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Men'sWeek issue 02/13/2014

Andrew Rosen has a slow but deliberate growth strategy for Helmut Lang men’s wear.

This story first appeared in the February 13, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The label, which was acquired by Link Theory Holdings, a subsidiary of Fast Retailing of Japan, in 2006, has had women’s wear since 2007. It took until this spring for the line to reenter the men’s market, when it is making its debut at Barneys New York in the U.S. and several well-known retailers in Europe and Asia, including Selfridges, Harrods and Lane Crawford. The distribution is being widened for fall with the label targeting stores such as Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Nordstrom and others.

Lang’s ace in the hole is the tapping of Alexandre Plokhov, a CFDA award-winning designer who cofounded the defunct cult New York men’s label Cloak before designing for Versace’s men’s line and his own eponymous collection, to reimagine the men’s collection.

“I’ve known Alexandre since 2005,” said Rosen, chief executive officer of Helmut Lang. “He loves what he does, and his attention to detail and craftsmanship is amazing.”

Rosen said starting slow was intentional. “When I start something new, I like to start small and not get overwhelmed. I like to perfect everything and get the kinks out.” He said he is pleased with the results of the spring collection and as a result will go “bigger for fall. Hopefully, this is the beginning of an important men’s wear company,” he added. “I think we’ve showed 65 or 70 stores and we’ve gotten an incredible reaction.” Rosen expects to hit about $2.5 million in sales for the fall season.

“I always believe it’s good to have new companies come out with innovative product,” Rosen continued, calling the men’s offering “street luxe. We started more casual, but as we go on, it will continue to get more sophisticated.”

Rosen said Helmut Lang women’s wear has developed “a great following” over the past few years, “and I thought it was appropriate to start men’s. It has a very fresh voice to it.”

Plokhov said that when he signed on to design the collection, he referred back to “my memory of Helmut Lang,” taking elements from the Austrian designer’s collections and “updating them to put my take on them.” He focused much of his attention on outerwear, creating pieces such as enzyme-washed poplins with removable shearling collars, Spanish sheepskin shearlings with metal toggles, coated melton peacoats with extra-large ottoman ribbing, ballistic nylon jackets and pearlized nylon bombers with mesh insets. Pants include biker trousers in heavy-gauge leather, coated denim and Japanese bonded fleece models. There are a variety of T-shirts, some of which employ perforated mesh for an athletic sensibility.

“It has a bit of a street edge, and there’s a surplus aesthetic to the collection,” Plokhov said, pointing to the quilted sweatshirts and cut-edge knitwear in the fall offering.

The designer said that as the line evolves, denim and tailored clothing will become more important, with both categories being beefed up for holiday and spring. “I wanted to concentrate on the staples to build the foundation,” he said.

Price points are firmly in the advanced contemporary spectrum — the line at Barneys hangs with Alexander Wang, Public School and Y-3. Price points include pants for $290 to $400; blazers and jackets for $595 to $795; leather outerwear for $1,325; parkas for $1,295, and a shearling coat at more than $2,000.

“I like having a design aesthetic and integrity, but being more approachable and accessible in price,” Rosen said. “I don’t like making precious clothes, but clothes people can live in and love.”

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