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Joshua Schulman on Bergdorf’s Men’s Wear Push

As men’s shopping habits evolve, the luxe retailer works hard to keep up.

Appeared In
Special Issue
Men'sWeek issue 04/03/2014

Worldly and wired. Expressing personal style and identity through fashion. Shopping categories never shopped before.

That’s a snapshot of the archetypal Bergdorf Goodman Men customer, according to Joshua Schulman, the president of Bergdorf Goodman. “Today’s men’s luxury customer is no longer one-lifestyle-fits-all,” said Schulman. “The captain of industry — he is still our core customer — is thankfully more discrete and chic than the late Eighties. He still wears a suit and tie ever day and requires ultimate sartorial expression. But affluence no longer equals formality.”

Increasingly, men are digging shoes and accessories, and men’s bags are particularly of the moment. “Bags are interesting. There is a definite function,” Schulman said. “Ten years ago, men carried file folders or a note pad. You may still carry that, but today everybody I know carries at least three devices — two phones, an iPad,” motivating men to stow the technology in stylish bags that transcend the functional. “It’s really interesting to watch how guys are interacting with leather goods and buying them often as a symbol of their identity. This has been going on with women for many, many decades.”

In addition, with jewelry, watches, cuff links and belt buckles: Men want it all. “Our men’s jewelry business is very strong right now and it’s very strong at the top of the pyramid,” Schulman said. “When he comes to us, he wants something that he can’t find anywhere else.” Schulman sees men as “collectors,” meaning when they find a new category to shop, “they research it, learn about it and want to collect different versions. Some guys collect watches, some guys collect cars. Now we are starting to see men collect shoes, bags, jewelry and cuff links. That’s very good for business, obviously.”

As men’s shopping habits evolve, Bergdorf’s works hard to keep up. Two decades ago, when the men’s store launched, the presentation was monolithic, formal and focused on pinstripe suits and bold ties. “Frankly speaking, the primary job was just to clear out space for the more productive women’s merchandise” in Bergdorf’s women’s store on the other side of Fifth Avenue, Schulman noted. “The front of the men’s store had this whole feeling of formality, with the best shirtmakers surrounded with the best ties and best cuff links,” including Charvet and Turnbull & Asser.

Eventually, Bergdorf’s got experimental. Artisanal finds from Pitti Uomo and authentic heritage brands were added to the mix up front. A “Euro prep” look with items from brands such as Brunello Cucinelli and Moncler made a statement. “It started just as a sweater or a puffer jacket mixed in with different discoveries in a space lovingly known as ‘the pit’ where we continue to curate brands today. During the 2000s, the team was constantly seeking innovation” and introduced Thom Browne in 2002 and Tom Ford in 2007.

Soon, “we started wondering if we hadn’t evolved enough with the customer” as celebrities like Justin Timberlake and Daniel Craig were pulling off a cool, confident and elegant image as they dressed more casually. “Instead of just one type of customer, we had to think about all of these different types of customers, each one shopping at the pinnacle of luxury and how is he living, how is he shopping today and how have his needs evolved.”

Bergdorf’s created a luxury leather goods and sportswear showcase, putting leather goods up front with a selection of exclusives such as Berluti and the first Goyard men’s shop in America. The original assortment of men’s bags, limited to a few briefcases in black or brown, was transformed into a range of messenger bags, portfolios, backpacks, briefcases — leather goods with lots of style and purposes and designed to carry different devices. “What you put at your front door says a lot about what’s inside the store,” Schulman observed.

Also on the main floor, sportswear expanded, with some artisanal brands like Cucinelli growing up to command shops of their own. “And we didn’t forget the cuff links, the final phase of our main-floor store renovation will be the men’s furnishings complex,” Schulman added.

Among other upgrades seen in the men’s store: a shoe library with exclusives from Berluti and Tom Ford and a full range of lifestyles from John Fluevog to Christian Louboutin, Churches and Jimmy Choo; the second-floor tailored-clothing complex, with the only Berluti and Tom Ford shops-in-shop in New York, along with boutiques for Brioni, Zegna, Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani and others, and a third floor for contemporary labels designed like a residential loft. Marketing evolved, too, by introducing the “Goodman’s” subbrand via new and traditional media. Still ahead, the Goodman’s bar anchoring the second-floor rotunda, which will be evocative of famous hotel bars like the one in Claridge’s in London.

Overall, the store makeover is “inspired by iconic men’s haberdashery stores, but updated for today’s wired and worldly lifestyle…while retaining its sartorial heritage. There’s nowhere else in America where you can find Charvet, Hermès and Tom Ford ties all under one roof. Certainly, we are not forgetting the guy who wants to or has to wear a tie every day.”

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