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FLORENCE — Men are in the mood to shop.
Fresh off a buoyant holiday season, that was the message from retailers and brands attending the Pitti Immagine Uomo show here. Buyers at the show, which ends Friday, wielded budgets plumped by nearly 30 percent, which they invested in brands that stuck with a continuation of the trend that did so well last year, notably heritage. The lure of Savile Row also drew buyers seeking brands that channeled a return to British tailoring.
Citing a phenomenal year for men’s wear in 2010, with double-digit growth over 2009, Jason Broderick, general merchandise manager at Harrods, said the store had experienced a return to sartorial dressing. At the show, he especially liked the Hugo Boss Selection collection, Hackett’s Mayfair looks — “British sartorial fitted Sixties-style suits in fabulous Italian fabrics” — as well as the “New World upper casualwear” suits from brands such as Brunello Cucinelli.
“Since this winter, people have felt reassured to start investing again. They’re loosening up the purse strings a little,” said Stephen Ayres, men’s wear buying manager for Liberty. Sales of men’s wear at the store rose 24 percent last year, with strong results across categories.
Following stellar results on men’s accessories in the run-up to Christmas, Liberty in late February will open a new room housing men’s soft tailoring and accessories.
Keeping the ever-more body-conscious — and younger — customer in mind, slimmer silhouettes will be key for suits for fall-winter 2011-12, according to Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s and Chelsea Passage for Barneys New York.
Also citing a strong fourth quarter, with healthy sales of accessories and footwear, Kalenderian said a considerable improvement in tailored clothing — one of the businesses that has suffered the most over the past two years — has had a halo effect on complementary products such as ties. “There is a message in that we have to take the business more toward fashion and less classic,” he said. Kalenderian lauded Cucinelli’s autumnal shades of mink or taupe, “almost cashmere colors,” along with a sunset orange, yellow and denim blues, “so you get this pop of color.”
Eric Jennings, vice president and fashion director of men’s for Saks Fifth Avenue, said that after holding off for a couple of seasons due to the recession, men want to replace holes in their wardrobe, whether for suits or sportswear. Among the main challenges for the sector, however, are the price hikes instituted by vendors following steep increases on raw materials and piece goods, many of which have risen by up to 30 percent. “I think the vendors are very cognizant of [the situation] and will partner with us, and we won’t get sticker shock this season, but it’s a huge factor,” he said.
As royal wedding mania bubbles, the British look proved a key direction in tailored clothing at the show, with a resurgence of rugged, dry fabrics that ranged from Fair Isle motifs, plaids and tartans to herringbones and Harris Tweeds.
“Men’s wear is having a resurgence in high taste. Italian tailors love Scottish tartans and British woolens, and around the world there is tremendous respect for British tailoring. When you think of the suit of armor, the mind goes to Savile Row,” said Kalenderian.
Cucinelli, whose classic oatmeal v-neck sweater was worn by Prince William for the official royal engagement photos by Mario Testino, introduced colored knits inspired by the English countryside at Pitti. Also creating a buzz was British designer Nigel Cabourn’s launch of a three-year collaboration with U.S. outerwear specialist Eddie Bauer. Produced in Canada, the collection includes vests with Harris Tweed inserts and coyote-fur-lined hoods, as well as archive Bauer down jackets in washed leather with Woolrich fabric panels. Retail prices start from around $1,400. Cabourn also introduced a second partnership with Brady bags featuring British shooting and fishing styles pepped up by modern elongated shapes.
Other noteworthy trends at the show included:
■ Vests with bright Shetland knit panels by Jamieson’s at British heritage brand Penfield, along with its fledgling Reworks line offering tailored outerwear aimed at top-tier distribution.
■ Ballantyne’s debut collection under new creative director Yossi Cohen featured tailored, textured and washed knitwear inspired by Scottish landscapes.
■ C.P. Company gave the iconic Goggle jacket a makeover, reworked in British Millerain fabrics to give it an outdoors feel. The brand’s trademark urban jacket styles had a rugged feel with Shetland wool panels, waxed cotton sleeves, resin-coated nylon and cord collars.
■ Isaia introduced a full tartan collection, including three prints that have been registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans.
■ Church Footwear, which will open its first women’s shoe store in London this spring, on New Bond Street, showcased distressed reproductions of classic archive styles, such as the Derby and the Oxford.
■ Barbour launched The Barbour Steve McQueen Collection, honoring the 75th anniversary of the brand’s motorcycle jacket worn by McQueen for his motocross trials in Europe.
■ Mackintosh, which later this month will open its first flagship on Mount Street in London, launched a celebratory capsule line using British fabrics, dubbed 104 after the store’s street number, comprising six iconic pieces over four fabrics. These include a reinterpretation of the duffle coat, in Mackintosh rubber, cotton and flannel.
While the men’s wear business has revved back up to cruising speed, no earth-shattering trends loom on the horizon. Instead buyers cited a continuation on last season’s themes such as vintage, outdoor sports and heritage. Feting its 40th anniversary, for instance, Allegri presented an updated rendition of a trench in water repellent double silk. “There were some amazing Japanese-influenced designers. The Japanese were the ones to bring in this mountaineering trend, the kind of Nordic motif, and to look into the heritage of companies that originated a certain type of jacket, or denim or shoe; they’re hugely influential,” commented Saks Fifth Avenue’s Jennings.
Other key trends cited by buyers included elegant sportswear, with the continuation of the softly constructed knit jersey sport coat; updated, pliable, deconstructed jackets and blazers, and lightweight and functional technical fabrics that carry the allure of classic men’s wear fabrics.
Tightly edited sportswear lines were imbued with a sartorial flavor as deconstructed silhouettes and traditional fabrics proved consumers still have the taste for classic apparel, and covert suits. Americana, buffalo plaids, flannels, chinos and military styles were also still prevalent.
“Cable knits are everywhere,” said Liberty’s Ayres, citing a palette of rustic tones for the season, such as olives and burnt oranges. In terms of key accessories, buyers cited canvas bags with leather trims, mixed media items, accessories for mobile devices and cognac colored items.
Among those signaling a very “techy” season, Hannes Hogeman, buyer and co-owner of online and brick-and-mortar Swedish department store Très Bien Shop, admired Japanese brand Nanamica’s wind stopper duffle coat and tailored jackets with triple-layer Gore-Tex to protect against water and wind. “Men like looking under the hood, they want to know the details and the benefits of these fabrics and whenever there’s a story to tell it’s a huge plus,” said Jennings.
Following a four-year hiatus, Hugo Boss was back at the show with a significantly beefed-up Hugo Boss Selection high-end tailored clothing and sportswear collection, featuring refined details and fabrics, such as cashmere blends and baby camel hair. The line retails 30 to 50 percent higher than the main collection. One showpiece coat was made of the rare yangir goat’s hair fiber.
“It needs to send the message about what we are able to do. Not everybody knows that we have built the talent, knowledge and know-how to go high end.…This is much more about the detail, the artisanal approach to developing a product,” said Claus-Dietrich Lahrs, the firm’s chief executive officer, adding the brand in the second half will introduce a by-appointment, made-to-measure tailored line in certain stores in Europe and Asia, with plans to offer the concept in the United States in 2012. Lahrs also revealed plans to roll out Hugo Boss Selection-only stores, which have already been tested in Singapore, Shanghai and Macau, with plans for a rollout in Asia and beyond.