Menswear Moving to the Front – Part 2

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As we discussed in last week’s column, the New York menswear market is in the midst of renaissance of sorts. But it’s not just luxury brands that are focusing more on the men in their lives; mid market brands are making a statement in the Big Apple too.

J.Crew, a favorite everyday brand of Off The Cuff, is setting up a men’s only shop in the landmark Liquor Store building, at 235 West Broadway at White Street in Tribeca. The men’s store, which will be smaller than a typical J. Crew store, will carry the best of J. Crew’s men’s collection, including their unique collector’s items – upscale, limited-edition pieces like the $800 leather mail bag. According to CEO Micky Drexler, the store is “a very short-term lease,” with “very little investment and risk,” which will allow the company “to fool around and play with a men’s store.”

Additionally, the company has been sending out mini-catalogs that focus only on their men’s clothing and accessories lines. These targeted marketing efforts have been very well received and gives J. Crew the ability to sell its higher end wares directly to their male customers.

This emerging but strong trend toward menswear will likely spread across the retail market. As I have noted before, men are not like women when it comes to shopping, but there has been a distinct shift back toward guys appreciating and seeking out quality clothing and accessories. Though this is most true for “investment” level clothes like suits and other tailored pieces, J. Crew’s men’s store concept is an example of transferring the investment mentality to everyday dressing. It’s sort of a reverse approach to the commoditization trend that has effectively devalued many once exclusive brands. Instead of making their wares more accessible to average consumers, companies like J. Crew are developing limited edition products at very outsized price points and targeted at discerning shoppers.

The company is also taking marketing cues from luxury brands that have long touted things like the prestigious family mills which supply their fabric. J. Crew is busily developing relationships with companies like Baird McNutt, an innovative, family-owned Irish mill in Ballymena known for incredible linens.

What makes this type of strategy successful is that they’re not faking it. J. Crew is seeking out real manufacturers who make really good, exclusive products. It’s authentic and fits very well with their customer base. The real stories and premium price tags are providing the boost that the company wants in menswear. They have also made serious efforts to improve the construction quality of their products, and adding additional practical value to their wares.

“Women’s got turned around, and now it’s time for men’s,” says Todd Snyder, senior vice-president of men’s design for J. Crew. And one way to sell the ongoing J. Crew story of original lifestyle brands is through collaborations with designer-frequented mills. “We say, why spend $1,000 at Bergdorf Goodman for a jacket you can get for $300 here? It’s the same thing.” Customers are recognizing quality fabrics, so Snyder has made it his mission to work with the best in the business. “We’re becoming the biggest customer of mills like Moon and Mallalieus, who work with Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Ralph Lauren,” he says. “We’re after quality.”

This movement to get men in better sartorial shape isn’t limited to the selling floor. In July, the MTV network is premiering it’s version of a male finishing school. Dubbed, “From G’s to Gents”, this reality-format show to be aired on Fox, is being produced by Hollywood heavyweight Jamie Foxx and hosted by uber-gent Fonzsworth Bentley.

The idea is to try and mold 14 players/tough guys from the street into modern day gentlemen; sort of a realty version of My Fair Lady complete with cash prize and a smart new wardrobe. While as a general rule I despise these types of shows, I find this one curiously interesting. If nothing else, it’s getting on the air speaks to a real societal desire for men to be gentlemen again. I have no illusions about top hats and walking sticks, but for an Academy Award winner like Foxx, a pretty sharp gent in his own right, to see the value in this show makes me want to check it out.

By moving the topic and marketing approach of high-end menswear and gentlemanly etiquette to the everyday guy-cum-MTV generation, the message that dressing well and having some class will reach a heretofore untapped market.

It’s a stylistic approach to vertical integration; to try and capture all socioeconomic levels of the men’s lifestyle market – from Gap to Hermes. That’s the holy grail of any retailer or ad executive, but it seems that our culture may now be at this mythical point. We’ll have to wait and see if the trend truly takes hold, but it appears that while doing so more men will be better dressed and know which fork to use.


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Chris Hogan, an association executive based in Washington, D.C., blogs at OffTheCuffDC.com. A lifelong interest in style and clothing led to sales and management positions at several Ralph Lauren stores and an active wardrobe consulting practice

Comments

  1. Jenna says:

    If you can find a gentleman with class in todays MTV generation let me know.

  2. smooth says:

    That J Crew model looks like he is late for class at boarding school.

  3. Chris says:

    I know, great shot. But it also captures the brand message so well.

  4. Chris says:

    Jenna – I know exactly what you mean; that’s why I’ll watch. The first episode at least. If MTV thinks this is a hot topic, that says something. What, I’m not sure, but something.