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Color and Novelty Spur Interest at New York Market

Men’s retailers are hoping they can continue to shake off the still-fragile economy.

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Men'sWeek issue 07/26/2012

NEW YORK — Men’s retailers are hoping they can continue to shake off the still-fragile economy and that the strong sales they have been enjoying for more than a year will continue into this fall and holiday.

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

Despite daily reports of continued economic weakness in the U.S. and overseas, merchants shopping the New York market this week remained upbeat. Strength in the consumer response to tailored clothing, modern furnishings and updated sportswear buoyed their spirits as they prowled the aisles of Project, ENKNYC, Capsule and MRket for the items to sustain the momentum into next year.

Vibrant color in everything from jeans and polo shirts to lightweight jackets, along with tapered silhouettes and retro patterns in suits, sport coats and furnishings, topped the lists of specialty retailers at the shows, which wrapped up their three-day runs on Tuesday.

“Business is solid,” said Bob Mitchell, copresident of Mitchells Family of Stores. “It’s not gangbusters, but we’re still seeing moderate growth. We expect more of the same going into fall.”

He said the “same general trends” that have been driving sales continue to garner interest. “In sportswear, it’s either luxury or contemporary,” he said. “The middle ground is not seeing a lot of life.”

In the contemporary arena, fashion knitwear is where the action is, while “interesting shirts that aren’t too tricky” are also performing well. Colored bottoms with updated fits, from brands such as AG Adriano Goldschmied, Brunello Cucinelli and Ermenegildo Zegna, are already making inroads for fall, a trend that is expected to continue to spring. “We see that as an opportunity to refresh the casual bottoms business,” Mitchell said.

In tailored clothing, the “early adopters” of the slim suit are clamoring for even slimmer silhouettes, while the last holdouts are finally “making the move.” Jackets are stronger than nested suits, another trend he expects to continue into fall.

“And with the continued evolution of the contemporary market, men are expanding their shoe wardrobe,” Mitchell added. “The days of having a basic loafer and a tie shoe are over. That just doesn’t cut it anymore. With contemporary bottoms, you need a cool sneaker or desert boot to finish the outfit.” Cool accessories are also benefiting from this trend, he added.

For spring, the Mitchells stores were shopping primarily for “interesting knitwear” and “found some updated classics that can sit with contemporary bottoms.”

Kevin Harter, vice president of men’s fashion direction for Bloomingdale’s, said men’s sales momentum at the department store is healthy. “Our priorities are to continue to build on trends, newness and finding new resources,” he said, singling out the Capsule show as the most productive on those fronts. “You could really find newness there and our customers want the unexpected from us.”

Bloomingdale’s is in the midst of revamping its men’s zone and adding several new shops and resources for fall. Harter added his team is looking to trends that bubble up most prominently at popular music festivals like Coachella. “It’s those guys that are at music festivals or hanging out in Brooklyn or in Silver Lake [in Los Angeles] that are having a big impact on style. The street is having a major influence on fashion right now,” he explained.

One complaint Harter had of the week was the glut of shows vying for time and attention, including the new Designers & Agents Man show, which launched this season. “There are too many shows and they are spread out all over town. You want to go to all of them but it’s difficult to see everything in two days. I’d prefer to see them spaced out a bit more,” he said.

While the soft economy is on many retailers’ minds, Ken Giddon, president of Rothman’s, said consumers are still willing to shell out for the right product. “If you build a better mousetrap, customers will beat a path to your door,” he noted, probably referring to the new 11,000-square-foot space his store moved into earlier this year on Park Avenue South. “People still want fun new stuff.”

Swimming against the tide of the slim-fit explosion driving men’s wear trends these days, Giddon was a rare booster of the huskier customer out there. “Everything is getting tighter and tighter and not everyone is a slim fit,” he pointed out. “I’m trying to fit a bigger guy also. And bigger guys often have bigger wallets — and they’re easier to please.”

Steve Potter of Hinsdale Clothiers outside Chicago said his store was posting “historic, record-breaking sales” until Father’s Day and “then the heat barbecued us and the floor fell out of it. But nine days ago it started to recover.”

Since adding Southern Tide to his mix around 16 months ago, and then Vineyard Vines, he said the store has begun attracting a younger customer. “We’re going to be bringing in Hugo Boss on Aug. 1 to give us a third leg up,” he said. “We’re really seeing ourselves change.”

