, printed Bermuda shorts, slubby jerseys and loose linen knits as still prevalent.
“The sky’s the limit, with white, turquoise, peach, salmon, red.…Color is part of this man’s vocabulary,” said Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s wear at Barneys New York. He found the Pitti offerings “upbeat,” with exciting use of color and “a very good attention to silhouettes and fit.” Woven shirts are the strongest category along with soft, deconstructed jackets — many half-lined or unlined, close to the body, he said.
For Kalenderian, accessories and fine-gauge knits offer an opportunity, along with “small details,” such as beautiful pockets and fully fashioned collars that recall “shirts men wore on the Riviera in the 1960s — very comfortable and natural. Sporty elegance.”
Linen is also making a comeback, he added, “not Eighties linen,” but linen blended with cotton and cashmere, or cottons and hemp. “This type of variety in fabrication creates a lightness, looks appropriate for spring and feels modern,” he said.
Toby Bateman, buying director for MrPorter.com, said: “We saw and liked some notable trends at Pitti that we are keen to support and continue to support — Fifties-inspired prints, the ‘short’ suit and checks. Ongoing trends that get better and more interesting with the new season include bright colors, unstructured tailoring and double-breasted jackets.”
“Pitti this year is hot…not only because it is a roasting 98 degrees out, but there is so much more innovation and variety,” commented Fiona Paterson, commercial director for Thecorner.com. She mentioned “hints of camouflage” and “beach cool” among the trends, saying: “It’s all about looking cool at the beach, and it goes beyond swim shorts. [There are] many cool new sunglass brands, shirts and shoes.”
A rainbow of color broke out across tailoring collections, which were also strong on prints and fabric mixes. Italian tailor Isaia introduced three “color stories” and fabric combinations for suits and shirts, coupling brown with aqua, green with yellow, or blue with red, in cotton, cashmere or a cotton-silk blend.
At Italian high-end formalwear-maker St-Santandrea, bold colors, including coral reds, made their way into silk-cashmere knits, while Belvest’s palette for jackets included ice blues and deep greens.
Kiton, for its new Cipa 1960 lineup, which is sold exclusively at Bergdorf Goodman, introduced jackets in printed silk-cotton in strong colors, including red and orange. “Our final customer wants color, also in the Kiton main line,” Antonio Paone, Kiton USA president, said.
For Isaia, the overall theme was polka dots, a throwback to the Fifties, used on ties and scarves and in details on jackets and pants. The company presented cargo pants with “barchetta cut” pockets, welted and curved to better contour the leg.
Belvest showcased morning coats and Frank Sinatra-inspired unlined jackets with brightly colored prints. The company is pushing “new silhouettes,” said Belvest USA president Roberta Cocco, with shorter cuts and narrower lapels — “very young,” Cocco said.
Likewise, Brunello Cucinelli presented contemporary slim-fitting suits and had weightless jackets made from mohair “for a fresh, cool feeling in summer.” Aviator-style sleeveless vests had been lightened using wool padding. “I like the idea of a light down jacket in wool worn with a wool pant, for example,” added the house’s namesake founder.
“You can see very traditional companies focusing on fit,” said Barneys’ Kalenderian. “This is the most important show for the luxury market and the brands presenting are very much aware of the opportunities with younger clients.…Age isn’t an issue. It’s more about state of mind. There’s youthfulness about the styling and silhouette, which is very valuable,” he added. “There’s been so much focus on make and not so much on how people live, and this is a nice change, to see luxury brands creating collections which are upbeat and youthful and attracting younger men.”
In a nod to new shapes, Black Fleece included a new Octagon collection of shirts and point-pocket Bermuda shorts patterned with navy octagonal motifs on a white ground. Another strong statement was the firm’s banana-leaf design, green on white, applied to cotton jackets, oxford shirts, Bermudas, a cotton bomber jacket and swim trunks. Parent company Brooks Brothers showcased casual navy blue trousers and shorts with colorful sailboat prints, inspired — along with other parts of the collection — by the Fifties, sailing regattas and the spirit of the sea.
Isaia, whose collection included jackets with hidden functional details, such as pockets for an iPod and cell phone, said that for next spring it sees double-breasted jackets becoming popular again. Isaia president Gianluca Isaia said the new collection, which uses coral-dot interlock prints as accents throughout, was inspired by the Li Galli islands off of Italy’s Amalfi coast, one of his family’s favorite holiday destinations.
The Neapolitan tailor, which in 2011 saw a 30 percent sales increase over last year, forecasts another year of double-digit growth. Sportswear is boosting the company’s fortunes, Isaia said, adding that the firm “is investing more here.” Core seasonal wear, like shirts, apparel and ties, is also performing strongly. Isaia said the company is seeing growth all over the world, with the U.S. market particularly strong. In terms of product categories, shirts have registered the strongest percentage sales gains, he said. The company is looking to expand its retail network, aiming for a New York opening sometime in 2013. Also, Isaia said the firm is working on an accessories project, to be focused on small leather goods and bags. “We want to do something unique [in accessories],” he said.
