Men’s Wear Goes Soft at Pitti Uomo

Cozy sportswear and soft tailored pieces ruled the show.

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Men'sWeek issue 01/12/2012

FLORENCE — Men’s wear’s modern romance with the luxe casual trend is still going strong for fall-winter, with elegant and detailed sportswear/tailoring fusions the prevailing theme at the Pitti Immagine Uomo trade fair here.

This story first appeared in the January 12, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Beautifully constructed evolutions on soft tailoring in natural and warm winter shades such as burgundy, burnt orange and olive green figure among the season’s headlines from the show, which ends its four-day run on Friday.

“I’m loving what they’re calling jersey tailoring, or knit tailoring, a continuation of the soft deconstructed jacket. It’s got the right fit that is flattering and looks sophisticated and tailored but feels as comfortable as a sweater,” said Eric Jennings, vice president and men’s fashion director for Saks Fifth Avenue. “Even when there’s a constructed shoulder, you’ll see a roped effect on the shoulder, but there’s really nothing except for a soft canvas piece, so it’s very soft even though it has the appearance of a tailored piece.”

Jennings said he’ll be stocking up on dress trousers this fall, which were one of the store’s strongest sellers this past fall season.

Jason Broderick, men’s wear general merchandise manager at Harrods, observed a strong presence of premium denim brands at the event — a bit of a surprise considering its sartorial roots. He pointed to the collaboration between Edwin and Yohji Yamamoto as among the highlights. “It was very modern, with Japanese inspiration, monochromatic with great detailing,” he said.

Commenting on how packed and upbeat the show was, Tancrède de Lalun, general merchandise manager of men’s and women’s apparel at Printemps, said the mood was all about cocooning, coziness and comfort, with an abundance of rich fabrics and chunky knits.

With an array of modern interpretations on classic tailoring, the season’s heroes ranged from Aristotle Onassis to Jay Gatsby. The Baz Luhrmann-helmed adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic “The Great Gatsby,” which is due for release at the end of the year, is sure to make a big impact on men’s wardrobes.

Nick Wooster, men’s fashion adviser at Park & Bond and Gilt Groupe, singled out luxe casual pioneer Brunello Cucinelli’s tailoring line as hitting the “perfect sweet spot” between beautiful tailoring and luxury sportswear. In terms of silhouettes, this season’s jackets continue to be slim and either short or long, he said, adding: “Thom Browne and Tom Ford made their marks in the sand.” Still, for Wooster, the “overwhelming item” of the show was outerwear, splitting into two camps — either in great Harris tweeds or technical materials. “It’s the perfect story of old and new.…Men love things with a history and provenance, but there was also this amazing lightweight engineered outerwear,” he said, citing Nanamica’s technical offerings in “beautiful shades of navy.”

Harrods’ Broderick noted an influx of quilting across collections.

Tailoring continues to wield its influence over the sportswear category, with brands using luxury fabrics and sartorial details to elevate utilitarian and sportswear items. Take Boss Selection, whose lineup included a puffer jacket in buttery chocolate leather and a safari jacket which, when opened, revealed a skeleton of traditional suiting details, such as a besom pocket with half moon stitching reinforcements.

Belvest had Mao and safari jackets. “We’re fusing the two universes because people want more comfort, pieces that are easy to wear, that you can wear out to the movies, or whatever. That’s where these items come in,” said Roberta Cocco, the brand’s president.

Engineered Garments displayed coats in soft washed tweed with shawl collars and fastened with tailoring techniques to prevent premature wear. Woolrich John Rich & Bros. presented its Byrd cloth parka in a range of dusty bright hues, including royal blue.

With consumers demanding value and comfort, it’s all about a soft, light, luxurious hand this season. The rich array of materials at play included overdyed cashmere, camel hair, fur trims, peached cotton, flannel and Zegna’s Cashco cotton-cashmere corduroy. “There were interesting fabrics, everyone’s trying to trick the eye,” said Harrods’ Broderick, giving a “flannel look-alike” moleskin at Cucinelli as an example.

“What I’m liking right now is this whole kind of Donegal [tweed effect]. Where everything was kind of marled and marbled last season, there’s a lot more of these kind of colored Donegal flecks and speckles in knitwear,” said Saks’ Jennings, adding that he also liked the evolution of the printed wovens trend, particularly soft, washed Liberty of London-esque micro prints.

“Colorrrr,” he enthused when prodded for other key trends. “The purples of a few seasons ago have evolved into these amazing reds in shades of merlot and oxblood.” Gilt Groupe’s Wooster added: “I saw this amazing petrol green at Zanone — a kind of black, blue and green color. Such amazing colors are especially good for online retailers, with customers going for items that pop out.”

Other trends included double-faced and reversible outerwear, mixed-media outerwear, shawl-collared knits and turtlenecks.

