JCR: Do you agree that the casual fashion market has experienced a significant shift in the last few years?
MQ: It’s a great time for casual fashion, streetwear, sportswear — whatever you want to call it — it’s what real people put on their bodies every day. From JC Penney to the runways in Milan and Paris, everyone is motivated and driven by major shifts and a lot of momentum. That movement is coming from streetwear, which encompasses denim in all of its incarnations, a moving away from big brand sameness, new combinations of dressier pieces mixed with casual pieces, plus variety and creativity not seen in a long time.
JCR: What does the marketplace currently look like?
MQ: As a retailer, you’re either on top of what’s going on and changed up your product mix a long time ago, or you’re still buying your six trustworthy labels, that aren’t so trustworthy anymore, and you’re realizing you have to change something, quick. The Project trade show is a great indicator of the growing momentum for change, particularly across menswear. The show has quadrupled in size in its first two seasons. The show fills the gap between the more established Collective trade show, which is considered stuffy and out of date, and the younger TBC, which is seen as too niche. Project hits the nail on the head with a perfect mix of product, brands, and business atmosphere. Stores looking to revamp their offerings and come out on top of the heap need to see this show for what’s new, and what’s next. It’s professional but fun — the way this business should be.
JCR: What has been the impact of the larger brands on boutique labels and vice versa?
MQ: Casual wear has been dominated by apparel behemoths. With so many logos everywhere, and huge department store sections devoted to Tommy, Rocawear, Sean John, Akademiks — backlash was inevitable. People are only interested in looking like clones to a certain extent. While the American consumer has never been as risk taking as a European consumer, they have reached a point where they want to look a little more special right now. That’s being driven by entertainment… performers, actors, who are all styled…that’s trickled down to the average American consumer. Little brands know this and are scrambling to make some noise at retail, through grassroots marketing,
and with product that catches your eye and makes you buy. Look at the Von
Dutch phenomenon. Don’t you think lots of unknowns are looking to that as inspiration? Meanwhile, big brands are coming to market with high-end lines devoted to more thoughtful exclusive product. Mark Ecko has Cut & Sew, and collaborated with street art legends Reas and ESPO. Rocawear will introduce Washhouse by Rocawear for a more discerning consumer. Sean John has Blue. Everyone wants an air of exclusivity, something to entice the consumer who’s over sweatsuits and logo tees. Everyone’s chasing the tastemaker.
JCR: How are the boutique labels staying competitive when some of their
direct competitors can easily outspend them?
MQ: They are hoping for floor space, I think. They’re finding it in places like the new SoHo outpost of Bloomingdale’s and through retailers who champion the young designer cause, like lower Broadway’s Atrium. The new Bloomie’s in SoHo is evidence of a retailer trusting their gut and taking risks on smaller labels who can fulfil the consumer’s desire for something undiscovered, something fresh. They must have 50 menswear labels downstairs — everything from Euro giant Energie, to a virtually unknown label called Blood and Glitter, to Unis, to Triko, to Ben Sherman, and back again. You can’t beat a big brand’s ad budget, but in this climate, word of mouth helps tremendously and is always more valuable than advertising. Smaller labels are trying to generate buzz, gather fans like moss, and hold on to their retail friends.
JCR: What are some of your hot picks of smaller trailblazing brands?
MQ: Howe, out of LA. Created and headed by skate legends who feel semi responsible for the way action sport-influenced boys dress in America. Designer Jade Howe has made it his mission to show them another way….amazing, distressed jeans are paired with tailored shirts, a vintage tee is thrown on top and topped off with a blazer. It’s English country gentleman meets cowboy rocker. It works and all kinds of consumers love
it. I’ve got my eye on A. Kurtz, a sort of Abercrombie-goes-boutique line
designed and headed up by two “urban” fashion pioneers — Zulu and Brue,
founders of PNB Nation. Rosasen, the golf-chic line out of LA is super
fresh and appealing. Republica Trading Co. founder Rafael Jimenez has his
pulse on what a multi-ethnic consumer is looking for right now. I’m waiting
to see if the Bathing Ape NYC store opening sparks an interest in
Japanese labels. Triko is a great line because it has integrity and it comes
across in the product. Consumers pick up on that, more than anyone gives them
credit for. Noah is another favorite — simple and great. There are so
many good ones right now, it’s hard to only name a few.
JCR: Where are we seeing the innovation in casual fashion?
MQ: We’re seeing the innovation coming from designers who are churning out
endless variations upon the theme of individuality, from the stylists
who dress artists like Pharell (the poster boy for casual hybrid skate and
hip-hop looks), Andre (his fearlessness is inspiring to the masses for sure),
to the consumers who are watching this evolution and wanting to look like
Usher in his $250 Ryan Kenny button down, blue jeans, and Yankees fitted cap.
JCR: Where do designer labels figure into the casual fashion story?
MQ: Everyone has their eye on casual fashion, we believe it’s driving
everything. Dsquared, Galliano. Everyone looks at what real people wear. Take jeans for example — there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. $500 jeans? No problem. And they’re not just Gucci anymore. We’ve always been much more fascinated with the trickle-up theory — high fashion inspired by those who can’t afford to buy their “looks” so they create them. The streets can sometimes be a crystal ball.
JCR: The ground floor on Bloomingdale’s for example, how are they getting it
MQ: Bloomingdale’s SoHo, Atrium — they both have it right. They’re offering
tons of variety, merchandising in an exciting way, and basically presenting
their offerings like a veritable candy store of apparel. Your eye wanders,
you want to explore, you want to touch things, to look at what might mix
and match, there are brands you may have heard of and some you never have.
These stores make shopping fun and convey a lifestyle that men want to own.
JCR: What other changes do you forecast in the sector?
MQ: We foresee more variety, more denim, and men continuing to be more
interested in clothing. We think he (the new male consumer) is interested in
dressing in a way that is reflective of his personality, his beliefs, expressing
himself through his clothing. Guys want to look good. In LA they’re
wearing tight tees and 7 for all mankind jeans (with bootcut!) now — five years
ago that would have seemed crazy. The days when a man had the same pair of
jeans as he did in college, ten years later, is over. Thank god.
Photos: The ladies of BPMW Edina Sultanik Silver,Deirdre Maloney and Minya Quirk