How Can Traditional Men’s Labels Stay Relevant as the Market Evolves?

The men’s market has never felt more exciting.

The spring ’20 season kicked off last week with the Pitti Uomo show, which saw standout menswear launches from Clare Waight Keller at Givenchy and Marco de Vincenzo. And in Paris this week, CFDA Emerging Talent award winner Emily Bode made her Paris runway debut, showing ballet pumps for boys. More firsts will follow, including Sander Lak’s luxury Sies Marjan presentation on Saturday.

So how can traditional men’s luxury labels capitalize on the new energy and keep pace as the market evolves?

“We have seen big changes that have played out in recent fashion weeks,” says Browns Fashion menswear buying manager Dean Cook. “Brands have started understanding what men are looking for and have adapted their products.”

Below are four major strategies that luxury labels have been using at recent shows to connect with today’s customers.

1. Creative Collaborations

Strategic partnerships have become increasingly important for luxury houses. “Collaborating with brands that share a similar aesthetic or ethos is a great way for traditional brands to position themselves within the current climate while driving footwear sales and speaking to a new customer,” said Mr Porter senior buyer David Morris.

Debuting at Pitti Uomo, Givenchy’s surprise partnership with Onitsuka Tiger was remarkable on multiple levels. This is the first time Givenchy has ever partnered with an outside sneaker manufacturer on such a global scale, and Onitsuka has never before collaborated with a luxury fashion house. Plus, there was a savvy see-now-buy-now component: The two limited-edition collaboration kicks hit stores on June 13.

Also debuting on the Pitti runway was MSGM’s double collab with Fila and Sebago, while Marco de Vincenzo partnered with Superga for his first men’s collection.

Marco de Vincenzo spring 2020.
Marco de Vincenzo x Superga, men’s spring 2020.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Other recent high-profile cross-market unions include Sacai’s Nike hybrid kicks — the most ubiquitous shoe of Pitti and Milan — as well as the Fila Fendi Mania collection and the sneakers Pierre Hardy created with sports star Victor Cruz.

“Customers are looking for uniqueness, and brands need to deliver the unexpected,” said Level Shoes senior buyer Stephanie Moor. “People become more emotionally invested in cocreations.”

Nike Sacai Sneakers Pitti Uomo
Nike x Sacai sneakers spotted at Pitti Uomo.
CREDIT: Jason Jean

2. The BTS Effect

Teaming up with celebrities, especially if they happen to be musicians, is perhaps the ultimate in collaboration. Dior’s Kim Jones didn’t create custom-made suits for the BTS tour for nothing; this year, the South Korean K-pop outfit made Time’s “100 Most Influential People” list.

It cuts both ways, said Browns senior buyer Thom Scherdel. “Musicians like it because Dior is one of the most expensive and luxurious brands out there, and the brand likes it because it introduces them to a new wave of customers. This is what I love about fashion — it’s always evolving and changing its norms,” Scherdel said.

BTS on stage in custom Dior.
BTS on stage in custom Dior.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Giuseppe Zanotti is a veteran of the celeb movement. His most recent partnerships are with Christian Cowen and rap duo Rae Sremmurd, but he was a real forerunner when it came to tapping musicians like Kanye West, Kid Cuddy and 2 Chainz (pre Versace) as partners. Even Virgil Abloh turned to him for advice when he launched his Off-White label. When the two friends ran into each other last week at the CR Runway for LuisaViaRoma show in Florence, Italy, Abloh congratulated Zanotti again on being “the first.”

However, the face of a brand doesn’t always have to be a star to be successful. Case in point, Isaac Carew, the talented chef and ex-boyfriend of Dua Lipa, is the face of Jimmy Choo’s men’s spring ’19 digital campaign. “We want to be surprising in what we do, but it also has to feel right,” said creative director Sandra Choi. “For a brand to stand out, they have to do something they really believe in because then they can take their story further [because] it’s more convincing.”

3. Sneakers, But Make It Authentic

Things have evolved since the hegemony of the Balenciaga Triple S, as brands have begun dialing down the dad-shoe vibes and moving into more retro-inspired territory.

For Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, Dior has most successfully channeled the current retro sneaker mood. “Dior is so hot right now,” he said, “and [at his spring ’19 Dior show] Kim Jones articulated a very specific landscape via his old-school high-tops refreshed with high-tech materials.”

Dior Men, spring 2019.
Dior Men, spring 2019.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

However, while luxury brands definitely need to remain current with fashion trends, simply throwing a sneaker into the sartorial mix and hoping for the best isn’t always a fast track to success, warned Pask. “It is vital for brands to be credible in terms of what they stand for and not jump into the sneaker market just because it’s hot,” he said.

Y/Project designer Glenn Martens, who will show in Paris on Wednesday, agreed: “It is important to stay true to your core DNA. The moment a brand forgets what it stands for, it’s lying to itself and its customers.”

He explained that it would have been easy for him to create hype with a Y/Project sneaker or by emblazoning everything with logos, but he recently has preferred to go a more sophisticated route with dress shoes and interesting constructions.

Y/Project, he said, is more about the concept behind the clothes — “and that can be projected on traditional or contemporary garments alike, regardless of whether it’s denim or a blazer.”

4. The Future Is Fusion

For many designers, though, the key to success in today’s market is evolution and innovation.

Zanotti explained, “We need to open another door to connect the formal with the sneaker universe and push them closer together to create a new standard of shoe.” Indeed, for spring ’20, he introduced tie-dye loafers — done in tie-dye crystal, naturally ­— as well as croco runners (cut with a blade for a 3-D effect) that fused two worlds into one shoe.

Likewise, at Jimmy Choo, Choi has updated the brand’s Diamond sneaker, launched a year ago, so the entire shoe has been meticulously dipped in ink. “I wanted to focus on the craft,” she said. “We set out to make the very best. Despite how much business evolves and changes, you need to protect that part.”

Jimmy Choo dipped Diamond sneakers, men's spring 2020.
Jimmy Choo’s color-dipped Diamond sneakers, men’s spring 2020.
CREDIT: Stephanie Hirschmiller

As for Paul Andrew, creative director of Ferragamo, he is working from his own unique formula. “The secret is not looking at what every other brand is doing,” said the designer, whose men’s debut at Pitti demonstrated his vision with relaxed, easy tailoring. He also played on the storied label’s leather heritage, updating its classic bench-made Tramezza shoe with a rubber sole finished in a sneaker factory.

“It’s about taking advantage of all possible avenues,” concluded Pask. His ultimate advice? “Do what you do and do it well.”

Ferragamo spring 2020.
Ferragamo spring 2020.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

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