NEW YORK — Retailers continue to be eternal optimists. Despite the challenging business conditions that have haunted them most of this year, they remain confident that sales will be better by spring. As a result, they were scouring the Project and MRket trade shows for brands they hoped would tempt consumers to buy.
Russ Patrick, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s for Neiman Marcus, said he views spring as “an exciting opportunity” due to its “elegant, yet relaxed mood. The athletic influence of sneakers is impacting his entire wardrobe and desire for comfort. Natural stretch in fabrications and short-sleeved shirt silhouettes look fresh and when done in color, are very strong.”
He said the Neiman’s customer continues to seek new things so merchants are challenged “to only buy what looks special and compelling. We are simply looking for ready-to-wear and accessories that make us smile.”
Ken Giddon, president of Rothmans, said he was “looking for things that are cool and different, but still salable.” For him, Ted Baker’s short- and long-sleeved shirts, shorts, swimwear and blazers with colorful linings fit the bill. “It’s wearable fashion, but with a little bit of an edge,” he said. Giddon also liked Ledbury’s shirts, Maker & Co. sportswear, Knowledge Cotton polos, Oxford Lads woven shirts and Lloyd shoes.
“Business continues to be very challenging,” admitted Dan Farrington, gmm of men’s for Mitchells Family of Stores. “Tailored clothing and luxury are the toughest parts of our business right now. However, there are several bright spots; Peter Millar, Eton and Samuelsohn continue to be strong businesses along with several smaller developing brands in the opening to middle tiers.”
Farrington said he was “optimistic that we have a better assortment and great items coming for fall to grow in the middle zone of our mix,” which he defined as “just under luxury. We will be experimenting with more pop-up shop concepts to explore opportunities and create energy for fall into holiday.”
At the shows, he was hoping to add some brands in woven sport shirts, knitwear and casual pants and was also shopping for technical-inspired products.
“I believe the industry must innovate more with today’s customers’ lifestyles in mind and not look back to recycle old trends. We are at a point now with business where we can no longer support brands which fail to innovate and offer value and be supportive partners.”
Here are some highlights from Project and MRket.
Brand: Michael Bastian Gray Label
Designer: Michael Bastian
Inspiration: In January, the designer, who had made a name for himself with his American-skewed collection of luxury men’s wear, sold a significant stake in his business to Bluestar Alliance, a brand management firm. The first fruits of that partnership were shown at Project, where Bastian offered up a portion of an extensive collection of sportswear, suits, furnishings, small leather goods and shoes under the new Michael Bastian Gray label (naming a secondary line Gray seems to be a trend, though — Jason Wu earlier this year introduced his own secondary line called Grey Jason Wu). The Bastian line has “the same spirit” as the designer’s higher-priced collection, he said, but at a more affordable price point. It is targeted to better department and specialty stores. “This allows me to reach a much bigger audience with my own name,” he said.
Key styles: The collection, which is marked by a feature logo — the top-end line uses a wing — offers classic pieces with modern tweaks. For example, there’s a gingham pleated bib tuxedo shirt that could easily double as a sport shirt, as well as seersucker button-down shirts. Suits offer a slim, wearable silhouette, there are palm-tree print shorts, and shoes are made from Spanish leather. Bastian said the plan is to expand the line into other product categories including denim, outerwear and fragrance.
Prices: Dress shirts or ties retail for $95, T-shirts are $78, sport coats are $595 and suits are $895. Shoes are $200 to $325.
Designer: Kirk Von Heifner
Inspiration: After taking a stab at the men’s category five years ago, Current/Elliott, which is owned by Dutch LLC, relaunched men’s sportswear for fall. The collection, which is designed by Kirk Von Heifner, who has previously held stints at John Varvatos, Lightning Bolt and Bedrock Manufacturing, looks to the late Nineties actor River Phoenix when designing the collection, which he also sprinkled with rock-climber references. The collection is sold at retailers including Ron Herman, Harry Rosen and Nordstrom.
Key styles: Aztec plaid shirts, worn-in T-shirts, a reversible camo jacket, a denim jacket with a shearling collar and jeans with a relaxed but slim fit.
Prices: Outerwear ranges from $298 to $528, denim is priced from $198 to $298 and T-shirts range from $68 to $108.
Inspiration: Since bringing back its cofounders Rea Laccone and Christopher LaPolice, Vince’s men’s line has taken a more forward direction. The brand is getting back to on-trend pieces with a clean aesthetic that they hope will attract the designer customer. The brand also used Japanese fabrics for the first time this season.
Key styles: There was a focus on elevated fabrications for spring. A stretch tracksuit was made of half Milano, while a bomber jacket was constructed in washed silk. Tailored pieces were made from 100 percent linen and sweaters were in Italian cotton.
Prices: Knits retail from $55 to $95, outerwear retails from $425 to $675 and bottoms retail from $195 to $285.
Designer: Sal Cesarani
Inspiration: Sal Cesarani started his design career in 1961 and has worked for Polo Ralph Lauren, Country Britches and Stanley Blacker over the years. He won the Coty Award for Menswear three times and now teaches fashion design at Parsons School of Design. Last year, Cesarani teamed with William Fung of Loft 604 to create a line of men’s sweaters. The collection, produced by Fung, has been expanded this season into a number of complementary products, all with Cesarani’s signature touch.
Key styles: In addition to a cozy blue and white beach sweater, which Cesarani described as a “seafaring sea isle,” the duo offers cashmere-cotton sweatpants and sweaters, a seersucker jacket and a blazer in an oxford cloth. “It’s a full-fledged line for summer fun,” he said.
Prices: The sea isle sweater retails for $275 and the jackets are $295 to $325.
Inspiration: Pro skateboarder Chris Miller and former collegiate athlete Joe Kudla met at a yoga class and bemoaned the lack of performance apparel they actually wanted to wear. So they teamed up to launch Vuori, a Finnish word meaning mountain. The Encinitas, Calif., company launched 18 months ago and offers tops, pants and shorts created from sustainable fabrics such as sea algae and coconut husks in models with welded zip pockets and locker loops. The collection, which is inspired by a Southern California yoga and surf culture, is designed to function at the gym but look just as good at a restaurant.
Key styles: The Core shorts have a liner and the Banks shorts do not, although both styles sit above the knee for maximum comfort. They’re available in solids, patterns and stripes and include tonal blacks and grays as well as pops of color, notably azure and acorn, for spring. There are both tech tops and regular soft cotton Ts as well as sweatpants that are made from 98 percent cotton and 2 percent spandex.
Prices: Shorts retail for $68, technical Ts are $48, the sea algae T-shirt is $45 and the sweatpants are $84.
Brand: Oxford Lads
Designer: Alan Truong
Inspiration: Truong, who started his own line before working in real estate, returned to the fashion industry a few years ago wanting to make affordable men’s shirts that were unlike anything in the market, which he said was saturated with solid colors and mature prints. His line of shirts and shorts, which is sold at Urban Outfitters, Topman and Nordstrom, features bold and youthful prints ranging from floral motifs to cat patterns.
Key styles: Short-sleeved and long-sleeved shirts are made from cotton, cotton silk and silk, a fabric Truong introduced this season. He also sells shorts and chambray denim shirts.
Prices: Shirts retail from $80 to $125 and shorts are priced from $80 to $90.