At the shows, he was attracted to the “explosion of color” he saw in every category. He was also pleased with the improved quality and detailing he found in the market. “Soft clothing continues to be important,” Potter said, “and it’s my solemn oath to eliminate every tie over three inches in this country.”

Bob Benkert, owner of the two-unit Claymore Shop based in Birmingham, Mich., a suburb of Detroit, said business remains good. “The car companies are doing well again and sales at the Birmingham store are up 20 percent,” he said.

Benkert said clothing, a mainstay of the store, has transitioned into a custom business and that category is now the single largest seller. Even though it’s become “tougher to sell rack suits,” he said young guys are visiting the store looking for three-piece models, the tie business is up and dressy sportswear is performing.

At the New York market, Benkert said he liked the colorful sportswear from French brands including Vicomte A. and Façonnable, which “now has an American fit.” Both brands offered “great color, and color will be the hit for spring,” he said. He also liked Hook + Albert’s flower lapel boutonnieres as a “fun” add-on. “That’s the reason to come to the shows.”

Ken Gushner of Boyds in Philadelphia said, although the heat and the summer doldrums have taken a bite out of business in the past couple of weeks, business overall has been solid. “The last few weeks have been soft, but that’s to be expected,” he said. “I’m not nervous about fall, per se. Nobody has control over the world, but that aside, if the environment continues to be what it has been, I’m looking forward to it.”

Buoying his spirits is the fact that he’s “seeing more positivity toward clothing, which is the best thing that can happen. And we’re seeing traction in better goods. Sportswear is OK, but we’re up against big numbers from last year, and dress furnishings have been pretty decent.”

Shoes are also performing well and to further spur sales this fall, Boyds is moving women’s shoes and accessories front-and-center in the store and relocating men’s shoes upstairs to a space formerly filled by a restaurant. “We’re definitely focused on growing the men’s shoe business,” Gushner said.

At the shows, he was shopping primarily for bottoms and was planning to increase the amount of denim for spring. “We’ve probably underplayed it for too long,” he said. “Now we’re trying to embrace it. And we’re also looking for any new direction in fashion and fresh items we can add.”

H. Craig DeLongy of John Craig in Winter Park, Fla., said he had “a very good spring. We were up double-digits across the board. The Naples market has really turned around and this is the best and longest season we’ve ever had.” He said his contemporary store, Current, “has hit its stride and is up 40 percent for the year.” He said all classifications were performing well, especially footwear and casual trousers.

At the shows, DeLongy said he came to look for pieces to “revamp the wovens business. We’re changing vendors and price points,” he said. “We’re finding that the best-selling shirts are $150 to $200, so we’re looking to get away from the $100 shirt. We’re trading up.”

He especially liked the new England Shirt Co. and Orlan’s vintage wovens, as well as knitwear from Michael Black Minerals. In tailored clothing, Samuelsohn shined, he said, pointing to the fabrics and price points as the best in the market.

Looking ahead to fall, DeLongy said despite all the media attention on the sluggish economy, “we’re still optimistic going into spring.”

Lee Laughlin, a principal with DLS Outfitters, a buying office, said top spring trends included color in bottoms, pigment-dyed Ts and polos from brands such as Paperbacks. He also singled out the Riviera travel pant as a key item, as well as colorful plaids and washed whites in shirts. “And shoes have become a strong classification.”

 

ENKNYC

The contemporary crowd was well-represented at ENKNYC as brands ranging from Ted Baker to Paige Denim used the venue to show off their spring collections.

Designer Ufuk Arkun was at the show with Benson, his Americana-themed line of men’s and women’s wear. “It’s a casual American sportswear line with a contemporary touch, interpreted in a different way,” he said. “The line is soft, ageless and timeless, but I played with colors and proportions.”

Key pieces included soft jackets in an overdyed paisley print, an overdyed seersucker blazer, jackets and pants in tie patterns and brightly colored shorts. A Fifties-inspired Windbreaker in an assortment of colors and a Vietnam-era combat coat were also offered. Prices range from $55 for T-shirts and $98 for shorts and swimwear to $295 for jackets.

