Tag Archives: Louis Boston. Boston Fashion

Suits by the Numbers

My most favorite number that I use to shock people about the men’s apparel business is this: 50% of the menswear business is done by Walmart…that’s in $”s. The menswear business is a $55 billion dollar business and Walmart’s men’s business is $27 billion. I promise you if one bore into that number you would find that about 65% of the shoppers of menswear at Walmart are women…maybe more. I know the dollars largely come from purchases of socks, underwear, jeans and t-shirts….but that’s what most men are wearing. As I state this to whomever I’m talking to (male) they usually act surprise and then look down at what they are wearing and say “yeah that makes sense”. They are so oblivious to what they are wearing that they don’t even know what they have on!

So Men’s Retail Magazine just came out with some numbers about suits that I find so interesting. The numbers are from a nationwide survey of 500 U.S. males ages 18 to 35 conducted in July. 67% of the responders ages 18 to 22 said they have bought a suit…that’s promising…73% ages 22 to 33 said they have bought a suit….again looking good. 63% of the responders ages 31 to 35 said they have bought a suit and even more troubling 55% of the responders 35 years old  have bought a suit (I think recently). REALLY so the interpretation is you buy one suit in your twenties and you use it until you absolutely positively have to buy another one. Wait the numbers get better.

42% of the responders shop at Men’s Wearhouse, 15% at Macy’s, 9% at JCPenny’s, 8%Kohl’s and 7% at Jos A. Bank (which was really surprising considering how many suits the say they give away FREE). The last 19% shop at Walmart, Burlington Coat factory, Dillard’s, H&M, Sears, Express, J Crew, Target and TJ Maxx. I guess the line “we guarantee you are going to like the way you look” works. But here’s the kicker of the 42% who shop at Men’s Wearhouse  69% buy on line….really without even trying it on??? Do they even know how a suit is supposed to fit? The real question is do they care? Why not? Why don’t men care?….oh how I wish they would, again.

I do have some experience in this matter. I know how many different areas on a man’s body that a suit needs to fit right so that it will lay properly and not look ….well….wrong. How about the fabric. When you buy a suit on line you can’t feel the fabric. Does it feel like sandpaper? Would you pay more for the suit if you knew it felt better? Would you buy a more interesting fabric if you could look at the detail of the fabric more closely?  Would you care more if you got involved in the process instead of running away from it?

It’s not like the fashion has moved on and the suit has been replaced by….let’s say… a spacesuit? The last portion of the survey really gives away the ambivalence towards the suit. 44% responders say they bought the suit for “special occasions” as opposed to 28% say they buy suits for work. 15% say they buy suit to look good (there’s a ray of hope), 7% to look professional (as opposed to work?) 5% for church and 3% for funerals (lovely thought). Since the mid 90’s suits have not been required at work, forced by a new generation that didn’t want to be like their fathers, and that generation thought they were ushering a new looser revolution in the work place. But they never figured out the new uniform….their leaders were Steve Jobs and Bill Gates (both not well known for their attire). The new uniform ends up being mundane and nondescript with features like “no iron and stain-resistant”

There is a small underground movement of young men discovering the suit. They come into our store asking lots of questions. For me it’s a beautiful thing to watch. The suit has progressed so much in the the last 20 years and no one ever talks about the advancements. The industry did answer the problem of the suit being too uncomfortable by developing light, soft fabrics; and the tailoring has come so far to make the suit fit close to the body but allow the user to move freely. Of course I am talking about suits that DON’T have stain resistant and no iron fabrics (which are made up of mostly petroleum …who wants to wear THAT next to their body?)

So with these numbers there is nowhere to go but up. Perhaps with this next generation of employees, employers will demand a more professional workplace. After all “dress down friday” was started  to capture generation X workers when unemployment was at an all time low. Now we are at the opposite end of the spectrum, unemployment is at an all time high. Being competitive is a necessity and looking the part should be one as well.

The Year of The Woman

  I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the Olympics these last two weeks. One can’t help but be amazed at the tenacity of the US woman athletes. I am 56 so I’ve been watching the Olympics for many years.  There has been a definite switch in emphasis (or television time) towards woman athletes compared to the last two Olympics.

She's Only Sixteen

It’s not just individuals either.

