NEW YORK, United States — In January 2016, three-year-old menswear shop Carson Street Clothiers moved into a large storefront in downtown New York. The store, which sold brands like Orley, Craig Green and Visvim, had become a sort of gathering place for the city’s menswear community. Its new 3,300-square-foot space, on Greene Street in the middle of Soho, certainly matched the scale of the duo’s ambitions, with its chevron wood floors and cantilever shoe racks. In many ways, Carson Street was a temple to #menswear, a men’s fashion Internet meme that, in recent years, gave rise to the street style peacocks of Pitti Uomo, birthed full-fledged websites and books, and spurred the opening of new men’s-focused stores.
In early February, Carson Street owners Matt Breen and Brian Trunzo introduced their own collection — dubbed Deveaux — at New York Fashion Week: Men’s. The line, which was well received, was to be sold at Carson Street and elsewhere.
So it came as somewhat of a surprise when Trunzo sent out a mass email in late April announcing that he was leaving both Carson Street and Deveaux, effective immediately. In early May, Breen followed up with the news that while he planned to continue with Deveaux, Carson Street would close its doors at the end of June. Soho’s notoriously high rents may have played a role. But it was hard not to read the demise of Carson Street as yet another stake through the heart of the #menswear movement, coming after the late-2015 shuttering of Condé Nast’s Details magazine, whose editors, including Eugene Tong, were lauded as gods by menswear geeks; the January 2016 closure of Complex Media-owned Four Pins, whose editor Lawrence Schlossman served as the clique’s de facto leader; and the end of Japanese publication Free & Easy, a men’s style bible which had been fixated on ametora — Japan's reinterpretation of "American trad" or heritage style — since 1998.
And yet the demise of #menswear comes at a time when the global menswear market is growing and the wider fashion industry sees menswear as a bright spot amid slowing growth and rising uncertainty. The global market for men’s designer apparel is projected to reach nearly $33 billion in 2020, up 14 percent from $29 billion in 2015, according to Euromonitor International. In comparison, the overall market for personal luxury goods will grow no more than 2 to 3 percent over the next four years, reaching €280 billion to €295 billion — or $318 billion to $335 billion at current exchange rates — in sales revenue in 2020, according to Bain & Company.
In the face of these numbers, it’s no surprise that brands like Coach, which will show its latest men’s collection in London on June 13th, and Kering-backed Stella McCartney, which is slated to launch a men’s collection in Spring 2017, are betting on menswear to help drive growth as the overall market for luxury goods softens. Major publishers, too, are targeting advertisers aiming to reach buyers of men’s fashion by upping their men's content offering, exemplified by the recent launch of American quarterly GQ Style, the reinvention of American Esquire under new editor-in-chief Jay Fielden and the introduction of a dedicated monthly men’s style section to The New York Times in 2015.
But while #menswear may be dead, there’s little question that its rise helped to expand the broader menswear market by educating consumers and pushing the boundaries of men's fashion. "The fact that there was this really influential community, throwing Molotov cocktails into what was, for so long, such a stiff discussion just felt necessary," GQ Style editor Will Welch told BoF in a May 2016 interview. "When you see a guy who looks like trends exploded on him, you can’t help but mock him a little bit. But we all need that guy to pull the culture forward.”
While it’s long been typical for professional men to invest in a good suit, for many years, buying designer clothes outside of formal workwear was less accepted. That’s changed. During the downturn, the standard work uniform of khaki chinos and a button-down shirt — once limited to “casual Fridays” — receded and men began dressing up again, fuelled by a desire to be noticed — and respected — in a more competitive environment. The shift intersected with an emphasis on suiting in men’s high fashion, as well as the cultural influence of the dapper 1950s wardrobes donned by the characters on the period television drama Mad Men, which debuted in 2007. Suddenly, men were not only wearing suits, but pocket squares and waistcoats, too.
But as unemployment decreased and streetwear began to gain traction with leading designers, the men’s wardrobe shifted once again. And while many occupations still require men to wear suiting to work, it is no longer the only category in which guys are willing to spend. Shoes, in fact, are the fastest growing category in menswear, with men’s shorts and trousers coming in second, according to Euromonitor.
“There are jobs that still need a dress code, but there are more and more that don’t. That’s the seismic shift in menswear over the past few years,” says Toby Bateman, managing director at Mr. Porter. “But while the dress code has gone, guys have become much more aware about how to look good without simply putting on a uniform of a suit. They can still look smart wearing a blazer with smart jeans, or a deconstructed jacket with wool trousers and a white sneaker. That’s where Mr. Porter has flourished. That’s the kind of dressing we talk about a lot.” It’s telling that, while suiting from brands like Tom Ford continues to track well at the five-year-old e-commerce site — now part of the Yoox Net-a-Porter Group — Nike and Common Projects are among the top sellers in the footwear category.
Today's men expect their wardrobes to be far more “nimble” than a traditional three-piece suit. “There’s a modern relaxation happening right now,” says Kevin Harter, vice president and men’s fashion director at Bloomingdale’s. “Exercise and travel are more important. Sneakers are doing well. Bomber jackets in every fabrication did really well this spring. The business that is struggling a little bit is dress shirts and ties. Guys are still wearing suits — but with a knit, more modern fits. There are more creative ways for doing it.”
This new attitude also helps to explain some of the creative leadership changes at Europe’s leading men’s labels, from the installation of former MyTheresa fashion director Justin O’Shea at Kering-owned Brioni to former Berluti designer Alessandro Sartori’s appointment at Zegna, where he has assumed the role of artistic director. While suiting remains the cornerstone of these brands, men now see a wider world of clothing and businesses are evolving their offering to meet shifting demand.
“The fact is that, on the top end of [of the market], older tailors are experiencing a pull back,” says Giovanni Mannucci, president and chief executive of Boglioli. The Italian house’s first creative director, former Gucci menswear designer Davide Marello, will present his second collection in June at Milan Fashion Week. “Creativity is an increasingly important component,” Mannucci adds. “It’s no longer enough that our customer just see a perfect jacket.”
Indeed, while the high-end of the men’s market has opened up, so has the high street. While Nike remains the top men’s fashion brand, according to a 2015 report by Euromonitor, H&M ranks #2 (up from #3 in 2005), Uniqlo ranks #5 (up from #9) and Zara ranks #6 (up from #13). “Fast fashion is the most important issue for us,” Mannucci says. “The key to success is keeping an edge on the mass market brands.”
The popularity of less traditional, more-flamboyant and sportswear-driven menswear brands like Givenchy, Saint Laurent and Gucci speak to the male desire to seek out pieces that are not only well-made, but special. “The success of Gucci reflects that men are becoming more experimental in their choices,” Bateman says.
Those market demands have also made room for advanced contemporary labels like Ami and Acne, which offer a designer point of view at a more reasonable price. “Contemporary is becoming so strong because the customer is switching on to the fact that he can pay half the price for a designer perspective,” he continues. “Mainline designers have got their work cut out for them.”
“What it comes down to ultimately is that men are feeling more comfortable buying clothes or paying more attention to their own image than they did 10 or 15 years ago,” says Jorge Martin, apparel and footwear project manager at Euromonitor.
In this way, men really are the new women.