Men’s Re­tail­ers on Adapt­ing to the Chang­ing Cli­mate

WHILE CON­VEN­TIONAL RE­TAIL FOR­MATS ARE BE­ING UP­ENDED, SOTO STORE, THE WHI­TAKER GROUP, SID MASH­BURN AND BROWNS ARE INCITING MEN TO SHOP.

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Soto Store

It’s all about street cred, which is not sur­pris­ing in this city that lives and breathes streetwear. But what's made Ber­lin's Soto Store stand out from the start was its “ac­ces­si­ble mix of street cul­ture and fash­ion. Get­ting high-end la­bels such as Raf Si­mon, Dries Van Noten, Thom Browne or Acne into this mix was new. And in to­day's high-fash­ion world, that's what ev­ery­one now wants to do,” com­mented An­dreas Koschnike, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Cali­roots Group, the Stock­holm-based streetwear and sneaker group that bought Soto two years ago.

Koschnike is “friends from way back” with High­sno­bi­ety's David Fis­cher, who to­gether with fash­ion and me­dia movers Philip Gaedicke and Omer Ben Michael opened Soto in 2010 on Torstrasse, still a some­what off the beaten shop­ping path in Mitte. “Since I took over, and with 15 years of Cali­roots ex­pe­ri­ence un­der our belts, we're pri­mar­ily try­ing to strengthen oper­a­tions,” he said. This in­volves lo­gis­tics, the buy­ing process and run­ning the on­line store, “which has sur­passed the phys­i­cal store, though the store re­mains a big part of our story,” he said.

What he's not out to change is Soto's DNA, of­ten de­scribed as a blend of tra­di­tion and new in­ven­tion, and which he sums up as “no non­sense, with style.” While Soto's brand lineup has al­ways had a strong north­ern slant — Scan­di­na­vian la­bels like Our Le­gacy and Norse Projects are as im­por­tant now as they were at the start — Koschnike also finds the Ber­lin touch de­ci­sive for Soto.

“Look­ing from out­side, Ber­lin feels real. It's straight for­ward, more se­ri­ous, no bulls--t,” he ex­plained, and it is these qual­i­ties that are em­pha­sized in Soto's so­cial me­dia pres­ence, and the store's sea­sonal look books, shot by friends and free­lancers in Ber­lin. They also carry over into the store it­self, which is ac­tu­ally two sep­a­rate yet ad­ja­cent, apart­ment-like spa­ces with plenty of nooks and cran­nies. The at­mos­phere and store de­sign is the an­ti­dote to plush, pris­tine or pre­cious, the fix­tures made of in­dus­trial cast-offs, the mer­chan­dise qui­etly pre­sented and left to im­press on its own mer­its, though clearly edited with a defin­ing aes­thetic.

Soto store man­ager and buy­ing team mem­ber Pavel Kac­zorowski ac­knowl­edged, “We have brands and de­sign­ers, which can some­times in­tim­i­date, but how we present can make them more ac­ces­si­ble.” Not be­ing in a main shop­ping area, the store is never over­crowded, he pointed out, ex­cept for at the nu­mer­ous spe­cial events that have guests lin­ing the streets. But over­all, the in-store ex­pe­ri­ence al­lows for a one-toone ex­change.

Koschnike said Soto is “def­i­nitely look­ing for new ven­dors, and still has some brands on its wish list,” not naming names other than to note they don't start with a big B or a G. “I still see smaller brands as rel­e­vant and cool,” he said. — Melissa Drier

The Whi­taker Group

How do you suc­cess­fully scale a net­work of streetwear stores with­out los­ing ca­chet? For James Whit­ner, the strat­egy is un­der­stand­ing the nu­ances of this con­sumer and not treat­ing them as if they are a mono­lith. He does this with The Whi­taker Group, the com­pany he owns that op­er­ates mul­ti­ple re­tail con­cepts, which in­clude So­cial Sta­tus, A Ma Maniére, APB and Pros­per, which are lo­cated in un­der­served sec­ondary mar­kets such as Char­lotte and Raleigh, N.C.; Pitts­burgh; Hous­ton, and Tampa Bay, Fla. The Whi­taker Group runs a to­tal of 14 shops across the U.S. along with Pub­lic Eye, an event and pop-up space in At­lanta.

