Tag Archives: Louis store for men

“The Lowest Common Denominator”

 

Before Louis, I used to work in marketing for an advertising agency. We would come up with amazing advertising campaigns that would answer to the needs of our clients, with some humor thrown in for creativity. Inevitably, the campaigns would go in front of focus groups. First everyone in the group would chuckle at the ad. They would understand the message but sure enough, they would find some thing objectionable about our work. The client would panic and strip the ad of the very thing that made them enjoy it to begin with. I could never understand why it would be brought down to the lowest common denominator.

 

Recently, I met a very smart gentleman at a dinner one night that was the head of a company that mines data off websites. With that information, he finds patterns that are supposed to help companies sell more products and better serve its customers. What stuck with me the most from our conversation how differently generations are influenced to shop. My generation (Boomers) look to “known brands” as a reassurance for what we purchase. Generation X-ers look to their friends as a reference. The Millennials looks to complete strangers as their guide to purchases, whether through “curated” inspiration boards, blogs or publicly touted “likes” of products and brands. If this proves true then it explains the herd mentality that is prevalent in much of the content we view today. These socially driven endorsements are now dictating what we are feeling – from Dancing with the Stars to the political polls that are reported hourly – even if we are personally not feeling it. This really scares me.

 

The obsession with polls in this election cycle falls along these lines. It feeds right into this instant gratification of information thanks to the real-time nature of reporting. One blunder from the candidates, or their associates, and the polls skew one way until another blunder comes along. Then with that information the voters get saturated with advertising from the candidates until “the polls” say they are not effective any more. The candidates’ talking points are all based on polling.

 

The politicians are not talking about reality (maybe that hasn’t changed) but the candidates opinions change with every poll that comes out. Who votes like that? When you attempt to please more people at a greater volume, you end up lacking authenticity. For something so gullibly accepted by the masses like the polls, you’re losing the validity of these statements being real. With everything said to please the polls, it’s doubtful the soon-to-be elected officials will continue to shift at the masses every whim. Here, we think we’re getting what we want, but in turn, are giving up so much.

 

It really isn’t much different than the current state of retail. Generally, consumers are driven to shop by price. It’s funny, you don’t even have to mention what the product is, they just want to pay less for it. If surveys went further to ask consumers what would they would give up to get the lowest possible price, the answer is what the retail experience is today – and we still haven’t talked about the product! Consumer indifference has lead to the lowest common denominator, having us believe that getting the best price is the greatest goal. Now shoppers are expected to research the products, find them in big box stores, take it to long-lined registers, even check out and bag, then drag the bags to their cars – all by themselves.

 

Think about when you’re at a store with self check-out. You’re under the guise of getting “it” for less, but there’s a lot of work before you even swipe your credit card: you’ve become an expert on the product, whether it’s your cold medicine, cleaning products, electronics, whatever and then you have to scan and bag it yourself. We, as consumers, have become driven to this. We’re giving up the value of the experience and the civility of shopping for something perceived as a bargain or deal. Meanwhile, the large retailers from drug stores all the way up to the big box stores are making a 25-30% gross margin and lowering labor costs because you’re doing all the work (who’s the real winner here?).

 

We’ve been blinded into believing that choosing lower prices are what we want while having sacrificed service and direct information from the retailers. The fact is that this sort of mass consumer demand is showing up in all facets of life, much like how we’re blinded by politicians telling us what we want to hear rather than what they are really going to do in office. I know that saving money is SO important right now, but at some point living a less stressful life might be equal to the quest. And hopefully that will be the lowest common denominator.

 

 

WBUR’s Cognoscenti

Sorry it’s been a while since I have blogged but I was traveling, buying actually, for Spring/Summer 2013 (can you believe it’s 2013 already?). But in the meantime I was fortunate enough to participate in WBUR’s cognoscenti page on their website. Here’s the link, I think it came out well.

Cognoscenti

Meanwhile thanks for reading!

