LAS VEGAS — The fourth quarter wasn’t pretty for most retailers. Pre- and post-election angst, unrelenting price promotions, pressure from aggressive online players and a distracted consumer all contributed to a rough end to 2016.
But retailers aren’t about to roll over. To fight back, they’re scouring the market for new brands and hot trends that will move the needle. They’ve also learned that it’s not just about offering men the latest in ath-leisure or technical tailored clothing. Today’s customer is seeking unique experiences and merchandise with an authentic story that will allow them to create their own unique style — and make a statement.
Trade show operators are also shifting their focus in the face of this new reality.
Case in point: Aaron Levant, founder of Agenda, upped the ante on experiences at his trade show this season by featuring more cash-and-carry than ever before — Generation Cool, a vintage store based in Tucson, Ariz., set up a lively booth for shoppers. Levant also created an area where brands, some that don’t wholesale, were able to design their own booth. The space felt more like an art fair than a trade show.
“It’s about experiences and community,” said Levant, who last year helped facilitate ComplexCon, a Complex-branded festival that featured live performances, pop-up shops, food and art. “We wanted create spaces where people could hang out and shop.”
As retailers take these lessons to heart, things are slowly starting to look up. Although business is still not exactly robust, stores are seeing signs of life and remain hopeful that the scene will continue to improve as the year progresses.
Dan Farrington, general merchandise manager for Mitchells Family of Stores, said, “We’re seeing a lot more bright spots,” noting that the holidays were “a little better than expected. It might be buyers’ optimism, but I feel good.”
He said he was shopping the shows for some “extra touches — fun things,” primarily in contemporary sportswear. “That’s a good area for us and I like what I’m seeing in the market.”
Todd Epperley, vice president for Halls in Kansas City, Mo., said holiday sales were “flat” after a tough start to fall, but there were some areas of strength including activewear from Rhone and casual sportswear from Bonobos. “So we’re here looking for new brands that aren’t sold on Amazon,” he said.
Scott Collins, vice president and gmm of DTLR, the Baltimore-based urban apparel and footwear chain, said the delay in tax refunds is eating into the company’s business. He said February is usually bigger than December for DTLR as young shoppers flock to the stores for the new sneaker releases and to update their apparel wardrobes. “We need it to get momentum,” he said.
Collins said he is expecting the tax refunds to be released shortly at which point the young customers will hit the stores. “We’re confident March will bring significant business,” he said.
Abby Doneger, president and chief executive officer for Doneger Group, characterized the current climate as challenging, but stressed that it’s also “a time of tremendous opportunity” for retailers who have survived the latest “correction. In the U.S., there are too many malls and too many stores, trying to sell too much merchandise,” he said. But well-run companies focused on the consumer will prosper, Doneger believes.
Here are some of the most innovative brands from the Las Vegas men’s shows.
Backstory: The upscale 23-year-old outerwear brand was searching for a solution to changing weather patterns from global warming and customers’ ongoing search for lighter-weight coats that were not bulky. So last year, the New York-based manufacturer created a new technology called Heat System where it fitted two of its coats with a battery pack that connected to three panels on the interior of the chest and back with three temperature settings that could heat the coat from 100 to 120 degrees. The test was so successful that the brand has built an entirely new division around the technology called Thermoluxe Heat System. Thermoluxe is a proprietary down alternative material that Rainforest created in 2014.
Key pieces: Thermoluxe Heat System is available in every style that Rainforest produces. The brand offers three separate collections: core, which consists of lightweight packable quilted jackets and hoodies; heritage, which is more rugged with military details, leather and shearling trim, and the commuter line of three-in-ones and trenches that are designed to be worn over a blazer or suit. President Jack Wu said versatility is key and every coat is available in either traditional down or Thermoluxe and can be equipped with the Heat System technology or without it. “Not everybody needs an SUV,” he said, “but it’s nice.”
Prices: Vests equipped with Heat System technology start at $350, a quilted butler’s jacket is $495 and a fishtail parka with coyote fur hood is $950. Prices for models without Heat System are around $200 lower.
