With uprisings, political angst and the gilet jaune now the latest streetwear accessory, the upcoming men’s collections in London, Milan and Paris will unfurl against a backdrop of unrest as a populist spirit spreads across Europe.
Another brand of populism is on the rise, too: Fueled by Instagram and other social media, male shoppers are engaged, clued-up and demanding about their fashion like never before, craving newness and in some cases spending more than their female counterparts.
Retailers are part-delighted — and part-awestruck — as they engage with this new male shopper, who can’t seem to get enough of Yeezy limited-edition sneakers, bits from the latest Dior capsule collection or yet another limited-edition T-shirt from A Bathing Ape.
“The young guys are coming in with Instagram, and saying, ‘I need this.’ I don’t think men used to behave like that until very recently,” said Simon Longland, Harrods general merchandise manager, men’s wear, accessories and sport. “It is the power of social media that makes them come in wanting a style from a particular brand in a particular color. It’s like, ‘I want Brand A, Style B, Color D.’ And they have to have that particular one.”
Longland is by no means alone in his observations: “What we are seeing is unprecedented,” said Bosse Myhr, Selfridges’ director of men’s wear and technology buying and merchandising. Myhr said today, consumers have a “heightened sense of awareness” not only about the trends, but about the timing of new product drops and exclusives, which they have come to crave. “First there’s the fashion show, then the pieces go on Instagram, and then they go into the shop. By then, the customer has already made their decision about what they want and the appetite is super-high for new product.”
Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, is witnessing similar consumer behavior on his side of the Atlantic. Pask believes the men’s wear segment is hot right now due partly to “the exponential growth of an interested and engaged customer thanks to the proliferation of, and access to, information and media.”
Men’s wear was one of the highest-performing departments in Selfridges’ Boxing Day sale on Jan. 26. The retailer, which took 4 million pounds in the first hours of the annual event, said men’s wear has been registering “unexpectedly high” sales growth, while women’s and men’s footwear also performed well ahead of expectations.
According to the latest numbers from Mintel and the British Fashion Council, consumer spending on men’s wear in the U.K. grew 5.1 percent to 15.9 billion pounds in 2018. The sector is set to grow by 11 percent between 2018 and 2022 to reach 17.1 billion pounds. Mintel also pointed out that male shoppers are significantly more likely than female ones to have spent more than 100 pounds in a single purchase.
Populism has been sweeping through brands, retailers and design studios, too, with large and small names mixing high fashion with low, tailored clothing with streetwear, all in the name of individuality and self-expression. Brands continue to make their money on T-shirts, hoodies and sneakers. A pin-striped world that was once exclusive is now inclusive — provided that a man has the money to splash on a Dior T-shirt for 410 pounds.
It’s no wonder then that retailers and industry figures are upbeat about the January lineup in Europe. They’re looking to build on already robust men’s businesses and gearing for a string of hot debuts including Hedi Slimane for Celine, Kris Van Assche for Berluti, and Givenchy’s Clare Waight Keller, who will hold her first standalone men’s wear show for the brand.
Pask said the “unprecedented shifts and appointments of designers to dominant houses and brands” have added great excitement and anticipation to the European men’s fashion weeks, with Paris looking especially robust. In addition to the high-profile debuts, he’s looking forward to seeing shows from Takahiromiyashita the Soloist and Mike Amiri, who’s built a multimillion-dollar denim and distressed clothing brand.
Retailers will also be looking closely at Virgil Abloh’s second season for Louis Vuitton, Y/Project’s show at Pitti Uomo in Florence, JW Anderson’s Paris men’s wear debut and Raf Simons’ slot on the official Paris schedule, especially given his abrupt exit from Calvin Klein. “That will be a 100 percent exciting show,” said Stavros Karelis, adding that he expects Simons’ Paris outing to be “a turning point” and a celebration of the designer’s talent.
Karelis, the founder and buying director of Machine-A, the London-based retailer that focuses on emerging and established men’s labels, said his business is booming, with budgets up 15 percent season-to-season. He credits the growth in business to brands such as Martine Rose and Alyx, which have a male-female crossover appeal.