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

 

 

 

 

 

I Just Gotta Share this With You

There was a special report about Walmart turning 50 in Women’s Wear Daily and I they had some numbers they wanted to share with the rest of the world .

Can You Believe This?

They had more information but I think you get the general idea. Walmart has changed everything. Doesn’t their size frighten you? It frightens me. How could anyone compete with this Goliath? Certainly I’m not talking about Louis but just in general, how can anyone compete in the retail world with something so large.  Then again I feel like everything now is big. I guess you can’t produce anything economically any more without HUGE quantities. The global economy now means that your product must reach every corner of the world. But how does that keep your product SPECIAL? For companies to be known all over the globe they have to have that BRANDING machine in place. Companies have to be accessible on the internet, and they have to have hundreds of points of distribution.  Zegna has 125 stores in China alone. Still I can’t help getting a queasy feeling that with so much exposure the product just becomes another commodity.  It’s almost a vicious circle that you can’t get noticed until you are already over exposed.

With media firing off information so fast to consumers, manufacturers might get a leg up with the exposure. “New and different” happens every day and then the news becomes stale just as fast. The consumer gets lost and confused and retreats to the familiar, “BRANDED” merchandise. Back to the circle.  On the other side of this issue is the elimination of brands because retail companies can’t compete. The perfect example of this is trying to find brands at CVS. Years ago vendors would fight for shelf spaces that were eye level, they would pay CVS to get the best shelf position. Now the best positioned product is the CVS Brand, which is usually cheaper than the name brand. But you find yourself looking tirelessly for the “name brand” which is usually buried between the CVS brands. The reason for this is that CVS can’t beat the price of Walmart for “name brands” so they try to win with their generic brand….sometimes these products are just not the same. So to get the “brands” you want you have to drive to a Walmart (or shop on line) or buy generic. Best Buy is another example of Samson and Goliath, which is funny because Best Buy used to be Goliath. Best Buy is now closing stores because Amazon is so BIG and they don’t have the expense of having to support brick and mortar stores which enables them to compete on price.

 The way we shop is changing so fast….but I’m not sure the consumer realizes what they are giving up to pay the least amount for what they want. And soon I fear they won’t have a choice to actually go to a store and sample the choices. Are we so willing to give up the act of experiencing things just to get the cheapest price? Obviously the answer is a BIG yes. 

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.

Jil at Jil

Will It Be The Real Jil?

Twenty five years ago we started carrying a line from Hamburg Germany called Jil Sander. It was perfect for Louis, incredibly well made, modern researched fabrics, minimalist styling and a price tag that matched all this luxury. At the end of the 90’s Jil descided to sell 75% of her company to Prada because “she wanted to improve on the breathe of her handbag-shoe business” . She was promised by Prada’s chief executive officer that the business would remain the same. Well it didn’t stay the same. The first thing that Prada demanded was that all of the clothing would be made in the Prada factories. There went the quality that Jil was known for, and the fabric research was cut in half, there went the modern take on clothing. Jil couldn’t work under those conditions, and feeling duped, she left. There went the design. We dropped the line as soon as Jil made the announcement. (how could it ever be the same value?)

After that, Prada worked hard to try and restore the value to the company which was of course, impossible. After a few tries they brought in a menswear designer named Raf Simons.

He Had Never Design for Womenswear

Raf had never designed for womenswear. (Somehow they thought it was a good bet). A few seasons later they sold the company to an English investment company who quickly announced that they were going to sell the company as soon as they made it profitable again (like that could happen). Raf’s first attempts at a collection were actually better than I thought they would be and each season you could see he was learning and growing, but the company still struggled . A few years later a Japanese/Italian company bought the company and continued to support Raf and you could see improvements with the collections and sales (the quality still could not match the standards of the original Jil Sander).

