Menswear creeps up on Fashion Week's center stage

Tue Feb 14, 2012 11:52am EST
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By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Menswear, the perennial poor relation of women's high fashion, is staking a larger claim on the lucrative fashion stage, as retailers tap a growing men's clothing market and runways in New York reflect American men's rising interest in high fashion.

Never in the vanguard of U.S. fashion, menswear is striving to catch up, say fashion experts taking stock of the collections showing at New York's Fashion Week which runs through Thursday.

With the luxury menswear market growing at about 14 percent a year, or nearly double that of luxury womenswear, according to consultancy Bain & Co., the financial stakes are high.

"High fashion menswear used to be a bit of a joke, but it's becoming a genuine influence. It's beginning to duplicate women's wear," said David Wolfe, creative director of retail consultants Doneger Group.

A demographic that was once "style conscious young men and very label conscious," is "now grown up, and bringing that same style sensitivity and label snobbery as adults," Wolfe said.

Tom Julian, author and retail trends expert, noted growth in the expanding $50 billion-plus menswear arena for clothing such as jeans, knits and accessories.

Julian cited major retailers like Saks adding a denim room, and Ralph Lauren's new Rugby concept. With about a dozen stand-alone stores, Rugby specializes in edgier styling and lower prices targeting younger shoppers than Ralph Lauren's traditional clientele.

"There is more interest in tailoring touches for sportswear," he noted. Accordingly, "casual has shifted beyond what was -- khakis and button-downs. Unstructured or knit jackets, sweater jackets and the like allow for layering and individualizing."   Continued...

<p>Designer Tommy Hilfiger shows one of his designs during a review of his Fall/Winter 2012 collection during New York Fashion Week, February 9, 2012. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri</p>