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From new silhouettes in outerwear and a bevy of English fabrics to graphic prints and leather accents, the opportunities are bountiful for retailers seeking to grow their business this coming fall season.
This story first appeared in the February 19, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Although holiday sales may have fizzled at the end, particularly for larger retailers, merchants are hopeful that 2013 will be a solid year as updated fashions lure customers to stores to update their wardrobes. Men’s wear in particular has benefitted from dramatic changes in silhouette and an explosion of color that has made many guys’ wardrobes look obsolete, a trend that retailers expect to spark additional sales this year.
As a result, retailers heading to the Las Vegas trade shows will be scouring the aisles for tempting items and emerging new vendors to sustain the momentum.
“Men’s had a really good fourth quarter, better than the company trend,” said David Zant, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s for Belk. “And our business is strong out of the gate in February in sportswear, as well as on the clothing and furnishings side.”
Zant said the suit separates business is “explosive,” and is “a real focus for us. We’ve been building it over the past two to three years and we don’t know how big big can be.”
At the same time, dress shirts and neckwear have also enjoyed a significant uptick in sales. In sportswear, anything with color is selling strongly already for spring, including colored denim. Camouflage prints are selling in the young men’s area and shorts are “off to a good start,” particularly traditional flat-front styles in bright colors and cargoes in solids and camo prints.
“We’re very encouraged by what we’re selling,” he said.
The one downside for the second year in a row, however, has been cold-weather apparel and accessories. “It’s below trend,” he said. “We’re just not getting the cold weather in the South.”
At the Vegas shows, Zant said the team from Belk will be shopping to “validate the trends we’re seeing now and to look for newness and new vendors.”
Macy’s is also benefitting from the fashion surge in men’s wear. “Today’s man is more comfortable with newness,” said Durand Guion, vice president and men’s fashion director for the department store. “He understands it and he’s going for it. And the vendor community is feeling the momentum as well, and is providing more newness in color, pattern and fit.”
Guion said the variety of choices now available in the market appeal to both the traditional customer as well as the millennial shopper, 13- to 30-year-olds who spend an estimated $65 billion annually on the types of goods sold at Macy’s. And at the trade shows in Vegas, Macy’s will be shopping for trends “that will resonate best” with those customers.
Among the biggest opportunities, he believes, are camo prints.
“I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface,” he said. “There are so many different colors, scales, patterns — it’s the ideal guy’s print and pattern. It’s strong now, but we think it’s going to go wild.”
And it appeals to men of all ages. “You don’t have to be a kid to wear a faded camo on a short,” Guion said. “But the millennial can wear it in a parka, backpack, sneakers.”
In addition, non-denim fabrics continue to gain fans, Guion said. “It just keep growing and more guys are comfortable with it.” Slimmer silhouettes and a deeper color palette are also drivers in the bottoms category, he added, pointing to slim cargoes with pockets that are not oversize. And in terms of color, wine, oxblood and cherry are the “colors of the season,” and are being used in everything from pants and wovens to knits and neckwear.
“There’s not a lot of that in his closet,” Guion said. “It’s rich and dressy. We’re also loving the deeper mustards and golds. They feel fresh.
“The color message continues to drive the business.”
For the more mature customer, he said, the dress-up trend remains strong. “The suit and dress furnishings business remains robust. The slimmer silhouette is really hitting its stride and also getting him to replace his dress shirts and ties.”
In outerwear, mixed media, real and fake leather, and trim and fabric details are energizing sales, while in sweaters, the shawl collar “will be his piece.” And in a variety of classifications, men have become “more comfortable with pattern. Our guy likes to dress up and we think he will get more adventurous this fall,” Guion said.
Mike Nemoir, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s for Bon-Ton Stores, said the men’s area had a strong holiday and fourth quarter, driven by core furnishings, suit separates and traditional sportswear labels such as Chaps, Izod, Nautica and Polo. Fleece and wovens were strong, while sweaters were soft. Outerwear, too, has been a laggard due to warm temperatures in most markets.
