Josh Peskowitz

Josh Peskowitz is eager to start a conversation.

The vice president of fashion direction for men’s at Moda Operandi said men today are eager to embrace fashion — but it’s fashion on their terms. Guys are more comfortable creating their own style and retailers need to talk to them to determine what that style is and how to move it forward.

Back in the Fifties and Sixties, “everybody wore suits and it was de rigeur. The counter-culture of the Sixties gave men permission to change up their wardrobes but when it came to the workplace, they still needed to wear a suit.

A “sea change” happened in 1985 when Nike created the Air Force 1 sneaker for NBA star Michael Jordan. “He was the first person to ever have a signature shoe, which is such a huge part of our business now, and it really is an iconic design that people still wear to this day,” Peskowitz said, flashing the pair that was on his feet.

Fast-forward to 1992 when Grand Puba, a hip-hop artist in the group Brand Nubian, mentioned Tommy Hilfiger in a song. “He was the first person I ever heard name-check a designer in a song,” he said, adding that Grand Puba claimed to have been the one who actually put Hilfiger on the map.

This movement truly influenced the men growing up at that time. Those guys are now in the 35- to 50-year-old demographic, which is the “most powerful spending period in any man’s life,” he said. “This is the guy who was there at that time seeing this. That’s your customer.”

The other thing that influenced men fashion was the advent of casual Fridays, when the suit, “the backbone of their wardrobe,” began to decline, he said. “This led to a lot of men not knowing what to wear and we wound up with a lot of golf polos and pleated khakis in the office. But those relaxing of the rules has led to where we are now: with social media and paying attention to clothing and the ascension of hip-hop music, the rules have really gone away.”

For stylish men, the elimination of rules is great “because they can choose their own adventure, but for some men, it’s really challenging, and our job as retailers is to make sure we’re giving them guidance.”

For retailers, this requires a rethinking of the rules, he said.

“The ways stores are set up is by department and that is not the way men dress, particularly in this day and age,” he said. “If you think about a grown man who is very stylish, but is also in charge, he might be wearing a sport coat, he might be wearing trousers, but he’s wearing them with sneakers. No one dresses head to toe in one brand so the way stores are set up now is a challenge for the customer to find what he’s looking for.”

At Moda Operandi, Peskowitz said the company doesn’t preach to men on what they need to wear but instead sets up “guardrails so they can make their own decisions.” The web site offers styled outfits as “inspiration” and that aesthetic defines the retailer’s point of view, but then the guy can pick and choose what works for him.

For all but the most highly fashion engaged, they’re not really interested in what’s going on on the runways. There are only a handful of guys who follow the catwalk and they’re “super important, especially at the higher end of the luxury and designer market. But most men are defining their own style, and what’s more important to them are brands and brand stories,” he said.

That has caused Moda Operandi, which was founded on the business model of ordering directly from the runway, to shift gears, especially when it comes to men’s wear, a category it only recently entered. The retailer instead is embracing more editorial content and special projects to engage customers all year, even when it’s not fashion season.

Men’s is the fastest growing part of the fashion industry and “the place where the most excitement is happening,” he said. “It’s reflected in the attention paid to shows and the way artists and athletes are dressing now. It’s the single thing we need to figure out, how to get to that guy and get him into new clothes and new ways of thinking. But he has his own ideas, so it really needs to be a conversation.”

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