Saturday, July 24, 2010

MRketNY 2010: The business of menswear

MRketNY is a US menswear tradeshow featuring leading makers and suppliers of men's clothing selling to independent stores and larger accounts. From my perspective it was a very well-organized show and bustling with appointments and foot traffic the day I visited.  I enjoyed visiting many of the booths and chatting with owners, sales reps and other staff.  It's certainly a must-attend for higher end retailers and clothing manufacturers. Many thanks to Maggie and her colleagues for organizing access to the show.

The show can be grouped in several primary categories: American makers (including "heritage brands" and American trad), Italian suppliers, UK makers and men's accessories. Below is a snapshot of some of my conversations.

American trad / heritage: Rufus, Alden, Allen-Edmonds

At the show I thought some of the busiest booths were found in the American trad and heritage brands such as Vineyard Vines and Bill's Khakis.

Rufus is an American brand whose shirts are supplied by the New England Shirt Company (aka the Fall River Shirt Company and before that the Shelburne Shirt Company). The shirt factory is located in Fall River, MA. In a sense, Rufus was offering heritage before the current swell of heritage brands. Their target audience is an "updated traditionalist" who is interested in versatile sports shirts that can transition into dress shirts. Sizings run from S-XXXL.

At the Alden booth, I had a friendly chat with one of the regional sales reps. Alden has held up extremely well despite the economic downturn in the past couple of years.  In particular, customers are still snapping up their Indiana Jones boots. In aggregate, demand is exceeding supply - witness the six month backlog at the Alden factory.  Incidentally, during my visit, I spotted the owner of Leffot examining his special make-up models for his store. On the table were six or seven bluchers and oxfords in a natural finish.

Allen-Edmonds had a large booth centrally situated on the floor, befitting their prominence in American men's shoes. They were displaying their Fall 2010 and Spring 2011 lineups. The Spring 2011 collection features 19 new models including the combination linen (or mesh) and leather Strawfut, the Winnetka loafer and the Montecito classic penny loafer. Interesting factoid: Their recrafting business is on track to process 60,000 pairs of shoes this year.

UK : Drakes of London

The Brits have long played a standard bearer role in menswear and men's style. Think Savile Row, the Duke of Windsor, mods, Carnaby Street, etc.  So it is not surprising at all that the Brits were well represented at MRketNY: Corgi (socks), Dents (gloves), Drakes (ties), Edward Green (shoes), Hilditch & Key (shirts) and leaders in the high-end knitwear market (Johnstons of Elgin).

UKFT MRketNY ad July 2010

Drakes of London, the English tiemaker, was in attendance and I enjoyed having an excellent chat with the owner Michael Drake. Shedding modesty for a second, I'm happy to report that he is a regular reader of Sleevehead. Mr. Drake works with the leading retailers and tailors around the world, some of whom I have written about in my blog.

Don't miss his excellent, miniature essay on the details of style at Permanent Style. He provides informed "advice" hewing closely to the original Latin sense of the word, that is, providing a certain way of looking at something. With style, it does matter who is doing the looking and in this case Michael Drake knows of what he speaks. What I like best is that he allows some permeability around his rules, making room for a modicum of personal eccentricity in style.

The other reason why you ought to read the essay is his ability to draw from the dual history of menswear. Women's fashion has largely had a singular historical path grounded in Parisian haute couture. In contrast, men's clothing branched off in the early 20th century when Savile Row tailoring traditions and the British high society look were "ripped and smoothed" (to borrow a tailoring phrase from Richard Anderson's autobiography) by Italian consumers and tailors up and down the peninsula.  Perhaps more ripped than smoothed actually (esp. in the south). The best dressers today are well aware of this dual history and generally proceed to pitch their tent in one of these two traditions. Even rarer, there are a handful who comfortably traverse between the traditions of Savile Row and the inventiveness and experimentation of the Italians in equal measure. Drake is one of the few who are uniquely steeped in the stylistic forces at play in Italy and the UK.

Italy: Giudice, Perofil

Along with the Brits, the Italians came as an organized group under the auspices of the Italian Trade Commission. Impressively, an entire aisle of the tradeshow floor was taken up by RTW and MTM Italian manufacturers and suppliers, including Borsalino (hats), Allegri (outerwear), Valstar (outerwear), Lorenzini (shirts), Luciano Moresco (shirts), Maremma and Marcoliani (socks).

