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FLORENCE — As temperatures soared outside, the Pitti Immagine Uomo trade show kept it cool with an eclectic mix of sportswear and tailoring elements. An unusually subdued color palette expressed in prints and innovative fabrics impressed retailers, who were also hot about the prospects for the men’s wear business.
“Prints are very strong and very fancy this season,” observed Hirofumi Kurino, chief creative adviser of United Arrows, noting that they were a good addition to the upper market. “They are seen not only on shirts, but on jackets and trousers, and they sell very well. In Japan, prints were already in demand two to three years ago. It was about time that Europe and the U.S. follow suit.”
Kurino pointed to the comic prints at Gitman Vintage as among the highlights, but said “the most advanced trend is dark color.” “It’s very refreshing to see black being used for summer. Not the 1990s black-black, but made contemporary in lighter shades on linen or cotton with washed effects,” he said.
“Colors are a lot more subtle this season,” agreed Tancrède de Lalun, general merchandise manager at Printemps. “This along with more fitted silhouettes, hidden details and a move away from logos, adds more chic to the collections….We also see a lot of jackets worn with T-shirts instead of shirts for a more casual attitude.”
Take Camoshita, for example. The Japanese up-and-coming brand designed by United Arrows’ Yasuto Kamoshita struck a contemporary note between luxe and casual and scooped the Pitti Uomo Award 2013, collecting laurels for its unique print and textile blends.
Channeling Fifties and Sixties American jazz culture, Camoshita presented a series of casual suits in various shades of blue, blue-gray, rich green and warm brown, from custom-made cotton, featuring toned-down graphic prints and relief textures. While bottoms were loose featuring elastic waistbands, tops were more structured through fitted shoulders.
“There is not much need any more for sophisticated business suits,” explained Kamoshita. “Men prefer lighter, more casual versions which they can wear on a number of occasions, while traveling, going to the beach or to a restaurant.“
Eric Jennings, vice president and fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue, said: “What impressed me right away at Pitti this season was the plethora of new brands and the more youthful vibe at the show. There seems to be a lot of excitement and energy despite the stifling heat.”
For the brand’s debut at the fair, Antonio K. Ciongoli, creative director of Eidos, the new label launched by Isaia, injected a contemporary feel into classic men’s staples, which included a green washed cotton peacoat with an asymmetric cut, a checkered drawstring raincoat and a comfortable blazer in a cotton shirt fabric. Channeling a subtle military theme, Ciongoli reworked cargo pants, moving the lateral pockets up for a more urban and sophisticated effect.
Also among this season’s newcomers at Pitti Uomo was Natural Born Elegance, the luxury outerwear line designed by Julian Cerrutti, son of Nino Cerrutti. Focusing on craftsmanship and high-end fabrics, Cerrutti delivered four styles — a zipped bomber, a sweater jacket, along with a classic and a sporty blazer — all lined in lightweight rich materials treated with innovative techniques, which made them waterproof.
Standouts included a snakeskin-printed cashmere bomber, a nylon and cotton sport jacket lined with printed cashmere and a casual blazer in linen. Cerrutti also used a silk and ramie fabric to deliver a sophisticated bomber with a leatherlike effect and a cool tuxedo jacket featuring the lining in a crocodile pattern.
Other texture innovations were observed at Boglioli. Continuing the company’s search for unconventional products, the Italian men’s wear brand launched the “Pashmina Jacket,” an all-season lightweight deconstructed blazer made with an exclusive superfine cashmere wool, which is usually used for scarves, and introduced lightweight pieces made from dyed mohair.
The company, which according to chief executive officer Giovanni Mannucci is planning to have a store make its debut in Milan in September 2014, is also gearing up to open its first offshore branch in the U.S., called Boglioli USA Corp. “The American market is almost unexplored by Boglioli, so we decided to manage it directly,” Mannucci said. “The U.S. has a leadership in the luxury business, and we believe that the region requires a presence in situ in order to serve our customers more effectively.”
To run the company, Boglioli tapped David Newlove as managing director. The appointment will be effective July 1.
Having his sights set on going west, as well, Christophe Vérot, senior designer of Paris-based swimwear label Robinson Les Bains, made a point of designing a special version of the brand’s best-selling Oxford shorts in custom-printed toile de Jouy for the U.S. market.
“France and the U.K. are still our biggest customers, because our shapes are more fitted and the Europeans are more body-conscious. But now we made the shorts longer to match the American taste,” he said, noting that the brand registered an increase of 75 percent in turnover in the past 12 months. “This season alone we have won 20 new clients.”
