An array of appealing items for spring on display at the New York trade shows this week buoyed retailers’ optimism that the momentum in men’s wear will roll on.
This story first appeared in the July 21, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“There are so many great looks, you have to decide what your store will represent,” said David Rubenstein, of Rubensteins in New Orleans. His wife and sportswear buyer, Nikki, added: “You can buy items so you don’t look like everyone else.”
For the most part, retailers were upbeat, as their sales have picked up in the past couple of months. The strong showing is giving them hope that, despite some economic concerns, shoppers will continue to visit their stores this fall and holiday in a quest to update their wardrobes.
“We’re looking for new concepts that seem unexpected but familiar — interesting clothes with a lot of character,” said Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager for men’s at Barneys New York. Among the brands that Barneys picked up at Capsule for spring were Ovadia & Sons and Ian Velardi.
There are concerns. Among the issues Kalenderian pointed to as roiling the market was the explosion of e-commerce sites. “There are too many Web sites, and I think it’s overexposing some brands too early. There’s a value in a planned strategy for distribution and growth and thinking about a long-term plan,” said Kalenderian, who has a stake in keeping hot new brands within the Barneys fold. “I think the customer ultimately gets bored with brands that become overexposed. There’s no mystique.”
Maurice Cohen, of Sams in Livingston, N.J., liked what he saw at the shows. “When vendors have great stuff to show, it usually means you’ll have a good season,” he said, noting that the store is doing well with tailored clothing and seeing strength in custom suits and shirts. “January, February and March were terrible, but business now is not bad,” he said.
For spring, he said the men’s market is “a little more exciting than it used to be,” and he liked the looks of Hiltl and James Campbell, which is skewed more toward an older customer, this season. In addition, he singled out TailorByrd for its updated shirts and said he “loved Margaritaville. They have a cotton gauze fabric that is great and the product is at a good price point.”
Dana Katz, of Miltons in Massachusetts, pointed to Victorinox and Tallia Orange’s double-breasted cotton sport coats as potential opportunities. “I’m looking for something new and different,” he said. “You can’t just tweak what you did last year and expect the customer to be moved by it.”
David Rubenstein said he was steering clear of denim jeans this time, since the category has slowed down. Instead, he was lured by the preppy and retro influences that he saw in sportswear. In clothing, he expects the influx of color to help boost sales in that category.
Tim Ryan, of Harleys in Milwaukee, also pointed to the “stronger presence of color” as an opportunity. “We’re a color store and our customer responds positively to it.”
At Project, he liked the expanded denim presentation, and also singled out Victorinox as one of the top vendors at ENKNYC. Bugatchi’s colorful shirts were also eye-catching to him.
“We had a very good spring season,” Ryan said, “although we were disappointed with outerwear. The unique, technical pieces were strong, but not the commodity items. Our clothing, dress furnishings and denim were also strong. So we’re looking for more items — things that have unique materials or components. Even if it’s a white shirt, if it has details we can tell a story about, that’s what we’re looking for.”
Ken Giddon, of Rothmans in New York City and Westchester, said he liked Btns’s “cool short-sleeve shirts,” along with Descendant of Thieves, which had unusual polos and knits. Other interesting finds were Miansai bracelets, sport coats from Cashmere Classics, sport shirts from Rufus, the Zachary Prell collection and shorts from Paperbacks.
Giddon, who is relocating his store on Union Square early next year, said he is “reassessing all vendors” in order to have an interesting assortment when the new location opens in January or February.
Craig Beecroft, of Beecroft & Bull in Virginia, found “a lot of great soft sport coats” in the market for spring. “There’s good creativity out there and lots of color, which is good for a Southern retailer.” Beecroft said the company’s sales are “up a little bit, and we’ve had nice steady growth for the last 12 months, so we feel optimistic.”
From its more traditional Designers Collective to the trend-driven Blue area, retailers had a number of strong brands to choose from at the twice-yearly show.
Parajumpers, a high-end Italian brand of outerwear, shirts, pants and accessories, features designs patterned after the outfits worn by parachute rescue squads, with all the requisite bells and whistles. Its trademark patch, featured on the lightweight nylon or stonewashed cotton jackets, is “That Others May Live.”
Arnold Zimberg, who has a long pedigree in men’s wear, offered a featherlight line of Moroccan-inspired sport shirts at the show. “Men’s shirts are strong, but it’s time for a change,” he said. The collection, which has a Bohemian sensibility, was inspired by the beaches of Saint-Tropez and Ibiza and will retail for $195 to $225. Scarves in similar patterns were also offered.
William Rast still had a focus on denim. A variety of washes and finishes with a clean aesthetic were offered, although the company also had a tropical weight wool trouser in a five-pocket silhouette for stores ready to move beyond denim.
