Retailers Eye Fresh Looks at Project Sole

NEW YORK — Retailers made playful and unique styles their top men’s picks at last week’s Project Sole, reflecting the continuing evolution of the market.

“Men are looking for something that’s different,” said Aaron Newman, owner of Newman’s Menswear in Hamilton, Ontario. “Those [styles] are the ones that seem to be selling — the ‘pop’ shoes. You can buy black shoes anywhere.”

John Belitsky agreed. He is the founder of DMNDR, a demand-based website where consumers broadcast what they would like to buy and retailers return private bids. “Millennials are looking for something a little more stylish. They’re leaning toward European trends and away from heritage brands,” he said.

Newman noted that more traditional brands were experimenting with colors, and staples such as Johnston & Murphy presented oxfords in both red and light blue for spring. Not to be outdone, new brands such as 1-900 incorporated graphic paint-stroke motifs on low-top canvas sneakers. Meanwhile, Belitsky cited Donald J. Pliner’s glitzy embroidered sneakers and slippers as a standout from the show.

Jim Crooks, owner of F.L. Crooks & Co. in Clarion, Pa., was also looking for men’s styles beyond just the staples.

“Men used to have five good pairs of shoes — now they have 20 pairs of shoes,” he said.

Leslie Gallin, president of footwear at Advanstar Global, which owns Project Sole, highlighted this shift.“The men’s market is embracing change and newness,” Gallin said. “They recognize they have to [take risks].”

But some buyers remained wary of committing to higher-end brands and flashy styles. “Price and value is pretty key,” said owner Rufus Cohen of Izzy Martin, a menswear store in Albuquerque, N.M. “We’ve had some higher-end American shoes in the store that have just sat there because their prices are a little higher than what [customers] want to pay.”