Fashion week is as much an international summit as it is a showcase. Designers, buyers and press from all corners of the globe descend upon showrooms and studios to talk shop and plan for the upcoming season. The last few days in Milan were no different. As the final touches were being made to the spring 2012 men’s collections, delegations from major markets including Japan, Korea and the US checked in alongside those representing emerging territories such as Turkey and Brazil. After a few seasons of tight purse-strings, demand for high-quality, Italian tailoring is back. And no market seems more enthusiastic than America.
Isaia, Fratelli Rossetti and Slowear have all experienced growth in the US over the past year, showing optimism across the luxury market, from Italian-made suits and shirts to handmade shoes. The same can be seen even in more casual Italian-owned labels such as Woolrich’s two lines, whose Bologna-based parent company WP will be opening a New York store and office in 2012. “Italian brands have always had a huge presence in the US market, but right now you’re seeing a lot more interest in smaller artisanal manufacturers from Italy,” says Josh Peskowitz, style director of Park and Bond, an American based e-commerce site launching in September that will largely cater to this demand. “The way men are dressing in America is slowly but surely shifting away from the idea of Americana, and back to a focus on tailoring, and the use of tailoring in a casual context – which is what Italians do best. The idea of being dressed is becoming more important to the younger generation of American men. Their fathers may not have done it, but their grandfathers did.”
James Shay, vice president of Isaia, agrees US retail growth is down to informed consumers demanding high-quality garments to invest in. “Our US sales are up 40 per cent on average over the previous year, and retail sales have already surpassed pre-crisis levels,” he says. “Barneys New York has doubled the size of its shirt and tie business this year, and Saks Fifth Avenue is ending this spring season 67 per cent higher than last year’s, with the addition of only one new store.” Bergdorf Goodman launched the Isaia collection in its stores last year, and has already seen sales in excess of $1m. Neiman Marcus will be opening its first Isaia store in Los Angeles this September.
For buyers, the willingness of Italian brands to work with retailers on tailoring products to a specific market is key, says Peskowitz. “The American market is starting to look at clothing like the Italians always have. The trousers may have to be a little bit looser for the US, but things such as jacket lengths stay the same. Changes in menswear are more incremental than in women’s clothing; this change has taken a while, but is something that’s here to stay for number of years.”