“You get a chance to speak to the con­sumer in mul­ti­ple ways,” said Whit­ner, a Pitts­burgh na­tive who is 39 and opened his first sneaker store, Flava Fac­tory, in 2005. “Our cus­tomer ranges from ages 16 to 54 and hip-hop cul­ture is chal­leng­ing that right now be­cause Diddy [Sean Combs] and Jay [Shawn “Jay Z” Carter] are ap­proach­ing 50 and they are re­defin­ing what our de­mo­graphic will look like and how the con­sumer is go­ing to grow with us.”

So­cial Sta­tus sells trend-driven streetwear and con­tem­po­rary brands such as A Bathing Ape, Brain Dead and APC. A Ma Maniére fo­cuses on lux­ury ap­parel and is stocked with brands in­clud­ing Mai­son Margiela, Raf Si­mons and Fear of God.

APB tar­gets the col­lege de­mo­graphic with brands in­clud­ing Plea­sures, Car­rots and 10 Deep. And Pros­per is its ver­ti­cal, mid-price point streetwear brand. Footwear is a ma­jor com­po­nent to each of these shops.

Over the past 11 years, brands have looked to Whit­ner to not only sell its prod­uct, but con­nect to a mar­ket that's con­stantly in­un­dated with re­leases. Whit­ner has been able to cut through the noise with ex­pe­ri­ences and nar­ra­tives that res­onate.

“We aren't just sit­ting around and buy­ing prod­uct and hop­ing it sells,” Whit­ner said. “We are telling sto­ries and en­gag­ing with our con­sumer on­line and in-store so they un­der­stand what we stand for.”

The re­lease of the Adi­das NMD Racer model is an ex­am­ple. Adi­das launched the sneaker on its own, but it didn't get the trac­tion the com­pany wanted so it part­nered with Whit­ner and his team to put en­ergy be­hind the shoes. The Whi­taker Group formed a car club and aligned a meet-up with the launch of the shoe. On­line they've cre­ated video con­tent to tease the drop.

“We drilled down who our con­sumer is and tied lux­ury cars into sneaker cul­ture to ex­cite peo­ple about the shoes,” Whit­ner said.

Up next is the in­tro­duc­tion of more ex­pe­ri­en­tial stores in­clud­ing A Ma Maniére Eats, a re­tail and din­ing hy­brid that's set to open in Hous­ton, and A Ma Maniére Liv­ing, which will open in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. this sum­mer and in­clude a brick-and-mor­tar store that sits be­low two ho­tel suites that cus­tomers can book. That will give them ac­cess to ex­clu­sive prod­uct col­lab­o­ra­tions and home goods they can pur­chase.

“The goal here is not to grow and be­come a Ritz-Carl­ton. The goal is to let kids into a liv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that I think is cool. Right now we get a chance to cu­rate their closet, but I want to cu­rate their home and give them a per­spec­tive on liv­ing,” Whit­ner said.

— Aria Hughes

Sid Mash­burn

• The demise of men’s hab­er­dash­eries in many of this coun­try's ma­jor metropoli­tan ar­eas has been a boon for Sid Mash­burn.

The At­lanta-based de­signer and re­tailer, who be­gan his ca­reer in New York as the first men's de­signer at J. Crew, has qui­etly built a solid busi­ness by cre­at­ing a com­mu­nity that reaches be­yond his roots in tai­lored cloth­ing.

Mash­burn, who runs the busi­ness with his wife Ann, had also served as se­nior de­sign di­rec­tor at Polo, vice pres­i­dent of de­sign at Tommy Hil­figer and se­nior vice pres­i­dent of de­sign at Lands' End be­fore branch­ing out on his own in 2007.

