NEW YORK — The men’s trade show circuit was back in full swing last week with everyone from Project, MAN, the newcomer, Society, the Park Lane show and even a consortium of showrooms welcoming retailers back to a sweltering New York City for the spring buying season.
The atmosphere was undeniably upbeat even though menswear sales have begun to cool off after a blistering run. While macro conditions such as rising inflation, high gas prices, the ongoing war in Ukraine and lingering supply chain issues were top of mind, they didn’t appear to cut into the open-to-buy budgets for most retailers. And while prices have inched up for many brands, they didn’t report receiving a lot of pushback.
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“In the last nine to 12 months, business was unbelievable, driven by the wedding market that we think will be even better in 2023,” said Fred Derring, president of DLS Outfitters, a menswear buying office. “Everyone came out of June with nice increases, but after July 4, things slowed down. So they’re approaching fall tentatively in how much they buy, but everyone is still upbeat. They have open-to-buy and money in their pockets.”
The retail members of DLS were making the rounds to all the shows and showrooms, which were scattered around town. While Derring said it would be a lot easier if the organizers worked together to organize in a central location, the stores still made the trek to see as much as possible before finalizing their orders after the Chicago Collective in early August.
Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, was happy to be able to be back out in the market in New York and attend trade shows to “scout new product and reconnect with the vendors we already have,” he said. Pask, who said the date of the shows was especially advantageous since his buying team had completed its European swing and returned home, felt a sense of enthusiasm among stores and vendors as he worked the home market.
“What I loved about the shows is every one had a specific characteristic,” he said. MAN offered up “a globally curated group of brands with lots of new discoveries,” he said. Project was “uplifting” with its assortment of cool brands from the U.S. and overseas; We United, one of the showrooms that participated in market week, showcased small-batch denim and Belgian linen labels, and Society brought out the high-end “gentlemanly” brands. “It was a really great group,” Pask said.
The shows also delivered some trends, including the rise of wovens to complement popular knitwear, in items such as short-sleeved camp shirts in interesting prints and patterns. Linen has also made inroads in everything from jackets, shirts and pants to shorts, he said. Denim continues to be important, and there is a lot of focus on luxury casual slip-on loafers and mules.
Jian DeLeon, Nordstrom men’s fashion and editorial director, said he was glad to see the men’s trade shows back in New York, described Project’s new location as “cozier,” and,like Pask, was happy to reconnect and scout brands.
“It was also great to see smaller brands like Little Africa and Krost highlighted as well as some of the labels we’re continuing to work with, like Monfrere and Wax London,” he added.
“Our business is great,” said Jason Somerfeld of Letter J, a contemporary men’s retailer in Manhattan’s Chelsea. The store, which offers an elevated mix from brands such as Orlebar Brown, Etro, Officine Générale and Stone Island, said his assortment of “modern, sophisticated casualwear” is addressing the post-pandemic dress code. “That’s how the world is,” he said.
Somerfeld was searching for brands that were not widely distributed for the customer who is buying less commodity product. Although the price increases have been substantial, especially for product from Italy, his customers have continued to shop. “We’ve been through worse,” he said. “And there’s always a customer for the best.”
Stefan Ayon, director of sales at Slavin Raphael, spied a number of retailers from the U.S. at the shows including Jaxon Grey, The Optimist, Frank Clothiers, Moda and Cueva Shop and Ssense, La Maison Simons and Hills of Kerrisdale in Canada. “In Canada, retailers are more price sensitive,” said Ayon, who reps brands like Suicoke and Tiger of Sweden. “We’ve benefited from return to work and weddings,” he said about tailoring brand Tiger of Sweden. “We had a record June in Toronto and are selling tuxedos all year round.”
Chris Molnar, founder and co-chief executive officer of Goodlife, was showing the brand at Project as the company continues to focus on its wholesale business, despite a strong direct-to-consumer presence. Goodlife currently operates five stores and will add another four by the fourth quarter, he said, but still views wholesale as essential to the company’s future success. Among his best retail customers are Nordstrom and Dillard’s, and while he said his business is good, it’s not without its issues.
“The market is challenging. Retailers are playing things close to the vest,” he said. But because Goodlife is focused on the high-margin replenishment market, sales have remained strong. He has also managed to hold prices steady, despite higher material and supply chain costs.
“We haven’t really raised prices,” he said. “Seventy percent of our product is made in the U.S., so we’ve held prices on our core product and we hope that will benefit us.”
Goodlife is also benefiting from the move away from athleisure to more elevated, sophisticated casualwear, which is right in his company’s wheelhouse. And although Molnar said there’s no escaping the larger economic issues like inflation and high gas prices, “retailers are not reluctant to spend, so we’re not feeling it as much as others might.”
Economic and political issues were on some buyers’ minds and have caused them to scale back, said Travis Weaver and Simon Black of One DNA, a New York-based gender-neutral brand showing at Project. But the brand’s softer, cleaner, minimalistic approach is still finding fans.
Weaver said that One DNA is now offering a wider range of price points and added accessories, such as trucker hats, to supplement its striped cotton poplin shirts, parachute cargo pants and cropped Ts.
“These are unsettling times,” Black said. “But you have to remain optimistic.”
“I would say that this is the moment where people are ready to reconvene with retail following the e-commerce boom,” said Thermal Taveras, cofounder of Whensmokeclears, who showed at Project, and who echoed Black’s optimism.
The designer showed his collection at the Made x Paypal two-day event, which was curated by Public School’s Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne, as one of three brands to participate in a group fashion show, with K.ngsley and Bed On Water.