Brand: Michael Bastian Gray Label
Designer: Michael Bastian
Backstory: Just over a year ago, the designer sold a significant interest in his men’s wear brand to Bluestar Alliance, which began executing a licensing model to expand the brand. For spring, the label will begin offering a more affordable collection of sportswear, tailored clothing, furnishings and footwear under the Michael Bastian Gray Label. And for fall, the brand is expanding into small leather goods through a licensing deal with Bespoke Goods. Bastian, who served as men’s fashion director for Bergdorf Goodman before launching his own line 10 years ago, said although Gray Label is licensed to a number of different companies, its aesthetic is consistent among all product categories. “I work with all the design teams,” he said. “It’s all centered around me; I’m the hub.”
Key pieces: Belts, wallets and bags all take their cues from Bastian’s apparel and footwear collections, using similar prints, colors and patterns with the designer’s military-inspired aesthetic. There are reversible V-ring belts with banana-leaf print camouflage or leopard patterned leather; roller-buckle camp belts; bucket-shape backpacks in canvas with leather detailing; zip wallets with interior card cases, and dopp and shaving kits. Gym bags sport a snake-print canvas with leather handles that complement some of Bastian’s footwear models.
Prices: The bags will retail from $175 to $295 and the wallets will sell for $35 to $55.
Backstory: In 2015, brothers Christopher and Billy Hines teamed with longtime friend Jack Hurley to create Arcady. The Los Angeles-based brand, which takes its name from the ancient Greek region of Arcadia, was founded to fulfill the brothers’ search for a high-quality, good-fitting bomber jacket that was made in the U.S. at a reasonable price. For its first season, Arcady is offering a concise collection of updated T-shirts and long-sleeve shirts, sweaters, pants and coats, all made in L.A.
Key pieces: The signature piece is a slate lamb leather bomber that is complemented by a shearling moto jacket, a laser-cut and water-resistant parka lined with fox fur; a high-loft, textured cashmere hoodie, a mohair crewneck sweater, and high-waisted Hollywood pleated pants.
Prices: A button-down flannel shirt is $220, the Hollywood pants are $400, the bombers are $1,700 and the parka tops out at $3,200.
Backstory: The world’s largest men’s accessories manufacturer is embracing the trend toward personalization. The New York-based company, which produces belts, small leather goods, neckwear, luggage, casual bags, jewelry and seasonal accessories for more than 75 brands including Kenneth Cole, Nautica, Dockers and others, has created a collection of pins, patches and stackable bracelets that is intended to appeal to the young shopper’s search to accessorize their outfits with unique messaging through DIY additions.
Key pieces: Pins offer “kitschy phrases” that can be added to jackets, caps or backpacks, according to Randa’s Richard Carroll, senior vice president of marketing and creative director. Iron-on patches include everything from pizza slices and beer cans to avocados and French fries. Bracelets are offered in a range of materials including leather, gunmetal or gemstones. Most of the offering is unbranded, Carroll said, although some of the higher-priced bracelets are merchandised under higher-end labels such as Kenneth Cole or Countess Mara. “It’s not about the brand,” Carroll said. “It’s about the look. The market is moving so fast and it’s all about personalization, multiple purchases and getting it to market quickly.”
Prices: Pins retail for $9.99 to $12.99, patches are $8.99 for a single and $12.99 for doubles and the bracelets range from $12.99 to $40.
Brand: Norman Russell
Designer: Kortney Hasten
Backstory: Hastin, who founded his Los Angeles brand in 2012, continues to grow and evolve the collection, which started out as mostly denim. For fall, he’s taking a turn and producing items that would work well in the popular contemporary, streetwear-influenced category.
Key pieces: Hastin elevated the ath-leisure-leaning bomber jacket with brushed wool and a jacquard camouflage fabric. He also produced drop-crotch trousers with drawstrings, high-neck woven shirts — his take on a turtleneck — and a shearling coat. In denim, he’s added more silhouettes including a roomier fit that has a tapered leg, cropped styles and a pair that has a slight drop crotch.
