Walk the men’s wear floors of some of New York’s finest luxury stores and what you’ll find is a sea of Italian and French brands.
This story first appeared in the July 15, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Any American designer whose name isn’t Ralph Lauren is often relegated to a lower-profile location, while names such as Gucci, Ermenegildo Zegna, Dior, Brunello Cucinelli and Saint Laurent are front and center. With the inaugural New York Fashion Week: Men’s now in full swing, the accolades for U.S. designers are at a fever pitch. But while American retailers are filling the front rows at this week’s shows, they still seem unwilling to open their wallets very wide to support the U.S. men’s fashion industry.
“The trend today is for everybody to buy European,” said Todd Snyder.
David Fisher, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s wear for Bloomingdale’s, agreed. “Everybody seems totally enamored with French brands these days,” he admitted.
Snyder said when he launched his business, his brand was carried in Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, “but the tide changed and it became all Saint Laurent and Balenciaga.” He attributed the situation in part to the marketing power of the large European labels, many of which are part of large groups like LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Kering. “The big houses in Europe win because they have all the money,” he said. “It’s hard for small brands to compete.”
But Snyder believes all things are cyclical and the tide may be turning again. His line has been picked up by Matchesfashion.com, Liberty, Bluebird and Mr Porter, and because “Europe is one to two seasons ahead of America,” that may bode well for the future of American labels.
Michael Bastian, whose line is carried in Bergdorf’s, Barneys New York and Jeffrey, also looks at it as a cycle. “The retail landscape has changed and we don’t have regional luxury department stores anymore. But the American look never goes away; sometimes we’re just on the back burner. Don’t write us off just yet.”
Billy Reid, who said he has “great support among American retailers,” believes NYFW: Men’s may help raise the visibility of U.S. labels. “This is a great step toward helping all of us make better strides with the retailers,” he said. “In Europe, you go to market and you see the runway show for the conceptual part of the collection, but we haven’t had that here. And that can be very powerful.” While designers might feel neglected by American stores in favor of European labels, the retailers of course disagree.
According to Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director for Bergdorf’s: “Goodman’s has built strong relationships over the years with now well-established designers like Thom Browne, whose first retail partnership was with Goodman’s, as well as Michael Bastian and Rag & Bone, while also nurturing newer entries to the men’s wear world like John Elliott, Orley, Alexander Olch and Public School. American designers have always been a vital and exciting part of our vendor assortment and NYFW: Men’s will only serve to increase their visibility as well as their viability.”
Bergdorf’s sister store, Neiman Marcus, also insisted that it’s high on American labels.
Russ Patrick, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s for the Dallas-based store, said American brands are becoming more important to the store, particularly in the advanced contemporary area, and he believes NYFW: Men’s will give a further boost to U.S. men’s labels.
“The ability to showcase American collections to the press, retailers and our client base is an important vehicle to promote men’s wear and ultimately drive business,” he said.
Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandising manager of men’s for Barneys, said his approach to adding vendors is to source “the new and special from all over the world. Creativity exists internationally and certainly here at home in the USA,” he said. “We pride ourselves on discovering and nurturing talented designers and often many have been American.”
Kalenderian recalled the night he received an impromptu call to see the Greg Lauren collection. “He was leaving the next morning to go home to L.A., but something told me it was well worth the look. The rest is history. I am very proud that Barneys men’s played a role in recognizing the unique talent of this American artist and has enjoyed the benefits of the business it provides. There are many stories like Greg’s with Barneys, illustrating that the quest for talent at home and abroad is part of our DNA.”
Bloomingdale’s Fisher is also proud of his store’s focus on American brands. “We probably have the broadest stable of young designers at any department store,” he said. “We’ve spent an awful lot of time developing Billy Reid, John Varvatos, APC, Public School, Rag & Bone and others.”
He said customers respond to these brands — although not at every branch. “Not every store responds to Tony Melillo,” he said.
Fisher hopes that NYFW: Men’s will help boost the profiles of newer American designers, generating increased consumer demand for those brands. Besides, he added, “It can’t do anybody harm.”