Business was bubbling for a number of accessories brands, such as the trendy British footwear brand Grenson. Printemps’ de Lalun said thick-soled shoes will be big for fall, inspired by Prada.  

Saks’ Jennings mentioned the formal dress slipper in casual fabrications and the hiking boot among key trends, as well as a prevalence of kilties and tassles.

Nigel Cabourn punctuated his collection with a camera bag trimmed with leather straps and a fishing net pocket.

“There’s a huge opportunity with men’s accessories as there’s almost this renaissance going on in men’s wear right now where the young generation is really looking for the nuances of dressing — the small details, the lapel accents, the tie bars, the interesting socks, the way the jacket’s fitting and bags, are selling very well right now, “ said Saks’ Jennings.

Several brands had rounded out their collections with new categories. Tailored resortwear specialist Orlebar Brown, for instance, introduced its first dress shirt and jacket, which was fitted but easy and light and comes in five colorways. The brand also unveiled an Olympics-themed bathing suit range with prints of a gymnast, swimmer and other sports figures.

Jack Spade presented an expanded tailoring element, which was well received by retailers, according to Micah Grossman, director of global sales. “The idea is to offer a full wardrobe,” he said, adding that, with a London store opening in the cards, a few Olympics-themed projects could be in the pipeline. “Our ambition is to become a true global brand through partnerships in Asia and stores in key cities in Europe,” he said. The brand owns seven stand-alone stores.

U.S.-based Gitman Bros. unfurled a range of neckties made with Portuguese flannel and duck and reindeer-motif printed silk. “It’s our first time making silk ties,” said Ryan Metauro, sales manager. “We are filling a void that the customer is looking for.”

Jeff Rudes, chief executive officer of J Brand, which launched men’s wear in 2008, said that by 2013 the label will have a full ready-to-wear men’s line complete with jeans, shirts, slacks and jackets. The brand’s collection of jeans and cotton stretch pants were crafted with detailed stitching and dressy men’s wear patterns such as houndstooth, and rich shades like red desert, evergreen, autumn sun and union blue. In 2011, men’s wear made up less than 10 percent of total sales for the company. J Brand generated around $150 million in total sales in 2011 versus about $110 million in 2010. With a strong presence in the U.S., and distribution in a number of top retailers such as Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s, the brand is eyeing expansion abroad. “We have a full steam engine ready to take on Europe like we did in the U.S.,” Rudes said.

Shifting away from shiny nylons into traditional men’s wear fabrics and sporting leaner proportions, reinterpretations of the puffer jacket were everywhere. Isaia presented a vicunha version, retailing at a cool $15,000.

Cucinelli, meanwhile, showcased a down-filled cardigan. “The nylon down jacket has become boring somehow, there’s a lot of it in the market so I wanted to show something else to the consumer,” said Brunello Cucinelli, slipping on one of the cardigans over a slim suit jacket.

In terms of newsy tidbits, Barbour has collaborated with Paul Smith on a range of outerwear, knits and shirts that will be distributed by the Paul Smith sales force, according to a spokesman for Barbour. The collection includes a Seafarer jacket inspired by an old canvas sail, with cross-stitching on the outside, he said.

Nigel Cabourn said that he hopes to open a monobrand store in New York and another in London by the end of the year. The influential British designer gave visitors to his stand a preview of his latest limited edition tome, “Scott’s Last Expedition, 1912-2012,” which will launch on Jan. 18 at the Bread & Butter trade fair in Berlin, marking the 100th anniversary of British explorer Robert F. Scott reaching the South Pole. “We’re going to build a replica of Scott’s hut,” said Cabourn, who has designed 12 authentic garments, each named after an explorer involved in Scott’s expedition.

British cycling attire worn at the Thirties-inspired Tweed Run charity ride in London in 2009 influenced the waxed cotton-nylon trenches and needle-cord trousers at Henry Cotton’s.

Victorinox, makers of the original Swiss Army knife, teamed up with Christopher Raeburn for another capsule collection, which included seven multifunctional pieces inspired by a Seventies Swiss army field jacket and made with sustainable and recycled materials.

Like the Swiss Army knife Victorinox is famous for, Raeburn’s designs include nifty foldable, compact pieces like a packable vest, which can be packed up in eight steps, and a raincoat that features a stowaway hood, a flashlight and a key latch.

Raeburn, who was recently named the winner of the British Fashion Awards for Emerging Talent, Men’s Wear, has helped Victorinox apparel garner exposure.

In 2011, apparel made up about 6 percent of Victorinox’s total sales. “I want to double this over the next five years,” said Joachim Beer, president of Victorinox Global Fashion & Retail. Beer added that Victorinox has signed a contract with Raeburn for all of 2012, to continue consulting with the brand’s internal design team, as well as to conceive fresh capsule collections.

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