The rollicking situation with the U.S. government and the subsequent economic uncertainties are giving specialty stores some angst about their prospects in 2019.
With that as the backdrop, retailers were cautious as they shopped the trade shows in New York City last month. They scoured the aisles of Project, Liberty Fairs and Man searching for those special items that would draw customers into their stores. And luckily, they were able to find some things that fit the bill — updated knitwear, outerwear and accessories in particular — from some off-the-radar vendors with a creative bent.
“The fourth quarter overall was good, but the last two weeks of the year with the government shutdown and the market tanking took some steam out of our results,” said Ken Giddon, president of Rothmans.
Although he remains positive, Giddon said he’s expecting a “fight” to hit last year’s numbers, especially as traditional tailored clothing sales continue to drop. “There are a lot fewer suits being bought so we have to find dollars to make up for that,” he said.
And so Giddon, who admits that he loves “the hunt” at trade shows, pored through the hundreds of brands on display to find those replacement dollars. The good news, he said, is that because “there’s no real direction in the market, people are creating new product that’s more inventive — and that’s fun.”
He singled out Kynsho’s crossover cowl scarf as something he expects to draw shoppers, as well as Cardinal of Canada’s sport coat with a built-in hoodie. “Ted Baker looked really good,” he added, as did 40 Colori’s knit hats and scarves and Parajumpers jackets and the M. Singer collection. Other top finds included Nikky New York, a tailored clothing line, Stone Rose shirts, the Nifty Genius collection, Hestra gloves and Emanuel Berg’s high-end shirts. “Then there’s everybody’s secret weapon,” he said: Gimos, an Italian outerwear brand with strong styling that sells for half the price of other well-known European labels.
“Creativity is coming to the forefront,” he said.
Dan Farrington, general merchandise manager of Mitchells, wasn’t as impressed by what he found at the shows this time around and was planning to lean more heavily on the company’s long-standing vendors: Ermenegildo Zegna, Cucinelli and others of that ilk.
“There’s a sea of sameness and no one is taking chances, including retailers,” he said. Even so, he did find some “interesting knits” in models ranging from crewnecks to turtlenecks that can augment sales of wovens, which have gotten tired, he believes.
“It’s a sportswear world for sure,” he added. Although the ath-leisure trend has begun to wane, the performance fabrics and features they championed have impacted the men’s market permanently. “Customers are demanding more function and higher performance,” he said.
Farrington said overall, he was hopeful that Mitchells would “put up positive numbers this year,” despite the upheaval in the macro-environment. “We’ll be chasing what’s working and remain careful about what could be coming,” he said.
Mike Zack, owner of Circa 2000 in Plano, Tex., said change is happening so rapidly in retail these days that it requires merchants to be flexible and resourceful.
“The holidays were OK, but there are so many battles,” he said, pointing to not only the pure-play Internet merchants, but vendors going direct-to-consumer and undercutting their retailers on price. “So we have to come up with things people want and get creative,” he said.
For Circa 2000, that includes offering more women’s wear as well as “fun” accessories such as scarves, wallets, belts, sunglasses and shoes. And while traditional tailored clothing continues to struggle, he is having success with updated sport coats and hybrid outerwear.
“It’s really become an item business,” he said. “What we’re selling no one needs, so we have to find something different.”
Here are some of the highlights from the recently wrapped New York shows:
Brand: Fisher + Baker
Designer: Greg Horvitz
Backstory: The Minneapolis-based men’s brand was founded in 2016 by Horvitz, a furniture designer, who believes that objects should offer a functional yet beautiful design that will elicit emotional responses from the people that interact with them. He teamed with entrepreneur Mike Arbeiter, who had founded the InMotion technical cycling and outdoor brand, and together they created Fisher + Baker, a brand that uses premium fabrics and technical features on classic outerwear styles. Since then, the brand has expanded into knits and woven shirts as well and there’s even a knit travel blazer. The brand will begin offering bottoms for spring.
Key styles: The bestselling item is the Everyday Cashmere crew, a blend of Dri-release polyester and cashmere that is washable and offered in both long and short sleeves. The Chelsea trench is seam-sealed and breathable in a classic style intended to be worn with jeans or a dress outfit and the Manitou parka is made from water-resistant down with external media pockets with magnetic closures and hand warmer pockets.
Prices: The short-sleeved Everyday Cashmere shirt is $100, the Chelsea trenchcoat is $550 and the Manitou parka is $900.
Brand: Grenfell Ltd.
Designer: Joslyn Clarke
Backstory: From Amelia Earhart and Henry Cotton to Gregory Peck and Sir David Attenborough, the U.K.-based men’s outerwear firm has dressed adventurers and celebrities for nearly a century. The brand traces its history to 1923 when Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, a British doctor and missionary, created a technical gabardine cloth to protect himself from the elements as he trudged around the untamed Labrador coast of Newfoundland, Canada and the Arctic. This so-called “wonder fabric,” was the Gore-Tex of its day, said Mo Azam, managing director of the London-based company, and it started producing jackets, parkas, duffels and other outerwear styles. Azam’s family, which owns manufacturing plants in east London, acquired the brand in 2002 and relaunched Grenfell three years ago.
