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MILAN — Men’s wear is expected to continue to grow this year, but with some economic turbulence to contend with around the world, it’s going to take clear vision and razor-sharp messaging to capitalize on the momentum.

This story first appeared in the June 17, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

On the eve of international men’s trade show Pitti Uomo, where several fashion companies are hoping to grab a larger piece of the men’s wear market, Caruso owner Umberto Angeloni struck a cautious note. “Men’s wear is growing, brands that were not traditionally associated with men’s wear want a piece of the pie, and those that are men’s-oriented want to diversify,” he said. “However, we must take into account a consumer who does not believe that a brand is good at doing everything. What does the consumer want? Many are under the illusion that the consumer will take anything from anyone, but that is not so. Authenticity is pivotal.”

Boglioli chief executive officer Giovanni Mannucci agreed, adding that “there is no room for improvisation” and companies “must have a clear vision, identity and positioning. Customers are more prone to follow if you have clear ideas.” Accordingly, Mannucci has been updating and modernizing Boglioli by connecting to its history, its Milanese essence and lifestyle.

According to the Worldwide Luxury Markets Monitor Spring 2014 update presented by Bain & Co. and Fondazione Altagamma in May, men’s wear is expected to maintain its momentum in 2014. Last year, with the exception of tailored clothing in Mainland China, men’s wear outperformed women’s wear. “Brands have increasingly invested in the segment, with dedicated stores, for example,” said Bain & Co. partner Claudia D’Arpizio, touting the “good performance of sartorial, denim and sportswear” versus women’s wear.

Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president for men’s wear for Barneys New York, said men’s wear “has had a consistently strong trend,” and he expects this to continue through the rest of the year and into the first half of 2015.

Kalenderian said “the strongest trend that is stimulating business is the integration of athletic apparel and footwear into fashion collections. Many designers are inspired or influenced by the casual, comfortable men’s wear that emanates from the sporting authorities. Interesting collaborations between sports and fashion continue to interest the client.” He cited the upcoming fall debut of the Westbrook XO Barneys New York collection of athletic-inspired apparel in collaboration with Russell Westbrook, Nike-Jordan and Marcelo Burlon, among others, as an example.

Asked about the store’s budgets, Kalenderian said he was anticipating continued growth in luxury and designer apparel, accessories and footwear, and, in terms of potential adjustments in light of the strong euro, he said the store has “always been sensitive to the price/value relationship for our clients; this will continue to be top of mind as we review assortments relative to the fluctuation in merchandise cost.”

Eric Jennings, vice president and fashion director of men’s wear, home, food and gifts at Saks Fifth Avenue, was similarly optimistic about the men’s wear category. “We anticipate the men’s business to continue to grow in the coming years,” he said. “There are still so many opportunities to take men’s wear to the next level, so we are diving even deeper.”

He said, “One of the biggest trends is the evolution of tailored clothing outside of traditional office wear. We are seeing more collections going after soft casual clothing on the one hand and ultradressy separates on the other.” In terms of color, he said, “There seems to be an overall darkening, but I’m hoping that we see enough lightness next spring. Prints continue to grow in importance, and I’m sure we will see them evolve in really creative ways. And men’s fashion footwear is a juggernaut that can’t seem to be stopped.”

Stephen Ayres, head of fashion buying and merchandising at Liberty in London, said the store is “coming to an end of a successful spring-summer 2014 season with our designer and contemporary apparel and accessories all delivering strong growth versus last year. We adjusted our pre-fall-winter 2014 buys to increase the mix and are benefiting from this now with early fall-winter 2014 sales being very positive, so taking these results into consideration I am going into the second half feeling confident.”

Ayres said that the store’s men’s business “has been incredibly stable and consistent for some years now,” and that for this reason, he believes the division will be “a strong driver going forward. For men’s the collections are always more robust and fare well against seasonal weather, as the staples don’t change too much and tend to be more trans-seasonal than the ladies resort-summer collections.”

In terms of style, Liberty customers are still responding well to color and prints, he said. “Men are more experimental these days, which is great as this allows us to offer a compelling and exciting offer to give the floor a strong personality. The overall aesthetic is more relaxed with casual trousers selling well, shirt sales are hugely up but blazer sales down, which confirms that men are taking a more relaxed approach to dressing,” said Ayres, adding that “overall budgets are up” compared with last year’s, following “a successful spring.”

Franco Pené, ceo of Gibò, which produces collections for Jean Paul Gaultier and Roberto Cavalli, among others, had a different view, noting that the luxury market has generally slowed down in the past 12 months, with tourist flows ebbing in main capitals, the U.S. hurt by bad weather, Asia “not as strong as before” and inconsistent swings in Japan. Larger brands have invested heavily in the opening of their own stores and now “struggle to grow under the pressure of their quarterly reports,” said Pené.

Hence, he contends, there has been a stronger focus on the potential development of men’s wear, after women’s wear was the driver for so long. “Men’s wear traditionally suffers the most when the economy is bad, as it is also the most sensitive to price, so I don’t see this explosive potential, but this category is less developed than women’s and it’s difficult to imagine women’s developing at the same rate as before. In light of the complex and difficult market, everyone is looking for different ways to grow, believing that what has been done until now can no longer generate big jumps.”

No matter, Italian brands are brimming with projects and retail expansion plans and Pitti Uomo is gearing up for a brisk season, chock-full of events and shows. Raffaello Napoleone, ceo of Pitti Uomo organizing body Pitti Immagine, touted “an especially” rich edition and underscored that Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, previously mayor of Florence, will inaugurate the show, proving its “great positivity and energy.” Napoleone believes Pitti Uomo’s strength derives from “its consistency in positioning and quality,” and the fact that it is “internationally strategic on the European and international markets.”

