CHICAGO NOTES, PART 3: GENUINE BONDS
At a magical ITA dinner at the Adler Planetarium during the recent Chicago Collective, Italian trade commissioner Antonino Laspina delivered a speech that went well beyond business. Noting that Italian exports have been healthy, (increasing 15 percent in 2022 over 2021, and 54 percent in 2021 over 2020), he emphasized that the ITA’s strong support of the Collective was not just about selling men’s fashion. “We’re hoping that by sharing this type of special evening together, American retailers and Italian exhibitors will intensify friendships. Because before the orders are signed, there must be trust. And I believe that we are there, that we’ve established much trust between Italian suppliers and American retailers and that these genuine bonds will continue to grow.”
This sentiment of partnership, so well expressed by Laspina (and echoed by UKFT’s International Business Director Paul Alger) permeated the three-day Chicago Collective. Here, a few more of the fabulous fall ‘23 collections sure to jumpstart selling floors come September.
Neckwear is back!
Who says neckwear is yesterday’s news? Not the creative designers on the show floor who featured some of the most beautiful ties, scarfs and accessories we’ve seen in ages. The trick for retailers: display these accoutrements (knits, wovens, updated classics, ties mostly 3.25-inch widths) not just with suits and formalwear but also with sportswear, to add personality to modern layered looks. Play up features like hand-crafted, self-tipping, exclusive fabrics. Then market to young guys who may never before have worn ties. Shown here: busy booths at Dion (check out their luxe robes for elevated holiday gifts), Edward Armah (we love his show-stopping sock wall), Ruth Graves (who will customize designs for your store; neckerchiefs are still on her hot list), and Italian maker Stefano Cau (who favors dark sophisticated shades in ties but color for his special two-ply fringed silk scarfs.)
Combining pure performance with active lifestyle, Daniel Shapiro showed some very cool items including a perfect hiking pant ($68 cost), a lined and detailed shirt-jacket, merino wool quarter zips and a super-soft lounge package made from reinvented French terry. All sustainable and affordable.
Bill Puckett showed a collection evolved from a few University of Tennessee graduates, original founders of Peter Millar. It’s a decidedly upscale knitwear brand with a big golf component, priced to sell. We liked the knit shirts with a unique collar, the merino quarter zips ($195 retail at 60 points), the cashmere polos, and goat suede vests and jackets.
Tateossian remains the master of men’s jewelry, with an outstanding collection this season. Says Robert Tateossian, “Chicago was a wonderful gathering of key retailers across the United States, a congregation of relationships that spans decades. Clients here are serious and keen to do business.”
Now relaunching in the U.S. based on their archives in Bologna, this legendary Italian footwear brand has turned shoemaking into an art form. Enzo Vaccari explains the different treatments (some patented) of various leathers, the piping and hand-stitching, the special “painting” techniques to add shine, and so much else that goes into the crafting of these beautiful shoes, always with respect for the environment. Retails range from $500-$1400; Vince Gonzales reps the collection in the States.
Mattia D’Orlando showed fabulous knitwear out of Verona. (I also love the message on his business cards: “people.product.presentation.”
Always a favorite, their fall ’23 collection features wide-wale corduroy sportcoats ($189 landed), double-faced mélange knits ($239 landed), and beautiful wool scarfs, crafted in Napoli of course!
At Fray, third generation Giacomo Guasina (his grandma started the business in 1962) and Giovanni Vasta showed off some beautiful items in exclusive fabrics including cotton/silk/cashmere blends. Also notable: some machine-made garments virtually comparable to hand-made with 11.5 stitches per centimeter vs. the typical 8-9 stitches.
On top with bottoms: Ballin’s got you covered–from fashion dress pants to perfect five pockets.
At DiBello, I couldn’t resist trying on some special women’s ski jackets—incredibly lightweight and warm thanks to recycled cashmere in the filling.
Another irresistible collection, this cashmere coat (I had to try it on) provides warmth without weight, just one of many stylish outerwear pieces for men and women. Barbara Kiersch was non-stop busy throughout the show.
As always, there were a few special items at Ross Graison including a beautiful, brushed velvet sportcoat (called Blue Haze, it’s $350 cost for $995 suggested retail), and a unique watercolor-inspired number.
