By Luisa Zargani
with contributions from Katya Foreman
 on January 13, 2017
Navigating Change: As the designer merry-go-round slows, business concerns cast a shadow over the Fall European men's shows.

The European fashion industry was in a major state of upheaval last year as big brands were in between designers, changed their top executives or revised their strategies and opted for coed shows. Now that things appear to have calmed down, the impact of all that turmoil will be fully evident at the upcoming men’s shows in Milan and Paris.

This story first appeared in the January 11, 2017 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In Milan, Alessandro Sartori will launch his first collection for Ermenegildo Zegna on Jan. 13, starting the week, and Guillaume Meilland will show his first efforts as director of men’s wear for Salvatore Ferragamo under new chief executive officer Eraldo Poletto on Jan. 15. And Jeremy Scott will present his first men’s collection for Moschino on Jan. 14.

After Consuelo Castiglioni’s surprise exit in October from the company she founded, new creative director Francesco Risso will unveil his vision for Marni. Men’s wear brands Corneliani, Boglioli and Pal Zileri will start the year with presentations under new ceo’s — Paolo Roviera, Andrea Perrone and Giovanni Mannucci, respectively.

Two major brands — Bottega Veneta, under new ceo Claus Dietrich Lahrs, and Gucci — will skip the January calendar to each stage their first coed shows in February. Meanwhile, Dsquared2 will combine its men’s and women’s collections and show them together on Jan. 15.

The Roberto Cavalli company is in the midst of a reorganization helmed by ceo Gian Giacomo Ferraris, which led Peter Dundas to exit last year, and the brand is sitting out this season.

Giorgio Armani is once again closing the week on Jan. 17, but ahead of his namesake show the designer will allow three young designer brands — Yoshio Kubo, Moto Guo and Consistence — to present their collections at his headquarters.

And those are just the changes on the men’s fashion calendar. The fashion season begins at a time when Italy continues to grapple with lackluster consumer confidence and high unemployment. According to Focus-economics.com, in 2017, “Italy’s economic growth should broadly mirror this year’s subdued performance, as stronger growth in exports is expected to offset weaker domestic demand. Nevertheless, Italy remains exposed to internal and external risks: a worsening in the conditions of the banking sector and a weaker global environment represent the main downside risks to growth.”

Analysts, the site said, expect the Italian economy to expand 0.8 percent in 2017.

Then there’s all the political upheaval.

In December, Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella appointed former Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni as the country’s new prime minister, following the resignation of fashion industry favorite Matteo Renzi in the wake of a referendum defeat. Renzi had been promoting a referendum to vote on a change in the country’s constitution, which he claimed would streamline the government’s decisions. Renzi, who had vowed to step down if he lost the referendum, took full responsibility for the defeat.

Opposition parties have been lamenting the fact that Gentiloni is entirely aligned with Renzi and that his government mirrors that of his predecessor and are clamoring for new elections. Those will depend on a new electoral law that needs to be approved by parliament.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala, has returned to work after temporarily suspending himself from office as his role as commissioner of the Milan Expo in 2015 was under investigation.

So there will be plenty to talk about as buyers and the fashion press descend on Milan, either directly from abroad or following their sojourns at London Fashion Week Men’s — which is in the midst of its own soul-searching and reinvention — and Pitti Uomo. If the imminent ascension of President-elect Donald Trump, Brexit and the European economy don’t provide enough fodder for discussion during the shows, the fashion flock can always try to figure out the industry’s future direction in the wake of ongoing shifts in consumer behavior that are resulting in store closures, layoffs and cutbacks among magazine publishers.

The Moncler boutique on Via Montenapoleone in Milan.

The Moncler boutique on Via Montenapoleone in Milan.  Clay Rodery

For Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s and Chelsea Passage for Barneys New York, there are a lot of things to think about as the shows begin.

“Clearly there’s a divide in the men’s market today whereby the influence of street and grunge is overwhelmingly successful and is casting a shadow on the luxury sector,” he said. “We can’t forget that the typical corporate types are not running in to stock up on all that destroyed denim, yet it’s these items as well as other casual underpinnings and sneakers, which are still driving the men’s business.

“The men’s industry needs to open up their perspective on potential clients and work harder to satisfy the needs of the corporate sector. There is a big anticipation that with Alessandro Sartori’s return to Ermenegildo Zegna, he will supply the missing link in this puzzle. Let’s hope so because there are many more men out there who need classic modern luxury to match up to their lifestyle and Zegna is the right type of brand to fit the bill,” he said.