Will Leather Goods offered classic Americana-inspired accessories including bags, belts, wallets and cuffs. Bill Adler, founder, said stores have responded to a line of bags that mix leather with vintage American Indian-blanket prints. Australia’s Zanerobe brought its premium streetwear designs to the show and offered a tight collection of retro-inspired swimwear in classic boardshort lengths for spring. Walk-Over, a shoe manufacturer founded in 1758, took full advantage of the heritage trend with its canvas and leather wingtips and dirty bucks with contrasting saddles. In addition to the classics, the brand brought its Vintage collection of military boots and other distressed styles of footwear.
Project New York
The Project New York show doubled in space to two floors and added 60 percent more brands, according to president Andrew Pollard. Apart from the expansion in size, the show added a host of special features — including a showcase of brands handcrafting product on-site, a full working Splashlight photography studio and a nerve center for bloggers to set up shop and report straight from the show.
“An Englishman in New York” was the theme for the upscale Plectrum collection by Ben Sherman. “We are taking the brand in a more premium direction, with better styling and more attention to detail. It’s a complete change for us,” said Pan Philippou, chief executive officer of the London-based brand, which is now targeting 25- to 45-year-olds, versus 18- to 25-year-olds previously. “We spent a lot of time chugging along without changing and looking too much at the past and not enough at the future. We were a Mod brand when we should have been a modernist brand,” he added.
The higher-priced Plectrum line featured knits made in Scotland; coats lined with goose down and trimmed with real rabbit fur, and buttons and toggles made from leather, horn and wood. There were Japanese-inspired open weave knit sweaters with a drapy attitude, nylon trench coats and new EC1 chino shorts in nine colors, at $89 retail, an extension of the brand’s EC1 chino pant.
The retailer Onassis explored its first wholesale opportunities and showcased its price-driven collections to potential accounts. The company opened its first stores in New York and Tokyo this year and has design teams in both cities. With an updated American heritage theme, the collection included denim at $79 to $128, woven shirts at $48 to $68, flannel shirts at $98, chunky hand-knit sweaters for $268, casual blazers starting at $128 and outerwear in the low $300s. The company plans to add a full tailored clothing program next year.
Shorts and tank tops were key sellers at Rogue, according to president Jon McKinney, which has branched out into a full collection since focusing on leathers when it launched. “We don’t have any bright colors. We’re all muted, dusty tones, so even our floral printed shirts and soft lavenders and mint colors have a masculine look,” he explained.
Rogue’s gauzy, lightweight tops, many with scoop necks, are meant to be layered with blazers and paired with a best-selling, cropped-crotch knit sweatpant for a modern look, said McKinney.
Military influences melded with punk and Carnaby Street at Spurr, the denim and sportswear-focused diffusion line from designer Simon Spurr, which was one of the poshest brands at the show. Polos ($95 retail) were adorned with stitched-down epaulettes, and a trench coat with a traditional perforated back was embellished with channel stitching. Dress shirts had contrast stripes on sleeves, a lightweight cotton peacoat was jazzed up with bright yellow taping on the interior and a slim blazer was trimmed with grosgrain and silver buttons.
The NBA has spawned yet another fashion designer: John Salmons, shooting guard of the Sacramento Kings. His partnership with Sherman Brown, a student of the tailoring trade, culminated in the launch of Salmons & Brown. The line of reworked classics included a 1940s-inspired naval officer’s jacket in washed linen, a 1950s-style sailor’s stripe T-shirt, lightweight summer cashmere sweaters, a suede motorcycle jacket and storm trooper shorts.
In accessories, Retro Super Future eyewear launched its first ophthalmic range, as well as sunglass styles printed on the inside with eye-catching, vintage postcard images. Known for its trendy, acetate frames, the Italian company also introduced its first metal aviator styles for spring.
On the denim front, Buffalo was showing boot-cut fits again, with Bloomingdale’s recently asking for a boot-cut program, according to the company. Green, khaki and white denim were also key trends for spring at the brand, which sells at The Buckle, Macy’s, Dillard’s, Lord & Taylor and Nordstrom.
An updated preppy sensibility permeated the aisles at the MRket show at the Jacob Javits Convention Center.
The show’s Vanguards Gallery featured eight brands curated by former Saks Fifth Avenue men’s fashion director Michael Macko. Among those chosen was Rodd & Gunn, a New Zealand-based outdoors-inspired sportswear brand. The company has 42 freestanding stores in New Zealand and Australia, as well as 30 in-store shops at Myer, Australia’s largest department store chain. In its debut American collection, the company showed its classic Rodd & Gunn shirts, trousers, jeans and sweaters — from New Zealand sheep, of course — as well as its more youthful R&G line. The line is also augmented by shoes, bags and other accessories.
