Saks Fifth Avenue is feeling a wee bit Scottish these days.
The retailer, whose men’s mix is skewed heavily toward Italian resources, is making a shift for fall, shining a spotlight on Scotland within its Saks Fifth Avenue Men’s Collection. It has brought Scottish bespoke tailor Peter Johnston on board to head its custom program, beefed up the offerings of U.K. fabrics and fashions, and even created its own Saks Fifth Avenue tartan. It has also prepared a six-page advertorial for the November issue of Departures to promote the trend.
“It started last fall when Eric [Jennings, vice president and men’s fashion director] and I sensed a movement in the market pointing to a British feeling,” said Tom Ott, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s wear for Saks. “With all the seasonal fabrics — tweeds, plaids, cashmeres — we felt it was the right time.”
Jennings concurred: “The fall runway shows were filled with British influences, even from the Italian brands. And it’s something we haven’t tapped into at Saks.”
So the Saks team took a trip to England and Scotland, visiting tailors on Savile Row, Reid & Taylor and the offices of the Harris Tweed Authority, custodians of the legendary cloth, on the Isle of Lewis.
One find was Edinburgh-based tailor Peter Johnston, who has a Master of Arts degree in men’s wear fashion from the London College of Arts, and who worked at Kilgour and Dunhill before branching out on his own.
Johnston, who has also won the coveted Golden Needle award for tailoring, will travel to the company’s New York, Chicago and Chevy Chase, Md., locations on a monthly basis for private bespoke appointments. “I will be here as much as possible,” Johnston said, “for fittings and Scottish-American marketing events — hopefully every five to six weeks.”
He will be offering suits, sport coats, slacks, topcoats, dress shirts, neckwear, scarves and accessories. Price points will start at around $3,500 for off-the-rack, $3,600 for made-to-measure and $6,000 for full bespoke, Johnston said.
He believes that the time is right now for a U.K. sensibility. “Everything in fashion is pretty cyclical,” he said. “For the past 20-30 years, the fit was very drapy with a soft shoulder. The British look is right for now, the hourglass coat is more slim and fitted and the fabrics — tweed, cashmere, worsted wool — are more in vogue. It’s a great time for us.”
While in the U.K., the Saks team also visited with the Scottish Tartans Authority, which registers and certifies tartans. The group came up with a black-and-white tartan whose history dates to the Highland Guard, or 79th New York, a Civil War regiment from the 79th Street Armory in New York City that marched down Fifth Avenue past the store in the 1860s, Ott said. The tartan will be used on a variety of products, including sport coats.
On Nov. 3, Saks will unveil the full breadth of this thrust with an event focusing on Scottish product at its New York flagship. It will include installations for Peter Johnston and the Saks tartan as well as for cashmere and tweed explaining the process to create the yarns and the history behind the mills.
Ott said Saks expects to continue to highlight Scottish fabrics for spring, using lightweight woolens and cashmeres for suits, sport coats and sweaters, while fall 2012 will have a heavier Scottish influence.
Saks is not the only retailer embracing Scotland this fall. Brooks Brothers is holding a “Highland Fling” at its Madison Avenue flagship on Wednesday, showcasing Harris Tweed fabrics, and is also bringing Steve North, the director of instruction at St. Andrews Links, to the store to provide golf lessons at its indoor PGA Tour simulator.