Joseph abboud’s roadmap for change

by Karen Alberg Grossman

Award-winning designer Joseph Abboud has dedicated his life to menswear, thriving through many decades of ups and downs. Here, he looks to the future.

Q: Your assessment of the current state of menswear?

A: I believe we’re in a sea change, bigger than the economy, bigger than the pandemic, bigger than the normal six- or seven-year swings. Clearly, the major stores are in trouble: it’s like the Titanic heading for the iceberg. Aside from vast physical spaces seeming less safe, their message—selling clothes by the pound–is no longer relevant. Today’s customers are savvy: they’re not buying price (they recognize artificially inflated tickets); they don’t need a suit of armor. I believe the era of the conventional suit is over. We need to communicate a new message, one involving comfort and wellness.

Q: How can stores stay in business without high-ticket items?

A: I believe soft sportcoats will be the cornerstone of a new dress code; I’ve always believed in mixing tailored pieces and sportswear. I think stores should be promoting “healing fabrics”—natural and organic cotton, linen, cashmere, wool, and silk. Layering is key: once you start adding to the sportcoat–turtlenecks, vests, scarves, jeans, trousers—you can build a high-ticket sale. Of course, this requires an engaged and motivated sales team.

I strongly believe the rising phoenix will be the specialty store. Years ago, every major department store looked to Louis Boston, Barneys, Paul Stuart, and Charivari for ideas. These “small batch” retailers had the courage to venture in new directions. I recently stopped in a menswear store called Maxwell & Co. in Falmouth and felt a sudden surge of hope. It’s a well-curated luxury store for men and women with a strong point of view. It was busy: both men and women were shopping. It’s a throwback to the era of great specialty stores: smaller quantities, made in Italy, a perfect flow of product so that virtually everything works with everything else. Now more than ever, brick-and-mortar retail should be about theater, about storytelling.

Q: So all it takes is theater and a strong point of view?

A: Those are fundamentals. Retailers who rely too heavily on data and analytics are looking backward, not forward. And the future for menswear retailing will be nothing like the past.

Unfortunately, retailers need to accept, at least for the next year, that they’ll be doing less volume and cut expenses accordingly. They need to form stronger partnerships with their vendors, finding new ways to help each other. Be it extending terms, taking back excess inventory, or working out financial deals, we’re in this together now more than ever.

Q: Do you see men’s fashion becoming looser and drapier?

A: Yes, but it should evolve naturally: so much of oversized runway fashion looks exaggerated and silly. When you’re working with beautiful fabrics, you want to see fluidity and movement: at some point, the slim suit clearly became the too-slim suit. Men can look sexy and masculine in less-tight clothes but we need to lead them gently, intelligently. But yes, comfort is definitely today’s buzzword: clothes need to move with the body.


  1. Joesph, you are the best. You always have such insight into the menswear business

    Nothing like dressing well to feel good.

    I wish we could work together again

    1. Joseph, I have admired your concepts for thirty years. You have repeatedly been a pioneer with new ideas and cutting edge styles based on the classics. I have always been a fan of layering modern accents with traditional looks. The luxury market will always prevail, since that segment is typically not afraid of taking risks. Thank you for always showing us the way…

  2. Joseph,

    You are spot on and give us men’s designers hope that our expertise will be applicable within this prism shift and sea change in men’s wear.

    1. Alas, Joseph you are the originator and early pioneer of soft, hybrid sport jackets. You often tried soft, flexible fabrics when I worked for you and even our factories were surprised when you would cut them into sport coats. I remember Italian boucle and “woven-knitted” fabrics we developed in Italy and you always had us make soft jackets in them. The sales team would say “they’re too soft and stretchy”. You were way ahead of the world!

  3. ……I was little more tha a kid…just started to move my first steps in a famous italian textyle company based in Como….I met a gentleman, a real artist, a great designer, a talented craftsman …always polaid , respectful with an open smile …sometimes I go back to our archives to see the elegance and the unique color pallet you were able to put together dear Joseph….everything talk about you and to yr vision….one of the greatest !
    Thank you for what you’ve done for the industry …in your way in a different way ……an elegant way
    Simone Taroni

  4. It has been an immense pleasure working with Joseph over the years. Especially, collaborating in his fashion shows was an amazing experience, witnessing his imaginations in a sketch, finding a soul as a product of a leather outerwear or accessories was an amazing experience for me. The uniqueness of his designs, combining materials in a flawless harmony also encouraged me to expand my own visions as a designer in creating luxurious products. I can not thank him enough for being a huge inspiration.
    President of Aston Leather
    Adam Metin

  5. Harold, David, Sherri and Simone,
    Thank you so much for your kind words and support…what our industry needs now more than ever is leadership…your leadership… for all those who have dedicated their careers to the cause of menswear.
    I salute all the great men’s specialty retailers across our country and your creativity, perseverance and passion will see us through this.
    And, as always, a profound thank you to Karen at MR for her lifelong dedication to the menswear business…we couldn’t do this without you!
    – Joseph Abboud

  6. Joseph, as always, I commend your insight on the needs of the male dress up market and the understanding that American Male lifestyles are evolving. As a one of the original believers in the soft sport coat, we have always believed that it takes more than just “removing the shoulder pad”.
    We have worked diligently to create a special fit for the soft sport coat that embodies this new male lifestyle. Higher re-sculpted armholes for freedom of movement, pitched soft shoulders, and shorter/trimmer bodies to accentuate the current fit male. Of course fabric selection and pattern engineering play an integral role in achieving this transformation of the sport coat to feel like a favorite sweater. Tailored to the body yet comfortable should always be the goal. As always, we agree that this a look forward concept that we all have to continue to believe in as an integral part of understanding the new American Male lifestyle. Best of luck to you Joseph!


  8. Dear Joseph, Your vision is pretty much inspirating for us, as high end fabric producers. I totally agree on Your statement, the change towards a new fitting needs to be led intelligently and with no rush. I noticed at the Pitti in January (the last before Pandemic) staff people showing fitted garmets BUT wearing a little longer and looser sportcoats. They looked great and nothing in terms of elegance and sophistication was lost. People have to get closer to new concept by inspiration. Thank You!

  9. Joe is 100% on the money. It is been way too long with the same note played over and over again. Fashion is stale. The men’s industry has been rudderless for years. The retailer has been driving the trends, and that meant little change as they only looked backwards at their data. They would come to the showroom and barely touch a garment. In the heyday of menswear, we embraced change, newness and trend. I believe the brands of tomorrow will find their way into men’s closets by continuing to go directly to the consumer, and not have to be told by a retailer this is what you have to stand for.

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