Following a general trend in the industry, St-Santandrea is also making a push into casualwear. At Pitti, the company launched a line of sartorial jackets with lighter structures. As part of the new casual lineup the house introduced light cotton jeans that can be worn with matching sport jackets to create “a sport suit, which offers better fit and a younger look,” Gianpiero Banfi, the firm’s sales director, said.
Sporty looks are also working well for outerwear specialist Allegri. Andrea Pucci, the company’s worldwide managing director for sales, said the firm has experienced four seasons of double-digit growth, thanks to a strong performance in the U.S. (the company’s second-largest market after Italy), where the brand is distributed in Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Barneys.
Allegri showcased two important innovations, debuting in denim — with a five-pocket, basic-look jean — and in tailored clothing with short, unstructured jackets in natural, ultralight fabrics with stretch elements and slim-line pants featuring sartorial details.
Fellow outerwear company Herno, which plans to open its first monobrand store in central Milan by the end of the summer on Via della Spiga, presented its newest addition to the Dye Tech Project: a lightweight (80 grams per meter) garment-dyed down jacket for spring-summer use, made of cotton or nylon. The coat comes in a variety of colors, and each garment is unique, thanks to a manufacturing process that doesn’t damage the fibers but enhances their original characteristics and gives them a worn look.
The firm also presented a new bonded laser-cut raincoat — available in nine colors, including green, blue, beige, ocher and black — and introduced a light leather jacket, a first for the firm.
With luxe-casual style still omnipresent, it was all about comfort and lightness.
Kiton’s Cipa 1960 line included new 100 percent linen dinner jackets accompanied by knit ties.
For its Sixties-flavored lineup, strong in checks and superlight cottons, Belvest offered double-breasted garment-dyed jersey jackets, aimed at attracting younger buyers. Materials included a light summer wool and a 100 percent woven linen treated so as to give off a wrinkled look. Sport jackets in textured fabrics had a strong, dynamic look.
Accessories added further lightness of spirit to collections. As a fun complement to its Octagon and banana-leaf capsules, Black Fleece worked with Stubbs & Wootton for Black Fleece by Brooks Brothers tasseled espadrilles in navy blue and natural canvas.
Brooks Brothers also displayed new navy blue espadrilles with white anchor embroidery.
Luciano Barbera showcased suede shoes in shades of brown, which, Barbera said, “are best suited to being worn in contrast with smooth, light summer fabrics. Suede shoes maintain excellent opacity and softness.”
Lifestyle continues to be a driving philosophy for contemporary men’s brands. Continuing to flesh out its universe, Jack Spade, which in July in New York will open a new showroom with sister brand Kate Spade at 2 Park Avenue, is entering the swim market with two styles: a trunk and a boyshort.
Having launched with premium swimwear five years ago, Britain’s Orlebar Brown, meanwhile, continues to position itself as a fully fledged resort-oriented lifestyle brand. The label at Pitti introduced a three-piece suit with a pant inspired by its signature tailored swim short, made in collaboration with British tailoring brand Thom Sweeney.
With retailers acting cautiously, midlevel brands are seeing it as a time of opportunity. Looking to crack the European market, first-time exhibitors, swimwear brand Olasul and ready-to-wear men’s label Scott James, both from the U.S., and both offering quality fabrication at attainable price points, feel that they are in the right place at the right time.
Scott James plans to open a Milan showroom in the next couple of months and is scouting out real estate in Europe. “We’re going to get aggressive. We started this brand when the market was down in the U.S., so I think entering Europe now while it’s down could be perfect timing,” said company founder Scott James Kuhlman, who launched the brand two years ago. “I think where we’re positioned, it used to be many years ago when you were a new brand, retailers would go, ‘Oh, I don’t need any newness,’ but today when there are down cycles, that’s when they start looking again, because they want to reinvigorate, freshen up and not be stale, so we think it’s the right time,” continued Kuhlman, who believes “looking at what is happening with Europe,” more partnerships will open up between brands and stores.
Humor, art, storytelling and soul-searching were common threads linking collections of many of the hip young contemporary exhibitors who are seeking emotional connections with their customers.
“We feel that the business is having a tough time, especially in Europe,” said Jockum Hallin, cofounder of Swedish men’s wear label Our Legacy 1980-81, which launched a sneaker line at the event, using materials “in a new and interesting way,” such as a black neoprene style with a calf lining, or another in a waterproof knitted Japanese moleskin that is also used on a jacket in the collection. Youth culture influenced the collection, he said, which featured reversible Smiley cotton sweatshirts, reversible printed denim “band jackets” and tie-dyed prints inspired by Hallin’s teen years in the Nineties.