A Dramatic Women's Soccer Final

And some Veterans are being honored.

A Three Time Olympic Gold Medal Champion

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how and when this transformation took place, but one could surmise that women have had to complete harder and faster in every aspect of their lives to achieve their goals. Under the radar women have broken through every sport with record breaking times, physical endurance, and mental focus.  With women comprising 57% of college attendance, and many women finally penetrating the upper ranks of the work force, they have learned that competing is a necessity for success. No longer are women accepting a passive road in their life. When the bar is set this high it will only push women more to be among the ranks of quality achievers.

Another trend about women has come to my attention in two articles that I read this week. One article was in the NY Times style section, talking about high tech women executives dressing up in a luxurious way (not fashionista but styled). Part of this trend has to do with changing perceptions; high tech people are usually perceived as “geeks”. To move that perception forward you need the “best costumes”. We have found that with our women customers, many of which have high powered credentials, they use their wardrobe as a banner to show their creativity and level of finish/polish. Which was exactly the point of the second article in WWD. They stated that women with executive titles in European Governments have really stepped up their attire to look finished and individually styled. Usually women in Government dressed non-descript or “manly” to try and not stand out. With so many women in these positions, they are now trying to do the opposite, “stand out “, and be remembered as a women who knows how to dress and present herself as well as being an accomplished public servant.

Women have definitely made their way in highly competitive fields and I am happy to say they are using their attire to stake their position.

It’s The Product …. Put Simply

Sorry I haven’t written but I’ve been traveling for business…mainly in Italy. I have lived through many turbulent times running this store. I think my generation has been burdened with the same curse as my grandfather’s, where we have to navigate wars, recession/depressions, and discounting at all levels of retail. But this trip really illustrated how frazzled the world is from dodging and maneuvering to meet all the challenges that have been thrown at business over the last decade. Retail vendors are at their wits end trying to figure out, yet again, how to innovate and keep ahead of all the economic changes happening daily. Forget the frustration with paralyzed governments…we’re just stuck with the results of their non action. In Europe many businesses took advantage of the Asian market which has helped their bottom line for many years now….well that is not a given any more….you can feel the wheels slowing WAY down to a pace of business that mirrors the 70’s more than 2012.

Well I say it’s about time. I think this is what we need to do. We need to step back and redirect the consumer to the product and not just pushing them to shop , for the sake of purchasing (at a discount). We have been spinning for so long, at such a fast pace, that we haven’t educated the consumer about anything except how to get it for less. Somehow this just doesn’t seem right now. Oh I know, I’m just one person talking but I really felt the “tipping point” away from this discount behavior in Europe. I’m sure the change will take years to really feel the full force, and discounting isn’t going away…but purchasing is going to become “thoughtful” again, and my prediction is that “honest to goodness quality” is going to be the new focus. Well let’s hope or true quality will slowly fade out of existence.

One of my visits this trip was to the Belvest Factory. Belvest is one of our outstanding menswear tailored clothing vendors, their factory is just outside of Venice. It’s very reassuring to me that clothing is still made this way. One by one, section by section, each jacket is worked with skill and care. As a result we fit these jackets everyday and they mold to each customer because the jacket is made in a three dimensional way…one by one (not 20 or 100 at a time).

Each Jacket is Worked on One By One

Educating this process to consumers is our life long project. It would be great if the media would spend more time honoring these kind of efforts instead of training consumers to look for cheap goods. When the next generation is ready to learn about how important it is for a garment to be made well, hopefully we will be there to educate them. Plus we can show how ecological, as well as cost effective, to buy  a garment that will last  more than a year and will reward you by feeling like it was made for your body…which it was.

End Result

Here’s what I’m afraid of…. as a result of the economic roller coaster that we (society) will rush to eliminate the more expensive way of doing things, we will convince ourselves that cheap is more important than longevity, and we will forget that the product is KING not the price of it. For now we are lucky that we can still enjoy  jackets made by hand and we have the customers to prove it…

 

Fierce

Memorial Day weekend I made a trek to Atlantic City to see Beyonce in concert. OK OK I wouldn’t normally be doing something like that…only your children can make you do things you wouldn’t normally do. But as always, when I do these things, it becomes an adventure. We stayed at a massive new hotel called the Revel with a casino in it. I felt like I was in Vegas in the sixties. Atlantic City, as a city, has a long way to go (great beaches though) but this hotel is taking it in a new direction. But the point of this story is to make an observation about women in the 21st century.

