Contemporary roundtable: Growth spurt

by Elise Diamantini

Contemporary retailers discuss current business

Contemporary has been a standout for the past few seasons: what’s been successful? What’s been challenging?
Kevin Harter, Bloomingdale’s: We’re pleased with our contemporary business. We’ve seen a lot of growth from brands such as Theory, John Varvatos and Vince. Thanks to the infusion of colored bottoms and tailored sportcoats we see potential for even more growth.

Nicole Miller, Blackbird: Our main business in Seattle has been really good. It’s online that’s the pits. With so many [specialty] retailers jumping online with their products and the big online stores, we just can’t compete by selling the same brands at the same price. Blackbird has always been an agile business and so now we’re putting our efforts into our private label and perfume businesses, which are growing very fast and strong.

Chris Bossola, Need Supply Co.: For us, business has been good both online and in store. We’ve worked hard over the last few years to create an online presence that complements our brick and mortar shop. Creating a cohesive experience across the two has helped both businesses grow.

Brooke Cundiff, Park & Bond: We find that our more unique and fashion-driven offerings are first to sell. This is definitely a reflection of a new generation of male shoppers who are trend-conscious and looking for stand-out pieces. We saw so many great items and fresh trends in Europe this season that I’m sure will get our customers excited to shop. We’re focusing on exclusive launches and items; we just had a very successful launch with Band of Outsiders “This is not a Polo Shirt.” We have a really strong editorial team that ties in amazing content to our product, which allows us to offer something really unique and creative to our customers.

What specifically is selling? What’s been disappointing?
Miller: Other than our in-house brand, Odyn Vovk and Robert Geller have been the big winners. The ratio of menswear to accessories has changed for us. We’re finding that fewer people are in the market for clothing; we sell lots of shave cream! What we’re struggling with is our vendors’ unwillingness to stock items for reorder. We could turn more units if we could reorder basics. It’s not reasonable to wait six months for a restock of jeans that have been in the line for five years!

Cundiff: The footwear/accessories category continues to be one of our top performers. It’s clear that men are realizing what women have always known—you really can tell a man by his shoes! There’s a growing segment of the market that’s interested in having the right shoes, not only to complement their outfits, but also help them stand out. You see this with details like colored soles and monk straps. Simply put: there’s a new generation of men shopping, they’re very competitive in their style and always looking for something different to set them apart. Contemporary sportswear continues to be a very strong performer.

Bossola: Accessories for men and women have been great this season. Shorts were terrible across the board. But I’m going to blame that on the weather, like a good retailer should…

What key trends/big ideas are you getting behind for spring 2013?
Eric Jennings, Saks Fifth Avenue: One of the key trends for spring ’13 will be prints. We’re seeing all types, from geometric, floral, ethnic, to chinoiserie and conversational. The market is full of colorful prints and it’s not just in woven shirts, but also in trousers and tailoring. In terms of color, citrus shades of yellow, orange and green will make a splash against a broad range of aqua blues. Lapel pins of all varieties are the new go-to accessory.

Harter: We are loving the infusion of athletic looks and technical fabrics for spring 2013: nylon anoraks, sneakers and tailored shorts are all opportunities. We also see sportcoats and colored bottoms continuing to grow.

Cundiff: We’re getting behind non-denim bottoms, colored denim, soft unstructured sportcoats and shorts. There are new shoe silhouettes like slip-ons and espadrilles, and leather/canvas combinations. Color continues to be important for us and is selling extremely well.

Miller: I’ve been working on side projects with companies like Nike and Target to enhance their retail experiences. I’ve been expressing to them that the customers are the ones to watch. They’re styling themselves in incredible ways that are so far ahead and so much more interesting. ‘Be yourself’ is the new big trend.

How’s denim business? Are raw, clean styles still selling? Has the customer responded to colored denim? Has non-denim taken a significant piece of the denim pie?
Miller: Jeans are as strong as ever. We mainly sell raw denim and focus on fit and quality rather than washes and color. Non-denim bottoms keep trending up, but only when they fit well. Customers aren’t willing to purchase ill-fitting pants, and when they find the perfect fit, they’ll buy three pairs.

Harter: Denim is holding its own. Our best resources are offering alternatives like color or different fabrics such as corduroy. For spring ’13, I’m expecting the resurgence of vintage/destroyed looks and we’re really feeling the denim jacket.

Jennings: Denim is strong. It’s definitely been energized by all the color this spring. Some question the longevity of this trend, but I’m predicting colored denim to be around for several more seasons. When everyone was talking about non-denim bottoms a few seasons ago, we took the alternative approach and really dug in deep with our denim resources. We certainly didn’t shy away from non-denim, but focused on denim. Right now raw and selvedge are important, but too much of it on the floor and it all starts to look the same. Our bottoms business is strong because we’ve balanced our denim resources with a healthy mix of colored, raw, selvedge and non-denim options.

Bossola: Our denim business was good this spring along with non-denim bottoms. I think the cooler spring helped. We’re still selling clean, dark denim—we tried color, but it wasn’t great for us.

Cundiff: We’ve found success in denim: raw, clean styles are consistently selling and colored denim has been a standout as well. For spring ‘13 we’re looking at opportunities in shorts.

Your wish list: what do you need from the market? What’s needed to make overall contemporary business better?
Harter: Men care more about fit than ever before, so for us, it’s about finding contemporary resources that offer fits that complement the body.

Bossola: I’d like to see more good, clean design at a reasonable price.

Jennings: I’m looking for cool, well constructed tailored clothing, made in the U.S. (ideally), with accessible pricepoints for a young guy. This would be an amazing addition to our men’s contemporary business.

Miller: With the internet exposing retail pricing, we’re moving into an economic change where we all must price our goods the same or risk looking like monsters. With this new challenge, I need our vendors/designers to ensure higher margins. A few points here and there will make a huge difference for us small retailers. I’m placing bigger orders from brands that give me at least a 2.5 point markup and dropping brands that only offer 2.2 or 2.3.