It’s all about street cred, which is not surprising in this city that lives and breathes streetwear. But what’s made Berlin’s Soto Store stand out from the start was its “accessible mix of street culture and fashion. Getting high-end labels such as Raf Simon, Dries Van Noten, Thom Browne or Acne into this mix was new. And in today’s high-fashion world, that’s what everyone now wants to do,” commented Andreas Koschnike, chief executive officer of Caliroots Group, the Stockholm-based streetwear and sneaker group that bought Soto two years ago.
Koschnike is “friends from way back” with Highsnobiety’s David Fischer, who together with fashion and media movers Philip Gaedicke and Omer Ben Michael opened Soto in 2010 on Torstrasse, still a somewhat off the beaten shopping path in Mitte. “Since I took over, and with 15 years of Caliroots experience under our belts, we’re primarily trying to strengthen operations,” he said. This involves logistics, the buying process and running the online store, “which has surpassed the physical store, though the store remains a big part of our story,” he said.
What he’s not out to change is Soto’s DNA, often described as a blend of tradition and new invention, and which he sums up as “no nonsense, with style.” While Soto’s brand lineup has always had a strong northern slant — Scandinavian labels like Our Legacy and Norse Projects are as important now as they were at the start — Koschnike also finds the Berlin touch decisive for Soto.
“Looking from outside, Berlin feels real. It’s straight forward, more serious, no bulls–t,” he explained, and it is these qualities that are emphasized in Soto’s social media presence, and the store’s seasonal look books, shot by friends and freelancers in Berlin. They also carry over into the store itself, which is actually two separate yet adjacent, apartment-like spaces with plenty of nooks and crannies. The atmosphere and store design is the antidote to plush, pristine or precious, the fixtures made of industrial cast-offs, the merchandise quietly presented and left to impress on its own merits, though clearly edited with a defining aesthetic.
Soto store manager and buying team member Pavel Kaczorowski acknowledged, “We have brands and designers, which can sometimes intimidate, but how we present can make them more accessible.” Not being in a main shopping area, the store is never overcrowded, he pointed out, except for at the numerous special events that have guests lining the streets. But overall, the in-store experience allows for a one-to-one exchange.
Koschnike said Soto is “definitely looking for new vendors, and still has some brands on its wish list,” not naming names other than to note they don’t start with a big B or a G. “I still see smaller brands as relevant and cool,” he said. — MELISSA DRIER
The Whitaker Group
How do you successfully scale a network of streetwear stores without losing cachet? For James Whitner, the strategy is understanding the nuances of this consumer and not treating them as if they are a monolith. He does this with The Whitaker Group, the company he owns that operates multiple retail concepts, which include Social Status, A Ma Maniére, APB and Prosper, which are located in underserved secondary markets such as Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C.; Pittsburgh; Houston, and Tampa Bay, Fla. The Whitaker Group runs a total of 14 shops across the U.S. along with Public Eye, an event and pop-up space in Atlanta.
“You get a chance to speak to the consumer in multiple ways,” said Whitner, a Pittsburgh native who is 39 and opened his first sneaker store, Flava Factory, in 2005. “Our customer ranges from ages 16 to 54 and hip-hop culture is challenging that right now because Diddy [Sean Combs] and Jay [Shawn “Jay Z” Carter] are approaching 50 and they are redefining what our demographic will look like and how the consumer is going to grow with us.”
Social Status sells trend-driven streetwear and contemporary brands such as A Bathing Ape, Brain Dead and APC. A Ma Maniére focuses on luxury apparel and is stocked with brands including Maison Margiela, Raf Simons and Fear of God. APB targets the college demographic with brands including Pleasures, Carrots and 10 Deep. And Prosper is its vertical, mid-price point streetwear brand. Footwear is a major component to each of these shops.
Over the past 11 years, brands have looked to Whitner to not only sell its product, but connect to a market that’s constantly inundated with releases. Whitner has been able to cut through the noise with experiences and narratives that resonate.
“We aren’t just sitting around and buying product and hoping it sells,” Whitner said. “We are telling stories and engaging with our consumer online and in-store so they understand what we stand for.”
The release of the Adidas NMD Racer model is an example. Adidas launched the sneaker on its own, but it didn’t get the traction the company wanted so it partnered with Whitner and his team to put energy behind the shoes. The Whitaker Group formed a car club and aligned a meet-up with the launch of the shoe. Online they’ve created online video content to tease the drop.
“We drilled down who our consumer is and tied luxury cars into sneaker culture to excite people about the shoes,” Whitner said.
Up next is the introduction of more experiential stores including A Ma Maniére Eats, a retail and dining hybrid that’s set to open in Houston, and A Ma Maniére Living, which will open in Washington, D.C., this summer and include a brick-and-mortar store that sits below two hotel suites that customers can book. That will give them access to exclusive product collaborations and home goods they can purchase.
“The goal here is not to grow and become a Ritz-Carlton. The goal is to let kids into a living experience that I think is cool. Right now we get a chance to curate their closet, but I want to curate their home and give them a perspective on living,” Whitner said. — ARIA HUGHES
The demise of men’s haberdasheries in many of this country’s major metropolitan areas has been a boon for Sid Mashburn.
The Atlanta-based designer and retailer, who began his career in New York as the first men’s designer at J. Crew, has quietly built a solid business by creating a community that reaches beyond his roots in tailored clothing.
Mashburn, who runs the business with his wife Ann, had also served as senior design director at Polo, vice president of design at Tommy Hilfiger and senior vice president of design at Lands’ End before branching out on his own in 2007.