Despite all the downer news so far this year, fashion executives tried to look on the bright side, pointing to the weaker euro, which is providing a breather, as well as solid business with the U.K. following the Brexit vote and the reappearance of Russian shoppers, as opportunities for growth this year.

Moncler’s chairman and ceo Remo Ruffini said men’s wear was performing well, although the company does not really differentiate collections per gender. He was especially satisfied with the group’s sportswear items and the Moncler Grenoble line, which is faring “particularly well.”

“We’ve seen great results in all our ski resorts and in particular in North America, in our stores in Aspen, Chicago and Boston,” said Ruffini.

Ruffini has also seen an “inversion of trend” in Russian consumer spending. “Three or four years ago, Russians accounted for between 14 and 15 percent of Moncler sales in some of our European stores. But after a dramatic drop, Russians are shopping again in Europe,” said Ruffini, pointing to the results at Moncler stores in cities such as Paris, London and Milan. “They had probably been worried about the political situation. They had to live with that, but they are now back to enjoying their passion, luxury and food and beverage shopping.”

Even so, Ruffini remarked on the “incredible speed” with which consumers are changing their habits, and underscored the “unexpected volatility — macro-political effects as well as currencies is what changes things from one day to the next.”

While the U.K. was in a lull before the Brexit vote, the region has become a “very strong market,” he added. Since “business is connected to currencies,” with a strong dollar and yen, tourism is suffering in the U.S. and in Japan, with fewer Chinese shoppers in that region, “although things have picked up over the last few months.”

While there was concern that Italy would slow down after the international Expo show in 2015 in Milan, which led to an “extraordinary year,” 2016 was “even better” than 2015, he said.

In terms of retail, Ruffini is focused on the “requalification” of stores in Hong Kong, where the company “did not suffer much.” Moncler will open a flagship on Hong Kong’s Canton Road, which is a relocation from the company’s boutique inside the mall in Harbour City. “This is a new flagship that will be at the level of our New York and Paris units,” he said.

Brunello Cucinelli, founder of his namesake company, defined 2017 as “a year of moderation,” which he views as entirely positive. “After all the recent big changes, also after the U.S. election, we need more courtesy for everyone — balance — also in men’s wear,” said Cucinelli, who does not expect “major changes going forward” and is forecasting “less frenetic purchases.”

Men especially, he said, treasure their apparel, they don’t cast anything away — for example, updating an old jacket with a more contemporary pair of pants and reworking the fit. As he put it, men “hug their wardrobes.”

Cucinelli believes men today don’t want to be dressed in a classic style, but would rather opt for a combination of casual and tailored elements. “Men want to take 10 percent off their age. I am 63 and I try to peel off five years without becoming ridiculous, with a fresher look,” he said. For example, he emphasized the value of a jacket, embellished with prints, mixed checks, micro patterns, mock color blocks, to avoid a “flat” effect.

For fall, Cucinelli will offer jackets with a fitted waist and softer pants with pleats, “the right length, the English way,” he said, for a new silhouette. Shirts will have a denim inspiration. The color palette will include camel, vicuna, browns and touches of orange, yellow and red. Additionally, the company, which is publicly listed in Milan, will debut its online store in January.

In a similar vein, Umberto Angeloni, ceo of Caruso, highlighted “the authenticity of the brand’s message,” as the company gears up to present the third video in the series titled “The Good Italian,” which was filmed partly in Naples. The film will be presented at Milan’s Four Seasons Hotel on Jan. 13.

“‘The Good Italian’ goes beyond the Made in Italy label or the concept of the ‘dolce vita’; it includes culture, history, art, music and food,” said Angeloni, trumpeting the 400,000 views the second film received on YouTube.

For Angeloni, 2016 was not a good year as the company was hurt by decline of the Russian market, although he sees a reverse of this trend in 2017; a tough business climate in the U.S.; the terrorist attacks in Europe, and the changing consumer, who has been “educated to look for discounts.” To counteract these issues, Angeloni is focusing on innovation and pointed to the Gobigold collection, which is made from precious camel hair from the Gobi desert, and the functional, patented pocket square, an “essential accessory for essential things,” embellished with details including feathers that add a touch of individuality.

