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LAS VEGAS — The mood was definitely lighter among men’s wear retailers shopping the trade shows here.
This story first appeared in the February 25, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
An uptick in holiday and early spring sales and offerings of truly salable men’s wear at more reasonable prices boosted optimism among buyers at MAGIC, Project, MRket, Capsule and ENK Vegas. Vintage Americana and rugged outdoor-inspired sportswear, nondenim bottoms, chunky sweaters and hybrid outerwear were among the top trends at the shows.
Although retailers were still keeping a close eye on inventories, they opened their wallets a bit to make sure their stores will be stocked for the marginal improvement in business they’re expecting as the year progresses.
“I noticed the tone was much better this time,” said Ken Giddon, president of Rothmans, a men’s specialty store based in New York. “It’s the Darwinian effect of the thinning of the herd. The people who were in trouble weren’t at the shows, and those who survived are in better shape and tired of being down. I know I went there in a much better mood.”
Giddon said he found several interesting items at the shows that he was planning to add to his store for fall. “Our job is to find good product,” he said. “These days, you can get any product at any price, anywhere from Gilt Groupe and Rue La La to Macy’s to the outlets, so great service and differentiated merchandise are what will save the specialty store.”
Jonathan Greller, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s wear for Lord & Taylor, found some patterned sport shirts with “a more modern sensibility” at Project and MAGIC, and was also shopping for T-shirts, which have been strong for the store. “We’re always looking for trends,” he said.
Scott Baskin of Mark Shale in Chicago said he sees “a light at the end of the tunnel.” Shopping Robert Graham shirts at Project, Baskin said the overall men’s market “looks good. There’s lots of fresh-looking, salable product and the prices are pretty good.” He primarily focused on sportswear and denim at the Vegas shows since the tailored clothing business has been more of a struggle for his store.
Retailers seeking to shop the MAGIC Marketplace in its entirety had to split their time between MAGIC Man, which continued its makeover this season with a move to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center alongside sister event Project, and the WWDMAGIC women’s show, Pool and the newly launched FN Platform footwear shows, which were housed at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Chris DeMoulin, president of MAGIC International, called the dual campus approach a success. Although he acknowledged that it may “take a little getting used to,” the consensus after speaking to hundreds of retailers and exhibitors is that the men’s community was happy to have MAGIC and Project in the same place, he said. The shuttle system of buses and limousines that transported buyers between the two locations was effective, he said, and generally took less than 25 minutes.
“We moved nearly 20,000 people back and forth,” he said. “We will do our postshow research, but most of the feedback we got was pretty positive.”
DeMoulin said the dual locations will remain in place “for the foreseeable future,” although he declined to reveal how long MAGIC’s contract is with Mandalay Bay.
The move appeared to underscore the larger sense at the show that the apparel market had changed for the better.
“It turned out to be better than my expectations. Traffic was off, but the stores who came were there to write business and get their assortments all set for fall 2010,” said Larry Trybus, president of suit maker the Trybus Group.
Overall, Advanstar Fashion Group, which produces MAGIC, said it added 100,000 net square feet of floor space this season — a 16 percent increase over last year. The company said there were more than 3,200 exhibitors, 1,300 of which were new.
However, that figure includes all of the shows under the MAGIC Marketplace umbrella. It did not break out figures for MAGIC alone.
At the show itself, vendors showcased special, item-driven product — some at lower prices. In the S.L.A.T.E. section featuring progressive streetwear, Stüssy was celebrating its 30th anniversary with a series of collaborations with complementary brands, such as puffers and parkas with Penfield and a chukka boot with Timberland. For price-conscious shoppers, Stüssy Classics offered 10 to 15 percent lower prices than the main line, with wovens at $49.99, sweaters at $59.99 and jackets for $89.99.
Scott Terpstra, chief operating officer of the Irvine, Calif.-based brand, said the retail climate was warming up. “Buyers are doing more preordering for fall, and not just buying at-once product. That allows us to plan our own business better,” he noted, pointing to corduroy peacoats, fleece crew necks with hunter’s shooting pad details and chambray shirts printed with Buffalo plaid as good sellers.
In the Premium section, the Embellished Man still reigns supreme. Ed Hardy and its myriad of licensees held court, but the brand eschewed the traditional high-voltage runway show on the MAGIC floor and instead showcased the collections in a mock-up of its retail stores. “We wanted to present ourselves as a successful retail concept,” noted Hubert Guez, chief executive officer of Christian Audigier Group, which holds the master license for Ed Hardy. According to Guez, Ed Hardy rings up annual sales of about $1,000 a square foot in each of its 32 U.S. stores, which average 1,500 to 1,600 square feet. The company plans to open eight stores domestically this year.
