EXCLUSIVE: Christopher Raeburn Gets Ready for the Next Ten Years

LONDON — Has the men’s wear industry outgrown its boots?

This is a golden moment for men’s wear, with flourishing sales, a fashion-loving generation of shoppers, and Instagram propelling sneaker-crazy young men into stores like never before. Despite it all, the seasonal men’s fashion calendars — with the exception of Paris — are shrinking.

The New York, London and Milan schedules have been shedding designers and brands for many reasons: Fashion houses have chosen the coed route, opted to show or present in different cities, take part in trade shows such as Pitti Uomo, or stage direct-to-consumer events, or digital shows.

Others have decided to take a step back and invest their marketing money elsewhere, refusing to be shackled to the runway — or the presentation space — season after season.

Christopher Raeburn, a longtime fixture on the London men’s calendar, has decided to pull out of the city’s spring/summer 2020 lineup, which runs from Saturday to June 10. He said he wants to explore new ways of engaging with his consumers and community.

“It is our job to disrupt, to capture and create a new mood,” said Raeburn, who last year was named global creative director of Timberland, and who continues to operate his eponymous, sustainably minded brand. “We wanted to take a step back, do less, do it better, do it right. We’re excited about presenting in different formats from the traditional fashion weeks.”

A look from Astrid Andersen’s spring 2020 collection.  Courtesy Photo

This time around, Raeburn has opted to show at Pitti Uomo in Florence, sell at showrooms in Paris and take part in the Berlin trade shows. The designer, who regularly hosts tours of his London studio via Airbnb, and conducts workshops for the public, also has other events and presentations in the pipeline.

After 10 years of wowing audiences in London with her elegant streetwear, the Danish designer Astrid Andersen is also taking a break from the British capital. Instead, she’s doing interviews and sending out look books for her latest men’s collection. She cited a “slower, quieter approach to the creative process” and added that her collection this season is focused on “elements of handcrafting, a lighter touch, and more delicate fabrications.”

After a decidedly anemic New York Fashion Week: Men’s season, which closed Wednesday with no major names taking part, the London men’s calendar is also now slimmer than ever, running two and a half days and filled mostly with emerging talent, which is not a bad thing. But the showcase, which launched seven years ago, initially drew names large and small such as Burberry, Tom Ford, JW Anderson, Moschino, Casely-Hayford, Daniel W. Fletcher, Kent & Curwen and Cottweiler.

A look from Astrid Andersen’s spring 2020 collection.  Courtesy Photo

All of them have since opted for other show formats, new cities or consumer-facing events, although Alexander McQueen, once a regular on the London men’s schedule, will make a comeback with a presentation set for Sunday, June 9. Stefan Cooke, an LVMH Prize finalist, is also joining the schedule this season, having previously shown as part of the Fashion East group showcase.

Milan is also forging ahead despite having lost Gucci and Bottega Veneta to the women’s wear calendar. Two Milan stalwarts, Salvatore Ferragamo and MSGM, plan to show in Florence at Pitti Uomo, and starting in September, N.21 will start staging coed shows. Prada, meanwhile, moved its men’s show to Shanghai for spring/summer 2020 for a one-off event, which was held Thursday.

Etro will return to the Milan runway after a three-season hiatus. The city is also heavy on Italian brands and has failed to become a magnet for emerging — or even established — international talent.

Dylan Jones, editor in chief of British GQ and chair of London Fashion Week Men’s, acknowledged that brands should feel free to explore new formats and ideas and should take a break from showing if they desire.

He said talks are still on the table about changes in the men’s calendar dates and show formats. “I definitely think it’s time to look at a bit of disruption in the way that fashion weeks are organized. And I don’t mean everybody just showing together or moving dates around. There are some really clever strategic things to be done,” said Jones.

“The fact that some brands and designers have decided to show all around the world in different cities, on-schedule, off-schedule, or in remote parts of the globe is fantastic. And social media should be embraced: There are so many people wandering around, complaining about social media. Instead, make it work for you.”

Jones added that the British Fashion Council is actively encouraging brands to take a break if they need to.

“London needs a platform — absolutely — and there are so many talented designers who want to show, who feel the need to show. This isn’t about having a big fandango for the sake of it. The London platform has got to serve the designers. We do say to them that if they are finding it difficult, or if their emphasis is on direct-to-consumer, or if it’s about marketing or working in a different sales pattern, then don’t have a show,” he added.