Mannucci, who succeeded Roviera as ceo at Pal Zileri, will reveal his strategic plans in mid-2017, but emphasized efforts to offer “a contemporary vision” for the storied Italian brand, which is controlled by the Qatar-based Mayhoola Group.

Acknowledging that “the men’s wear arena is quite crowded,” he nonetheless expressed confidence in his team. “The year 2016 was a difficult one, but there is growth potential. After the difficulties in Russia in 2016 shoppers from that country are starting to show up again, probably as an effect of the oil prices or a Trump-driven optimism,” he said.

While admitting brick-and-mortar stores in the U.S. are facing problems, “this does not mean that customers don’t have spending capacity.” While not revealing details, Mannucci hinted at the launch of an online store for the brand. Pal Zileri will hold a presentation on Jan. 15 in Milan.

Corneliani’s Roviera is also working on the approval of the 2017 budget for the company, which is now controlled by Bahrain-based Investcorp. It is expected it will see a deep reorganization and investment in human resources.

“We are transforming the company,” he said. The executive was upbeat about prospects for “quality men’s products with content. I see positive signs, there is still today a desire for products that fortunately we know how to do only in Italy. It’s true that the moment is not easy, but consumers are increasingly more attentive to what they are buying. Authenticity is rewarded.”

Roviera is building Corneliani’s organization in the U.S. and redefining distribution in Russia while investing in Italy. “I want to raise the perception of the brand,” he said.

Lardini will open its first store in Milan, which will also carry the Gabriele Pasini brand, designed by the namesake designer and under the umbrella of the group based in Filottrano, Italy, in the Marche region. This follows the recent openings in Seoul, Busan and Daegu in South Korea, as well as in Xi’an in China. The store will be located in the heart of Milan men’s wear’s street, on 21 Via Gesù, and cover 3,240 square feet on two floors. It will be inaugurated on Jan. 16 with an event catered by the famed Da Vittorio restaurant using ingredients from the Marche region, to support the area that was hardhit by the earthquake last summer.

“This boutique really has a special value for us,” said Andrea Lardini, president of the company. “We had been feeling the need to have a space in the city that is the capital of Italian and international shopping.” The floors are in smoked oak, boiserie is on the walls, and elements include burnished iron and glass. There also will be a special made-to-measure area.

While the Italian fashion industry saw most of the changes last year, the French sector also saw shifts that will impact the men’s shows in Paris beginning Jan. 18.

Some hotly anticipated launches include Pierpaolo Piccioli’s first men’s wear collection for Valentino since becoming the house’s sole creative director in July, that is scheduled for the opening day of the shows. Haider Ackermann’s first effort for Berluti, due to be presented on Jan. 20, is also piquing retailers’ curiosity.

Meanwhile, Saint Laurent this season will not be staging a runway show. A collection will be presented to retailers by appointment.

Street-style fanatics will be disappointed to learn that Russian designer Gosha Rubchinskiy, following his show as men’s wear guest designer at Pitti Uomo in June, will not be returning to Paris this season. Instead, the designer has opted to present independently on Jan. 12 in an undisclosed location based in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea. The collection will nonetheless be available for re-sees to buyers and press at the Comme des Garçons showroom on Place Vendôme from Jan. 21 to 23.

Cerruti 1881, on the other hand, will be returning to the runway to mark its relaunch and 50th anniversary, with a big-bang show scheduled for Jan. 20. “It’s 50 looks, 50 boys, it’s a celebration of five decades of Mr. Cerruti. All of the inspiration came from culling through five decades of archival product and imagery — including his closets,” said chief creative officer Jason Basmajian. “The mood board started with our own inspiration, we’re going back to that slightly cinematic, unstructured, effortless Cerruti elegance.”

Presenting their debut on the official calendar will be Sankuanz, the rising Chinese, youth-infused streetwear label founded in 2008 by Shangguan Zhe, and — closer to home — the New-Gen, Parisian tailoring label Icosae, founded in 2014 by brothers Valentin and Florentin Glemarec.

Promising newcomers due to present during the week include GmbH, the Berlin-based collective cofounded by Benjamin Alexander Huseby and Serhat Isik, and Australia’s Ex Infinitas, a men’s wear finalist in the International Woolmark Prize 2017, due to take place on Jan. 23 at the Palais de Tokyo. Founder Lukas Vincent will present a collaboration with Ugg as part of his Woolmark collection and his fall 2017 line, which will be presented in an independent showroom.