Today, the Mashburns operate four dual-gender stores in Atlanta, Houston, Washington, D.C., Dallas and a men’s-only store in Los Angeles. All of the stores carry a combination of their own designed-and-produced apparel along with their favorite “classic, iconic and hard-to-find pieces, all in a space designed to feel as beautiful, inspiring and welcoming as possible,” according to the company.
“People ask me why L.A.,” he said. “Well, we used to have some of the best men’s stores in the country there, but now, everybody is just wearing jeans and T-shirts. That’s what has fed our business there.”
Ditto for the two successful pop-ups he’s done in Chicago and New York. “I grew up in men’s specialty retailing,” he said, “and that intimacy has pretty much gone away.” But Mashburn is trying to bring it back by offering a “high level of design, quality, service and hospitality,” he said, whether that’s in a permanent location or a temporary one.
Last holiday, Mashburn took over a space at the Hayward House on the Upper East Side and set up shop for a little less than a week. The space was located in the Grosvenor Atterbury mansion — complete with stained-glass windows, scrolled wood paneling and a hand-painted gold-stitched ceiling — and Mashburn’s collection of men’s tailored clothing and furnishings, made-to-measure, and the Ann Mashburn year-round essentials for women blended perfectly into the location.
Sid Mashburn said the pop-up was an unparalleled success with more than 500 people dropping by over the spot’s four-day run. That prompted the company to host three popular trunk shows in New York so far this year. Mashburn has had the same success with the trunk show it hosted in Chicago five weeks ago.
“New York is our number-one or number-two online market,” he said, and Chicago is consistently in the top 10. So these pop-ups and trunk shows are the best way to capitalize on that while also testing the market to see if it might one day be ripe for a store.
Until that time, the Mashburns will continue to do their best to create strong connections with their customers. In addition to the physical stores, Mashburn also has an On the Road concept, an umbrella term that the couple uses to refer to its trunk shows, pop-ups shops, individual private appointments and evening meetings, the latter of which are targeted to local businesses so they can shop after-hours in a comfortable, social location.
“Ann and I have always loved finding and making great things to share with people — in short, making a connection with everyone,” Mashburn writes on his e-commerce site. “After design posts at J.Crew, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, and Lands’ End, I spent years looking for the kind of retail we had seen in Europe and Asia: places that weren’t just shops but experiences. When we began, we knew it wasn’t only about making cool, special, useful things. It was about the curating of them, making the selection a little less daunting, a little easier, even fun. Because you don’t need a lot of choices…you just need the right choices. And with over 50 years in the fashion industry between the two of us, we felt we had the experience to pull it off.” — JEAN E. PALMIERI
Browns is living up to its quintessentially British reputation as a risk-taker, quick to embrace new trends and emerging names.
In the men’s department, the retailer is bringing a spirit of experimentation with a new genderless offer, an ongoing commitment to streetwear and an increasingly international outlook, that brings together major luxury brands with emerging British or Japanese names.
Men’s wear buyer Lee Goldup said the company’s overriding strategy is to always maintain a point of difference and “offer customers something they can’t buy anywhere else.”
“We’re always on the lookout for new brands and we’ve introduced several new categories over the past two years. Key highlights include growth in both our high performance and Japanese designer offering,” Goldup said.
Japanese labels such as Visvim, Facetasm, Children of Discordance and Neighborhood are now staples in the retailer’s offer.
The street aesthetic has also truly infiltrated Browns’ men’s wear buy; more than a fleeting trend, T-shirts and sweatshirts have become one of the main focal points of the retailer’s seasonal ready-to-wear buy while Goldup name-checks sneakers as the dominant footwear category.
Whether it’s a Balenciaga sweater or a loosely tailored suit by buzzy up-and-comer Wales Bonner, Browns was also quick to see that the lines are blurring between men’s and women’s wear and is starting to introduce more genderless options in its offer, as well as merge its women’s and men’s teams at times.
“We work incredibly collaboratively with the women’s team often viewing [collections] in conjunction and looking at one cohesive buy. For us it’s all about finding really great product for the customer whether that be a men’s or women’s piece and some of the new talents are really spearheading this including Wales Bonner, GMBH and Blindness,” Goldup said. “In regards to the super brands such as Gucci and Balenciaga, we’re mindful of the female shopper and often buy a wider size run in the items we deem appealing to women.”
For spring 2019, Goldup says he most looks forward to seeing how Virgil Abloh, Kim Jones and Riccardo Tisci will “mix things up” at Louis Vuitton, Dior Homme and Burberry, respectively, while London Fashion Week Men’s and Pitti Uomo — where the retailer is also set to host a dinner — remain an integral part of his buying schedule as scouting ground for new names.
“Pitti is a great place to spot new brands that we haven’t seen before in a different environment, while London still holds a very important place on the fashion calendar despite some of the big name exits,” Goldup added. “The fact that Martine Rose who is currently a men’s wear consultant at Balenciaga, one of the world’s biggest fashion houses still shows on the London calendar is testament to that.”
Despite the ongoing discussion around gender-blending and the rise of coed shows, Goldup also believes that there is still space for stand-alone men’s showcases, to shine the spotlight on young talent and further push the growth of the men’s industry.
“Keeping men’s fashion week separate allows for both established and up-and-coming designers to get their much deserved time in the limelight. Although in recent years men’s fashion globally is growing at a faster rate than women’s, the overall market it still very much dominated by women’s fashion,” he added.
Offering exclusive product for its customer is another key part of Browns’ strategy, with collaborations with streetwear label 424, Moncler Genius and 100% Eyewear all in the pipeline. — Natalie Theodosi