Oscar Calvo Ragtrader magazine, 7 October 2005, Pg. 12 & 13
ALL HAIL THE HERMAPHRODUDE
Easily the most overlooked of all clothing sectors, menswear has sharpened its manicured toenails and is preparing to kick back.
A tentative Sue Cartledge takes a peek.
IF YOU BELIEVE respondents to a recent Ragtrader category survey, men are taking fashion more seriously. Stubbies and RM Williams have been confined to the wardrobe, replaced instead with sharper, more stylish and infinitely more colourful, fodder. It seems the hermaphrodude (who replaced the metrosexual) is alive and well.
At present, the Australian menswear retail sector is believed to be worth about 4.4 billion annually. However industry sources say this figure is set to soar as more men get increasingly picky over what labels they choose to buy.
“Today, men are interested in looking good,” says Melbourne designer Oscar Calvo. “The trend can be attributed to many things, including an increase in men’s style magazines, influential male celebrities in the media, and more designers catering to male customers.”
This ties in with advertisers and marketers finally waking up to the “new man” of the 21st century. The future of men, co-authored by Marian Salzman, from advertising agency JWT Worldwide, focuses on smart, positive portrayals of the modern man.
“Instead of relying on lowest-common-denominator, stereo-typical solutions, we are striving to depict ‘balanced men,’ ‘men of the world with conscience,’ and other positive portrayals of men,” Salzman says.
“[menswear is] a sleeping giant. It’s not so subject to fashion trends as womenswear so it’s a lot safer stockholding.”
It is a theory Myer menswear business manager Andre Reich also agrees with.
As the biggest retailer of menswear in Australia, Myer’s share of menswear pie “is in double digit figures” Reich says. The estimated value of this is merely the tip of the iceberg, he says.
“[menswear is] a sleeping giant. It’s not so subject to fashion trends as womenswear so it’s a lot safer stockholding. Rather than changing with every season, it’s more an evolution.
“But men are becoming more fashion conscious than ever before – they are coming into the store more frequently and they are staying longer. They’re thinking more about what they’re wearing – how they look, how they present themselves. This extends to cosmetics, fragrances [and jewellery], as well as clothes.”
Reich cites role models such as Russian tennis player Marat Safin as leaders in encouraging men to wear more jewellery. He credits Safin and his mates as also being responsible for the interest in looking fitter and wearing shirts and polos that better show off their physique – whatever that may be.
“We are selling more slim-fit business shirts than ever before. Men want a shirt that presents their body shape more, rather than the standard business shirt which has quite a lot of fabric. Polo Ralph Lauren spotted this two years ago; now Country Road and Nautica are also offering slim fit versions of their polos.”
Reich says the trends towards slimmer tailoring, brighter colours and mix and match patterns are more prevalent in the youth category than elsewhere, but declined to define the age at which youth stops.
“We define youth as starting at 16, but it’s really a mindset. We’re seeing men buying brands we class as youth, and wearing block stripe polos or printed tees with board shorts and thongs, where before they would probably have worn tailored shorts, short –sleeved shirts and sandals.”
By far the most influential trend has witnessed men becoming more adventurous with their use of colour.
“Men’s fashion is all about colour and not so much about fit. We’ve seen a strong uptake in the pink palette over the past two seasons. It works well with the blues and browns they probably have in their wardrobe already, and it suits most skin types, so it’s accessible.
“In fact, last summer we couldn’t keep up with the demand of pink business shirts – business shirts would be the most conservative category – and we couldn’t meet the demand.”
Calvo agrees colour is important, both in tailored wear and streetwear. In its attempts to get livelier, the male segment has moved to hot pinks and neon shades as their colour of choice, he says.
“Pink is easy to coordinate with almost any colour in your wardrobe. It goes fabulously with greys, tans, black, navies and other blue tones.”
Reich predicts that now the pink hurdle has been cleared, the colour will move into lilacs, purples and plum shades for the winter. The other new colour is green – crisp apple green and softer pastel shades.
Stressing Myer targets the mass market in “aspirational males,” Reich says there’s a strong uptake in patterns, stripes and, to a lesser extent, bold checks.
“Stripes have been very strong for the past four seasons – stripes are very easy to wear. We’re seeing diagonal striped ties with striped business shirts, which once was never worn. Bold checks are coming back; the early adopters are wearing them already.”
Calvo says the patterns and colours are moving out from niche seasonal trends to mainstream, combining retro and euro trash – “vintage tees, floral and patterned fitted shirts, knit tops with skinny hipster trousers, or torn prewashed denim jeans teamed with diamond adornment and colourful euro shoes.”
The layered look
The other big trend blurring the age groups is layering. The demand is growing for lightweight and more fitted garments that can be layered. “They can wear a fitted shirt with a light-gauge knit and than a shell jacket over the top for the cooler states, instead of a heavier knit sweater,” Reich says. With a lightweight blazer and a checked or striped shirt and a light knit, they can wear the blazer and the shirt, the knit and the shirt or just the shirt. It gives them more options to dress up or dress down.”