Prices: Woven tops range from $240 to $340; jackets are priced from $480 to $580; leather outerwear retails from $1,250 to $1,450 and denim sells from $250 to $425.
Designer: Masanaka Sakai
Backstory: Tatras, which is named after the Tatra mountain range in Eastern Europe, is starting to explore U.S. distribution. The collection, which launched in 2006, is produced in Poland with Japanese and Italian fabrics. The outerwear brand, which has previously collaborated with Robert Geller and Kevin James Morley, is known for coats that merge technical and sartorial details. It operates two flagships in Japan and will open a store in Milan soon. Other stockists include Isetan, Beams and Luisa Via Roma.
Key pieces: This season, Tatras partnered with Italian men’s wear designer Lucio Vanotti on a capsule collection of coats modeled after a classic men’s shirt. The coats, which come in varying lengths and colors, feature a striped lining. Other important items include camouflage bombers, parkas with an iridescent sheen, and puffer coats. Each piece features an exaggerated zipper — the brand calls it zipper jewelry.
Prices: The collection retails from $595 to $1,295.
Brand: Reigning Champ
Designer: Tung Vo
Backstory: The Vancouver-based brand has its roots in manufacturing and production for other brands — everyone from Supreme to Ralph Lauren. But eight years ago, the company opted to create and market its own brand, and Reigning Champ was born.
Key pieces: The brand is built on athletic classics such as T-shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts, sweatpants and shorts. But what sets them apart is the rugged construction and comfort factor built into the pieces. Each season, the brand steps into more-elevated territory with its Sea to Sky program, which for fall includes more technical fabrics in jackets such as an insulated shearling bomber and other models that are wind- and water-resistant.
Prices: The average retail price point is around $150.
Designer: Tyler Rowe
Backstory: Rowe started Hasta, which is Latin for sphere, two years ago, but this is his first season designing the collection on his own — he used to work with another designer. Rowe, who has a background in the film and music industries, has shifted the brand to be less focused on performance. Instead he’s updating classic sportswear with plush fabrics. The New York-based line is sold at Isetan, Machus in Portland, and Friend in New Orleans.
Key pieces: Football was the starting point for Rowe, who created high pile fleece pullovers influenced by NFL legend Joe Namath’s fur coats, and thermal knits modeled after football jerseys. Parkas are made from ventile cotton and sweatshirts feature laser-cut hems. Other highlights are corduroy bombers and a cobalt blue coach’s jacket.
Prices: The Made in New York collection is priced from $60 to $500.
Backstory: This Japanese line is based on sustainability. Everything is made from either organic or recycled cotton and wood. The two-year-old brand has just entered the U.S. market.
Key pieces: Sdv’s signature is its white hand stitching and its deerskin patches. The brand previewed a parka that can be worn three ways — an MA-1 bomber jacket is attached to the interior — knits made from wool alpaca and nylon, collarless flannel shirts and jersey sweatshirts. According to Mayan Rajendran, who represents the brand for M5 showroom, buyers are liking that the collection is soft to the touch, comfortable and sells at a reasonable price.
Prices: The line, which is all made in Japan, is priced from $190 to $950.
Designer: Patrick Elkaim
Backstory: In 2014, Elkaim, who previously worked as head of men’s for Buffalo Jeans, picked up the license for We Are Massiv, a Los Angeles streetwear brand. His intention was to grow the line beyond graphic T-shirts, but he abandoned that project after the vision for the line shifted. He used his learnings to launch Praise in 2016, which ships out of Los Angeles but is headquartered in Montreal. The contemporary collection, which hits on streetwear and ath-leisure, is sold in retailers including Bred in the Bronx and Exclusive Game in Atlanta.
Key pieces: Outerwear is important for the line, and for fall, Praise is offering a side-zip puffer jacket and coach’s jackets with sherpa linings. The assortment, which is unisex, also features thermal joggers, tech fleece jackets and track suits.
