Why even be concerned with "fashion"?
Men's clothing, unlike women's, is more traditional and less fashion oriented. It takes several seasons for men's designers to change even slightly the width of a necktie."Fashion passes, style remains."
- Coco Chanel (1883-1971), founder of Chanel
The male business suit is virtually unchanged in 70 years! Part of that is the progression to perfection that has resulted in attire that looks great on most men. The theory is once you reach perfection, don't mess with it!
So why even bother with fashion? Why not choose acceptable classic clothing items and just stick with those?"I'm interested in longevity, timelessness, style - not fashion."
- Ralph Lauren, fashion designer
It's important to know what the trends are, so you can update your wardrobe periodically with the fashion items IF they fit your own style and body type. You don't want to still be wearing a light blue member's only jacket and red polyester Sansabelt pants, do you?"Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months"
- Oscar Wilde
And now a new study shows that what we wear influences how we think of ourselves! Really, can wearing a lab coat make you smarter?"The only moral one can draw from history is that it is much better to invent a new fashion than a new social theory. The fist may improve the appearance of men; the latter will only bring about a revolution"
- Carlo Maria Franzero the biography, Beau Brummell
Runway Reality Check
By David Lipke
The fall runway season is over and designers have disseminated their creative visions into the media ether to be picked up by potential shoppers. Six months hence, consumers should have digested their choices and be ready to hit the retail racks to snap up their favorite designer's new looks.
At least that's the idea. But come fall, just how closely will stores resemble the runways?
In fact, designer shoppers may find the fashions available in department stores to be noticeably different from what was shown in Milan and New York.
That's because only a certain percentage of any designer's runway collection is bought by retailer, colors and details are often changed from the original runway look, and many basic items carrying a designer's label are never showcased on a runway at all.
What's more, some eye-catching runway pieces are never produced because they were created strictly for show and never intended for retail customers.
"Almost all runway shows cater to the press and it's much more about the image of the brand than what's going to end up at retail," explained Kevin Harter, men's fashion director at Bloomingdale's. "In reality, in most shows, a great part of what is shown on the runway never makes it to a department store."
Buying Designer's Runway Looks
Case in point: Bloomingdale's will probably buy bout 30 to 50 percent of the fall Sean John collection - "which is a lot," said Harter.
At Saks Fifth Avenue, Dan McCampbell, vice-president, men's fashion merchandising, and DMM, men's sportswear, estimated the upscale chain usually buys just 10 to 30 percent of any designer's runway looks, depending on the label.
At Barneys New York, Tom Kalenderian, GMM of men's, similarly pegged his orders at 10 to 15 percent of those much-photographed offerings. "However, this doesn't devalue the shoes," he cautioned. "They are still very effective tools to get across a focused, edited perspective of the designer's new vision for the season. We're looking for iconic pieces that will tell the story of the season and will be good sellers."
More often than not, however, stores write up orders with a majority of pieces that are not taken directly from a runway. "Everything is custom-made from these collections," said Kalenderian. "The one-and-only permutation of the look on the runway is not the only way to do it.
The runway show is really an abridged edition of what the designer is offering." That means colors can be changed, different fabrics chosen from sample swatches, pleats eliminated, buttons added or taken away, and lapels notched or peaked.
While runway shows offer retailers and consumers an explicit message regarding a label's theme for the season - and add sizzle to the brand - the bread-and-butter of many retailers' designer businesses is comprised of items like sweaters and suits that never get the klieg-light treatment on runways.
"Dolce & Gabbana is an excellent example of a house that takes a very directional view with their runway show, but when you go to the showroom they have a wonderfully merchandised lineup of tailored clothing, outerwear and knits," said Robert Burke, senior fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman.
"Runway might be only 20 percent of their total samples. You need core elements that you can build a business with and then take runway and use it as frosting and sprinkle it in."
A Designer's Midset
Of course, designers themselves don't tend to view their runway collections as mere frosting or sprinkles. Those with their own network of boutiques often showcase the entire breadth of their runway offerings in them - both as a marketing tool and to ensure that shoppers can buy what they've seen in magazines.
"It's great that DieselStyleLab has its own retail showcase so that we can show the entire collection and the concept that we are trying to convey," said Katie Liu, V-P of sales and marketing at Staff USA, distributor of that label.
While DieselStyleLab retail customers order about 60 percent of what is shown on the runway, the company's own New York boutique will stock 95 percent of it, said Liu.
"Color is the number-one reason that things are not bought off the runway," said Liu. "We might show a more vibrant red color, while retailers will order a more commercially viable gray version. However, we know that editorial will feature the sample color and we want to have that available in our stores."
Another company careful to stock everything seen on its runway is Polo Ralph Lauren. "In Milan, Ralph has always presented collections that are wearable and elegant - looks that are part of a lifestyle," explained Wayne Meichner, president of Polo Retail Corp.