Following the trend toward premium swimwear, the brand broadened its offer of prints. “Usually we only have one or two, this time we are presenting seven,” said Vérot, noting he tapped the archives of famous Italian printmaker Ratti, choosing floral and Orient Express-inspired motifs, which among others made their way into a hybrid T-shirt that can be worn on the beach or in the city alike, made from terry with printed nylon sleeves and soft cotton lining. “We sell this model a lot to people who go sailing,” said Vérot, citing light knits as another trend.
“Light summer knitwear is still the strongest category,” confirmed Kurino, predicting the trend would continue throughout next winter, with round-necks having a comeback.
Signaling hybrids as another trend, Kurino noted that while trousers are preferably worn cropped by his customers, men’s jackets were increasingly getting longer, as seen at Japanese KS(S) for instance. “With all this bad weather going on around the world, these coat-with-jacket [blends] are useful. They also look more elegant and mature.”
On the color front, indigo was the buzzword. At Closed, the brand’s signature denim and chino styles upped their ante with a natural indigo dye, which also found its way onto a series of sweats. While the brand made vintage-looking patchwork its leading theme for denim, chinos came in a new cotton fabric, woven with a “military structure” and developed by the German casualwear brand. “It gives a three-dimensional quality to the fabric, it’s more voluminous, but lighter,” senior men’s designer Manfred Wagner said.
The brand made loosely knit long-sleeve shirts from cotton linen blends a topic this season. Being a strong player on the European market, the company is eyeing Asia next. “It’s a strongly growing market for us, Japan and South Korea especially, where people have a sense for quality and detail,” said Closed’s sales manager Nadine Hölkermann, citing a trend toward slim-legged bottoms.
Jennings further observed that while “the camo trend has not gone anywhere,” traditional camo has been combined with other prints, patterns and colors, calling it “camo-fusion.”
Take London-based label Maharishi. Having sensed the influx of camouflages, the brand’s founder and creative head, Hardy Blechman, showcased his recycled military pants, the brand’s signature, featuring soft gray lunar prints, bonsai trees and hinted snake motifs, which were also used on tapered sweatpants and longer slouchy T-shirts. “We totally recut the M65 pants to a slim-fit for a contemporary look,” Blechman said, excited about being back at Barneys New York this season after five years of absence.
“In the U.S., business is picking up again,” he said, adding the brand has done a series of exclusive items for the department store for winter.
Maharishi showcased a line of iPad cases, card holders and bags manufactured from vintage uniforms, featuring handles from recycled military parachute cords for extra street credibility.
Meanwhile, G-Star is pushing hard into the Italian market. The Dutch denim maker has teamed up with Italian A.R.P. retail group to set up 10 monobrand stores in the country. “It’s a three-year plan and we are starting with Rome in August,” said Philip Truyen, the brand’s international account director. “A.R.P. is a great partner. Once they made a decision, they shift gears very fast, and for us a flagship is the best shop window. We have a lot of confidence in the market.”
Truyen said he was also excited to see that while G-Star has traditionally been a “European brand,” it is now showing a positive evolution in Asia, the Middle East and the U.S. “And we see one of the strongest penetrations in Australia,” said Truyen. “Thirty monobrand stores there alone. They love denim.”
G-star is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a key introduction this season, the Type C denim pant available in six washes. Channeling Forties U.S. workmen wear, it features extralarge pockets and 3-D effects giving shape to the legs before being worn. “They twist by themselves while giving you a relaxed silhouette — a very commercial style,” explained Rene Ketting, creative controller at G-Star. Otherwise, Ketting lists straight-leg and tapered among the most relevant styles, “with indigo obviously being our bestseller.”
Thinking outside of the box was Montreal-based luxury accessories brand Want Les Essentiels de la Vie, which for the first time presented its collection in a customized glass garden house outside the pavilion. Playing with optical illusions, the designers used an Italian high-end woven fabric that looked beaded as well as a coated rubberized canvas featuring a leatherlike effect. The designers also reworked a vintage Liberty motif and offered a new take on camouflage with the colorful “Blue Splash” pattern.
Among its wide range of products, Want Les Essentiels de la Vie introduced a style, called Lindberg, consisting of a spacious tote bag, along with a new foldable folio with pockets inside. Following the debut of the bracelets last year, for spring the brand introduced its first range of belts made of woven coated canvas.
Swiss brand Victorinox continued building Protect, its capsule collection designed in collaboration with artist Christopher Raeburn, now the label’s artistic director. This season the subbrand showcased three styles, a vest, a parka and a bomber jacket, all reversible, featuring a water-inspired camouflage print on one side and indigo blue on the other, while a new three-in-one version of the brand’s best-selling explorer shell jacket with detachable vest complemented the offering.