Although the stores are just now bringing in spring merchandise, Nemoir said he was pleased with the performance of golfwear, which Bon-Ton put on the floor in December to capture the vacation traveler. Polos, shorts and pants in performance fabrics have been among the bestsellers, he said.
And he’s upbeat about this year.
“We think we’ll be able to maintain the momentum in 2013,” he said. “There’s newness in most categories and color is dominating the business. That’s the most exciting element of the men’s business.”
At the Vegas shows, the Bon-Ton team will be checking out any trends they might have missed and will be looking for “new resources to add to our matrix,” Nemoir said, particularly in dress furnishings, sportswear, denim and young men’s.
Bryan Reynolds, divisional merchandise manager of men’s for Scoop NYC, said the company’s men’s business “is doing very well.” Business was strong during most of 2012 — up double digits in the fall — until Hurricane Sandy threw a damper on sales. “But we ended up OK for the balance of the season.”
Although the stores are now in clearance mode, Scoop has had some positive early spring sales from J Brand and PRPS denim, along with shorts, swimwear and polos. “The customer reacts immediately to anything new that we bring in,” he said.
For fall, he believes outerwear is “a tremendous opportunity.” Mixed media, plaids, duffle coats, leather coats and bombers will be the key pieces, he said. In bottoms, moleskin, velvet and pinwale corduroy in a variety of colors will be popular, he predicted, along with graphic prints in sweaters and plaid jackets.
Patty Leto, senior vice president of merchandising for The Doneger Group, said retailers reported a bit of a slowdown in sales in January as macroeconomic issues such as the extra 2 percent payroll tax take their toll.
“We’re hearing it from all channels,” she said, “from the off-pricers on up the food chain.” However, there are some encouraging indicators for spring. “Color is selling, there’s been some early selling on shorts as well as textured fabrics in knits and wovens. So they’re feeling more optimistic.”
Tim Bess, men’s fashion trend analyst for Doneger, said there are five big ideas for fall.
“There’s a whole textile takeover,” he said. “Before, it was all about color, now it’s about fabric: quilting, tweeding, lofty knits.”
The second trend is print and pattern, particularly British-inspired fabrics such as houndstooth, Prince of Wales and Black Watch prints, as well as plaid, he said. Third is mixed media, like ethnic prints merged into paisleys and updated camos. Fourth is a trend toward deep, dark colors such as oxblood, burgundy, deep greens and browns and indigo.
The final trend is what Bess called “relaxed refinement. The millennial customer is dressing up, but he’s doing it casually.” He’s looking for a “completer piece” such as a sport coat updated with leather trim or a cardigan with elbow patches.
“We still think the men’s business looks good,” Leto said, “and we feel good about the opportunities. Men’s has been outperforming the store in most cases.”
Bess said the “whole slim silhouette is getting men to come to the store. The younger guy is a lot more fashion-savvy and he doesn’t want to look like his father, who was the casual Friday guy. He wants to look like his grandfather.”
For women’s retailers, the weather has thrown them for a loop.
Galen Hardy, clothing czar at Zappos Merchandising Inc., said, “It was so warm going into Q4 and now it has been so cold across the nation, [so] outerwear is really strong. [But] it is difficult to get a real read on spring.”
Jill Shea, chief merchandising officer at Vanity, the 170-unit retailer based in Fargo, N.D., believes the chilly weather is making shopping cautious. “She has been affected by the weather. It has been much cooler early this spring than last year, so we are seeing a slower start to purchasing than last year,” she said.
With temperatures persistently low, jackets have been popular items at Scoop NYC. Heidi Hoelzer, vice president and general merchandise manager of women’s at the retailer, said, “The number-one growing classification for me is jackets. It finalizes the look for the girl to either throw over her dress or wear with a T-shirt and jeans.”