Beyonce's Confidence Was On Display From The Beginning

The audience at the concert was made up of 60% women and 40% men. Please understand that I am generalizing now. The men in the audience were happy to see a strong performance by an amazing Diva who performed for two and a half hours straight, danced almost every song and looked “HOT” in over the top costumes (And I usually don’t like the way she dresses). The women in the audience were there to honor a mentor, a women who dreamed the dream, fought the fight and won. You could feel it in the auditorium. The tickets to this event were in the hundreds of dollars, yet there were thousands of women, working women, who paid with their hard earned money, to see a woman that represents the life they are living.

The Huge Tron Behind the Stage Was a Great Back Drop

The women of my generation worked hard to blaze the trail for the this new generation of women and I have been waiting to see this new evolution of female strength. I saw it clearly at this concert. Women now make up half of the workforce. They have to be responsible for everything in their lives. They don’t rely on a man for their financial and emotional support as was the case only 20 years ago. But there is another by-product of this independence, which is their need to do be perfect. Beyonce, their fearless leader, is a prime example of this trend. This sold out show was powered by a perfectionist who spent hours making sure that the show was flawless….and it was. The staging, choreography and the musical performances all were the result of hours of rehearsals and constant editing. The credit roll at the end of the show had Beyonce’s name in every category . It was told to me later that “trust” is a commodity that she values and doesn’t give out very easily. Therefore the old adage of “If you want it done well do it yourself”…or the translation is “you can ONLY  trust yourself to get it done right….is more prevalent than ever.

Standing Tall in Front of a Colorful Screen

 

 

 

 

 

Does It Really Make A Difference?

Well the news has finally arrived, Raf Simons, formerly of Jil Sander is now the designer for Dior.

Raf Simons the "New" Designer for Dior

So what does that exactly mean? Let’s backtrack shall we. A year ago, the former designer for Dior, John Galliano, was fired from his post because of racial slurs spoken during a drunken rage at a Paris bistro. A year long search took place but in the meantime the interim designer was a “second in command”  known for his tame, well crafted collections.  The public statements by LVMH, owner of Dior, say there hasn’t been any fluctuation in sales, and they have been experiencing an increase in sales due to the Asian market. So one designer, who was slowly deteriorating, gets fired but had no real influence on sales.  An interim designer, whose aesthetic was completely different, takes over and surprisingly there is no change in sales. And now we have yet a third designer put in place and everyone is writing about the merits of his talent and what effect it will have on sales. My guess is “it” will make no difference.

The basis for this statement is looking at the numbers, or the numbers told to us by LVMH. They are doing a great business no matter what because the foundation for their unbelievable success is their BRANDING machine. The sales come from consumers that “want to be”. They want to be known as rich, they want to be known as part of the “style club”, they want to have instant recognition as if they were famous. That recognition comes from “stars” wearing their clothes, shoes and handbags. That recognition comes from editorial appearances in all the top fashion magazines around the globe which is LVMH’s top priority. LVMH has monthly reports done on how many times their products appear in the press (editorial and/or star related) and put constant pressure on their public relations army… the same way Toyota puts pressure on their dealers when they look at their monthly unit numbers.

80% of Dior sales are shoes and handbags (which only a few pieces are in the fashion show). They are sold around the world at Dior shops in malls and airports. global department stores and then specialty stores which tend to sell more clothing. So the “designer” and the fashion show are just SHOW, that’s it.  The fashion show is one big advertisement that makes the press and buyers feel important. The show also gets editorial immediately and afterwards. If the fashion show reads over the top expensive, that translates to the consumer as “luxury”. But the designs and integrity of the product (clothing) means very little. So my prediction is the Raf Simons will do just fine. Once again design integrity is last on the list of consumer importance.

I Guess You Can Have It All at My Expense

Have Someone Else Advertise for You

I am a Marni freak…I admit it, I’m addicted to her design style and aesthetic. We have sold (very well I might add) Marni in this store for more years than any other store…we were the first store to buy it. So you can imagine the fumes that come out of my ears when people ask me what I think of Marni for H&M. Oh yes I know it’s a marketing tool, so that the masses  get to know Marni, a “relatively” underground designer. Let’s just go back to how Marni got to where it is now in “designer world”.

