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Special Issue
Men'sWeek issue 11/29/2012

Outerwear sales warmed up in the first three quarters of the year as performance technology, lighter weights and versatile, multifunction designs boosted consumer interest. While weather patterns have condensed the shopping season for heavy coats, design trends and fabric innovation have increased interest in lighter-weight jackets year-round, said brands and buyers.

This story first appeared in the November 29, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“This season, we saw a lot of lighter weights, transitional pieces and technological aspects, whether in fabrics or interior details like zip-out linings and bibs,” said Kathy Glynn, president of the Andrew Marc division of G-III Apparel Group Ltd. “The weather is getting colder later in the season and a lot of guys are wearing suits again, so they don’t need heavy, heavy coats. He’s putting the coat over the suit or jacket.

For the 12 months ended in September, men’s outerwear sales increased 6.1 percent to $4.05 billion, up from $3.82 billion in the year-ago period, according to figures from The NPD Group.

That upward trend was reflected at Bloomingdale’s, where outerwear sales have been sturdy this season, said Kevin Harter, vice president of men’s fashion direction. “Based on last year’s warm weather, I was a little nervous if men would go out and buy a new piece of outerwear when they only wore last year’s purchases a few times. But the chilly weather this year has helped and the new design trends have helped,” he noted.

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Top-selling outerwear brands at Bloomingdale’s this season included Moncler, Herno, Moorer and Canada Goose. In leather, which has had its strongest season in the past few years, key vendors included Sandro, Theory, Vince and John Varvatos. For spring, the department store is adding British label Hancock to its assortments.

“Basics have been the underperformers. It’s really about the fashion — like wool jackets layered with a zip-out down vest — that’s what our customer is responding to,” added Harter.

Lightweight and transitional-weight pieces have comprised 85 percent of all outerwear sales for Nautica so far this season. “The trend will continue for us next year, as weather patterns continue to be warming up all over the country,” predicted Karen Murray, president of VF Corp.’s sportswear coalition, which includes Nautica.

Performance fabrics have driven sales at Nautica, such as storm wools, lightweight wool with waterproof laminate and stretch fabrications with waterproof breathable membranes. Known for its commitment to environmental causes, Nautica has incorporated Sorona, an ecologically friendly alternative to nylon, in some of its jackets and coats.

One weak spot in department stores for Nautica was its Components series of jackets that features separate zip-in down and fleece components. “It was hard for the idea to translate with less sales help in this distribution channel to explain how to buy separate pieces that all worked together,” noted Murray.

At Macy’s, puffer vests have been strong sellers this season. “We will see even more emphasis on the vest as it is the ideal layering piece,” said Durand Guion, vice president and men’s fashion director at Macy’s. Another bright spot was a test rollout of Gerry that performed well and is being expanded into more top Macy’s doors.

Even during warmer weather, fashion trends can still spark outerwear sales, pointed out Guion. “The real trick that the women’s market has realized for years is to play on newness. Even when the weather does not dip into freezing, there is nothing more powerful than the draw of a new coat that will potentially get a compliment,” he explained. “There is more emphasis on texture and details, including flannels, tweeds, cable knits, toggle closures and faux fur trims.”

On the technology front, Andrew Marc has incorporated advanced, co-branded linings from Switzerland’s Schoeller that help regulate body temperature. Fashionwise, fur continues to be a prominent style element at the brand.

Fur has also been a key design element at Woolrich John Rich & Bros., particularly as trim on parka hoods. Military influences are a key style direction for the brand, such as a nylon field jacket with ram fur trim and down lining.

“We’ve always had performance fabrics in our line and everything is water repellent or resistant,” said Franco DiCarlo, chief executive of WP Lavori in Corso’s North American operations, which includes Woolrich John Rich & Bros. The brand has seen softness in West Coast sales this season but DiCarlo cautioned against blaming the weather.

Hybrid blazers that are warm enough to serve as outerwear jackets are increasingly important at many brands. The Travel Blazer has been a key item in the Victorinox lineup for the past three seasons. For fall 2013, the model is updated in a matte, 100 percent recycled polyester version with 40 grams of poly fill in the body and sleeves, with a retail price of $395. Another style in a wool blend with a quilted lining retails for $495.

“We are a mobile generation, running to trains or planes and people want innovative clothes for their daily adventures,” said Joachim Beer, president of global fashion at Victorinox, where outerwear comprised 45 percent of total unit volume this fall and winter. “This is a blazer that protects against wind and water and rain.”

In that vein, next year Victorinox will introduce jackets in waterproof, breathable wool that incorporate a laminated back for water resistance.

At Eddie Bauer, lightweight down jackets and coats have been the biggest sellers this season, particularly its trademarked MicroTherm product, featuring narrow quilting channels. The concept launched late last year and has an expanded product offering this year. “It’s very warm and slimming for its weight,” explained Damien Huang, senior vice president of product and design at the Seattle-based company.

Breathability is the big focus for Eddie Bauer next year, with the development of new fabric technologies that keep the body comfortable while insulated. “We want you to be warm but never sticky so you don’t overheat,” explained Huang. “The issue with down is that you have very shutdown, nonbreathable fabrics in order to enclose the down. For next year, we have a unique and different approach to managing that with new technologies, which we are in the process of naming now.”

Eddie Bauer is also adding performance features to natural fibers, such as water-repellent wool and cotton. “You get the breathability and comfort of cotton with the benefits of water resistance,” he noted of Storm Cotton, the trademarked name for the textile finishing process.