Closed bucked the color trend by focusing on blue denim for its spring collection, a color it believes is making a return. But for those not quite ready to go back to blue, the brand also offered bottoms in colors ranging from mint and yellow to green and beige. It also showed knit blazers, chunky sweaters and chinos. Paige Denim also offered an assortment of colors in jeans for spring, everything from cobalt blue and red to green and rust.

At Will Leather Goods, the Eugene, Ore.-based company mined the Americana theme by offering traditional bandana-printed tote bags that will retail for $95. The pattern is printed on 15-oz. unbleached cotton canvas and the straps are vegetable-tanned leather embossed by a turn-of-the-century machine. They’re available in yellow, tan, navy, red, olive and black. “Bandanas are a piece of American culture and have significant relevance to us because they are reminiscent of the hard work, physical labor and strength that was needed to build our country,” said William Adler, chief executive officer and creative director.

Original Penguin complemented its sportswear offering with a line of premium swimwear that included reversible prints, ombré styles, allover vintage Hawaiian prints and retro engineered stripes. Solids retail for $125 while prints are $145. In its regular swimwear line, the company offered novelty patterns such as an allover penguin print, exploded buffalo plaids and solids with tipping details.

Tracy Watts, a Brooklyn-based hat designer, offered baseball caps made from colorful vintage printed fabrics that will retail for $145. Only 75 pieces of each style will be produced. In addition, Watts showed hats made from Japanese toyo straw that can be folded up and stored but still keep their shape, as well as fedoras with a wind string in a contrasting collar as a design element to add pop to a classic form.

NY Based, a popular line in the Nineties that relaunched for fall under the direction of founder and creative director Christopher Serluco, expanded its collection for spring. Key pieces included knit suits, unconstructed tailoring pieces, dip-dyed sweaters, color-blocked knit shirts, slub linen T-shirts and band-collar shirts.

Ted Baker’s quirky fashion sense was evident for spring with offerings that included a “preppie geek plaid blazer.” A madras blazer featured an elephant on the lining and other models included vintage postcards printed on the inside. “Ted is all about the details,” said Patrick Heitkam, executive vice president of wholesale and licensing. Throwback prints, knitwear with horizontal stripes on Henleys and sweaters, chino shorts and polos with woven collars were in the mix. In tailored clothing, the company offered three collections: the Endurance, a slim silhouette that retails for $695 to $795; the Pashion collection that is more modern and more suitable for evening, and the luxury and “most eccentric” Global collection, produced from Italian fabrics that retails for $1,400 for a suit.

ENK International founder Elyse Kroll said she was pleased with the retail attendance at the show. “There’s a lot of competition and on a beautiful summer Sunday, we had a full house,” she said of the show’s opening day. “The exhibitors are happy so we feel we accomplished our task. We added a lot of footwear and young brands and the retailers were buying. Men’s is all about fun things now, people have adjusted their prices and it was a good, positive show.”

CAPSULE

Capsule again moved to a new venue this season, this time to the somewhat remote Basketball City on the Lower East Side. The cavernous sports facility hosted 220 brands in its 68,000 square feet by the East River, replete with a waterfront beer garden and barbecue area with — in true hipster fashion — a whole roasted pig on display.

Bryan Reynolds, divisional merchandise manager of men’s at Scoop NYC, was on the hunt for footwear and accessories, singling out Rivieras’ footwear and Caputo & Co.’s accessories as highlights. “We haven’t really seen our customer being cautious,” he noted of the retail climate, pointing out that men’s shoe sales are up 45 percent this year at Scoop NYC.

“I think one of the questions for spring is whether the color trend will continue as it has,” he observed. “I thought it was interesting that everyone at Pitti Uomo in Florence this summer was wearing white and cream pants — not color.”

Some of the best denim of the season was at Simon Miller, whose authentic vintage washes and subtle abrasion gave each style the look of a prized pair of worn-in jeans. “We tend to use a heavier-weight denim because we’re going for a more masculine, structured look,” explained designer Jake Sargent. Key styles included 2×1 denim jeans, whose tighter weaves give a more compact feel to the fabrics, and jeans in ecru shades — all of which come in the single, straight-slim fit that Simon Miller jeans concentrates on.

Simon Miller launched its first shirts for spring, in indigo Japanese linen for $285 or plaid Italian linen for $315. The look was straightforward and classic, with the emphasis on fabric appeal, as in the jeans.

