by Karen Alberg Grossman

The mood was decidedly upbeat as retailers from around the country came to Chicago to seek out hot items and catch up with colleagues at what is widely known as the friendliest show in the market.

Top menswear merchants weigh in. Says Bob Harrison from Puritan Clothing Cape Cod: “We love the Chicago Collective Show with hundreds of great vendors on one show floor. It’s a perfect opportunity to review and discover brands across many classifications of clothing, sportswear, denim, and footwear.”

David Levy from Levy’s in Nashville agrees. “Our team had a wonderful show in Chicago. In addition to our existing vendors, we searched the show floor for new relationships, looking for passionate entrepreneurs with performance fabric stories. We want vendors who work as hard as we do and who value their retailer clients. The Century+ Store event on Sunday night (sponsored by Peerless, the Chicago Collective, Nobis and MR magazine) allowed hard-working retailers and brands to congratulate each other for a few moments away from the lights of the show floor. As my friend David Kositchek of Kositchek’s Lansing, MI told me, ‘This type of event builds a camaraderie that the industry has been missing.’ I now want to lean on the Kositchek’s team to advise us on how to keep selling neckties!”

Says Jim Giddon from Rothmans NYC: “The line that excited me most is 40 Calori. Buyers always think they’re designers. With 40 Calori, you get your opportunity to prove yourself. Pick your own patterns, colors, and designs on knit caps, scarves, gloves and ties, all made in Italy. The outerwear from the Norwegian brand UBR is also very cool. (Or should I say very warm?) Lightweight wool and techno coats built for arctic exploration that also looks stylish walking the streets of NYC.” 

Michael Kiewe fromJS Edwards in Baltimore had a few favorites.“Luchiano Visconti has a cool-looking sportcoat in a performance fabric that packs into a small pouch. Bugatchi showed some great new fabric concepts; it seems everyone is going for that Lulu Lemon look! Secrid wallets are still on fire! Peter Millar is rocking as is Robert Graham, Mizzen & Main, and Byron.”

And from the buying team at Rodes in Louisville: “We enjoyed meeting Ruth Graves at Ruth Graves Designs. Her Derby-inspired pocket squares and lapel pins will be a great addition to our spring accessories department. We find that the Collective is an easy and efficient show to work. Looking forward to coming back in August.”

It was tough for this editor to pick favorites as I was inspired by so many products and presentations. As always, Majestic has mastered the art of impact presentation, accessorizing their pj’s and robes with Billy the Boston Terrier and Stephan the Siamese cat, two irresistible pet mannequins.

Another great idea for impact presentation: Gary and Steve at Left Coast Tee are now doing fabulous photo shoots for their retail accounts, showing guys how to mix clothing, sportswear and accessories while featuring the store name more prominently than the brand name. For use in-store, in print, and on social media, these beautiful photographs are sure to raise the fashion quotient of guys across the country.

Olefant is a relatively new collection with some strong salable items offering healthy margins. In addition to their trademark woven and knit shirts, we loved the stretch twill pants in subtle camo and glen plaid prints, $37.50 cost for a $140 suggested retail. Lots of stylish stuff that real guys really wear.

If you haven’t already heard, Robert Stock is back! (Shown in photo with business partner Jonathan Sibony from Au Noir). Offering both a Signature collection (artfully embellished shirts with beads, sequins, embroidery, and other creative touches, $295 suggested retails in sizes up to 3XL) and a Heritage collection that brings out Stock’s flair for creating updated classics with exceptional detailing and fit. Prices on Heritage are in the $155-$175 range for overprint yarn dyes, overdyed cords, reversible vests, paisley printed suedes and more. Check out too an amazing collection of shirts featuring luxury autos and classic race cars.

I liked this Buckle & Seam backpack so much that I bought one: $109 cost for a suggested retail of $249. (After years of carrying a heavy shoulder bag and ending up with a torn rotator cuff, I finally realized the benefit of more evenly distributing the weight of all the essential junk we schlep around. Plus each purchase helps give children in Pakistan access to education!)

Check out the cork inlay belts at Torino, $90 retail, not to mention their croco-tipped stretch belts ($150) and waxed cotton Italian braids ($95-$115).

At Alan Paine, Jim McKenry had great retailer reaction to the Explorer collection, based on the adventurous life of explorer George Mallory. All sweaters in this collection feature unique components including Teflon-treated merino and recycled yarns.

M. Singer is one of those deceptively simple collections that perfectly captures the comfortable but modern way most guys want to dress. A tri-blend French terry pullover cost $55 for a $145 suggested retail; the matching jogger (made in the U.S. and definitely not a lounge pant) is $135. A perfect waffle knit Henley in great colors (orange, army green) is $128 retail and a great 14-wale corduroy pant with drawstring waist is $170.

At Mac jeans, Galina showed us some fabulous velvets as well as a great collection of beautifully patterned dress pants in an amazingly soft performance blend ($90 wholesale).

Look for Part 2 of our Chicago show coverage next week!