In a global context of economic and political uncertainty, France’s retail scene has seen better days, with a lackluster market impacted by a sharp drop in tourism following the string of deadly terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels and Nice, France; a spate of strikes, and 2016 also going down as the wettest spring on record in 150 years. The looming presidential elections in April and May could add to the slowdown in spending, though men’s wear is showing more resilience than women’s wear.

Sales of men’s wear for the January to November period in 2016 dipped 0.9 percent versus the equivalent period in 2015, according to Gildas Minvielle, head of the economic observatory at IFM. This compares to a 2.5 decrease for women’s wear and a 1.6 drop in total sales for the apparel market.

For Minvielle, the e-commerce channel offers the biggest growth opportunity. Apparel sales online last year in France represented 16.7 percent of total apparel consumption versus 8.1 percent in 2010, he said.

Despite the challenging times, key Paris department stores cited dynamic sales of designer and contemporary men’s wear collections, with the ath-leisure trend continuing to hog the spotlight.

“What we can observe is that the formal part of the market is a little more difficult. It’s a real trend to mix and match the different styles and ath-leisure will continue to be a strong part of the market for the next season,” said Maud Tarena, chief buyer of the men’s department at Le Bon Marché, which counts among new exclusives the fledgling French ath-leisure label GEYM, cofounded by globe-trotting dandy journalist and consultant Thomas Erber.

“All of the tailoring brands are changing their assortments to be in line with this trend, with a strong outerwear offering,” said Tarena adding that for brands such as Zegna and Dior Homme, the store is seeing growing demand for made-to-measure. “It’s a new way to buy a suit,” she said.

Service, retailers concurred, is more important than ever, and with the drop in tourists — especially the Chinese — Paris stores are looking for ways to reach the local male consumer.

“We aim to get the male shopper used to a new level of service using personal shoppers and sales experts. He needs to be reassured,” said Karen Vernet, men’s buying director at Printemps, which at the end of the month will inaugurate a new six-story building dedicated to men’s wear. The building will boast a worldwide exclusive on a made-to-measure service with Levi’s, while for the fall 2017 season, the store plans to double its young designer space, bringing in 80 new brands, she said.

Indeed, with the luxury market showing signs of strain, there’s opportunity for smaller brands with authenticity and a story.

“It’s interesting to see that brands that have substance of quality and consistency of vision can do very well, even in this marketplace,” said Rodrigo Bazan, the recently appointed ceo of Thom Browne. “The consumer is also looking at the smaller, more interesting brands that they maybe hear about through word of mouth. The story and authenticity of the brand is very important, which is something we’re hearing both in the beauty and apparel sectors.”

Bazan cited “strong growth momentum” for the brand built on a “very measured and selective growth over the years.”

“We’ve come out of a very eventful year in 2016 with the U.S. elections, which turned out differently from what a lot of people expected,” he continued. “We can say it was a challenging year. Markets that were very important in the past have been affected by terrorism. Turkey, which has become a very interesting market in recent years, has been seriously [impacted]. But I also want to look at opportunities, there are certainly markets that are doing really well, like China.”

Reinforcing the message of her links to the worlds of art, music and cinema, Agnès Trouble, aka agnès b., who counts David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch among her clients, on Jan. 22 will present her fall collection on a group of personalities including Puerto Rican graffiti artist John Andrew Perello, aka JonOne. The lineup will include a tuxedo dubbed “70 years” in honor of the 70th edition of the Cannes International Film Festival that will be held in May. “I dress many actors for the festival. I’ve dressed [former festival president] Gilles Jacob and I put Jim Jarmusch in a Western tux,” chuckled the designer.

Nicolas Santi-Weil, ceo of Ami, who prior to joining the company cofounded The Kooples, said, “There is a big window of opportunity” for advanced contemporary brands, especially among department stores around the world. “Brands showing a mix of good design and prices that aren’t too crazy, is a real way to attract the customer,” he said.

Santi-Weil said Ami, which generates 80 percent of its sales abroad, with an even split between Europe, Asia and the U.S., is “small but international,” adding: “The market is changing a lot. There is a reshuffling of the cards…with so much potential for the young brands today with the digital offer and scope of partners. We can have access to a wider audience, even if we’re just a small Parisian brand.”

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