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.