What Happened?

Menswear is now as frantic as women´s

Seems like the menswear industry doesn’t like Mondays. On February 1st, 2016 the menswear season in New York is starting. A season that the Americans are working hard to establish, just like London Collection Men’s managed to carve out a niche. In New York it’s the CFDA who is inviting international editors to attend the shows.

But yesterday’s news are sure to overshadow this week’s catwalks. Pilati out at Zegna, where he had his best show to date for the label and ushered in the era of men’s Haute Couture; Mullane out at Brioni where he as well had his best show for the label with his Swiss Alpine inspired Fall/Winter collection shown in Milan two weeks ago and to top it all, Sartori out at Berluti who also had his best show to date for the venerable shoemaker and now men’s clothing brand. Zegna, Brioni and Berluti, these are the top brands in tailored clothing and all three designers came up with their best ideas to walk the fine line between designer fashion and traditional tailoring. Also, Pilati who lives in Berlin has built a strong following among Germany’s top thespians like Clemens Schick who love his sophisticated tailoring.

Stefano Pilati after his Haute Couture show for men
Stefano Pilati after his Haute Couture show for men

Let’s try to bring some sense to the surprising news. The sacking and sudden departure of a trio of acclaimed menswear designers suggest that boys can just be as hysterical as gals.

What happened? What’s important to understand is that men’s wear – once impervious to trends; a world where men bought suits and were not seen as fickle, or trend-driven (unlike women’s wear biz) – is now being driven by trends.

As the wise Umberto Angeloni who has quietly turned the manufacturer Caruso into a cool yet classical brand has predicted, the men’s suit market has dramatically shifted to the needs and desires of the consumer. Whoever doesn’t listen, can no longer matter. The result: men’s wear designers now are under much more pressure to deliver big results; and to do it quickly. To bring to their lines, not just vision, but sales.

Alessandro Sartori in Venice with our editor in chief Godfrey Deeny
Alessandro Sartori in Venice with our editor in chief Godfrey Deeny

First of all, it only seems that Berluti has been hitting the numbers. Alessandro Sartori, formerly of Z Zegna has created credible clothes for the LVMH owned Berluti growing the brand from roughly Euro 30 Million of shoe sales to close to Euro 130 Million, a more than four fold increase in five years. Yes, the brand has not broken even yet under the stewardship of Antoine Arnault but is considered a success as many new stores have been opened and Sartori managed to build a serious gentlemen clientele by absorbing the Parisian tailor ateliers of Arny’s reportedly making more than 500 bespoke suits last year from his St.Germain store. Sartori as his name suggests, is a serious and skilled tailor who has created a super luxurious wardrobe based on real fitting and pattern skills. Is he headed back to Zegna to help Gildo Zegna turn his Zegna Couture brand not only into a critical but also a success at the cash register? Pilati made wonderful clothes using the house’s mills to make the most beautiful fabrics and silhouettes. But apparently it did not connect with clients as many of the looks were simply too expensive for stores to buy wholesale or for clients to shell out in the Zegna stores. Originally hired to bring heat to the Zegna women’s label Agnona he refused to apply his Yves Saint Laurent honed skills to grow the brand.

Mullane at Brioni makes wonderful clothes but his ad campaigns – featuring LA artists – and shows were too aspirational, and even obscure, for the Brioni core customer of rich lawyers, bankers and politicians. And what does a self portrait of artist Collier Schorr have to do with their world? Wheras Sartori did so well, Gildo Zegna apparently craves having him back. Conclusion to be drawn?

In the high end tailoring market it’s not enough to have design talent. Solid management and sales skills are required of the creative director who needs to offer his clothes to his own and department stores. Even more, it seems that in the tailoring world the brand seems to be more important more than the designer. Zegna and Brioni stand for more than just a designer or a season’s look. The status of the brands is so big; clients often rigid expectations need to be respected. Yes, maybe a Tom Ford who is a pop star in a way can hawk men’s clothes based on his name. But obviously not Pilati, Mullane or Sartori. And Sartori is the only one who went the extra mile to meet with clients all over the globe on a regular basis as well as spending his time in the tailor workshops and the fabric mills.

Two Irish men: Mullane and Deeny
Two Irish men: Mullane and Deeny

Rumor has it that Alexandre Mattiusi of Ami might get Berluti or that Kering wants to sell Brioni altogether since having no creative director would leave new owners with a clean slate to start. Only Sartori is assured a future, maybe Berluti and Brioni will go back to their roots or new designers with a more commercial mindset will be installed.

So the musical chairs we know from the women’s fashion world have now been introduced to the classic world of men’s.