The thinning of the New York, London and Milan calendars is happening in the face of a booming market for men’s wear globally: In the U.K. alone, men’s wear sales are set to grow 15.4 percent to 17.9 billion pounds over the next five years, according to Mintel and the BFC.

Harvey Nichols, Harrods and Selfridges have all refurbished or expanded their men’s wear floors over the past year to cope with men’s hunger for everything from sneakers to tailored clothing to skin-care and wellness products. Last month, Mytheresa revealed its own plans for the men’s arena, creating a new, luxury offer set to launch in January.

“The men’s market has evolved dramatically, growth is quite strong and there’s been a shift in direction. We see an opportunity,” said Michael Kliger, Mytheresa’s president, adding that the offer aims to be different from those of online rivals.

“The tailoring, the suiting, the appreciation for classic fabrics, will be different from what we had before streetwear. It will be the next evolution,” he said.

Harvey Nichols’ group fashion buying director Laura Larbalestier said earlier this year that young men are investing in fashion in the same way young women invest in makeup. She said Instagram is driving both sets of sales, with men going for “known brands and logos.”

Harvey Nichols’ customers are buying high-end and street and the store added that business from the big international brands was up 35 percent last year, with the top five labels — Off-White, Balenciaga, Balmain, Valentino and Givenchy — delivering double-digit growth.

The only showcase that’s growing is Paris, which is the longest of all the men’s weeks. It will run for six days from June 18 to 23, and is getting bigger every season. Among the additions to the runway calendar are LVMH Prize finalists Bode by Emily Adams Bode and Phipps by Spencer Phipps. Ludovic de Saint Sernin and Sies Marjan, which is based in New York, will also be on-schedule this season.

Ralph Toledano, president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, partner at Neo Investment and chairman of Victoria Beckham Ltd., said the robust lineup in Paris has not happened by accident.

While Paris has long been a powerful women’s and men’s wear hub due to the twin powers of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Kering, the city’s cluster of showrooms, where buyers and brands from around the world meet multiple times a year to place orders and do business, and the strength of affiliated couture, beauty and trade show businesses, means it is only getting stronger.

“Our policy is about selection, selection, selection. We love to show the best. It’s a question of respect for the people who attend the shows. If we put a brand on the calendar, it means that whoever is going to go to that show is going to be excited by it. Every time I speak to the selections committee, my only sentence is ‘Raise the bar.’ That’s the motto,” said Toledano.

He said the selection committee polls journalists, buyers and bloggers from around the world about potential candidates for the calendar, and is eager to showcase international designers and brands.

The French industry, he added, has raised the bar on itself. He believes French fashion houses have made “tremendous progress,” with regard to their offer, and that the men’s business is almost unrecognizable from a decade ago.

“Ten years ago, there was a huge gap between the clothes on the runway and the clothes people would actually wear. Now, on the runway, you see things you want to wear — and can wear. But it’s still creative and the interest is there,” Toledano said.

More changes could well be afoot.

Stefano Martinetto, chief executive officer of Tomorrow Ltd., a business accelerator that consults for, sells and distributes on behalf of, and invests in brands, said new fashion collections always need a moment, to shine, although that moment doesn’t have to be in the context of a seasonal calendar in a particular city.

“Brands and designers need to stress a concept, deliver a message, gain attention around the world. That doesn’t necessarily require 20 pale guys walking down the catwalk. It could be anything — a show, installation, event or performance — but I believe a moment is needed. Should it be during a fashion week, or every fashion week? Not necessarily,” he said.

Martinetto, who is based in London and whose company operates showrooms and offices in Milan, Paris, New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong, added that brands’ events are necessary for buyers as well.

“There are key outfits that become viral and then they become digital assets and content distributed to the relevant channels. If you’re a buyer, it’s easier to make a selection, to plan manufacturing and to forecast sales.”

Martinetto said he’s confident that industry leaders in London, Milan and Paris will figure out the next steps.

“I do think there are smart, talented people running the fashion weeks today, and they are open and collaborative and will come out with some interesting ideas and make it work. It could be changing the scope of the fashion weeks or moving schedules or joining forces or new concepts. I trust they’ll come out with some brilliant ideas.”

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