He also said the fusion of streetwear and tailoring by brands such as Y/Project and Delada — and by major names such as Prada, Louis Vuitton and Dior — are drawing a wide demographic. He added that while his customers are investing in a few, bold statement pieces, they’re mostly buying into timeless clothing.
Fiona Firth, buying director at Mr Porter, said the intersection of tailored and street is fertile ground, with customers relishing the freedom to mix things up.
“We have seen now more than ever that men desire versatility with their clothing, being able to mix and match pieces to create more looks and extend the life of their wardrobe,” she said. “Despite there still being an emphasis on casualwear, suiting is definitely back compared to previous seasons as we have seen an increase in sales from our roster of luxury brands alongside our coats and jackets category, which has performed considerably well. Sneakers from the likes of Balenciaga and Nike have been a significant part of our business this year, and some of our best-selling items.”
Firth added that she’s expecting to see even more tailoring for fall 2019, after brands such as Dries van Noten, Lanvin and Acne Studios highlighted it — specifically the double-breasted styles — in their collections for spring. “Sportswear will maintain its importance, as will utility, performance-based apparel which will have smarter fabrics being used in a casual way,” Firth said.
The focus on a new kind of tailoring should also fuel the relaunch of the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned Thomas Pink, which for years had just been about the standard dress shirt, but is now spreading its wings with color, pattern, finer quality — and a lineup of suits and luxe separates designed by John Ray.
In addition to a slick array of shirts, the debut collection is filled with knits in brushed Shetland wool or five-ply cashmere, tailored cashmere jackets and buttery soft corduroy trousers. All of the Pink trousers come with buttons for attaching braces, a Ray signature.
Dunhill, too, is funneling more casual pieces into its offer under creative director Mark Weston, who will show his third collection for the Richemont-owned brand in Paris. In a sign of the times, Dunhill has recently introduced sneakers and footwear such as boots, sporty and formal shoes. Footwear will be a key focus category alongside outerwear and leather, according to the brand.
Selfridges’ Myhr said customers are craving newness — in all forms — whether it’s a Dior T-shirt or a men’s saddlebag from a pre-spring capsule collection, a pair of limited-edition Yeezy sneakers or pieces from A Bathing Ape, which drops a capsule every single week at the store.
“I know the words ‘capsule collection’ are a bit overused these days, but all that means is a desire for consistent innovation and newness from brands and designers. We are now developing a lot of creative directors’ projects, initiating collaborations and really trying to champion working closely with brands to offer our customers new, exciting products every day, all year round,” he said.
A Dior capsule with items including a cotton short-sleeved T-shirt for 410 pounds, logo high-tops costing 730 pounds and a navy blue saddle bag for 1,850 pounds that landed just before Christmas has already evaporated from the shelves, said Myhr.
Selfridges has been using its new 18,000-square-foot space concept space, The Designer Street Room, as a retail laboratory and observation station for the new consumer behavior. The space is operating on a 52-week calendar, which means that no brand needs to commit for very long — and that Selfridges can keep moving brands in, out and around to keep the offer fresh.
Selfridges isn’t the only store that’s basking in the glow of the ultrainformed — and impatient — consumer. Harrods is revamping its entire men’s wear offer as part of an ongoing refurbishment of the store. By 2020, the Harrods men’s wear and sport department will take up the entire second floor of the store, covering 154,650 square feet.
Men’s Superbrands, which covers 40,829 square feet, was the first phase to open late last year and Longland said he’s looking to add a “significant number” of international designer brands for fall 2019.
“I have my eye on some established brands that we don’t have, and also on new, young emerging designers that we want to start to work with and support. I think men’s wear has such an energy at the moment and the shows have become bigger and better, and really special,” he said. “They are more of an event than they used to be. The level of events that the big brands are creating from the shows is an indication of the importance and focus everyone is putting on the men’s business. There is a huge potential for the men’s market.”
Longland isn’t only looking at big brands and big cities: He’s championing the small London designers, too. “The schedule for London allows the young emerging designers to have a very loud voice. We have picked up a couple for spring including Edward Crutchley and Qasimi, and we are intending to add some more for autumn,” he said.