“We are being cautious. We are not immune to what’s happening in the economy,” said Guez, who said Ed Hardy sales have flattened over the past year, after a sustained period of rapid growth. “We are happy to have our business settle to its natural level. We are a profitable company and do not have to overextend ourselves.”
Other brands in the showcase marched to their own beat. Dockers continued its reinvention and bid to enliven khaki sales. The San Francisco-based company showed premium-priced khakis in sturdy military cloth with lots of attention to finishing that retail for $150. At the more mass level, Dockers showed soft khakis in a range of colors and fits that sell for $30 or $40. The biggest message: cargo pants, which were slimmed up and reimagined for work and weekend. “We feel cargo pants are a major growth vehicle for us this season,” said Matthew Gregory Fior, director of men’s global merchandising. “We continue to work on making khakis relevant to all parts of our customers’ lives.”
DKNY Jeans also unveiled a new direction at MAGIC. “We used to be much more embellished, but we’re going back to our roots and cleaning up and presenting a more layered, complete look,” said vice president of sales Ken Fleishman. The collection ditched graphic Ts for shawl collar sweater jackets, casual blazers, nylon vests, puffer coats, denim button-downs, thermal knits and corduroy bottoms. “It’s more polished for us,” he added.
Over at the streetwear section, Rocawear made a splash by driving its mobile pop-up shop, located in an expandable 18-wheel big rig, onto the show floor. The store on wheels is now following brand founder Jay-Z’s concert tour around the country, giving fans a look at Rocawear’s latest collections. For fall, the line includes a varsity theme, with chenille patches on jackets and sweaters. Black, white and red are key color stories in the lineup — the better to coordinate with sneakers that are popular in that colorway. Plaid flannel, shawl collar fleece and lots of denim round out the Rocawear look this season.
“We’re positive about this year, but not predicting growth,” said Ronnie DeMichael, chief operating and financial officer at Roc Apparel Group, which holds the men’s Rocawear sportswear license. “There’s been price compression over the past two years and a lot of our specialty store base has had to deal with credit issues. So we have to manage every aspect of our business better and work smarter internally. Price value is what continues to sell our product.”
A similar mantra was in effect at sibling brand Artful Dodger, also licensed to Roc Apparel Group, where denim, priced at $68 to $148, was driving sales. “Our denim offers a lot of value,” said Toni Jones, director of sales, pointing to hand-splattered jeans and silicone injection details. “In the past, our denim was collection-oriented, but now we’re pushing it as a stand-alone category, and we think we can tap into new distribution channels.”
At Company 81, senior vice president and division manager David Allaway said the firm planned for a high-single-digit bump in sales this year. The brand opened Downtown Locker Room as a new account, as part of a push to get the prep-inspired line into more streetwear stores. However, Allaway expressed disappointment that some key buyers did not make it to MAGIC this season, including men’s teams from Stage Stores, Peebles and Bon-Ton.
Plaid, military-inspired and Western shirts, at $38 to $42 retail, were trending well for Company 81, as were rugby shirts, marled fleece tops and tricot track jackets. Workwear-inspired denim was tagged at $45, but would sell out the door at $29.99 — a bone of contention for Allaway, who said price erosion was a major issue for vendors. “We need to figure out a way to intelligently raise average unit retails,” he said. “I think retailers are terrified of raising prices, and they have their preset buckets we have to fit into. But let’s give ourselves and our product a little more credit.”
The Men’s at MAGIC section, once home to a wide range of moderate traditional classification businesses, now houses better sportswear brands like DKNY, contemporary collections like Sand, accessories juggernauts like Tandy Brands and an array of island lifestyle brands. Companies such as Go Barefoot, Luau Collection, Jams World, Banana Bay, Mandalay Bay, Bohio and Caribbean Joe crowded one intersection of the show.
“Lots of retailers are looking for this kind of product, especially at a value,” said Amy Hyde, vice president of Caribbean Joe, a license recently picked up by Windpost Apparel Group, the private business owned by the Sweedler family.
Away from the islands, Tumi presented an ever-growing range of outerwear. Hot on the heels of a strong outerwear season — one that still roars on thanks to a cold, snowy winter on the East Coast — Tumi and its lower-price line T-Tech presented items such as wool coats with removable bibs, and technical nylons in puffers and car coats.
“Retailers are investing in more outerwear for fall,” said Stuart Edelman, president of Stuart’s, which produces the Tumi coat lines under license. But he still feels retailers will be undermerchandised. In anticipation, he’s producing an extra 20 percent to support what he sees as a strong outerwear season this fall and winter.
After seasons of price cutting and value boosting, he said there’s more demand for the higher-priced Tumi line, which sells leather and wool coats for upward of $1,000. T-Tech sells wool car coats for $350. “Stores that shied away from Tumi before because of price are now testing it out. It’s a good sign,” he said.