“I feel like the consumer wants the moment to touch things and it’s safer than it has been for the last few years,” Taveras added about Project. “It’s time to be able to do stuff like this and physically connect.”
The changing landscape also impacted the brand mix at Society. According to Coleman McCartan, vice president of international business development for Wainscot Media, organizer of the show, the ongoing war in Ukraine impacted the ability of many European brands to have their samples ready and make the trip to the U.S. for the market. The original plan was for Society to only offer international brands but McCartan said as a result of difficulties in Europe, it opened the show to U.S. brands as well.
Here are a few highlights from the shows:
Designer: Thermal Taveras
Backstory: Thermal Taveras and K$ace launched Whensmokeclears in 2016 with jewelry before expanding into ready-to-wear, footwear and accessories. Chief brand strategist K$ace, whose full name is Kyle Nelson, flowed through New York’s skate and music scene, crossing over into modeling for Teen Vogue before establishing Whensmokeclears with cofounder, creative director and designer Taveras, who hails from the Bronx and previously had a film career. The duo started a production company before creating the label, and operate out of Atlanta.
Key pieces: Since launching rtw, the duo’s most popular style is their World Boss Pants, which have become a celebrity favorite and have been seen on rappers Jack Harlow on his 2020 album “That’s What They All Say,” and on Coi Leray. This collection is inspired by connecting to your roots, and has patterns that represent dial tones and flags of Caribbean countries, including the Dominican Republic, where the cofounders have roots; Jamaica; Barbados; Trinidad and Tobago; the Bahamas; Cuba, and Haiti. They nod to Caribbean style as well with mesh shirts and nets on jeans. The duo expanded the World Boss Pants franchise, which features a signature heart motif, by offering the pants in denim and leather with calling cards sewn as an all-over pattern. They also debuted the Doorman embroidered blazer, and signature hearts found their way onto bucket hats and accessories, as well as on their Chain Mail Top.
Retail prices: T-shirts begin at $85 and outerwear sits at the top of the range at $550.
Brand: Cardinal of Canada
Designer: Antoine Charlebois
Backstory: With a founding date of 1938, the Montreal-based company has a history of manufacturing fine, sophisticated outerwear for men. But last year it went through a revamp, updating its assortment and offering a wider variety of pieces to appeal to the modern customer. The spring collection marks designer Charlebois’ second season for the company, and with a line that is carried everywhere from Bloomingdale’s to Rothmans, he has effectively moved Cardinal of Canada into outerwear that can double as contemporary sportswear.
Key pieces: The brand is known for its topcoats, but the assortment has been updated, offering the familiar silhouette with special Primaloft linings that can be removed when not needed. Cardinal brought both its fall collection as well as spring for retailers who were in the market for immediates as well as next season. The fall line featured car coats, trenches, down-filled jackets, updated raincoats and quilted vests. For spring, a puffer-inspired peacoat and a water-repellent shirt-jacket or trench in a reflective fabric helped move the brand forward. There was also a waist-length jacket with a matching drawstring pant, a puffer vest, and a linen shirt-jacket that was paired with a matching short. The booth also showed the company’s handmade Nikky collection of tailored clothing, with canvas suits that were described as “sartorial but not stuffy.”
Retail prices: The prices of the outerwear for fall range from $613 to $848, while the spring collection includes a puffer jacket for $450. The remainder of the line averages around $595.
Designer: Dan Snyder
Backstory: Snyder started his business career as an independent contractor for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but hated the way his suits fit. So he borrowed his aunt’s vintage Kenmore sewing machine and taught himself to sew. He started making shirts in his East Village walk-up in New York and decided to take a booth at a trade show to test the waters. He wrote orders with 12 independent menswear stores from that one rack in 2013, and was on his way. Since then he has built Corridor into a contemporary American-skewed sportswear collection that is heavily rooted in shirts, but also offers pants, knitwear, suits, accessories and footwear. The company currently has four stores – two in New York and two in L.A. – with a fifth slated to open shortly on Bleecker Street in Manhattan.
Thomas JA Lehman
Key pieces: Snyder designs all of the brand’s textiles and key pieces for spring include crocheted shirts, one with an “evil eye” pattern; an acid plaid exploded herringbone style — “We’re doing a lot more optical plays,” Snyder said — a rattan-style shirt, macro plaids, a variety of polos and crewneck sweaters, and a small collection of complementary shorts and long pants, including one with railroad-style stripes.
Retail prices: Shirts retail for around $200 and the knitwear is $400 to $700.
Brand: Phoenix Rising
Designer: Nic Jones
Backstory: Phoenix Rising is Jones’ latest foray in fashion. The creative previously ran Surface to Air with David Jackson and Canadian boutique Jonathan+Olivia in Toronto, and Jones launched Phoenix Rising at the MAN show. The brand is named after Jones’ son, Phoenix, as well as a phoenix rising from the ashes of previous venture Surface to Air.
Key pieces: Jones leaned on musical references, band logos and tongue-in-cheek humor for the collection of T-shirts and hoodies. While the permanent collection has different interpretations of the Phoenix Rising name and bird logo, the seasonal offering nods to many bands, including British electronic band The KLF. The designer also partnered with Alpha Industries on an M65 jacket, on sunglasses with French eyewear brand Waiting for the Sun (named after The Doors’ third studio album in 1968), and French designer Samuel Huguenin on jewelry.
Retail prices: T-shirts begin at $75, jewelry for $125, hoodies and sunglasses for $175 and the Alpha Industries collaboration for $360.