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Men’s Vendors Move Needle at MRket

Exhibitors pushed the envelope a bit, updating their offerings to appeal to a younger customer, or an older guy ready for an update.

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Special Issue
Men'sWeek issue 01/26/2012

Traditional vendors pushed the envelope a bit at the MRket show for fall, updating their offerings to appeal to a younger customer, or an older guy ready for an update.

This story first appeared in the January 26, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“I need to find some things that appeal to a mature clientele,” said Paul Barlar of McPherson’s Men’s Shop in Nashville. “Something a middle-of-the-road guy will buy — something new but not edgy.”

And there was plenty of merchandise that fit that bill at the show, everything from tailored clothing and jeans to cuff links and coats. Case in point was Richard James Mayfair’s more contemporary take on Savile Row classics and Southwick’s unconstructed Harris Tweed sport coats that spoke to the heritage trend.

Rainforest’s fall collection was more rugged this season, especially in its Weekend group, which focused on quilted, waxed and garment-washed coats perfect for retreats to the country or mountains, according to president Jack Wu. The Weekday collection offered coats in functional mélanged fabrics and refined silhouettes, many of which featured Tetra-Heat technology, a waterproof and breathable membrane that retains body heat.

The Vanguards Gallery section of the show featured eight new brands chosen for their modern take on sartorial fashion. Among those spotlighted was William Watson, an apparel industry veteran who has created a collection of men’s wear that is based on classic men’s wear silhouettes done in a modern way. Wool jackets and pants were pieced to create surface interest while a double-breasted silk tuxedo featured a braided goat hair strip down the leg. “I’m trying to do men’s wear with a little bit of a twist,” he said, “but not take it too far.”

Edward Armah, who started his career in men’s wear as a bow tie designer, showed off round pocket squares, his new neckwear collection and his cashmere tartan robe with velvet trim. The collection, which included novelty bow ties that could be worn four ways, leaned toward preppy but “are more aggressive,” he said.

Libero Ferrero, which is based in New York, showed its collection of updated leather goods which included leather briefcases and travel bags sporting Holland & Sherry wool linings, as well as a shearling-lined eyeglass case. Atelier Rotenier made its debut at the show and showcased the “younger brother” of its sterling silver cuff link offering. Although both collections are handmade by Robin Rotenier, the French-born designer and president, the Atelier offering is unpolished, with a duller patina. “It’s perfectly imperfect,” he said. The collection also included a selection of cuff links inset with stones, handpicked by Rotenier, that are designed to appeal to a younger customer.

The HMX Group-owned Worn label was also seeking to attract a younger-minded man with its first full sportswear collection. “The whole concept is washed, casual and outdoorsy,” said Peter Leff, vice president of sales and marketing. There was a heavy cotton canvas field jacket, a “stained sweatshirt” and a cotton fishing vest, along with washed merino wool sweaters and jeans with stretch to appeal to a more mature man.

The brands were hoping to appeal to retailers shopping the show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center this week. Most of the merchants were in an upbeat mood, hopeful that the turnaround they experienced in the second half of last year will be maintained. Although they’re a little uneasy about the current political and economic uncertainty, they remain optimistic and hope that by filling their stores with interesting items, they can lure customers.

“Business has been OK,” said Ellen Levy of Levy’s in Nashville. “But you always have to find something new.”

Tim Ryan of Harley’s in Milwaukee was attracted to the color options he saw on the floor. “I liked the freshness of color,” he said. “We need to get out of the black, blue and gray that’s so prevalent in the fall season and spruce things up.” He also liked the technical attributes he found in outerwear and sportswear. “We like to have something we can talk to our customer about to create excitement,” he said. Ryan added that after a strong fall and holiday, he was “looking for 2012 to be even better.”

Bob Mitchell, co-president of Mitchells Family of Stores, said he was looking for “items that differentiate our assortment,” key classification pieces such as sweaters. “We’re also looking for a better variety of outerwear,” he said. Although the warm weather this year had a negative impact on sales, “I’m still bullish on it. Men are wearing outerwear of all different forms, from dressy to casual to sporty. And it’s an opportunity to sell high-ticket items to men not wearing tailored clothing.” Also on the shopping list were “interesting accessories. All the little things like scarves and cuff links add fun to the assortment, especially for holiday.”

Mitchell, who said his stores had a good holiday, is hopeful 2012 will continue to be good. “I think it’s going to be good, not great,” he said. “There’s still a lot of uncertainty with Wall Street and the political situation, so it’s hard to believe it’s going to be gangbusters.”

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