Consuelo Catiglioni a.k.a Marni got into designing at a relatively late stage in her life. Her children had just gone off to college and she wanted to do something with her now empty time. So she started to design coats in her husbands factory…they were good, so were the pants she designed for the models to wear underneath. I bought them all. And sold them. The next season she designed everything in leather, we sold it to the piece. Consuelo and her husband were smart enough to recognize the salability of her designs and they merchandised the line by category. Soon Marni blouses were the item to get, then her pants, and she really started the dress trend. All were in her now famous prints.

Actually you the reader probably do not know half the trends Marni started because she always relied on independent retailers to introduce her designs, not the press. The reason the press never mentioned her was because she didn’t advertise. I hope everybody reading this does know that fashion magazines do not feature any designers that do not advertise. (Hence the same cast of characters are always featured in editorial even though they are not relevant any more) (even more important these same designers steal designs from Marni and others and then claim the ideas for themselves). The relationship worked very well because the stores got exclusivity of her product and the knowledgable customer got to discover a brand that wasn’t a BRAND.

But ahhhh things never stay the same. I think that the Asian market is heavily reliant on the BRAND paradigm. So Marni needed to raise it’s awareness (so they thought).  They got together with H&M and Consuelo designed a collection (supposedly a one time event) to be released this March. Well it worked.

There Were Lines Around the Block

Just Maybe They Knew About Marni Before H&M

For a designer that doesn’t advertise the public relations of this “event” was huge. The press party before hand included a movie directed by Sofia Coppola. H&M, with their resources,  grabbed what took years for independent retailers to build up and maximized it with a sell out, day one.

Sofia Coppola

H&M had no problem advertising the event, and they had a killer take away bag which became a collector’s item on it’s own. Needless to say it was a success, but what does that do for my business. The answer is I don’t know. Most of the designs were redos of things done WAY in the past. The sophistication level really didn’t match what we carry in the store. The quality was great considering the simplicity of what was on the racks. I am going to watch it and keep you posted.

I think I just wanted to explain all the work that goes into nurturing a designer. And it’s tempting for these designers to get their name out there and think they are producing garments for “every man and women”. But here’s a thought. Why not promote the quality of good design and construction and help the “every women” to trade up, instead of having your knowledgeable customer rush to trade down. Because the biggest customers at H&M that day were women and men who already knew the value of Marni…they lined up outside the doors of H&M in the early morning light.

Line at H&M for Marni

The Age of Consensus

Consensus of Thought

I don’t know about you but I am sick of listening to the media talking 24/7 about the Republican Primaries. It’s not that I mind the candidates or their messages, or that there is so many mistruths being thrown around. I’m tired of the media forcing a consensus and watching the public follow suit. First the media pushed Michele Bachmann on the public and then the POLLS showed her in the lead. Then Herman Cain was pushed to the forefront by the media, and the POLLS  followed suit. And so on and so on. It doesn’t make any difference whether it is left leaning or right leaning media, they push forward an agenda of blah, blah. If they keep talking they think we’ll keep listening. And if they keep talking they will influence us , not on the issues but on the blah blah.

In our need to belong to the “right” team we follow popular opinion, no matter how fast it changes. I find this part of the process fascinating. The candidates talk of individual rights but condemn anyone who doesn’t think like them. The audience applauded Jon Huntsman during the debate this morning when he spoke about truth, honesty and leading people to come together, but they also applauded when candidates spoke negatively about The President or other candidates. In their need to be right for the moment the public will follow whatever is the current “on trend” message.

Where does this lead us? We follow whatever the media is leading us.  Because the media cranks stories about consumers lining up for sales after Thanksgiving, Christmas retail has become a frenzy of slashed prices. This is good for the consumer as long as they know what they are buying…and sometimes they buy things just cause it’s going to be cheap for an hour or so. How about Fashion? The media dictates the 5 trends for the season, retailers provide it and the consumers are walking around looking like pumpkins whether they look good in orange or not. We follow suit like soldiers marching forward, afraid to stand out or be different.