To­day, the Mash­burns op­er­ate four dual-gen­der stores in At­lanta; Hous­ton; Wash­ing­ton, D.C.; Dal­las, and a men's-only store in Los An­ge­les. All of the stores carry a com­bi­na­tion of their own de­signed-and-pro­duced ap­parel along with their fa­vorite “clas­sic, iconic and hard-tofind pieces, all in a space de­signed to feel as beau­ti­ful, in­spir­ing and wel­com­ing as pos­si­ble,” ac­cord­ing to the com­pany.

“Peo­ple ask me why L.A.,” he said.

“Well, we used to have some of the best men's stores in the coun­try there, but now, ev­ery­body is just wear­ing jeans and T-shirts. That's what has fed our busi­ness there.”

Ditto for the two suc­cess­ful pop-ups he's done in Chicago and New York. “I grew up in men's spe­cialty re­tail­ing,” he said, “and that in­ti­macy has pretty much gone away.” But Mash­burn is try­ing to bring it back by of­fer­ing a “high level of de­sign, qual­ity, ser­vice and hos­pi­tal­ity,” he said, whether that's in a per­ma­nent lo­ca­tion or a tem­po­rary one.

Last hol­i­day, Mash­burn took over a space at the Hay­ward House on the Up­per East Side and set up shop for a lit­tle less than a week. The space was lo­cated in the Grosvenor At­ter­bury man­sion — com­plete with stained-glass win­dows, scrolled wood pan­el­ing and a hand-painted gold-stitched ceil­ing — and Mash­burn's collection of men's tai­lored cloth­ing and fur­nish­ings, made-to-mea­sure, and the Ann Mash­burn year-round essentials for women blended per­fectly into the lo­ca­tion.

Sid Mash­burn said the pop-up was an un­par­al­leled suc­cess with more than 500 peo­ple drop­ping by over the spot's four­day run. That prompted the com­pany to host three pop­u­lar trunk shows in New York so far this year. Mash­burn has had the same suc­cess with the trunk show it hosted in Chicago five weeks ago.

“New York is our num­ber-one or num­ber-two on­line mar­ket,” he said, and Chicago is con­sis­tently in the top 10. So these pop-ups and trunk shows are the best way to cap­i­tal­ize on that while also test­ing the mar­ket to see if it might one day be ripe for a store.

Un­til that time, the Mash­burns will con­tinue to do their best to cre­ate strong con­nec­tions with their cus­tomers. In ad­di­tion to the phys­i­cal stores, Mash­burn also has an On the Road con­cept, an um­brella term that the cou­ple uses to re­fer to its trunk shows, pop-ups shops, in­di­vid­ual pri­vate ap­point­ments and evening meet­ings, the lat­ter of which are tar­geted to lo­cal busi­nesses so they can shop af­ter-hours in a com­fort­able, so­cial lo­ca­tion.

“Ann and I have al­ways loved find­ing and mak­ing great things to share with peo­ple — in short, mak­ing a con­nec­tion with ev­ery­one,” Mash­burn writes on his e-commerce site. “Af­ter de­sign posts at J. Crew, Ralph Lau­ren, Tommy Hil­figer, and Lands' End, I spent years look­ing for the kind of re­tail we had seen in Europe and Asia: places that weren't just shops but ex­pe­ri­ences. When we be­gan, we knew it wasn't only about mak­ing cool, spe­cial, use­ful things. It was about the cu­rat­ing of them, mak­ing the selec­tion a lit­tle less daunt­ing, a lit­tle eas­ier, even fun. Be­cause you don't need a lot of choices…you just need the right choices. And with over 50 years in the fash­ion in­dus­try be­tween the two of us, we felt we had the ex­pe­ri­ence to pull it off.” — Jean E. Palmieri

BROWNS

to its quintessen­tially Bri­tish rep­u­ta­tion as a risk-taker, quick to em­brace new trends and emerg­ing names.