Peregrine UK is a quintessentially British sustainable brand that’s been working with farmers to produce ethically sourced knitwear since 1796. Notable here: wax jackets using British Millerain cloth. Clients range from Selfridges in London to Nordstrom. By 2026, the company will have transitioned 100% of its British wool to regenerative farming methods.
A proud Royal Warrant holder and one of the U.K.’s oldest manufacturers (still in the heart of Derbyshire), John Smedley combines effortless style with top quality and value pricepoints. Says Nicole Lawson, International Sales Manager, “The Chicago Collective has become increasingly important to us as we meet and connect with independent buyers. These included Martin Patrick III, The Met, and The Clotherie.”
Johnstons of Elgin
Another proud Royal Warrant holder, Johnstons of Elgin is the UK’s largest employer in the sector and a major supporter of quality traceable cashmere. For over 225 years, the company has been sourcing the best cashmere from ethical and sustainable sources (especially in Mongolia) which it knits into luxurious outerwear and accessories, thanks to Scotland’s unique (and damp) climate and the company’s centuries old skills.
Handmade in England using traditional skills and materials, the company creates fine leathergoods tailored to discerning minimalists who seek to own fewer, better things. Truly exceptional product that can be found at London’s Mayfair, their own store in NYC and now in many new U.S. doors, opened at the Chicago Collective.
In a country where it rains from time to time (!!), it’s not uncommon to see Fox Umbrellas on the streets of London, Edinburgh, Cardiff or Belfast. Still crafted in the UK and sold around the world at a starting price of $135, this brand was recently mentioned by Bloomingdale’s EVP Dan Leppo (in MR’s January ’23 print issue) as his favorite recent purchase, one he described as “a true work of art.”
Holland & Sherry
Paul Alger proudly notes that Holland & Sherry supplied the fabric for his MBE (Member of the British Empire) inauguration suit back in 2020. “It was just before Covid when HRH The Princess Royal awarded me my very own MBE medal,” said Alger. “I chose the finest flannel I could find and it’s beautiful (and still fits – just, thanks to Alice Burkitt my tailor). This great British (Scottish) textile merchant is serious about the U.S. and has showrooms coast to coast with a head office on 3rd Avenue in Manhattan. Other fabric mills with busy booths in Chicago: Gladson and Scabal.
Says Sales Director David Jeffery, “Chicago Collective was an interesting show for Tricker’s, especially as we now have a very targeted distribution in the U.S. The show was well organized, buyers were there to do business, and the market outlook was positive.”
This very British and beautiful outerwear collection had an exceptional show. Says Charlotte Blackmore, “The Chicago Collective was probably the best and best organized U.S. show in a long time, supported by buyers who love a British-made product and look.”
St. Johns Fragrance Company
Rhys Moore, CEO of St Johns Fragrance Company, reports much success with two new products: Vetiver cologne and an all-natural deodorant. “People (women and men) love the Vetiver fragrance because it’s masculine but not too strong. It’s named for a sweet grass found in India and the Caribbean but includes tones of citrus, cedar, sandalwood and amber. Our new deodorant is aluminum-free and paraben-free, available in both Vetiver and classic Bay Rum scents.” How sweet it is!
Some highlights at Raffi, from Kareen and Shirley: “Our Fall 23 cashmere color card has been elevated with an all-new palette, from soft pastels to deep jewel tones, and an in-stock service of 20 colors!
Retailers also loved our pure cashmere English Rib Zip mock-neck featuring subtle color details on the placket, cuff and armhole. Then there’s our reversible pigment printed cashmere pullovers, our luxurious cable mock-neck with three-button placket, our elevated merino basics in 25 colors (12 in-stock) and much, much more!”
Editor’s note: For those retailers selling or considering women’s fashion, don’t miss the Chicago Collective Women’s Edition, a reimagined showcase of women’s apparel and accessories, all on the 7th floor, launching March 5-7, 2023. The show features 200+ exhibitors representing hundreds of the finest brands in women’s classic and contemporary apparel, lifestyle, accessories, and footwear.
Other show perks: $50/night hotel reimbursement for Buyers (up to 3 nights), Opening Night Party on Sunday for Buyers & Exhibitors, Complimentary Coffee, Breakfast & Lunch for Buyers and Exhibitors, Numerous Happy Hours & networking opportunities throughout the show and discounted hotel rates for Buyers & Exhibitors. www.chicagocollectivewomens.com.
Be sure to read Karen’s reports from the Chicago Collective, Part 1 and Part 2.