Also offering a single style and fit — but in sunglasses — was Westward Leaning. The brand was founded a year ago by Robert Denning and Karlygash Burkitbayeva while the two were still classmates at Stanford Business School. The frames, which are the duo’s own updated take on the classic Ray-Ban Wayfarer shape, are meant to fit a wide range of faces. There are, however, several variations of the single shape, with the frames made in Japan and then decorated on the temple with a stripe of beading, turquoise or elk antler by a lapidary in San Francisco. Selling for $165 to $325, the newest offerings for spring incorporate Eighties iridescent lenses.

Another Eighties touch was used by Los Angeles-based Riviera Club, whose T-shirts sported lyrics by Foreigner or Steely Dan. A sun-bleached peach and turquoise palette pervaded the laid-back “Yacht Rock”-themed collection. That inspiration included cutoff shorts decorated with a jacquard seagull motif, nylon boating jackets with jersey linings and Modal-blend striped tank tops.

The brand had its best-selling season this past spring, said cofounder Joe Sadler, which included its first pop-up shop at Bloomingdale’s in Santa Monica, Calif. Riviera Club is continuing its capsule collection with Lucky Brand into the spring, following its launch in Lucky Brand stores this fall.

 

MRKET

Even the most traditional of men’s brands broke out of the box for spring, embracing the explosion of color and slimmer silhouettes that have transformed the face of the industry over the past several seasons.

The show highlighted updates in dress shirts and neckwear, knitwear and casual pants, along with novelty accessories from a mix of new and more-established vendors.

One of the newcomers was Holebrook, a Swedish company making its U.S. debut. The family-owned company offers chunky windproof sweaters designed for mariners who work on land or sea. Nearly the entire collection had a red, white and blue color scheme, and the brand’s signature wind shirt was priced to retail at $225.

Nat Nast, which is under new management, used the show to introduce its Nat by Nat Nast collection of silk shirts, priced to retail at less than $100. The Nat Nast Luxury Originals flagship line sells for $125 to $200. “They’re sized down, but they’re not slim,” said Sonny Haddad, vice president, noting that the printed silks have been popular with retailers. “It’s the new generation of bowling shirt,” he said. The company also showed its Creations collection, a limited-edition six-piece line of $195 shirts re-created from the original 1946 patterns, complete with reverse pleats on the back and colorblocking.

Gitman Brothers offered matching shirts and ties in chambrays featuring classic patterns such as plaids as well as linen tartans. Neckwear was narrow, averaging 2 3/4 inches in linens, flax and cotton, said Dana Dean, vice president of sales. “It’s new, fresh and current, but it’s not bizarre,” he said. The brand also offered “classic clean looks” in dress shirts as well.

Sweater designer Lenor Romano stepped out of the box with her new line of woven shirts produced in partnership with Indian textile and manufacturing company Pelican LLC. Constructed from 80s two-ply cotton and offered in an array of colors including hot pinks, periwinkle blues, minty greens, Creamsicle oranges and ivory and white, they are priced to retail for just under $100. The shirts feature such unique details as a “smart pocket” that snugly holds an iPhone, as well as a four-panel patchwork and what Romano is calling the “antidork” roll sleeve. “Short-sleeve dress shirts are goofy on men,” she said, noting that when most long-sleeve shirts are rolled up, any contrast pattern on the cuff is obscured. Romano’s answer was to use contrast patterns one-third of the way up the arm.

Lauren Giambalvo of Jack Henry, who started her fashion career as a bespoke suit-maker, has expanded into knitwear and offered lightweight Henleys, unstructured bonded blazers with neon blue linings and piping, hand-embroidered shorts and canvas deck shirts.

Since color was a pervading theme for spring, it wasn’t surprising to see Alexander Julian, who brought his Private Reserve collection. In addition to an array of solids and fancies, Julian showed a line he called “figment prints” that were based on paintings by Claude Monet. “What looks like solids are actually hundreds of colors,” he said of the shirts, which will retail for $175 to $195.

Accessories were also popular at the show. Catherine Zadeh, who had taken a hiatus from jewelry designing for five years, reemerged with a collection of woven macramé bracelets with silver accents, nylon cords, cuff links and stud sets. “It’s not rock ’n’ roll or beads; it’s very European,” she said. Zadeh’s top-of-the-line piece was a buffalo horn bracelet with an 18-karat gold clasp and accents, priced to retail at $4,700.