In the men's de­part­ment, the re­tailer is bring­ing a spirit of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with a new gen­der­less of­fer, an on­go­ing com­mit­ment to streetwear and an in­creas­ingly in­ter­na­tional out­look, that brings to­gether ma­jor lux­ury brands with emerg­ing Bri­tish or Ja­panese names.

Men's wear buyer Lee Goldup said the com­pany's over­rid­ing strat­egy is to al­ways main­tain a point of dif­fer­ence and “of­fer cus­tomers some­thing they can't buy any­where else.”

“We're al­ways on the look­out for new brands and we've in­tro­duced sev­eral new cat­e­gories over the past two years. Key high­lights in­clude growth in both our high per­for­mance and Ja­panese de­signer of­fer­ing,” Goldup said.

Ja­panese la­bels such as Visvim, Fac­etasm, Chil­dren of Dis­cor­dance and Neigh­bor­hood are now sta­ples in the re­tailer's of­fer.

The street aes­thetic has also truly in­fil­trated Browns' men's wear buy; more than a fleet­ing trend, T-shirts and sweat­shirts have be­come one of the main fo­cal points of the re­tailer's sea­sonal ready-to-wear buy while Goldup name-checks sneak­ers as the dom­i­nant footwear cat­e­gory.

Whether it's a Ba­len­ci­aga sweater or a loosely tai­lored suit by buzzy up-and-comer Wales Bon­ner, Browns was also quick to see that the lines are blurring be­tween men's and women's wear and is start­ing to in­tro­duce more gen­der­less op­tions in its of­fer, as well as merge its women's and men's teams at times.

“We work in­cred­i­bly col­lab­o­ra­tively with the women's team of­ten view­ing [col­lec­tions] in con­junc­tion and look­ing at one co­he­sive buy. For us it's all about find­ing re­ally great prod­uct for the cus­tomer whether that be a men's or women's piece and some of the new tal­ents are re­ally spear­head­ing this in­clud­ing Wales Bon­ner, GMBH and Blind­ness,” Goldup said. “In re­gards to the su­per brands such as Gucci and Ba­len­ci­aga, we're mind­ful of the fe­male shop­per and of­ten buy a wider size run in the items we deem ap­peal­ing to women.”

For spring 2019, Goldup says he most looks for­ward to see­ing how Vir­gil Abloh, Kim Jones and Ric­cardo Tisci will “mix things up” at Louis Vuit­ton, Dior Homme and Burberry, re­spec­tively, while Lon­don Fash­ion Week Men's and Pitti Uomo — where the re­tailer is also set to host a din­ner — re­main an in­te­gral part of his buy­ing sched­ule as scout­ing ground for new names.

“Pitti is a great place to spot new brands that we haven't seen be­fore in a dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment, while Lon­don still holds a very im­por­tant place on the fash­ion cal­en­dar de­spite some of the big name ex­its,” Goldup added. “The fact that Mar­tine Rose who is cur­rently a men's wear con­sul­tant at Ba­len­ci­aga, one of the world's big­gest fash­ion houses still shows on the Lon­don cal­en­dar is tes­ta­ment to that.”

De­spite the on­go­ing dis­cus­sion around gen­der-blend­ing and the rise of coed shows, Goldup also be­lieves that there is still space for stand-alone men's show­cases, to shine the spotlight on young tal­ent and fur­ther push the growth of the men's in­dus­try.

“Keep­ing men's fash­ion week sep­a­rate al­lows for both estab­lished and up-and­com­ing de­sign­ers to get their much de­served time in the lime­light. Although in re­cent years men's fash­ion glob­ally is grow­ing at a faster rate than women's, the over­all mar­ket it still very much dom­i­nated by women's fash­ion,” he added.

Of­fer­ing ex­clu­sive prod­uct for its cus­tomer is an­other key part of Browns' strat­egy, with col­lab­o­ra­tions with streetwear la­bel 424, Mon­cler Ge­nius and 100% Eye­wear all in the pipe­line. ■

Soto Store

A Ma Maniére store in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Mash­burn Cof­fee bou­tique

Sid Mash­burn Hay­ward House

Browns’ South Molton Street store.

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