At Vanity, shoppers have replaced cardigans with alternative items. As Shea explained, “This year, we are seeing her move to jean jackets and denim vests as well as layering pieces — even the sheer shirt.”
Lauren Yerkes, general merchandise manager at e-tailer Revolveclothing.com, shared Shea’s enthusiasm for denim vests and jackets, but added that downsize trenchcoats are also hitting big. “Blazers — not so much anymore,” she contended. “Outerwear for spring is a little bit softer.”
Across apparel categories, Hoelzer pointed to lace and Neoprene as important for this spring. “I’m seeing a lot of printed Neoprene, fitted to the body as well as flared. I see that as a trend for spring and maybe carrying over into fall in new classifications,” she said.
In denim, colors were everywhere last spring, but most retailers agreed that they are becoming less significant sales drivers.
“I don’t see it being as strong [as] last spring. The market got flooded with colored denim,” said Hardy of Zappos. “I think you are seeing interesting patterns and also a move away from denim and a move into pants. You are seeing more of the sportswear-inspired pieces that are a little bit dressier.”
Lady Fuller, president of 18-unit Blues Jean Bar, noticed prints from herringbones to florals taking over for colors in denim.
“Folks pretty much bought their colors last season and are gravitating toward blue skinny jeans and prints to spice it up and go that extra mile,” she said.
Yerkes described colored denim as “soft. We had quite a bit of primary colors at the end of 2012 and the beginning of January. They didn’t take off,” she said. “We brought in a lot of pastels for spring again. Right now, it has been a little slow.” While colored denim has been off, she noted “destroyed, washed” jeans are doing well, singling out a Current/Elliott stiletto style.
At Vanity, Shea said color jeans were never more than window dressing, and she didn’t anticipate that to change. “What I think is new for this year that is not in her closet would be some studding and embellishment, maybe up the side. There will be destruction and denim in the lighter washes, moving more toward the bleached-out look,” she elaborated.
Although the economy is limping along, retailers were predominantly optimistic about the state of business.
“Our business is good right now,” said Hardy. “I’m going to bank on the fact that she [the customer] is confident in what’s out there. She likes what is being presented, and she is going to continue to spend money.”
Revolveclothing.com’s Yerkes said, “Our business is really strong, better than ever. We have been able to really talk to our customers a bit more. We are going to have, I hope, a really strong year.”
Retailers have detected a willingness on the part of shoppers to pay a premium for items when they are unique. Fuller said, “People are spending again, where for many years they weren’t. I don’t see that going away in the near future.”
Yerkes concurred, saying, “Before, they were hesitant to buy higher price points and now that the economy is shifting, people are purchasing those high-dollar pieces.”
At Vanity, Shea was concerned that delays in tax refunds and increases in payroll taxes might make customers tentative about parting with their money. Still, she commented customers aren’t buying the cheapest of the cheap just because they are priced low. She said, “We have the more basic commodity items, but when we add some embellishment on the jeans, for example, she will pay for it. She does know what she wants in terms of trends, and she does want something new in her closet.”
Shea said Vanity’s budget for fall merchandise is at least equal to last year and not being “decreased by any means.” However, that doesn’t mean Vanity isn’t careful about what it is bringing into its stores. She emphasized versatility is paramount.
“Our approach is investing heavily into those key uniform pieces she can get the most wear out of versus being spread throughout in fashion,” said Shea.
And, even as price sensitivity wanes, retailers continue to pay close attention to the price options that work in their stores. At Scoop NYC, Hoelzer would like to find more quality accessory resources in the contemporary price range of $400 to $800 in which Rag & Bone and Marc by Marc Jacobs have been prominent players.
“That is a sweet spot that retailers including myself are looking to fill,” she said.
One positive — and surprising — development at the start of 2013 is the strength of swimwear. Hardy didn’t know what to make of the bump in swimwear. He guessed, “People have wanted to escape where they are at.” Hoelzer thinks it portends well for the rest of the year: “That’s always a good sign — that people are traveling and taking vacations.”