This season, the busy calendar includes Firenze Hometown of Fashion, a full program of events to be held in Florence in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Florentine Center for Italian Fashion.

Marking both the importance of Florence as an international fashion hub — especially for its high-end Made in Italy production — and the relevant role played by the fashion industry in the country’s economy, the Italian government allocated 2 million euros, or $2.7 million at current exchange, to support Firenze Hometown of Fashion.

Ferruccio Ferragamo, chairman of Salvatore Ferragamo, said this will be an opportunity to see a strong group of companies working together with an association such as Pitti Uomo that stimulates new initiatives. Wanting to add its contribution, Ferragamo will unveil the exhibition “Equilibrium” on Wednesday, which celebrates the history of the company by presenting a trademark patented by his father, the namesake founder of the brand. “It’s an insert that strengthened the arch of the foot, bringing stability. We would like to inform the customers, who perhaps are unaware of the techniques behind a shoe,” said Ferragamo.

Asked about a general overview, he said that “when times are complicated, it’s precisely then that a company must engage more to bring better results.” Ferragamo said he was optimistic about a newfound general drive, and “if things the government plans to do will actually take shape. Italy is a fantastic country…some markets slowed down, but other showed good signs, such as the U.S. and Japan.”

Brunello Cucinelli also touted the strength of the American market, which is now the first for his company, accounting for 33 percent of sales. “We treat it as our domestic market. To deal with Dallas or Milan is the same, as the taste is identical,” said Cucinelli. “We sell the same clothes.”

The entrepreneur predicted many more years of brisk business in the U.S., “a country that has always been fascinating. Who doesn’t want to go to America? And now millions of new visitors and potential shoppers will want to go and see the country.” He also expects solid growth in Italy and Europe, boosted by tourists — “as long as we offer special products made by special hands. This is imperative,” he contended.

At Pitti, Cucinelli in January presented a new line of suits, which he noted have been performing well. He said there will be a strong renewal of the pants this season, ironed, with a high cuff and with one or two slim front pleats; a return of the polo shirt and interesting color combinations: African safari camel hues mixed with different tones of blue, or spice-derived colors, including nutmeg and light pepper. “Everything will be lighter, it’s much hotter everywhere,” he added.

To mark Pitti Uomo’s “special year,” chairman Lapo Elkann and his brand Italia Independent return with a limited edition of 60 numbered copies of sunglasses dedicated to Pitti and the city of Florence. Its “marvelous, unique and recognizable” skyline, he said, will appear on the stems of the glasses, in the colors of the city, red and white. Always a believer in tailor-made and personalized collections, Elkann first unveiled the Italia Independent brand at Pitti in 2008. Ceo Andrea Tessitore underscored how the brand will participate with a project that is tailor-made but “democratic” at the same time, as the glasses will retail at 150 euros, or $203 — the same price as its other lines.

“We study, invest in research, beauty and uniqueness, but offer a democratic product,” said Tessitore. “People tend to confuse customization and uniqueness with pricy, but we [strive to show] that luxury is not connected to price. The message is that unique and distinctive luxury production can be competitive.”

The executive said the first quarter was “very encouraging,” as the company expands globally, with France, Spain, Germany and the U.S. “starting to perform.” In fact, the brand is focused on the U.S., with the opening of a store in New York between the end of August and early September. It is also opening an office in Miami and negotiating a potential joint venture with a partner in Brazil to enter the country in the second half. A Paris boutique is also slated for June. “It’s a very intense moment,” he said.

Stefano Canali, general director of the family-owned Canali, also was unfazed by the general lackluster economy, as the company celebrates its 80th anniversary this year with a dinner in a former Milanese Franciscan 15th-century cloister, the Chiostri dell’Umanitaria. At the same time, Andrea Pompilio’s capsule collection for the brand will bow in Milan this season. “There is huge excitement and expectations, and we are fully motivated,” said Canali. “We don’t like these economic cycles, but we’ve always handled them,” pointing to great feedback from the U.S. and the Middle East, as well as Russia, which has not been impacted by the geopolitical turmoil, he said. Nor does the company plan to tweak its prices in the medium term. “You can’t follow these cycles, or you’d be on a roller coaster,” he argued.

Although Italy continues to show no signs of a turnaround, Canali is making a statement with the recent opening of its first store in Rome, covering 3,240 square feet and located on the prestigious Via del Babuino. Canali is also accelerating its growth in the U.S., opening directly operated stores in important locations in that market, as well as China, the Middle East and Europe.

While Canali would not provide a sales figure, he said he was “positive about 2013,” and expressed “great optimism for 2014. We have made important efforts that we strongly believe will bring fruits also in the following years,” he said.

Kiton ceo Antonio De Matteis said the Naples-based firm is expanding globally as well as in Italy. Among recent openings are units in Barcelona and in New York at the Four Seasons Hotel. “We have already presented the spring-summer 2015 pre-collection and it has already received positive response from international buyers. There is a renewed interest in the suit and in the sports looks,” said De Matteis. Kiton has seen “great” feedback on its accessories, too. “After the two flash seasons, we are now increasingly garnering space and a strong personality,” he said. In terms of trends, retailers have been veering towards more natural colors, from beige to green and brown with “small touches of brilliant colors connected to the Neapolitan eccentricity,” he added.


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