Tramontano, a Naples, Italy-based leather goods company founded in 1865, showed an assortment of suitcases, briefcases, backpacks, messenger bags and small leather goods, many of which are made to order to a customer’s specifications, according to export manager Alberto Rossetti. The company also offered a travel canvas beach bag in an array of colors for $250.

PROJECT

Half the 150 brands showing at Project New York were new to the show, signaling the strong influx of new players in the contemporary and denim markets despite the uncertain economy.

“The American men’s market is really leading the contemporary trend. There’s more talent in the men’s business now than we’ve seen in 20 years,” said Tom Florio, chief executive officer of Advanstar Fashion Group, which owns Project. “In the economy we’re living in, this category has so much opportunity because it’s well-made, well-designed product at a good price. And it allows specialty retailers to compete with all the designer collaborations that department and chain stores are creating.”

Ken Giddon, president of Rothman’s in New York, praised the graphic T-shirts at Sportique and Paperback, the footwear at Del Toro and the “fun, playful” sportswear at Moods of Norway. “Ben Sherman is making a strong comeback and looks good,” he added.

For spring, Ben Sherman melded its signature British tailoring with jazz-inflected elements, like two-tone brogues, inspired by the William Claxton book “Jazz Life.” Workwear pieces were paired with tailoring, like a military-style parka with glove-leather trim styled with a blazer. Double-breasted jackets with a single pair of buttons were the key silhouette for the season, sometimes matched with shorts. Additional functionality was added with technical details, as in a bonded waterproof blouson in a traditional English tattersall pattern.

While the brand is known for its woven shirts, Ben Sherman is amping up its bottoms offerings on the strength of its expanding EC1 trouser program, items of which retail for $125 to $175. The chino bottoms are available with cinch backs or adjustable side tabs, and in herringbone and twill fabrics. “But we don’t call them chinos. We call it our trouser program — to get away from that J. Crew mentality,” said Mark Williams, global head of men’s wear at Ben Sherman.

Technical influences also permeated the Number:Lab collection, whose signature is the marriage of sport and casualwear. For spring, designer Luis Fernandez started with a tennis theme and offered up jackets in waterproof engineered seersucker as well as nylon Prince of Wales patterns. One M-65-style jacket was fashioned from whisper-thin cotton-silk with a polyurethane coating, and another hooded jacket was made from Neoprene.

Number:Lab partner Greg Lawrence noted that more Chinese specialty-store buyers were shopping Project this season. “You have to go back and do your due diligence on the stores and take a deposit,” he noted of the orders from the unfamiliar shops.

Marty Staff and Bert Pulitzer — the man, not the brand — launched their new Survivalon venture at Project. The company is relying on a single product: the Survivalon nautical jacket. The classic design in water-repellent cotton from 1975 comes in 10 colors, which are produced in a Boston-area factory that once made military outerwear.

A premium line of American-made hats — a sourcing trend that was highlighted in the Made by Project showcase, which put a spotlight on a number of artisanal, handcrafted brands — were a centerpiece of the Goorin Bros. spring line. The collection was previously only available at the company’s 23 stores and is wholesaling for the first time this spring. While fedoras used to be the big seller for the hatmaker, the trend is shifting to duckbills and ivy caps, said Erwin Samson, U.S. and international wholesale manager at Goorin Bros.

Sharp prices and clean, streetwear-inflected designs were the selling point at Southern California denim and sportswear line Comune. Sold out of the Archetype Showroom, the brand offered jeans with subtle washes and finishing at $72 to $98 retail, along with chinos with cargo pockets, fleece and a nylon coach’s jacket for $58. Among the line’s accounts are Nordstrom, Von Maur, Urban Outfitters, American Rag, Ron Robinson and Karmaloop.com.

One eye-catching brand that made its debut at the show was Stolen Riches, which is aiming to make a conversation starter out of an unlikely fashion category: shoelaces. Founded by a former digital-advertising agency owner, David Barclay, the company makes colorful, high-quality laces in 12 colors a season. “If one guy is wearing a Brioni suit and another is wearing a Zara suit with bright red laces in his shoes, you’re going to notice the guy in the Zara suit,” reasoned Barclay, who manufactures the laces in his family-owned factory in Toronto, which has been making laces, ribbons and elastic since 1915.

 

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