LONDON — There’s a quiet revolution afoot on the streets of this city. From Savile Row to the East End, young, independent designers are increasingly turning their backs on traditional ways of selling, rethinking their price points and positioning themselves as democratic brands for style- and quality-conscious men — in a variety of tax brackets.
Designers taking part in London Collections: Men — which this year will be a four-day showcase — have moved out of the high-end luxury space and begun piling into the contemporary one — a profitable and overcrowded market for women’s wear, but a whole new world for a men’s market that has been dominated for years by a handful of names such as Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss, Gant and Hackett London.
Labels such as Agi & Sam, the relaunched Aquascutum, E. Tautz and J.W. Anderson are just some of the London names that are operating successfully in the contemporary area — and they’re not looking back.
“We used to be really expensive, but then we decided to cut our margins and position ourselves at a price point more similar to Acne, and it’s been so good for us,” said Sam Cotton, who cofounded the award-winning label Agi & Sam with Agi Mdumulla.
“It was a necessity for us: It is so hard to compete against the big brands. And in the end, we would rather be selling 30 coats at 500 pounds [$763] than five coats at 1,200 pounds [$1,832],” he said, adding that the label continues to manufacture its line in the U.K., and this season will be working with Italy’s Lanificio F.lli Cerruti for wool fabrics.
The brand, which sells at some 25 retailers worldwide, including Barneys Japan, Matchesfashion and I.T Hong Kong, is moving forward on a variety of fronts. The duo has been mentored by designer Paul Smith for 18 months and is in talks with a licensing company about expanding into the Japanese market. They have also inked a two-year collaboration deal with a major sports brand to be unveiled later this year.
Aquascutum is taking a similar tack with regard to prices. The brand, which has been showing at Pitti Immagine Uomo for the past few seasons, will be stepping into the LC:M spotlight for the first time since it was purchased by YGM Trading in 2012. The collection, by head designer Thomas Harvey, is priced just above Hackett London, with two-piece suits ranging from about 475 pounds, or $725, to 750 pounds, or $1,145, and coats ranging from 450 pounds, or $687, to 1,750 pounds, or $2,672.
The collection also features sturdy outerwear, including reversible raincoats made from bouclé wool and nylon, storm-proof wool parkas, shearling-lined bombers and silk shower-proof trenches trimmed in suede.
“We make very good garments at reasonable prices — it’s who we are. We want to see people wearing our clothes,” said Harvey, adding that all fabrics come from British mills. The brand opened three central London stores last year and is growing its wholesale business in Europe. There are store plans in the pipeline for Canada, while in the U.S., the collection sells at Barneys New York exclusively.
Jason Broderick, fashion director of men’s wear, sports and watches at Harrods, said the store has seen “great results” from the relaunch of Aquascutum. “The brand is not super cutting-edge, but it’s well known, and there is a new energy behind it. That customer is smart and sophisticated and buying brands like Hugo Boss and Hackett.”
Broderick added that there is “big opportunity” for growth in the men’s contemporary area. “There is not a lot sitting in that space. We value that price point. The reality is that Harrods caters to a broad spectrum of customers, and we definitely have clients who buy into that world.”
Patrick Grant, who straddles Savile Row with his tailor Norton & Sons, and the ready-to-wear world with his runway line E. Tautz, knows all about appealing to a broad spectrum of clients — and offering value for money no matter the price point. Grant, who late last year cut the ribbon on the first E. Tautz store on Duke Street in London, said his “engineered basics,” such as chinos which are cut like tailored trousers, are doing a roaring business.
“The whole ethos at Norton’s is that we make the very best suits we can make, and we wanted to take the same approach to a pair of chinos [at E. Tautz]. So they’re heavyweight, with Brisbane Moss best-quality cotton drills and lap seams — everything is just as good as it can be in respect to a pair of chinos. People won’t know how good they were until they get to a point where their normal chinos wear out,” he said.
The price point is 160 pounds, or $244 — the cost of a very average men’s winter coat at a British high-street chain store.
Grant believes that London men’s wear is steadily gaining momentum for a variety of reasons. “It feels very different to be a men’s brand in London now than 10 years ago. There is a refound respect for British men’s wear, not only at the fashionable end, but also in terms of quality and luxury. It’s no longer that only Italy is the best.”
According to Mintel’s latest figures, the U.K. men’s wear market grew by 18 percent between 2008 and 2013 to reach 12.9 billion pounds, or $19.7 billion. The organization expects the men’s fashion market to grow by 27 percent to 16.4 billion pounds, or $25 billion, by 2018.
Thanks to London designers’ creative urges, the contemporary price segment is ever-expanding and does not necessarily have to feature tweed suits, waterproof parkas or luxury chinos.
Jonathan Anderson — who’s been known to deck his male models in dresses and block heels — said his label J.W. Anderson “has always been quite price-driven for men’s. I think men’s wear is more of a price-driven market. But I’ve never gone out to be, ‘This has to be a commercially driven thing.’ For me, men’s has always been a proposition of how to challenge men.”
The designer, who is also building a thriving women’s wear business in the contemporary space, added that his men’s bestsellers include knitwear and jackets. “I think maybe the brand’s got more awareness, and ultimately we have to kind of open up a bit more,” he said.