To mark the start of a seasonal series, Monocle visited three of its favourite retail outlets to talk to the men who buy their twice yearly line-up of labels for men and women. We start our tour at our editor-in-chief’s top haunt in the centre of Como, jump up to much trendier Park in Vienna and head over to Beams in Tokyo to talk colour, cut and creators.
A.Gi.Emme is the apotheosis of the chic Italian boutique. Opened as a shoe shop in 1930, the current owner Alberto Monti, diversified into clothing. Aimed at northern Italians for whom investment in quality fashion is a given, the shop offers understated tailoring from Jil Sander, Paul Smith and Burberry, punctuated by Italian knitwear and more frivolous pieces from Parisian big-hitters Chloé and Balenciaga.
Monocle: What was the first brand you sold in the shop?
Alberto Monti: Pierre Cardin.
M: How would you describe the style of the menswear brands you sell?
AM: They’re classic by definition, but the fit, for me, is very important.
M: And how would you describe the womenswear brands?
AM: International and famous, such as Balenciaga, Chloé and Derek Lam.
M: How do you source your collections?
AM: I select local brands in every country; in Milan, I buy Alberto Aspesi and Golden Goose; in Paris, I buy Vanessa Bruno and Repetto. The internet is my favourite way to source collections but I have private contacts in New York, Paris and Copenhagen. I also take photos in the street to capture a special look.
M: What trends have you bought for womenswear and menswear collections for spring?
AM: For women: dresses, dresses, dresses. And for men: grey, grey, grey.
M: Do you have any special services that you offer your best customers?
AM: We explain which are the new colours and models for the next season.
M: What are the most interesting aspects of fashion buying? And what are the worst?
AM: I enjoy the travel and the discovery of new trends. The worst thing is the stress I experience after the selection of the collections and before the sales.
A.Gi.Emme, via Vittorio Emanuele 91 (men); via Vittorio Emanuele 4 & via Indipendenza 16 (women), Como, Italy; www.agiemme.com
A haven of cerebral fashion for men and women, Park is a two-storey white cube space that sells the best of Belgian avant-garde design alongside upstart British labels. Established in February 2004 by co-owners Helmut Ruthner (from the travel industry) and Markus Strasser (a tutor in the fashion department of Vienna’s University of Applied Arts), Park’s mission is to showcase “contemporary design in all its influences from fashion, industrial design, streetwear, vintage and not forgetting art itself”.
Monocle: What were the first brands you sold in the shop? Have they changed?
Helmut Ruthner: The main brands at the beginning were Hussein Chalayan, Jonathan Saunders, Véronique Branquinho, Stephan Schneider, Christian Wijnants, Surface2Air, Fred Perry, Vans and Sophia Kokosalaki. Later on we added Ann Demeulemeester, Haider Ackermann, Haltbar Murkudis, Acne Jeans. There are others that change each season but those are the main brands we sell consistently.
M: How would you describe the style of menswear sold at Park?
HR: Modern, cool, without being showy; sophisticated in details and quality. If there are eye-catching pieces, they’re never overdone. We don’t like anything showy.
M: And how would you describe the style of the womenswear brands?
HR: The womenswear collections are much more diverse. What both collections have in common is the strength of their individualistic expression – without being too fancy.
M: How do you source your collections?
HR: Runway shows, appointments and private contacts are our main sources. We really don’t like fairs. And many designers approach us here in the shop.
M: What are the womenswear trends you’ve bought for spring/summer 2007?
HR: There are fewer colours than last summer – but they are stronger. Clean and straight silhouettes.
M: And for men?
HR: Suits, suits, suits. Stripes, lots of classic-looking pieces.
M: What are your bestsellers?
HR: It differs from season to season – but brand-name recognition helps.
M: Who is the typical Park customer?
HR: It’s our philosophy to be open to a variety of styles, people, products, ages. That said, many of our clients are interested in culture, arts and music, a lot have connections to theatre, art, architecture, advertising, the film industry.
M: Do you offer any special services for your important customers?
HR: Delivery to their home or hotel; appointments with their favourite shop assistant; reservations; information about the arrival of their favorite collections; first choice at the beginning of the sales.
M: Do you work with designers on limited-edition pieces?
HR: Yes – we do Christmas T-shirts with local designers every year and we’re planning to intensify this.
M: What are the best things about being a fashion buyer?
HR: Travelling to Paris four times a year. Networking with interesting people; being the first to see the influences on how people will look and therefore how “the world” will look. Keeping an eye on the arts scene.
M: And the worst?
HR: Never having enough time to discover new designers. In a good season, trying to stay within budget. In a bad season, buying enough goods for the store.
M: Why the name?
HR: We wanted a name that would symbolise the shop’s philosophy: like a park, it’s open to different kinds of people, ages, velocities, affections. It’s also open to different kinds of good design.
Park, Mondscheingasse 20, Vienna, Austria; www.park.co.at
Established in 1976, Japan’s famous “concept” department store now has more than 60 branches. Its menswear offering is distinctively preppy but buyers here know that Tokyoites demand attention to detail; the thrill is all in the understated emblem on a sweater or the unusual trim on an Ivy League jacket. Hiroshi Kubo, creative director of menswear, started at Beams in an after-school job in 1981. After graduating from university in 1984 he joined full time.
Monocle: What brands have had the longest association with Beams?
Hiroshi Kubo: Levi’s, Adidas, Nike, Alden, Schott, Redwings, St James, Clarks, Porter, John Smedley…
M: How would you describe the style of the menswear brands at your shop?
HK: It’s very hard to categorise each style, but the majority can be described as classic, Ivy and preppy. The basis is always classic and authentic, then we add today’s trends and avant-garde tastes as colouring.
M: And how would you describe the general style of the accessories?
HK: Accessories only add detail to the outfit, so they shouldn’t stand out too much. But add some accessories to authentic and simple jeans, trousers and shirts and they can create great results. For example, with a ribbon belt, you get a preppy style. But with a studded belt, you add some rock flavour.
M: How do you source your collections?
HK: Fashion shows, private contacts, appointments, fairs… everything.
M: What trends have you bought for spring?
HK: I see the trend as “clean” – it’s moved from the grungy rock taste of the West Coast to the clean, preppy style of the East Coast.
M: Can you describe the typical Beams customer?
HK: Conservative but sensitive to the time and trend.
M: Do you offer any special services to important customers?
HK: We send out sales and events information to Beams Club Members (customers who have a Beams Card), but we value every customer.
M: What is the average spend by one of your regular customers?
HK: It depends on each shop, since we have a wide range of shops.
M: What are the best and worst things about your job?
HK: The best is that I’m always dealing with my favourite thing – fashion. I also meet lots of people. The worst is that I buy too many clothes. There’s nothing worse than that, as I’m doing what I love.
M: In what way is Beams a typically Japanese fashion boutique?
HK: We serve the needs of our customers, who are mostly Japanese. But it’s a global brand, as our attitude absorbs everything “good” from all over the world and introduces that to our customers.
Beams, 1-15-1 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan; www.beams.co.jp