The opportunities and challenges of the growing luxury menswear market

Driven by the booming upper middle class and HNWI men’s luxury target segment in China, less than two years ago, brand such as Gucci or Bottega Veneta would open their first full range, men’s omly stores, adding to Dior’s or Alexander McQueen’s men only stores. But was it really China that kindled this men’s-only retail development of the major international luxury fashion brands? In 2010, Hermes chose to open its very first and to date, the only men’s store of the French maison worldwide, in New York. Hermes has since not opened another men’s only store, its only appoach was creating pop-up shops dedicated to men, within its flagship stores, especially in the U.S.

The main reasons behind the fast developing luxury menswear market

In mature markets such as the U.S., U.K, Germany or France:

- men have gradually claimed their freedom from society taboos, wearing a handbag other than a classic suitcase or a more colourful jacket – would not be labelled as gay, feminine or metrosexual

- the key influencers was made up the upper middle class aged 25-45, mainly entrepreneurs and those with artistic / creative professions (advertising, PR, media etc)

- men have been discovering ‘innovative’ luxury apparel products, both from the point of view of materials (exotic leathers or mohairs) but also from the point of view of design (new cuts in a trench coat or new types of soles of leather shoes)

- men have discovered that wearing a designer luxury handbag is a matter of statement and personality, which can recreate a luxury lifestyle, without necessarily being part of an exclusive club, attending certain high profile sports events such as yachting or golf etc.

As for the more conservative societies, in several major wealthy emerging markets, ruled by the constraints of their religion, such as Russia, Malaysia, Brazil or Kuwait, men have been embrancing total look luxury fashion, especially on their travels abroad to a non Arab country, and, for them, wearing a designer outfit or handbag has become more like a symbol of freedom and an opportunity to define their own personal style.

Men in the more conservative Muslim countries, especially the GCC Gulf countries, take every trip abroad as an opportunity to transform and communicate their personality - I have often seen Arab youngsters getting on a flight to Europe or the U.S. and shedding their dishdashas and traditional sandals for Western style wear, often more daring in colour, materials or finish than what a men in a Western society would wear.

Some of the major luxury fashion houses have realized that men, nowadays, when shopping at flagship stores, are no longer content with a dedicated floor or a corner within a flagship dominated by womenswear. Ralph Lauren‘s latest men’s only flagship store, opened last month in Hong Kong; Loewe‘s first men’s only store in Asia opened last week in Singapore; Alexander McQueen’s men’s store on Saville Row focused on tailoring (opened earlier this year); Dolce & Gabbana‘s Men’s store focused on Tailoring opened last week in London; Gucci and Tod’s men retail concepts inaugurated in Milan this week, recreate a men’s luxury lifestyle through an environment that is bespoke.

The fact that each of the three stores features a bar/lounge where clients can enjoy a drink is a strategic retailing element, which will gradually encourage customers to interact and thus exchange ideas.

These luxury fashion brands will succeed with their men’s only stores, in the long term, provided they open few such stores in key locations around the world. However, developing men’s only stores implies a more diversified product selection and that is why, so far the concept applied by Prada for their men’s store is only to differentiate by interior design and not products that otherwise, would not be available in a men’s space within a flagship store. It remains to be seen whether Prada will take a different approach to its two Men’s only stores which will open almost simulataneously by September – the renovated store in Via Montenapoleone and the new mega flagship within Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele.

Gucci‘s new men’s store in Brera includes a sartorial pop-up collection in collaboration with Lapo Elkann; Ralph Lauren features bespoke services for its shoes and made to measure from its Purple and Black labels (entirely made in Italy, of the finest fabrics), while the new Tod’s men’s ‘Sartorial Touch’ offers the ultimate personalization and Made to Order luxury leatherwear (shoes, bags and other accessories) – choice of fabrics, finishes and styles – the products are made to measure and once ordered, are delivered within 2 month, worldwide. Spanish luxury house of Loewe has added men’s product categories which it had previously not even manufactured in its first Asian men’s only store which opened in Singapore, last week.

As for the established menswear specialist brands, most family owned such as Ermenegildo Zegna, Canali, Corneliani or Brioni (the latter acquired early this year by Kering), they should be on the look-out from fast growing newcomers, which have been gaining rapid market share and the highest luxury positioning.

The best two such exceptional projects are Tom Ford and Berluti, the first less than 6 years old and the second, less than 2 years old (since expanding from its shoemaking to a full range menswear). Who would have thought than a young brand such as Tom Ford would be included in the competitive set of iconic heritage menswear brands such as Brioni or Corneliani…

While Tom Ford banks on its outstanding quality his personality which embodies the DNA of the brand coupled with an ultra-luxury store concept – intentionally intimidating, Berluti is implementing its complex development starting with manufacturing – Berluti acquired earlier this year Arnys,  France’s most prestigious tailor and started contrusction on its multi million dollar production facilities for its leatherwear in Northern Italy. The choice to produce in-house and not through third party supplier, could be indicative of parent company LVMH‘s long term plans for transforming Berluti into a 360 degree luxury menswear brand.

Zegna and Corneliani seem to have taken a strong defenssive of re-positioning. The Spring Summer 2014 Ermenegildo Zegna collection signed by newly appointed Creative Director Stefano Pilati (formerly at Saint Laurent Paris) has further refined Zegna’s style DNA, a one-of-a-kind product offering, with a creative twist that takes the brand into the 21st century and beyond, drawing on all the heritage elements of the family owned house. Corneliani has chosen marketing communications, especially digital and social media to boost its positioning and awareness. The recently inaugurated Corneliani flagship store in Shanghai sets new retail standards for the brand, with an impressive concept, deeply rooted in the heritage of the brand.

In the case of British brands, traditionally known for their Made to Measure menswear and shoes, with few exceptions such as shoemakers Church’s (owned by Prada Group) and John Lobb, most British men’s specialist brands have not expanded their reach, internationally. Church’s has accelerated its directly operated store expansion worldwide, opening 10 new store in the first 5 month of this year.

In Northampton, England – the home of British shoemaking, the contrasts are huge. While Church’s has 400 employees and an output of 21.000 pairs of shoes per year (over 70% exported), competitors such as Edward Green employs 78 and produces 11,000 pairs of shoes per year, while Cheaney or Gaziano & Girling have an output of less than 200 bespoke pairs of shoes per year.

Oliver Petcu