The brand’s sales spiked 25 percent in 2012. “While the U.K. stays our largest single market generating 35 percent of total business, India is the fastest-growing,” said Joachim Beer, Victorinox’s president. “In 12 months we doubled our sales there. It was a real shock to us.”
Europe, on the other hand, is divided, remarked Beer. “We are opening a flagship in Cologne this August, but in the south — and I mean France, Spain and Italy — business is slow. We are sort of under the weather there.” The company, which is set to open seven more stores this year, has focused its expansion plans on Japan and Greater China.
Once again, luxury labels are weathering the choppy economy better than most, with many notching up double-digit revenue growth, sustained almost exclusively by strong exports, while the domestic market remains mired in recession.
Take Brunello Cucinelli. Echoing a sentiment shared by other tailoring brands, Cucinelli pointed to export markets — especially the U.S. and Europe excluding Italy — and foreign consumers traveling to Italy as the drivers of the firm’s sales. In its home country, the firm’s sales are flat, the ceo said — “and that’s good,” he added, pointing out that many firms in the industry are seeing negative sales growth in the country.
For spring-summer 2014, the firm found inspiration in the “Teddy Boy” suburban youth movement of Fifties London. Colors reflected the demand for subdued tones, ranging from dark shades of red to burgundy and purple, along with blackberry, sage, myrtle and nuances of boxwood, royal and navy blue and indigo with overlappings and sartorial details. Cucinelli said for next season, an important novelty is the use of many shades of blue, matched to darker hues, like browns.
The fabric mixes are wool, linen and cotton as well as pure wool for some jackets, which can thus double as outerwear when needed. Garments continue the slim-fit trend, “close to the body,” something particularly important for the jacket, “which can be worn everywhere, in an elegant and sporty manner — even just to go buy a newspaper at the kiosk,” he said.
Barbara Cocco, president of Belvest USA, said sales in the first five months of 2013 in that market — which represents some 25 percent of total turnover — are up by 10 percent on the same period last year and she expects 10 percent growth for the full year. The big novelty introduced at Pitti for spring 2014 is the firm’s new lagoon jacket, in wool-cotton seersucker and with clean lines, while the company has also seen demand increase in the U.S. for linen. “Ten years ago, you mentioned linen in the U.S. and consumers would faint. Now, they are accepting linen a lot more,” Cocco said.
High-end tailor Kiton also took a new turn at linen, blending it with cashmere, which was also mixed with vicuna. Colors for next season include blues, dark and light grays in patterns that “generate movement” on the fabric, including oversize checks and thin pinstripes. Antonio De Matteis, ceo of Kiton, said overall sales in the first five months of 2013 were up by almost 14 percent on the year-ago period.
The company last week opened its first store in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and is scheduled to open two more units by September, one in Astana (again Kazakhstan) and one in Istanbul. Plans call for opening more stores in European cities including Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris and Madrid, while in China Kiton aims to have 15 to 20 stores within three years, the ceo said.
At Isaia, the leitmotif for next season is a reinterpreted military camouflage aesthetic that uses Isaia’s trademark coral design to create a new, playful “coral-flage” pattern applied to shirt and jacket meltons and pants as well as to tailored and sportswear pieces and accessories, like bags. In keeping with the military theme, Isaia uses paratrooper arm patches on leather pieces. The company also showed a refined version of last year’s San Severo superlight, deconstructed shirt jacket with checks and sporting the “coralflage” melton.
Isaia said revenues at the family-owned firm last year reached 32.6 million euros, or $43.6 million at current exchange, from 28 million euros, or $37.4 million, in 2011, and forecasts sales hitting 35 million euros, or $46.8 million, this year. Given the strength of the sportswear collections, Isaia said he’d like to balance the firm’s sales from 30 percent sportswear and 70 percent tailored clothing to 50/50.
Internationally, the company is showing strong growth in Eastern Europe with 10 percent expansion on a seasonal and yearly basis, while Western Europe is up 6 to 7 per cent. In China, the company is “focused on developing increased brand awareness and is looking to expand with some key franchising opportunities,” Isaia said, pointing out that the firm has also identified new retail opportunities, including store openings slated for New York and Tokyo by 2014.
Tom Kalenderian of Barneys summed up the general mood at the trade show as “upbeat,” adding “the Italian suppliers seemed confident and the attendance appeared strong.” Following the prevailing theme, he said he would stock up on more items that are seasonless. “With the climate changes we’ve experienced in the U.S., we put more focus on items that transition seasons,” he explained.