STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Your grandfather called them his longjohns. At Hennes & Mauritz AB these days, they’re trousers.
The Swedish retailer, which typically takes inspiration from the catwalk, today is introducing a new menswear line that pays homage to the company’s history. H&M dusted off material from Mauritz Widforss, one of its two predecessor companies, to create the “Mauritz Archive,” a collection that includes $39.95 long underwear meant to be worn by today’s man as pants.
The products will be sold in around 250 stores and online as of Sept. 19, marking the latest step in H&M’s campaign to cater to men and help push prices higher amid sinking sales. With items such as a $59.95 jacquard sweater based on a decades- old pattern from a Mauritz Widforss catalog, the retailer is counting on the retro Scandinavian duds appealing to hipsters who have shunned H&M as too pedestrian yet are prepared to spend on trendy, well-made items with a storied past.
H&M is “slowly edging away from their usual mainstream offering, which is seen by many men as boring, lacking personality and uninspiring,” said Craig Landale, founder of U.K. blog Menswear Style.
It’s part of a broader push into menswear. H&M earlier this year linked up with British cycling store Brick Lane Bikes to create a line of clothing for Mamils -- middle-aged men in lycra. While the stretch chinos go for 29.95 euros ($40) and caps for 9.95 euros are a fraction of what cycling fans would pay in specialty shops, they’re priced well above many offerings at H&M, where a T-shirt can be had for under $6. And an underwear partnership with soccer player David Beckham allows H&M to charge $34.95 for a three-pack of briefs bearing his name, almost twice the price of the company’s standard version.
“Menswear has historically been something of an afterthought for many fashion retailers, perhaps a legacy of the days when many men were outfitted by their wives,” said Bryan Roberts, an analyst at researcher Kantar Retail in London. “It seems H&M and others have woken up to the potential of making menswear more compelling.”
H&M can’t afford to ignore any customers. Europe’s second- largest clothier reported unchanged or declining same-store sales for six of the first 8 months of its current fiscal year.
Shifting upscale with better products to become “as fashionable as Zara” -- the fast-fashion leader owned by Spain’s Inditex SA -- could help reverse that trend with more higher-priced items, according to analysts at Barclays Plc. Increasing menswear’s share of the mix would help, as the category will grow 4.7 percent annually in the five years through 2017, outpacing a 3.6 percent expansion for women’s clothing, researcher MarketLine estimates.
Bring on the hunting gear. Amid a surge in interest in hunting in Sweden -- and in plaid flannel and other outdoor wear among hipsters from Brooklyn to Berlin -- H&M designer Petter Klusell said he found inspiration in an old Mauritz Widforss ad that he found in an antiques shop. H&M came into being in 1968, when women’s clothier Hennes -- Swedish for “Hers” -- bought hunting and fishing shop Mauritz Widforss.
Klusell sought to draw on traditions that “take on a new life in a modern context, and which men can wear in their own way,” the designer said in material about the collection supplied by H&M.
The company is also using the menswear line to boost the perception of its quality. Many garments in the 21-piece collection are made from specialty fabrics, such as waxed cotton -- a material also used by J. Barbour and Sons Ltd. to make its jackets waterproof. In an industry under fire for cutting costs and shifting production to low-wage countries, H&M has looked to suppliers such as Abraham Moon & Sons, established in 1837, which manufactures only in Britain.
The effort is paying off. Swedish men’s fashion magazine King earlier this year said “Hennes & Mauritz’s focus on fashion for the male audience just seems to get more and more serious for every season.”
By: Katarina Gustafsson; Editors: Celeste Perri, David Rocks