I realize that men’s wear is the toughest segment in the retail business. I also realize that most men do not like to walk into a store, let alone shop. In addition, so many brilliant retailers have tried to appeal just to men in a specific way (I think of Structure from Limited as a valiant try that ultimately failed as an example).
Most retailers that are targeting men, do it within the context of a “unisex” concept (such as Gap, Urban Outfitters, Banana Republic, J. Crew to name a few). Experience tells me that their male business is no more than 30% of the entire box’s business if they are lucky – maybe 1/3, tops. But to be honest, most are playing safe, to a very conservative vein of customer I gather in order to minimize markdowns.
I object. There is very little colour, very little imagination. Even at Gap with their new designer, their men’s wear selection is safe, dark and very similar to the past 30 or so years. I am not expecting something wild, crazy and very young. But what I am asking for is some novelty, some colour and some excitement. Maybe I am in the minority but even the safe stuff needs to be merchandised and it is hard to capture attention for a style or a cut visually with just dark olive and burgundy as the “pop” colours.
Some of the high end men’s wear merchants are among the finest in the land. I think of Rubinstein’s in New Orleans (and my thoughts are with everyone in the Gulf Coast at this time because of Hurricane Gustav), Louis of Boston, Barney’s of New York, Harry Rosen of Toronto to name a few (although Barney’s has morphed into so much more as has Louis to a smaller extent). They have all been innovative, visually exciting and colourful most of the time.
So what do I suggest? I am not sure. I would encourage those that have real estate devoted to men’s that they push the envelope from a presentation standpoint. Being visually appealing is not the exclusive territory of women’s wear. Men will react to visual stimuli when it’s there.
It’s time to drag us men into the next phase of retailing, merchandising and dressing. We need the inspiration and the attention to do it.