"For Ralph, the runway has never been about theatrics and one-off pieces that will never make their way to retail. Our Purple Label shows present a luxury-lifestyle sensibility that translate well to our retail environment."
That said, Ralph Lauren has been known to tweak certain runway looks before they hit the selling floor of the Rhinelander mansion. For example, a natty, three-piece, pinstripe suit from the fall '02 runway show was only sold in a two-piece version at retail, while a crinkled leather trench coat from the spring '03 show turned up in a smooth version.
Similarly, at Gucci a spokeswoman noted that while what is shown on the runway is always realized for retail, occasionally slight alterations are taken to render pieces more wearable. In the spring '03 collection a pair of high-waisted pants were manufactured with a lower waist for retail.
Approaching The Runway Differently
Kean Etro said he has had a 180-degree change in his approach to the runway: He now only shoes pieces that will retail. "I used to organize runways with a high percentage of no-salable items and I truly got sick of such an attitude," he said. "Now, everything has to have a reason for existing."
Not so for Roberto Cavalli, who asserted, "The runway is the foremost moment for showmanship. It is there where creativity wins and a designer is unbridled to show more exaggerated colors, fits and cuts.
It's normal that some of these looks will not go into production and I would say that most often it's connected to costs that would just be decisively too high."
To lower those prices, certain high-end runway fabrics at Versace are switched to less-expensive materials for retail. For example, a white python motorcycle jacket in the spring '03 collection was changed to a calfskin to make it available to a wider audience. The python version is only available in key Versace flagships around the world, according to a spokesman.
Similarly, Sean John plans changes for some of its more flamboyant fall'03 outerwear pieces before they hit stores. Fur-lined snorkel coats in the show will likely be produced in nylon or Ultrasuede, minus the fur lining, said Jeff Tweedy, executive V-P of the company. Also don't look for the thermal jumpsuits or shearling chaps - they were never meant for production.
"Those were obviously about giving the editors something to get excited about," said Tweedy. But despite the label's well-deserved reputation for staging over-the-top shows, Tweedy said the company expected to produce about 85 to 90 percent of the looks sent down the runway last month. Previous Sean John collections, however, have experienced production rates as low as 60 percent of what was shown on the runway.
Disconnect Between Runway & Stores
Several retailers singled out American labels such as Kenneth Cole, Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica and DKNY as having the biggest disconnect at times between their runways and what ends up in stores, noting those labels have showed looks that are not available to retailers. "It's very frustrating because you get high-level (retail) executives to go to the show, and later they ask you 'why don't we have these looks?' " said a fashion director for a major department store.
Kenneth Cole president Paul Blum acknowledged that shows are often used to promote a brand's image - and not just to showcase retail product. "Our runway show is an idealized version of our men's wear collection," he explained. "A lot of the product will available for purchase, but other pieces are stylized items that are not for sale.
But they are always inspired by what our retail collection will look like. I think everybody at the shoes knows how this works. The shows are part marketing, par image-making and part product presentation."
A spokeswoman for Tommy Hilfiger, however, said more than 90 percent of the runway collection is produced each season, either for retail customers of for the brand's own retail stores.
Vyto Palionis, DKNY's V-P of men's wear sales and merchandising, said 60 to 80 percent of their brand's runway collection is available in department store, while 90 percent is available in its own stores. Nautica's David Chu noted, "Only 2 to 5 percent of what we show to retailers during market does not get produced.
There's always a couple of pieces that might not get enough orders to produced and are canceled, but everything we show is part of the collection retailers see during market."
Jeff Gennette, GMM of men's and kids' at Macy's West, pointed out that shoppers rarely, if ever, sought out pieces just because they were shown on a runway. What is really important, he noted, was to make sure you have the fashion featured in advertising campaigns. "Consumers do come looking for specific goods they see in ads, so you should definitely have those in your top doors," he noted.
Sunny Diego, director of men's fashion merchandising at Saks Fifth Avenue, has a different view. "Our designer customers are very loyal and when they see a picture of a show or see it on Fashion File or Videofashion, the call up and want it, " she said.
Designer John Varvatos said he believed it was important to offer consumers the chance to buy what is essentially advertised on the runway.
"It's funny that you're asking me about his today because we had a meeting this morning to review our fall sales and to make sure everything was covered," he explained. During that process, certain looks that were not picked up by retailers were bought for Varvatos's own stores - such as a pair of merlot gabardine pants.
I don't see the show as a Broadway production. I lived through that at other companies, where pieces were made just for show," added Varvatos.
"But I think you are playing with people if they see a coat or a bag on the runway and it's only made for the show. You're teasing people, and the last thing you want to do in business is disappoint them."
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