The internet has not helped this situation. It too works on consensus. The YouTube Videos that everyone likes becomes the most popular. The shopping website that everyone visits become the most used….plus the products have to be something you already know or you won’t buy it. It must be in our DNA that we want to belong or be known for something that everyone else believes.  I guess if we just studied religion we can find out how strong that DNA must be.

I thought freedom of choice is the foundation of democracy. In a time where it is “consumer beware”, we have to become experts on everything. We have to be a perfect travel agent if we want to travel in style for less. We have to know about all kinds of cars if we want to buy a great one for less. Same goes for electronics and appliances. So where do we go for information?…The internet, which will give us the best information from a consensus of information. I love how the new “information technology” (think the genius bar) thinks that it can predict what we will like by a consensus of information taken from us, combined with people who might think like us or have our same demographic (feel the sarcasim). Where did all the individuals go?

The new generation is so willing to give up habits and personal information to technology thinking that they will benefit from the consensus of data. Is it  destined that we will only move forward when the whole blob of the sameness will move forward with us? Will we create products that ONLY a majority of people will purchase? What happened to products that we don’t even know we want yet? Where’s the room for invention and creativity? Who will be brave enough to support products that don’t fit the mold? Hopefully stores like ours, with customers like ours, will still support new and different products that don’t just fit a consensus!

China : I Just Had To See It

I’ll save you from a slide show of China. But I do want to tell you my impressions of China because I have been bashing China in a lot of my blogs and I have a new found appreciation for the country and its people. Going to China altered some of my views of the country but my overall view that “made in China” has destroyed so many industries in America and taken away so many jobs is still in place. (I do know the US is also to blame)

There were three preconceptions that traveled with me to China that I have to say were completely not true. First is the people look and are depressed. No I didn’t travel all over the country, but the number 1 tourist nationality is Chinese. And you could see hundreds of thousands of the population from all over China at all the famous tourist attractions. 40,000 visitors go through the “Forbidden City’ every day. A small percentage of that number are westerners, the rest are from China. And these people were happy, laughing, and rightfully enjoying themselves, dressed in mostly western styled clothes. I admit that some of these preconceived views came from people who travelled right when the country opened it’s borders in the 80’s and not all of China is feeling the prosperity. But growth, manufacturing, and wealth have changed the energy of this country. You can feel the power of it’s new generation living so much better than their parents.

40,000 vistors come to the Forbidden City every Day

The second was the food. “Don’t eat the strange animals and their heads!” Ok there are some different fish and bugs, but mostly they eat very healthy, hence there aren’t very many heavy Chinese people. They stress exercise in their daily life and they actually practice what they preach. The only unhealthy things that are available are KFC  and MacDonald’s….thanks USA.

The Third, is something that no one told me but I read during the Olympics and literally couldn’t catch my breath about is the smog. Milan was the top of my list for so many years as one of the worst cities for smog…well Milan is like “the clean air club” compared.

Is it Fog or Smog....Both

If you look in the background of this picture you see a few cranes…..well those are minor compared to the hundreds we saw everywhere. China is the poster child for the words “BUILDING BOOM”. Now I know where all the steel and cement in the world are going. We read the government is slowing the pace of building down, if so I can’t imagine what these cities looked like three years ago. I’m surprised we have cranes here in the US and that the Chinese don’t own every crane in existence.

Now here are some of great things we found. In Guilin we stayed at the most amazing spot, it was a sculpture park on 130 acres with a great hotel and spa. We were the only people there and the air was better than anywhere else we stayed. This jewel in the middle of nowhere was genius…except ….we were the only people staying there. They have an amazing meeting center there and they say they do have big businesses come and sponsor retreats….lucky them!

Just a Few of Hundreds Of Sculptures From All Over the World

Meeting Center

Some of Beijing’s Architecture is outstanding. My favorite was the Theater Pavilion that houses three theaters. This picture will not give you the sense of it’s size and proportion, just take my word for it and the interior keeps your eyes moving.

Steel and Glass Theater

The Interior!

And last but certainly not least is Shanghai. I could have stay there for two weeks. We stayed at the Peninsula Hotel (unbelievable) ate some of the best meals I’ve ever had. It was a great ending to a eye opening trip. I leave you with the night lights of Shanghai.

The Cargo ships are Constantly Moving Even at Night