Normally, I wait a little while before posting any of my MensFlair columns to the blog. I like to give myself some space so that I can revisit what I had to say, add some new material or perhaps a different viewpoint.
In this case however, an article in yesterday’s DNR bookended very nicely with my recent thoughts on the emerging strength of the menswear market. For the first time ever, sales of menswear outpaced women’s last year in France and the trend is expected to continue.
From glitzy malls like Galeries Lafayette to snug boutiques scattered across the city, Parisian retailers are stocking up on their inventory of luxury men’s clothing and accessories.
Back in the States, two recent announcements by some big retail names in New York are shedding light on the ever changing landscape of the menswear market.
Polo Ralph Lauren recently stated that that the landmark Rhinelander Mansion on Madison Avenue will be converted to a men’s only concept store.
Across the street at 888 Madison Avenue, the company will construct a new flagship store to consolidate the women’s and home collections. The company has said that the new flagship store across the street “will complement the Mansion and really make a big statement on 72nd and Madison.”
That they will build another flagship and create a matched set of buildings is fairly impressive, but to me the big news is that the Mansion will be solely dedicated to Ralph Lauren’s entire men’s line. The planned reopening of the all men’s Mansion is in the fall of 2009.
Since it’s opening in 1986, this landmark has always been about classic men’s lifestyle as far as I’m concerned. As the first stand-alone store totally dedicated to the world of Ralph Lauren, the 110 year-old Mansion became the very symbol of Polo and an elegant backdrop for Ralph’s world.
I’ve worked at two of his stores and the Mansion was always something special. Sure, we’d complain about how the staff there could be snooty and a little condescending when asked for a store transfer or whatnot, but really, we liked them. They had personality. They were New York, they were store number one and they knew it.
If you wanted to see everything in the Polo universe, you went to Madison Avenue. It was the place from which the Polo mythos sprung. Even now with the “flagship” retail concept in full swing, all the Ralph Lauren major anchor stores are laid out like the Mansion – or at least incorporate key elements like its stunning grand staircase laden with faux family oil paintings.
This change in the Ralph Lauren Retail mix is important for two reasons. First, the company is essentially stating that the menswear market is now strong enough to warrant a men’s specific store. Secondly, they feel the trend is significant enough to completely dedicate the original Polo store to the cause. Don’t miss the meaning here; this is big.
Back in the heart of Midtown, Brooks Brothers just announced the planned closure of its Fifth Avenue flagship store in early 2009. Brooks’ president, Claudio Del Vecchio, stated that the company will focus on renovating the Madison Avenue flagship location and make it the heart of the company’s New York presence.
And the reason for this momentous shift in strategy? Del Vechio felt that it did not make sense to have two New York flagship stores, let alone two within walking distance of each other. Additionally, the 666 Fifth Avenue location focused too much on the women’s collection and sportswear. Other New York City locations are being examined for smaller satellite locations, but Madison Avenue will regain its title as king of Brooks Brothers in NYC.
While not as landmark a press release as Ralph Lauren’s, the Brooks Brothers story does reinforce the argument that menswear is reasserting itself in the marketplace. And when it comes to the business of fashion, when New York sneezes the world usually catches a cold. This time though, the trend may be crossing the Atlantic from the other side.