After a 20-month hiatus due to COVID, last week’s Chicago Collective proved to be better than ever! As always, Bruce Schedler and team made it all seem effortless: the easy set-up, the logical layout, the elevated assortments of fabulous fashion, the Bloody Mary bars, Italian Aperitivo Lounge (thank you Italian Trade Agency), Le Bar on 7 (Montreal Collections), specialty coffee bar (Blue Industry), the Barbour Café (breakfast, lunch, and coat check) and of course the wonderful opening night party sponsored by Bugatchi.
Most notably, it’s been years since we’ve heard retailers and vendors express this amount of optimism about business. Says Jack Madda from J-3 Clothing in Cleveland, “With the recent uptick in business, we now have the ability to buy like drunken sailors. We sold more in the last ten weeks than ever: it seemed that everything we brought in sold out. In just one weekend, 12 guys came in and bought suits! Another good thing is that with so many late deliveries, we didn’t have to go on sale!”
Says Fred Derring of DLS buying group, “Virtually all of our 125 member stores are reporting increases over 2019. Business is strong, including tailored clothing! However, we encouraged our stores to focus on fall deliveries to ensure they have enough inventory for holiday selling. We’re predicting the best 4th quarter in years!”
Peter Tsihlias from Dion neckwear noted that for him, this was the strongest trade show in his 33 years in business. “People are tired of dressing down and weddings are happening big time! Our formalwear is on fire: bowties are selling out; retailers want them yesterday!”
Although neckwear is still a tough category, pocket squares (especially in matte fabrics with hand-rolled edges like those you’ll find at Edward Armah and Ruth Graves) are genuine works of art. Specialty ties, like this from Ronn Harris, are also booking, and bandannas are suddenly cool!
While it’s impossible to acknowledge every favorite brand on the show floor, ours include the following:
*Bugatchi: A home run this season with six deliveries of many strong themes from safari and nautical to art and color. We loved the fabulous field jackets, tie-dyed tees, sophisticated knits, vegetable-tanned leather jackets, and the incredibly soft 8-way stretch OoohCotton collection.
*Greyson: Check out their Montauk trouser, jogger pants and shorts, cashmere blend hoodie, and pima/performance pique golf shirts ($45-$50 wholesale). The brand is big in green grass shops and is now focusing on better specialty stores.
*Fly 3 showed a colorful group of ultra-soft knits, including elegant sweatshirts (45% cotton, 40 percent bamboo, and 15% cashmere) and knitted sportcoats (97% linen/3% elastin).
*Peerless: In addition to their numerous designer name clothing collections, the Tallia and TailoRed collections have never looked better! Check out too their new and very saleable sportswear!
*Jack Victor focused on comfort knitwear, including softly tailored sportcoats with a very light chest piece, no sleevehead, and a rounded shoulder. “It’s been a home run, especially at our prices ($595-$895 retails),” confirms Nelson Suriel, also touting less structured cotton piques, all-wool stretch, double-faced fabrics, and linen-cotton blends.
*Coppley: According to Tony Maddox, they’ve added more color, texture, and seasonal fabrics to their custom boxes. “Since the pandemic, with retailers afraid of inventory, custom has grown from 50 to 70 percent of the business, higher than I want it to be. Rack goods give us presence in the store, and allow us to better plan seasonal highs and lows and maintain price per unit.” Key for spring 22: knit sportscoats on rapid replenishment. We love the Loro Piana silk/linen/wool knit in an unconstructed model and a 98% wool seersucker sportcoat.
*At Corneliani, Sean Heiter said the best-booked items were: super lightweight adaptive knit jackets (with zero shoulder) in pop colors; lightweight wrinkle-free, tech shirts with a silk hand; and lightweight reversible outerwear, in stock and retailing under $1000.
*We found some of the best printed linen shirts in the market at Raffi, $52 cost for $145 suggested retail. Of course, Raffi’s famous Aqua-Cottons continue to sell well, providing a natural-fiber option among the sea of synthetics.
*Find more wonderful shirts at Emanuel Berg, now part of Throat Threads: exclusive prints on ultra-soft Italian yarns, $248 suggested retail.
*And check out DeSoto: luxurious performance fabrics (we loved the modal/linen blend and the pima cottons) in crews, polos, and button-downs; long sleeve prints are $100 cost for $250 suggested retail.
