Among the plethora of trends unveiled on the spring 2019 women’s runways, one of the most unmissable and persistent was men’s wear.
Headlined by Celine — where Hedi Slimane introduced the French brand’s first full men’s offering since it was founded in 1945 — the season saw a host of designers make a similar splash, with The Row, Jacquemus, Tibi, Prabal Gurung and Monse also diving headfirst into a vibrant — and less crowded — segment of the market. And retailers are cheering the moves — and writing orders.
From the designers’ perspectives, getting into men’s wear allows them to flex their creative muscle — and add some volume to their bottom lines.
Gurung said he’s always wanted to launch men’s wear “and now just felt like the right time. We are living in a day and age where traditional roles, genders and identifiers are shifting, and we see more and more men looking for unique and creative ways to express themselves. We are also such advocates for diversity and inclusion, so we wanted to extend our brand offering to be able to include men.”
To be sure, Gurung spied an opening. “I see so much elegant and sharp tailoring in the category, and I also see streetwear. However, I do feel like a rich blend of these two worlds is missing from the men’s wear market, and that’s what we’re bringing to the table. Our collection honors the Savile Row style tailoring, but introduces bright colors, bold prints and some new silhouettes inspired by Nepal,” he said, highlighting such looks as a rose-colored suit, engineered rib-knit tanks and boldly printed jackets and tops.
The Row had only dabbled in men’s wear in the past, and its full collection launches at retail this month, offering a similar aesthetic to its successful women’s collection and centered on tailoring — a classic suit with details intended to be reminiscent of New York in the Eighties and Nineties. Key styles include a single-breasted jacket without back vents and trousers with a long rise and a straight leg. The collection also spans coats, jackets, shirts, knitwear, denim and T-shirts. The tailored pieces are made in Japan, shirts in France, knitwear in Italy and denim and T-shirts in the U.S.
“We did one men’s wear capsule collection many years ago, and in 2016 launched a retail men’s wear capsule. It was imperative that we received our customers’ feedback and to approach this collection thoughtfully at our pace,” said Ashley Olsen.
“The Row’s women’s wear began without doing any press during its conception, sold with select wholesale partners. It’s important for us to do the research. We want to be able to offer the men’s wear market those same core foundation pieces at a luxury level,” added Mary-Kate Olsen.
The collection is being sold at The Row stores as well as at other high-end retailers including Bergdorf Goodman, Montaigne Market, Joyce, Holt Renfrew, Dover Street Market, Barneys New York and Mr Porter.
While Sies Marjan began as a women’s wear line, its creative director, Sander Lak, is a trained men’s wear designer who studied at Central Saint Martens. He started to create the women’s pieces in his own size and wore them around the atelier, which eventually led to buyers, friends and customers suggesting he should present a men’s wear collection. For the spring 2018 show, Lak presented his first men’s looks alongside the women’s looks.
“It was immediately intuitive to show the two collections together,” said Sies Marjan’s chief executive officer Joey Laurenti. “The brand has a strong element of unisex dressing so it makes sense that the collections mesh cohesively in all ways to create the world of Sies Marjan.”
Laurenti said the men’s collection, which is sold at retailers including Matches, Mr Porter and Barneys, appeals to a man who is “looking for an alternative to the streetwear-influenced trends and is someone who likes to get dressed, while embracing unexpected elements of fashion and color.”
Another entry into the men’s fray during New York Fashion Week was contemporary women’s brand Tibi. The collection, created by Amy Smilovic in 2010, has a clean, relaxed and modern feminine aesthetic. “We decided to do men’s because we saw there’s an interest in men looking at more feminine styles,” Smilovic said.
So she hired a couple of male models and dressed them in some of the more androgynous women’s pieces such as slouchy blazers and lightweight coats, unconstructed trousers and comfortable layering tops.
“We have a lot of men wearing Tibi off the rack,” she said. “We’re inspired by them and the way they look. And I wear a lot of men’s clothes myself and as a consumer, it confuses me when there are separate areas for men’s wear and women wear in a store. It seems to be it should be more together.”
Smilovic said she tried this experiment two years ago, “but it went unnoticed. But this one hit a nerve with a lot of people. Retailers that carry men’s and women’s are looking at the business in a more forward way.” And with the popularity of e-commerce sites, the lines between the genders is also blurred. “So it’s likely I’m in the genderless business,” she said with a laugh.
Among other designing women dabbling in the genderless market for spring is Yeohlee Teng. “A lot of what I do is rather gender-fluid, so I have men come in and buy the clothes for themselves,” she said. “My intention is to develop men’s further. I don’t really think it’s that complicated because my aesthetic for women’s wear is very men’s wear.”
Norma Kamali is of a similar mind. For spring, the designer eschewed a show and photographed the same looks on both a man and a woman. These included striped jumpsuits, printed denim jackets, skinny knit pants, floral tracksuits and even her trademark parachute skirts.
“This is not about gender. This is not a line for gay men, it’s not a line for straight men. It’s a line for men who want to be creative. It’s so exciting as a woman to see guys having a great time and wearing clothes that are the same, sharing their wardrobe,” Kamali said. “Guys are desperate to show their feminine side, they’re ready. I think my clothes lend to this because they have that quality.”
In Paris, brands including Stella McCartney and Sonia Rykiel featured models of both sexes on the catwalk this past season.