Key styles: Grenfell has retained its classic silhouettes but reworked them to address a modern customer. That includes trench coats and bombers in a variety of colors, along with raincoats, duffels, field jackets, parkas, capes, overshirts and even biking jackets. Patterns include Donegal tweeds, plaids, blazer stripes and windowpanes and an array of solids with corduroy collars, bellows pockets and other traditional details. Many are lined with the Grenfell house check. The coats are available in either classic or standard fit and the designs are inspired by the brand’s rich archives, but are not exact replicas. “We don’t want to be known as a heritage brand, but a modern brand with heritage,” he said.
Prices: The coats range in price from $300 for a basic Harrington jacket to $3,500 for an alpaca-lined storm coat in a British hunting tweed.
Brand: Coat of Arms
Backstory: Nam Chaudry, who previously designed for streetwear brand Triple Five Soul, wanted to design a line focused on technical outerwear and functional clothing. It was something he dabbled in at his former brand, but for Coat of Arms, he’s using a cleaner aesthetic. The line, which is in its first season, was picked up by Paragon Sports.
Key styles: Multiuse outerwear is the focus of the collection. A light puffer jacket with a black and olive tie-dye print could be packed up into a bag that seconds as an airplane pillow with a hood. The Double Entendre jacket includes a classic military shell with a water-repellent lining that can be worn alone or over the shell. And a reversible bomber jacket with invisible zippers can store a weekend’s worth of clothes and toiletries. The Flight pants are made from cotton and black ripstop materials with a front panel that unzips and reveals a Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment system that can hold various tools and packs.
Prices: Outerwear ranges from $400 to $500; bottoms retail from $220 to $250; tops retail from $150 to $200.
Backstory: This Norwegian knitwear line, which was founded in 1853, is known for outfitting fishermen who work in Arctic conditions. It has partnered with the Westerling showroom to create a collection made specifically for the U.S. market. Now in its second season, the line has been picked up by retailers including Unionmade, Barneys New York and Portland Dry Goods.
Key styles: The line of heavy knits, which are made from wool in Devold, Norway, is comprised of thick crew necks coming in a rust, grey and taupe, and zip up, funnel neck styles.
Prices: Sweaters retail from $225 to $275.
Designer: Toshiaki Watanabe
Backstory: The brand’s motto is “Uniform for Living,” and the Japanese denim producer takes its mission seriously. The company is based in Okayama Prefecture, a rural part of the country that is known for its superior denim fabric production. Cottle renovated a 120-year-old factory, imported machinery from the U.S. in a move to replicate the American method and then created a gallery and workshop to showcase its wares. It specializes in producing modern styles using traditional Japanese craftsmanship.
Key styles: For its jeans, Cottle offers a variety of washes ranging from light to dark in rigid to distressed finishes. They are available in three fits — standard, straight and slim-straight — as well as a wide-leg cargo style. Denim jackets, indigo pile bombers and denim shirts are also offered. The brand produces town coats dyed with persimmon juice and other natural materials, cotton smocks, flannel overshirts and T-shirts.
Prices: The jeans retail from $350 to $450, a bomber is $500 and a town coat is $900.
Brand: Nigel Cabourn for Element Wolfeboro
Backstory: The British designer has worked in fashion for over a half-century, producing collections inspired by real people, events and history with a nod to vintage military and workwear. For the past two seasons he has collaborated with Element Wolfeboro, a division of the Element skateboarding brand, on an exclusive capsule of outerwear, tailored jackets, accessories and even skateboard decks.
Key styles: Among the key styles are the Birchmont Cameraman Parka, which is inspired by a 1970s fireman’s jacket and Royal Navy sea jacket; a Blanket Alder Fleece jacket with a front zipper and blanket stripes that reflect a 1930s Navajo print, a hunting parka with a colorful camo print that references the vintage Cabourn “crazy camo;” military smocks, multi-pocket utilitarian vests and even a skateboard — the Cabourn Crazy Cruzer — with the same camo pattern.
Prices: The collection ranges from $200 to $40 retail.
Backstory: Reception, which is based in Paris, started as a T-shirt line that featured graphics of restaurants and places Pierre and Celine Boiselle, the brand’s husband and wife owners, visited around the world. It was quickly picked up by retailers including Kinfolk, Union and Wood Wood. The line’s positive reception gave the founders the confidence to create a proper collection, which they introduced for fall 2019.
Key styles: The collection is made in Portugal with fabrics imported from Japan and the U.K. Important items include a color block corduroy shirt and matching trousers, thick thermal knits, a down shirt, wool cashmere coats and shirts with embroidered graphics that were adapted from Vietnam War patches or old comic book illustrations.
Prices: Shirts retail from $160 to $250; trousers retail at $250; jackets retail from $300 to $650, and T-shirts are priced at $70.
Brand: De Bonne Facture
Backstory: Founded by Deborah Newberg in 2013, De Bonne Facture is a men’s wear line based in Paris that touts craftsmanship and relaxed elegance. Newberg is focusing more on sustainability by attempting to compress her supply chain and using Pyrennean wool from the South of France that’s spun locally She’s emphasized that by labeling each garment with the name of the maker and their location.
Key styles: Newberg showed classic men’s wear with a keen attention to details that included a shearling coat, a houndstooth jacket, unstructured jackets with shoulders constructed as men’s shirts, a suede bomber, a wool cashmere coat, corduroy pants and knit turtlenecks made from undyed wool.
Prices: Outerwear retails from $750 to $3,000; jackets retail from $650 to $850; trousers are priced from $350 to $450; shirts range from $290 to $390, and knits range from $300 to $450.