Last year around this time John Galliano was fired from the Dior house for racial slurs during a night of drinking in Paris (one of many nights). It was announced the Raf was a consideration for the job. Well now…. here is the fashion world in a nutshell. Gibo, (the Japanese/Italian company) who had been investing money (while losing it) in Jil Sander (a company abandoned by it’s designer) watched it’s designer publicly announce that he was interviewing for a job in a company that was trying to rebuild their brand that was abdondoned by yet another designer. (I know that was a run on sentence) So Gibo fired him.

The fashion world is in a tizzy…They are mad at Gibo for firing Raf (who, by the way, miraculously popped out the most beautiful collection for his last season). They are thrilled that Jil is returning, and they are expecting the company to return to it’s original splendor. Well guess what….in won’t. I was asked to start showcasing Jil again in the store. I thought long and hard about it and I refused. There were two reasons. First, Jil is now sold at many stores not just the controlled specialty stores that she insisted on originally . Second, Jil’s control on quality will be minimal. She will not have the control over the factories like she did before, and her obsessive control over details will be cost prohibitive. I’m sure she will push the envelope of the company owners, but the price of her pants in 1998 are still considered outrageous at $1200 (and that quality can not be replicated for the same price).

The musical chairs of designers that is going on with these fashions houses are going to catch up with their customers and eventually their sales. Branding IS important, I know that, but product integrity is also important. Is the consumer so gullible that it will eat anything companies throw at them? One change can be understood, but when the consumer needs a road map to understand how far away from the original concept the company has gone, the consumer will abandon the product. Success in a label is usually a combination of design, make and fit. When these elements are rearranged or eliminated the BRAND can’t stand on it’s own…look at the GAP. I wish Jil well and I will be watching carefully to see if I did underestimate the situation. But I thought I would give you, the reader, insight into how decisions are made. I will be the first to admit my mistakes, but I have to have some guidelines to give my store the integrity that I demand from my vendors.

That Grand Feeling of Perfection

I love my new boots. Yes I know you hear it all the time the “perfect boot” for Fall. But I mean this…but how would you know. Every magazine, every website, every shopping website, every catalogue, even every store claims this every Fall. It kinda looses it’s meaning. Having said that when you find the right one for you, it feels sooooo good. Every time you put them on, with every outfit, you say to yourself, “wow these are great boots”. Your start to take care of them…you bring them to be resoled with a rush charge. When you pack to go away you start with the boots and figure out your outfits that will surely highlight the boots. You find yourself wearing them everyday and when you have to wear another pair you sigh and make sure your wear the “great boots” the next day. Sometimes if you are really careful you wear them two years in a row everyday until the boots just plain wear out.

cool side buckle, tight at the ankle and calf, tall, great leather, flat, comfortable

Great heel, no shiny leather, open at the knee, easy to get on and off

Sorry for the blurry pictures I was in a hurry but you get the picture right? Pierre Hardy had these boots last year, but he perfected them this season. You will probably not find these in any magazine, you will probably not find these on any website….because they do not register as perfection from the photos. They do not register perfection from the description. They do not register perfection from the name brand. Actually they would only register perfection if you actually saw, felt, tried on these boots when someone pointed to them in front of you and you tried them on immediately. The consumer is missing so much by falling into the trap of brands, ease and the addiction of point and click.

When I “buy” for the store, I look at each piece I purchase with the same inspection as I did buying these boots for myself. That feeling of perfection when you own something that rewards you every time you wear it, is the goal. There are so many items that are chosen that even looking at them on the racks of our store you wouldn’t know were perfection until you tried them on. I make sure I see everything on a body before I “buy” the product, especially shoes. Shoes look so different on and off the foot. Not everything comes out the way it was shown…fabrics can change fit can be funny, but to be sure I am inspecting and selecting with a sharp focus, and aiming for no mistakes.

But what I’m really reaching for ALL of the time is giving you that feeling of confidence every time you pull that garment out of the closet and put it on your body…..ahhhh appreciation!!!!!