Men’s luxury: Time for an (arm)revolution?

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That oft-ignored market for men’s luxury has been popping up on my radar screen a lot more often in the last few months. Up until now, men’s luxury spending has been dominated by expensive watches. But, as a generation of high net-worth men with a taste for modern design is growing up, more players are reaching out to meet their sophisticated needs in innovative ways.

Tomford2It brings to mind a casual gathering of friends that took place in my kitchen on a recent Saturday evening. Over wine and cheese, I watched in awe as hedge fund managers, private equity investors and investment bankers from London’s burgeoning financial community were comparing, discussing and examining each other’s (expensive) watches in excruciating detail. Some were taking pride in the beautiful pearl dialfaces, others in the high-tech mechanics, and still others in having a Swiss watch brand that nobody else had heard of. Digits were exchanged. Prices were quoted. Statistics were cited. Still, it wasn’t so different from the groups of professional women I have seen cooing over their friend’s new Chloe bag. Could the same passion for those watches and handbags be transferred to cufflinks, tailor-made suits and high-tech men’s cosmetics?

UBS Luxury sector analyst Yasuhiro Yamaguchi thinks so. In May, he published the first comprehensive analyst report that I have seen on the Men’s luxury market, indicating the increasing awareness that even the financial markets have of this segment. According to UBS, the market for everything from Swiss watches and German sports cars to handmade shoes and men’s cosmetics is bound to get a boost from rapid changes in the demographic and social fabric of North America, Europe and Japan. The report argues that with the advent of increasingly financially independent women, bursting-to-the-seams equity in global real estate, and societal acceptance of metrosexual and gay cultures in an ever-urbanising world, there is a growing pot of disposable income that will be spent on men’s luxury products and services.

While the report doesn’t provide a concrete figure for the overall size of the men’s luxury market, it does point to extremely high growth rates for various segments which have high exposure to men’s luxury. Another report by NPD says that the men’s fashion footwear market was worth $11b in 2006 and has been growing at about 20% over the past couple of years.  If numbers like this are any indication, it’s not surprising that both upstarts and major luxury players are looking to capture some of this value.

Tomford The most high-profile case study of a player staking their ground in this space is Tom Ford‘s men’s luxury brand. Mr. Ford recently announced plans to take his brand across the globe, hitting the major luxury poles in Russia, the Middle and Far East, Europe, and the Americas through a series of retail partnerships with prestigious local groups like Mercury in Russia, Villa Moda in the Middle East, Lane Crawford in Asia, and Daslu in Brazil.   

This strategy makes a lot of sense. It is the best way to ensure each store meets the specific needs and tastes of each market through the insight and local understanding of their partners. For example, Majed Al-Sabah (sometimes known in the industry as the Sheikh of Chic) of Villa Moda has told Suzy Menkes that there will be Tom Ford made-to-measure dishdashas available in the Middle East stores that Mr. Ford will open in partnership with the Villa Moda Group.  The slew of retail partnerships also ensures a rapid rollout to capture momentum from the start, while also minimising the upfront investment Mr. Ford would normally have to make in order to sustain a global rollout of this scale.  We are sure that Mr. Ford will make some tweaks in his retail format to ensure the expected 87 stores to be opened over the next decade are more welcoming and distinctive than the first store on Madison Avenue in New York.

Group_d_2 There are also smaller niche lifestyle brands in London and New York that are trying to get in on the action. ARMREVOLUTION is a men’s luxury lifestyle brand which is going after the men’s accessories market. First up is a series of precision-designed architectural cuff-links made of Japanese stainless steel. These are in stark constrast to the more classic, soft-edged and quirky designs (read: tacky las vegas dice anyone?) that are widely available in the market today. The result is a striking set of products that stand out for their uniqueness and masculine modernity. These cufflinks add a dash of edge and subtle glamour to even the most humdrum of business and evening wear.

However, the price of arm architecture is not cheap. The cufflinks will retail for over £400 a pair and will be available through the ARMREVOLUTION website after the conclusion of a pre-launch exclusive sales period bookended by intimate pre-launch events in London and New York.

Wintle Jsen Wintle is the designer behind WINTLE, another of the new men’s luxury brands that have emerged in New York and London over the past few years (others include Duckie Brown, Band of Outsiders, Martin Andersson and Thom Browne).  WINTLE’s demi-couture and bespoke men’s tailoring is available at his sumptuous ateliers in London and Moscow and will show for the first time at men’s fashion week in Paris in July.

A walk into Jsen’s world is like an escape into another era, along with all of its beautiful trappings. The former interior decorater and filmmaker has recently enlisted the support of KCD to promote the growth of his brand and his ready to wear designs have been lauded by leading men’s magazines such as Arena Homme Plus and GQ Style. It’s no wonder then that the collection has been picked up by Podium in Kuznetsky Most, Moscow and The Shop At Bluebird in King’s Road, London. Women won’t have to wait too long to share in Jsens dreamy world of mystery. The Chambre Syndicale has invited WINTLE to show a RTW womenswear collection during Couture week in Paris in January.

Incidentally, both ARMREVOLUTION and WINTLE are using dark and mysterious internet videos to give consumers a peek into the worlds surrounding their budding brands. ARMREVOLUTION’s internet sales approach will also allow it to capture the full retail margin without the high fixed costs of its own retail store. It seems the leitmotif of men’s luxury of the future is a touch of intrigue delivered via the web. If only more large fashion houses were also harnessing the power of the internet in this way to communicate about their brands.

So, with the product and marketing in hand, what remains to be seen is whether men will indeed begin to consume luxury with the same voraciousness as their wives, girlfriends and daughters. There are clearly some players who are taking a bet that they will.

Photos courtesy of ARMREVOLUTION, Tom Ford, and WINTLE.

© 2007 Copyright Imran Amed – The Business of Fashion.