*Georg Roth showed some amazing unshrinkable pima cotton knits, four-way stretch seersucker shorts, garment-washed polos, and great hoodies ($49.50 for $128). What’s more, he supports retailers with social media content: one particular video on how to roll a sleeve has received half a million hits!
*For more luxurious printed shirts, Italian style, we loved Tintoria Mattei 954. Linens have been the best booked this season but there’s also some great styles in soft viscose at $79-$99 cost.
*Giangi: Fabulous shirts wholesaling between $104 and $139. Linen/cotton blends, stripes, seersuckers, bold prints, it’s all here.
*Gallia, a company that produces for many name designers, featured retro-modern knitwear, fun terry beachwear and gorgeous sweaters in four-ply washed cashmere, cotton/cashmere blends, and linen/cashmere/silk.
* And for some truly special upscale swimwear, we love Tiki Napoli, sartorial hand-stitched inseams in 5.5- or 7-inch lengths (4-inch inseams have not yet caught on in the States!)
*Donatello: Their eco collection of footwear is all bio-based sustainable product, 100 percent made in Italy. “Our goal is to offer quality, comfortable, stylish footwear without the added hype of a designer label,” says Joseph Molinaro, who also launched Valentino dress shoes at the show. Donatello’s eco collection starts at $150 cost for a suggested $350 retail.
*Paisley & Gray showed some fun looks at volume pricepoints, from sorbet-color formalwear (hot pink, wild purple, bold coral) to cabana sets to sweater knit polos, drawstring linen pants, to our favorite: a boldly printed hooded rain slicker at $175 suggested retail (matching slide sold separately!)
*Marcello: Lots of great shirts, most wholesaling in the $40s. On every order, says Darren Apel, is the one-piece roll collar shirt, 97% cotton/3% Lycra, $60 cost for a $185 suggested retail. “It’s a clean, sophisticated look with a second button, perfect under a sportcoat or alone.”
*Lords of Harlech: According to Christian Norman, they were slammed with orders for immediate delivery. We loved the bold printed shirts (all cotton with mechanical stretch, $138 retail), jungle theme swimwear, and stretch terry separates in hot coral, pink, and blue.
Ross Graison: Their hot holiday item is their heat-pressed velvet sportcoat, $195 cost for retails from $595…
Lenor Romano: As always, very special pieces, interesting fabrics, sophisticated colors. Check out the tie-dyed microfiber separates, $21 cost, made in America, and the printed cotton voile shirts, $49 in long sleeves, $120 suggested retail.
*Majestic: Sleepwear has become all-day wear, says Wendy Thompson from Majestic. Lounge pants ($26 cost for $65 suggested retail) feature matching seams, matched plaids, and knit jersey inside waistbands. We love the fun tie-dyed joggers and tops, the hooded French terry robes ($30 cost for $75 suggested retails), and a luscious teddy bear fleece robe ($46 for $110). Holiday gifting solved!
*Curious minds want to know: Rumor has it that Rothman’s is vying for a fourth store, this one in Manhattan West, to open at the end of September. Keep checking our MR daily newsletter for future scoops!
*Scott Shapiro has been getting some great press on a gift to Pope Francis of Beatles Happy Socks. Purchased at Syd Jerome by U.S. Franciscan Father Michael Perry on his way to Rome, the socks clearly pleased the Pope who is a true Beatles Fan. To Father Michael’s purchase, Shapiro added an additional pair of socks with a meaningful message: Let It Be…
*Kudos! to all the retailers who held off on summer promotions! Says Hal Lansky at Lansky’s in Memphis, “Usually this time of year, I’m at 50% off on sales of $150 or higher, but no more! Business is good without it; we work too hard to be giving it away!”
*Kudos also to Perry Lancaster from Britton’s in Columbia, SC for valuing senior sales associates. His birthday party for 82-year-old rock star Leonard Fabrizio got lots of local press (and sales of 14 suits that day!) “Leonard had his own store in Columbia for 64 years and came to us because retirement bored him. With 650 client contacts in his cell phone, infinite knowledge of the clothing business, and a delightful personality, we are lucky to have him!”
*Supply Chain Gamble: To wait or not to wait? Joe Visconti at Forsyth of Canada was unwilling to take the risk. As he told us on the show floor: “With the recent surge in weddings, we’ve had huge retailer demand for white dress shirts. We produce in our own factory in China where shipping costs per container have increased from $5000 to $17,000. But on top of that, we decided to spend another $100,000+ to air ship…” We’re sure there are many grateful retailers, and bridegrooms!