Prices: The line retails from $50 for a T-shirt to $450 for a long down coat.
Brand: Blondie Beach by Round Two
Backstory: Brice Waller and Errol Chatham of Blondie Beach, a Los Angeles-based duo that throws parties and hosts a radio show, teamed with Lucas Fracher, Chris Russow and Justin Esposito of Round Two, a vintage and modern streetwear shop in Los Angeles. The group created a room they thought would appeal to the typical hypebeast and decorated it with Supreme paraphernalia, Kaws figurines, a gaming system and a black Bart Simpson, which was painted on the wall. The space was stocked with Blondie Beach and Round Two graphic T-shirts and vintage pieces from Round Two’s shop on Melrose.
Key pieces: The collection consists of graphic T-shirts with Blondie Beach and Round Two graphics inspired by the Muscle Beach typography from the Eighties. Round Two also produces its own T-shirts with logos modeled after Polo Sport. The space featured vintage and modern items from Round Two’s store such as Polo Sport coats, Tommy Hilfiger items, BAPE and Supreme pieces, and rap concert T-shirts from the Nineties.
Prices: The Blondie Beach x Round Two T-shirts retail for $30.
Backstory: Umbro, which is owned by Iconix, recently signed a licensing deal with Outerstuff, which is now tasked with turning a 92-year-old heritage soccer brand into a lifestyle offering. According to Pete Sparaco, the senior director of sales at Umbro, since starting to show at Agenda this year, the brand has picked up accounts including Urban Outfitters, PacSun and Zumiez.
Key pieces: The classic Umbro soccer jersey is an important piece in the assortment along with poly fleece bomber jackets, checkered and crinkled nylon soccer shorts, logo T-shirts and hoodies, and vintage-inspired track suits.
Prices: The line is priced from $30 for a logo T-shirt to $100 for a track jacket.
Brand: Champion x Wood Wood
Backstory: The Copenhagen-based contemporary streetwear brand founded by Karl-Oskar Olsen and Brian SS Jensen teamed with the venerable Champion label two years ago on a capsule collection. The men’s and women’s line reinterprets classic Champion pieces such as reverse-weave sweatshirts, sweatpants, polos and hoodies with distinct Wood Wood prints and embroideries that speaks to the brand’s unique blend of high fashion, sports and streetwear.
Key pieces: The fall collection consists of 38 pieces including a white sweatshirt with a CWW logo emblazoned on the front, colorblock polos and nylon hoodies, updated T-shirts and button-down shirts with traditional athletic collars but with heavy appliques making them uniquely Wood Wood. The traditional Champion sweatpant, usually wide enough to slip on over a sneaker, has been slimmed down so it feels more like a fashion piece than one strictly intended as a warm-up at the gym.
Prices: T-shirts open at $65 and a nylon hoodie is $190.
Brand: Lucid FC
Designer: Chet DeHart
Backstory: Twin brothers Chet and Betts DeHart created Lucid FC — which stands for fashion and clothing — in 2010 when they were just 14 years old. Atlanta natives, Chet attended the prestigious Central Saint Martins school in London to study design, while his brother concentrated on business. The result is what the brothers call a “proper streetwear” collection that “transcends cultural boundaries and specializes in timeless, trend-setting, unique design.” The collection, which is carried in Urban Outfitters, Galeries Lafayette, VFiles and others, has become known for its celebrity following that includes Rihanna, Justin Bieber, A$AP Rocky and others.
Key pieces: The fall collection takes its inspiration from prep school and is broken down into three color palettes: a green and tan offering that pays homage to classic preppie style; a yellow and red plaid group that has a punk aesthetic, and a black-and-white streetwear-inspired looks, many of which sport the brand’s Lucid FC logo. Fabrics range from leather and moleskin to silk and wool and key silhouettes include windbreakers, sweatshirts, oversize pants and updated field jackets.
Prices: Hats and T-shirts start at $65 and the field jacket is $180.