Rod Williams, of Rodd & Gunn USA, said the company intends to start with wholesale and expand quickly into retail in the States. “We should have one on the ground in fall ’12 in either Boston or New York,” he said.
Other standouts at the show included Barbour’s Steve McQueen collection, whose sandwashed line of waxed cotton jackets and shirts was inspired by the actor’s love of California and the Mojave desert, and Strong Boalt, a new line of printed boardshorts from Amanda Boalt, who had worked at Ralph Lauren. “They feel modern and a little tough,” Boalt said of the line, which uses patterns inspired by fish, sunsets and other tropical themes. Miansai’s hook bracelets and necklaces; Isaora’s blend of fashion and technology, and Number Lab’s jersey lounge pants and shorts with contrast piping were also strong.
Bills Khakis has moved beyond its roots as a bottoms resource and offers knits, wovens and outerwear with the brand’s unique take on “iconic classics,” according to owner Bill Thomas. “We’ll always have our core product, but we have to evolve and be fresh,” he said. RNG Clothing’s collection of elegant suits, sport coats and seasonal sportswear was another standout.
A slew of new brands launched at the directional Capsule show, ranging from full collections like Ian Velardi, which was picked up by Barneys New York, to Fahlgren ties and Under underwear. Velardi, who earned his stripes in sales for Hickey, launched his collection with low-key, wearable sport coats, denim jackets with multiple pocket details and tennis polos and striped button-down shirts.
Brett Fahlgren, whose day job is executive merchandising stylist on the publishing side of GQ, introduced his first tie collection under the Fahlgren label. The ties, with clever motifs like sharks, eagles, semaphores or bumblebees, are fashioned from English fabrics and handmade in the Robert Stewart facility in New Jersey. “They’re irreverent but not too over-the-top,” said Fahlgren, who designs the ties out of his home in Brooklyn. “They’re three inches in width, which is narrow without being too narrow.” Priced to retail for $98, the first order was from Stag in Austin, Tex. There are 20 styles in the first collection, each available in several colors. The ties will first ship to retailers in January.
Based in London and manufactured in Portugal, the new Under brand of underwear offered up elegant, modern designs in high-quality cotton waffle and mercerized jersey, trimmed in woven chambray and twill. The line was founded by Kieron Hurley and includes briefs, boxers, tank tops, T-shirts and Henleys, with luxury details like contrast woven gussets.
Among the standout collections — and the most high-end — at the show was Ovadia & Sons, which will be available in just four retail stores this fall, including a dedicated shop at Bloomingdale’s 59th Street and the CHCM boutique in NoHo. The line, which is launching with an ambitious range of tailored clothing, sportswear, formalwear, accessories and even shoes — which are handmade in Northampton, England — is the passion project of twin founders Shimon and Ariel Ovadia. The brothers began working at their father’s children’s wear company, Magic Kids, as teenagers and have long been obsessed with men’s wear.
“Other kids grew up idolizing rock stars. We grew up idolizing Ralph Lauren,” said Shimon Ovadia, as he showed off faultless classics like a cashmere/silk dinner jacket inspired by Humphrey Bogart ($3,295 retail); a tuxedo jacket with dramatically wide lapels ($2,500); club collar dress shirts and madras patchwork ties, and seersucker shorts artfully hand-splattered with paint. “It’s timeless classics but with a modern fit. There are elements of English and American style, with some Italian,” explained Ovadia.
Shorts, a hot ticket for many buyers, were trimmed with hand-embroidered flower appliqués and plaid trim at Gilbert and Lewis, named for the main characters in the film “Revenge of the Nerds.” With trim sizing, the brand caters to the Asian market, with club collars and an eyeglasses logo highlighting the collection’s nerd-chic stance.
At Trovata, designer John Whitledge said swimsuits were a strong seller, as were loose-weave knit pullovers and slub cotton polo shirts. “We’ve really upgraded the quality with Japanese fabrics,” noted Whitledge. The company also launched an exclusive collection with Urban Outfitters earlier this year under the Virgin Poets Society by Trovata label.
Fellow California label VBN, or Vicarious By Nature, focused on eco-conscious materials and production processes, using organic fabrics for its stonewashed corduroy jeans, overdyed shirts with sepia tones and bias-stripe pullover sweaters. The company this year tapped John Varvatos veteran Kirk Von Heifner as head designer; the line is carried in about 100 doors, including Neiman Marcus, Kitson and Atrium.
“Retailers have been very price-driven,” said Timothy Heenan, founder of the showroom of the same name, which was showing Vanishing Elephant, Velour and Penny Stock. The last was founded by John Moore, a former creative director at Modern Amusement, and its beach-inspired sportswear played into retailers’ budgets, with shirts at $58 to $78, pants at $70 to $80 and sweaters at $60. With the classic penny loafer as inspiration, each style featured a small pocket encasing an actual penny.