Brave New World
Gone are the days when men were sidelined as shoppers. A new wave of menswear-only stores are cropping up, giving better choice alongside a uniquely personal experience
It’s Wednesday afternoon, and in the newly refurbished menswear department of Harvey Nichols, a young man is rocking a T-shirt that stretches down to his knees, a hoodie, a beaten-up leather jacket, and skinny jeans tucked into a pair of Adidas Yeezy Boots 350s. The only label he’s wearing that you’d be able to pronounce the name of is Rick Owens; everything else is by designers with tongue-twisting Japanese and Belgian names: Sasquatchfabrix, Abasi Rosborough and Peir Wu.
We are in a ‘concept space’ that owes more to East End retail pioneers like Hostem, than it does to anything in Knightsbridge. Instead of being arranged into neat concessions, cutting edge labels are spread about in a higgledy piggledy maze-like environment, alongside more familiar brands. It’s a dizzying wormhole where men’s fashion becomes an adventure; a quest to discover personal style.
According to the latest figures from market researchers Verdict, the market for men’s fashion is currently worth £12.9bn per year in the UK alone, and is set to grow by 25% in the next five years. And increasingly, we’re seeing retailers get more creative in order to grab a slice of this lucrative market.
‘Every high street used to have a small menswear boutique as well as a butcher and a baker. Each shop had its own take and a very personal relationship with local customers,’ says Timothy Everest MBE, bespoke tailor and menswear designer with stores on Redchurch Street in East London and Bruton Place in Mayfair. ‘Starting in the 80s until the the 00s, the independents gave way to huge designer flagships, impersonal shopping malls and high street giants.’
In 2016, things are getting interesting again, with traditional bricks and mortar shops, mobile, social networks and e-commerce blending together to create a brave new world of men’s shopping.
‘The e-commerce boom has forced bricks and mortar retailers into thinking about how to get men back into shops,’ says Tom Greatrex, a fashion brand consultant and strategist. ‘When you can see and buy everything on the internet, shops have to be special and offer something different. That’s lead to some quite imaginative thinking.’
‘In a way, we’ve come full circle,’ says Everest, who cites America’s Trunk Club, an online subscription service whereby customers are assigned a personal stylist who sends a trunk full of hand-selected clothes every season, as a sign of what’s to come. ‘It’s using new technology to give an old-school personal service. A blend of traditional retail with the latest innovations.’ Thread, a London based start-up, also offers a subscription-based service with stylists on hand to help you choose looks.
Thanks in part to the internet, the regional indie boutique is thriving once more with stores such as Peggs & Son in Brighton and Oi Polloi in Manchester’s Northern Quarter doing great business selling cult brands to a clued-up local clientele, and also, crucially, to a global online audience. It could be argued that because rents in London are so high, it’s the regional independent shops that can afford to take chances to help popularise smaller, cooler brands.
Meanwhile, back in London, big brands are pretending to be small, cult and personal, just like the independents of yore. You can see them in niche locations including Lamb’s Conduit St and Redchurch St where giants like J.Crew and Club Monaco have their boutique branches nestled in amongst cult brands such as Private White V.C. and Sunspel. Here collections are ‘edited’ and selections ‘curated’. Even high street favourite Whistles has opened a men-only outpost on Boundary Street, selling collections that owe more than a little to the aesthetic of independent Scandi brands like Acne. And at the younger end of the high street, Topman’s personal shopping service offers a 30-minute express ‘fashion fix’ and a two-hour ‘wardrobe overhaul’. And if you can’t make it to a store, you can book a video-chat consultation through Google+ Hangouts.
Charm and intimacy perhaps comes more naturally to those that are actually independent. Based in the Rochelle School in Arnold Circus, Shoreditch, Several is neither design studio, showroom, shop nor online retailer, but a combination of the four. Mainly out of necessity, but also because it feels like the modern way of doing things. Several’s creative director, Graeme Fidler, who was formerly at Aquascutum says, ‘Our location helps to define our brand, it’s a beautiful space, and it gives us a chance to see our customer and really understand him. It also gives him the opportunity to see what we’re all about.’
Back in the Harvey Nichols menswear department, our intrepid young man gets his mother to take a photo of his experimental outfit before she pays for the lot. Men and shopping in 2016 ultimately comes down to relationships, whether with your mum, your Instafeed, your personal shopper, your online stylist, or the designer of your favourite cult brand.