Saks typically brings you the kinds of label that break the bank: Armani, Boss, Brioni, Brunello Cucinelli, Burberry, Cavalli, Gucci, Maison Martin Margiela, Rag & Bone to name just a few.
One of Saks Fifth Avenue’s hallmarks has always been its gold plated collection of high-end designers. After its deep price slashing last holiday season, seen by many as tacky, the company’s high-end reputation was rocked.
Now Saks has rolled out something new and eyebrows are being raised. Saks Fifth Avenue Men’s Collection represents the company’s major push into private label branding; something the store has eschewed up to now.
The Men’s Collection took two years to develop and encompasses everything from ties, shoes and socks to suits, cashmere sweaters and outerwear. The collection was a joint effort between Saks’ men’s merchant team and consultant Peter Rizzo, a men’s wear veteran whose career includes stints at Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman Men, Polo Ralph Lauren and I.C. Isaacs.
While Saks already had some private label brands, the Men’s Collection represents a first – a fully coordinated, high end competitor aimed squarely at the luxury menswear market. It’s also representative of a private label/proprietary brand trend making its way across the retail spectrum, from supermarkets to Madison Avenue.
In Saks’ case, in addition to converting fashion cognoscenti, they hope to attract shoppers who have been intimidated by the company’s reputation for being an exclusive and trendy citadel to the elite. It’s a real collection, not just an offshoot and part of the strategy is to make the Saks brand more approachable.
The impetus behind the Men’s Collection is fairly strait forward. Luxury labels are pushing retailers for higher profit margins. Private labels are a balancing factor that bring up-market shoppers a more affordable alternative but only when (1) actual quality, in both manufacturing and design, and (2) perceived value are accepted.
As designer Tommy Hillfinger recently stated on CNBC during a panel discussion with Steve Sadove, CEO of Saks, at the end of the day it’s about the product. That and service; luxury goods are a high-touch business and customers factor the service aspect of their transaction into the overall price-to-value ratio.
With an eye toward lower price points for quality and design equivalent to luxury prestige brands, the Men’s Collection is a relative value for the right customer. Average prices are up to 50% less than direct brand competitors – many of which are carried by Saks. This can’t make them very happy, but from Saks perspective taking care of its customers is paramount, even at the expense of its vendors’ sense of trust.
According to WWD, prices are about 20 percent higher than opening-price point merchandise and range from $65 for polos and $75 for ties to $1,100 to $1,300 for suits and up to $1,500 for outerwear. Cashmere sweaters are $295 to $345; merino wool sweaters are $130 to $215; dress pants are $195, and woven shirts are $135 to $165.
Saks Fifth Avenue is not alone in this upscale move to house branding. Bloomingdale’s recently launched The Men’s Store and Lord & Taylor have thier “Black & Brown” line designed by Joseph Abboud. The Wall Street Journal’s Christina Binkley recently produced an excellent article on this trend – it’s worth a read.