Highlights at London-based casualwear label Folk included an illustrated “Scary Tale” T-shirt depicting an owl and a pussycat going to sea in a boat full of stolen money bags. The brand plans to give out brass owl key rings and chocolate owls for every purchase of the line’s double-breasted jacket in “bouncy” jersey fabric. Folk’s first women’s collection will enter stores in July.
Swedish label Uniforms for the Dedicated’s new concept was geared around the theme of The Listener, using a gramophone speaker as a metaphor for listening and telling a story.
“In a global world where everything is about updates, retweets and the number of followers on [social media], it is more important than ever to just sit down, dine, have a glass of wine and listen to people’s stories. The art of storytelling is kind of disappearing, and we want to take it back,” said Frederik Wikholm, the brand’s cofounder.
The concept plays out in prints featuring hand-drawn characters, such as “the butcher telling the story of the beauty of slow cooking,” jacquard knits with the gramophone-speaker motif and jacket pockets designed to hold good old fashioned paper documents or “library cards.” The concept also serves as a platform for marketing. Wikholm said the brand plans to make a series of short documentaries about “all the creative processes that go into the collections” — the brand’s sustainable ventures, people that inspire them and Uniforms’ soon-to-be-launched upcycled furniture line made from recuperated wood from the Stockholm archipelago. The furniture will be carried in the brand’s first stand-alone store that will open in Stockholm this August. The label hopes to make its collection fully sustainable within five years “without compromising on design or playfulness,” Wikholm said.
Taking an urban turn, Woolrich John Rich & Bros.’ lineup was gadget friendly. Spring themes included an elegant but functional wardrobe inspired by the idea of the globe-trotting “new journalist,” i.e., the blogger generation. One look, comprising a cargo pant and oxford shirt with zipped side pockets big enough to hold a passport, came accessorized with a hands-free take on the man bag in the form of a slim vest fitted with multiple pockets. The brand also launched a T-shirt line with graphics by cult biker and surfer brand Deus Ex Machina, which also showed at Pitti.
Woolrich John Rich & Bros. parent WP Lavori in Corso, meanwhile, in September during women’s Milan Fashion Week will launch a tome celebrating its 30th anniversary, conceived by the Canadian magazine Inventory.
On the footwear front, as an old English shoe brand, Grenson traditionally has always been known as a winter label. But times they are a-changin’, founder Tim Little said, with “men now going out to specifically buy summer shoes,” as opposed to wearing the same pair throughout the year, as many did in the past. As a result, Little said he is being asked more and more for brightly colored designs.
Catering to demand for more unique, playful creations, the hip shoe brand this season launched a customization service dubbed G Lab that mainly caters to stores that carry their brand. The service allows them to compose and co-brand their own designs using different materials and colorways, choosing from a range of swatches, leather soles and eyelets.
Grenson for spring has also launched a line of four bag styles carrying signature details from its footwear line.
The bags are named after the length of days they would typically be used for, going from a “one-day” tote to a “five-day” weekend bag.
Across brands, there was a shift from pop colors to softer tones, such as sky blue. Orlebar Brown, for its tailored sportswear range, had an “Easter” palette of pastel pink, yellow and green.
At J Brand, brights have been softened. “What inspired me this season is a feeling of calmness and how you interpret that with color and also in general with indigos,” said design director Matthew Saam. The brand launched a selvage slim-fit jean dubbed the Tyler that is designed to sit straight from the knee, unlike the tapered legging effect that has been strong over the past few seasons. The Tyler range featured a striking striped-back selvage style.
G-Star occupied Pitti’s Sala Ottagonale exhibition space for its Raw Denim Dome presentation of its latest contemporary denim collections and Raw Art Gallery exhibit, the latter featuring the brand’s biker-style Elwood jean fitted with pouches at the crotch inspired by medieval codpieces.
Denim veteran Pierre Morisset, G-Star’s longtime head designer, looked back to more distant times for the brand’s Raw Essentials collection that he hailed as a “completely new” direction for the denim world: the revival of the Toile de Chine indigo shade that, according to Morisset, predates denim and was used for workers’ uniforms in ancient times. “They found traces of Toile de Chine in the [tombs] of the Pyramids,” he said.
The new line, which features washed fabrics in dark Toile de Chine indigo, includes pieces directly inspired by ancient workwear, such as a shirt with a round mandarin collar and jeans with antique constructions.
On a roll, Paris-based men’s polo-inspired label Vicomte A., meanwhile, cited strong demand for sporty designs decorated with badges from its Vicomte A. Palm Beach line. The brand, which is distributed in around 400 stores, with about 26 franchised monobrand stores, mainly in France, plans to grow the tally of its own stores to eight, from two, by the end of the year, according to founder Arthur de Soultrait. In terms of marketing events, the brand will dress the Brazilian Olympic show-jumping team, and on July 6 at the Paris Shooting Club will host an event for the 200th anniversary of Gastinne Renette, the defunct historic gunsmith brand that was relaunched by Vicomte as a heritage clothing line in 2011.