However, he warns the layered look creates potential traps for retailers and customers alike.
“It’s exciting, it’s a big trend – but it also comes with a risk. You can sell all the items for layering, but you have to trust that your customer can put them together the right way. So you have to help him not to make mistakes. If the look is not coordinated, he might not look as good as he’d hoped, and then he won’t come back.”
The models in Myer’s menswear section are all dressed in the layered look, showing how to put more extreme patterns together – a striped tie with a striped shirt, a printed tie with a checked shirt. “My primary goal is to improve the dress sense of the Australian male. If he looks better, he feels better, he has more confidence, and he comes back and buys more.”
The Suit is back
Melbourne-based menswear manufacturer Berkeley Apparel argues the return to masculine styling seen in Milan earlier this season, indicates the suit is back in mainstream wardrobes the world over. Berkeley marketing director Robert Morris says there is a definite consumer shift to something more valued, with more emphasis on differentiation.
“Consumers want a modern feel, look, great fabrics, styling and cut.”
To try and cash in on this global trend, Berkeley is launching three new locally produced suit brands for the Australian market – Tallia Uomo, Oscar Jacobsen and Kenneth Blake.
“These new brands follow the emergence of Paul Smith, London tailoring and the influence of New York as a design and fashion centre, and enable us to offer this sophistication in this new brand portfolio,” Morris says.
“Consumers want the modern feel and look, great fabrics, styling and cut but at mid-level prices,” he argues.
Young men will be wearing fitted dark suit jackets in cord or velvet according to Calvo, who predicts the dress code for the younger suit wearing guy will be a leaner look, but not overtly tight. “Shrunken single or two button tailored suit jackets with high-hip skinny trousers and slip on shoes in dazzling colours.”
“My primary goal is to improve the dress sense of the Australian male. If he looks better, he feels better.”
Calvo predicts casual wear will be “more conservative”, but at the same time have a mix and clash effect. “You could almost say eurotrash hits the street,” he says. While he hopes the “overkill of printed raw edge tees” will die, he predicts the graphic component will remain strong. Pale wash denim torn hipster jeans and pants that look demolished will continue to be big. At the same time , the leaner , skinny look will apply to tops, with tailored, fitted floral and patterned shirts, low v-neck knits showing a bare chest, and “inspired nerd knits in stripes” worn with skater sneakers in bright colours.
As well as splashing out on colour, patterns and florals, today’s man is comfortable choosing jewellery and accessories to emphasise his look. Both Reich and Calvo point to the influence of sports stars such as Thorpie, English soccer international David Beckham and Safin driving the “massive interest” in men’s jewellery. However, Reich says most accessories (apart from ties) have a technological edge or feel to them. “We’re seeing stainless steel bracelets, leather wrist straps, and those rubber charity bands. Men are wearing multiple charity bands; it gives them the feel for wearing bracelets. Necklaces are very strong, in bold leather and raw metal ingots, or heavy metal crosses.”
Reich says satchels (shoulder bags for men) are growing increasingly popular. “They have pockets for the mobile phone and the iPod, plus enough room to stash that extra layer for when the days gets cool.”
The old-fashioned cufflink is also back with a twist – as a collectable. “There’s a big resurgence in cufflinks. They’re an inexpensive little trinket that men can collect.”
Underwear is big in Australia, and Australia, and Australian underwear is big overseas. At least that’s the opinion of aussieBum director Sean Ashbury.
“Australia has the biggest ranges and diversity than any other country. Go into [UK department stores] Selfridges or Harvey Nichols and you’ll see maybe six brands, where in Myer or David Jones there are 20 to 25, even if several are from the same company.”
Ashbury believes the big push in underwear is heading towards lycra or microfiber instead of cotton blends, with a sporty look that promises “performance.” Knitted microfiber with no seams is part of the trend towards more comfortable underwear, the hype around the new styles suggest comfort isn’t based on being crammed into a sweaty bus or train and sitting in an air-conditioned office, he says.
“The new sporty styles, from Jockey, modeled by sprinter Matt Shervington, offer ‘wick absorption,’ antibacterial and hypoallergenic properties and sun factors,” Asbury says.
The move to lycra in men’s underwear is a natural progression from its use in women’s intimates. Ashbury says at Lyon Mode City recently, Lycra was the biggest fabric in menswear.
While there will always be white and black for the traditionalists, men’s underpants now come in pink and next season probably apple green, as well as other colours. Digital printing has enabled mare patterns to be printed on Lycra and Ashbury predicts next summer will see men wearing hibiscus and other floral prints on their jocks. He argues knitted stripes in different colours will make a come-back in microfibre and other knits.
“Victoria’s Secret encouraged women to wear more intimate apparel, and now men, know they can get into intimates too,” he says. “They don’t have to stick to the one brand and the one style.”