For his debut at Celine, Slimane presented 48 looks each for men and women. Looks for the guys included shrunken leather jackets and skinny New Wave suits, not unlike those on which the designer skyrocketed to fame at Dior Homme. But the men’s line is being positioned as unisex, therefore also available for women.
Ten years after closing down its men’s wear line, Rykiel introduced a handful of men’s silhouettes at the house’s spring show, held on the freshly inaugurated Allée Sonia Rykiel, worn by both adult and teenage models.
“Friends keep asking me for men’s sweaters, like we used to do,” de Libran told WWD. “For me the maison Rykiel has a generous spirit, and our silhouettes are often inspired by men’s wear. I love this versatility, so why not design pieces for men?”
The designer had already introduced “brother and sister” looks on the fall 2015 catwalk, which were branded as unisex. The spring pieces presented on five adult male models are also part of the brand’s unisex range, signaled in stores with a black tag.
Simon Porte Jacquemus in June invited the fashion pack to Marseille for the launch of his men’s wear line, presenting his collection on barefoot models on a secluded sandy beach in one of the local Calanques, the rocky inlets around Marseille and nearby Cassis in the South of France.
For the designer, whose eight-year-old women’s line has become synonymous with sultry beach style, the choice of location was important for reinforcing the brand image. “I’m from the South of France; this is my aesthetic,” he said.
His men’s collection included relaxed summer pants, shirts in sunflower and wheat prints and knitwear with a bit of an Eighties feel, from superfine striped polos to slouchy, color-blocked, chunky sweaters. The vibe was relaxed-preppy Mediterranean.
“He can be the kind of guy you see jumping from the rocks in Marseille, or the guy who goes to a wedding in his perfect white shirt, a bit chic but Marseille-chic, with too much jewelry,” Jacquemus told WWD. “In Marseille, you have those guys in the matching yellow pants, hats, wallets — almost too perfect and flashy. And then those kids who are wearing total-look Lacoste. I’m trying to explore that in a poetic way.”
Jacquemus said the idea was to create a distinct universe for his men’s line, which he described as being more straight to the point. “I’m not trying to repeat the rules for men’s. We buy differently, I feel. There is the same market for streetwear, but for the rest, it’s not the same market. We don’t have the same bodies,” he said.
The designers are entering a men’s market that continues to grow. Earlier this year, Euromonitor reported that the overall global apparel and footwear market rose 4 percent to $1.7 trillion in 2017, with men’s wear up 3.7 percent to $419 billion, and women’s wear up 3.3 percent to $643 billion.
Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director for Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, was especially enamored with The Row’s men’s wear and believes it’s a strong, salable option for today’s guy.
The Olsens, who established their brand in 2006, “have distilled their aesthetic into a small selection of styles: minimal, clean solid suiting and one incredibly luxe cinematic double-breasted coat style along with some luxe rich knitwear and simple woven shirts,” Pask said. “I thought their take was smart, attending to a design-minded man who wants to look polished, sleek, and modern, not overly sartorial.”
Pask believes the customer who will be attracted to this line is “the kind of fashionable guy who may have worn Helmut Lang suiting in the day, appreciating the polish of a suit but wanting a modern design point of view. It feels luxurious and rich and unique in the market.”
Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president of men’s wear for Barneys New York, is also eager to test out some entries into men’s. “We are always eager to find the new and unexpected,” he said. “Recently we have been discovering great designs for men coming from designers traditionally known for their women’s collections.”
Kalenderian said the store has “picked up exciting new introductions for men from Sies Marjan, Isabel Marant and The Row. We picked up Prabal Gurung exclusively. We were excited by the way he expressed his love of pattern and color from his women’s collection in a strong way for men. Also, we picked up the first men’s collection by Jacquemus. He created the perfect summer wardrobe that every guy would love to live in all season.”
Outside of apparel, Kalenderian has added men’s jewelry from women’s designers Sidney Garber, Spinelli Kilcollin, Hoorsenbuhs, Dean Harris, Loren Stewart and Feathered Soul. “We just sought out some new women’s designers to design for men: Martine Ali for her unique take on ‘heavy metal’ and Amedeo Scognamiglio’s amazing cameo carvings for men’s bracelets and rings. We have been developing the men’s bag business with Tomasini, Fontana and Delvaux; all very fine leather goods manufacturers well-known for their exquisite women’s handbags.”
Roopal Patel, fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue, said she wasn’t surprised to see women’s designers taking the plunge into men’s “with everything happening in our culture today, there’s a natural progression to more synergy on the runways with men’s and women’s.”
She pointed to Tibi and Maison Margiela as lines that are “gender-fluid” and represent best this trend. She said Saks carries Tibi, Celine and The Row in women’s wear and is in talks to add men’s, too.
For Damien Paul, head of men’s wear at Matchesfashion.com, female women’s wear designers who enter men’s wear often design with a certain man in mind. “Stella McCartney has been open in how she has referenced her dad’s wardrobe when she was a child. I think women are perhaps less conceptual — they just want to make great clothes that men would want to wear,” he said.
When asked whether the male customer could be put off by the idea of wearing a label that is better known as a women’s brand, he replied: “I think men buy into ‘product’ and are looking for great design. I’ve never felt any of our male customers would be swayed by the gender of the designer.”