I was walking by the Marcello Tarantino booth when I saw two lovely Neapolitan style jackets with manica camicia (shirt style) shoulders, as well as more traditional set-in shoulder models. Tarantino is the brand name for the suits and jackets on display and Giuduce is the trade name for the manufacturing operations in Sicily where the suits are made. I chatted with Giovanni, the gentleman who apparently runs the factory in Sicily, and learned the factory employs 200 workers and tailors. They can also work with retailers to offer MTM and RTW. Interestingly enough, they have very active accounts in Japan and South Korea.

However, I was very surprised to hear that Tarantino / Giuduce do not have retail representation in New York City. None! In my opinion, there is an excellent, greenfield retail opportunity for affordable, RTW Neapolitan style jackets and suits in NYC. If I were in retail, I would probably explore this opportunity myself. After having virtually zero presence in the American market, bespoke tailors from Naples have begun to travel to the US in the past couple of years to meet growing demand for this distinctive and soft silhouette. But no one seems to have cracked the RTW market. Granted, there are some who think Neapolitan RTW is not an easy sell, perhaps due to higher construction and fitting requirements.  However, I think the creation of block patterns for RTW is eminently feasible. We need only to look at the success of Japanese RTW labels that offer trim cuts and shirt shoulder construction (e.g. Engineered Garments). Indeed, I saw other booths featuring shirt-style shoulder jackets that were certainly designed for the RTW market (such as Daniel Hechter).

For gents seeking fitted crewneck or V-neck t-shirts, you may want to ask your local retailer to stock Perofil, an Italian maker of undergarments since 1910. I prefer to wear t-shirts under my dress and sports shirts to absorb any perspiration. The dilemma then becomes trying to fit a loosely cut RTW t-shirt under a fitted, bespoke dress shirt. Oftentimes I find the armhole and chest of the t-shirt is larger than that of the dress shirt. However, Perofil's display shirts looked quite trim with higher armholes than I've seen in the US market and a potential solution for the slim, athletic or lean gent. They appear to use quality materials (long staple cotton that is combed, twisted and mercerized) and modern RTW production processes.

Accessories: Baade II, Dorfman-Pacific, Blick, Jack Georges

Baade II is an American men's jewelry and accessories maker. I chatted with Traci, one of the owners, simply because I noticed three shorter-length tie bars in the display case as I walked by. They were shorter than the standard 2.5 or 3+ inch length of most tie bars. As I learned, magazine editors often call her requesting shorter tie bars for use in photo shoots because they are difficult to find. I agree. Until recently, you could only find shorter length tie bars (i.e. 2 inches or less) in vintage shops. But now they've become the natural companion to slim ties. Baade II uses single specialized workers in Providence, RI for specific tasks in the jewelry and metalworking process such as finishing. Providence used to be the center for such work in the US. They also work with the leading enamelers in Birmingham, England, for cloisonne enamel work. Traci started the business by making double-paneled cuff links but today there is not much interest in them (except for the occasional account like NYC retailer Barney's).

At Dorfman-Pacific, I spoke with John Callanan about the booming business of hats these days, right in in the middle of a slow men's retail market. In his view, the hat resurgence seemed to start a couple of years ago.  I caught a whiff of this fedora frenzy in my travels and wrote about the 4 reasons to wear a hat last year.  For trendspotters, John thinks stingy brim is on the wane (i.e. less than one inch brim) with fuller brims (circa two inch) taking their stead. Among the Williamsburg and Lower East Side hipster set, straw boater hats are catching on. John received his first request for a boater two years ago from a Gen Y Williamsburg hipster. A couple of other interesting factoids. The majority of fedora wearers today seem to be women. Anyone walking around the streets of Manhattan in the past few months would agree. In addition, John mentioned that four new hat shops in NYC have opened up in Nolita just in the past few months.

I also spent a few minutes at Blick, which sells slim and narrow ties from widths of 7 cm (2.75 inches) and a standard length of 146 cm (58 inches).  The blade linings are purposefully irreverent and colorful. The ties are manufactured in Vietnam and the materials sourced from Liberty of London and Italian mills. They are selling well in Europe and looking to expand into the US market. With brands like Band of Outsiders filling in a niche for younger customers buying slimmer ties to match trimmer jackets with narrower lapels, I suspect (and hope) slimmer ties are here to stay. I think the look works very well for certain men.

Blick slim ties_flickr

For readers interested in leather accessories, I dropped by New Jersey-based leather accessories maker Jack Georges and chatted with the owner about exotic leathers and pricing of accessories like alligator briefcases (about $7,000). The price is high due in large part to the additional challenges of procuring larger skins. A 7 year old alligator produces skins barely a foot wide - not large enough for a briefcase. A briefcase needs the hide of a larger and older (15 year old) alligator with all the requisite costs of raising a farmed alligator for that length of time. But very few suppliers are willing to do that.

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