LAS VEGAS -- The tailored clothing market has been bitten by the collection bug and this dramatic change of pace has given MAGIC a very different look.
It's not that the major companies have given up on suits. What they're doing is listening to the consumer who made dress-down dress-up. And the way tailored clothing companies are interpreting this new mindset is via soft sport coats, leather blazers and the kind of three-quarter coats that just didn't exist in this business a year ago.
As the old saying goes, you need a scorecard to know the players because everybody is in everybody's backyard. But retailers like what they see and they're buying.
One of the conversations heard at the show between retailers and exhibitors is where collection should be presented. Certainly, retailers have been very aggressive about digging into the sportswear and outerwear businesses, but the Chinese walls in stores continue to exist and slow progress.
Says Van Weinberg, president, James Davis, Memphis, 'Look, it's the attitude of a lot of these new garments that puts them into the sportswear department. It's true that the merchandise does cross over, but an item like a three-quarter outerwear coat from a tailored clothing company does belong in clothing. Still, I feel leather blazers and shirt-coats really come off better in the outerwear department.'
Like many merchants, he's funding his expanded collection buy from suits, which remains relatively flat. And this was the buzz around the show. Some exhibitors insisted that the suit business was alive and well, but they sold a ton of sport coats and slacks. Even so, the suits with a potent handle did well at the show.
Peerless Int'l, for example, launched a new Fubu signature stripe on a worsted gab. The Fubu lettering almost looks like a beaded chalkstripe and, according to Ron Wurtzburger, president, reaction has been exceptional.
'We're doing this model in a four-button peak-lapel and the coat is longer. We know this customer likes to dress up and he thinks suits for partying or just hanging out. We have seven different models in Fubu and we know we're on the money.'
The company also designed the at-work, at-home suits in its Perry Ellis America line. The three-button suit comes with a matching single-pleat trouser and a contrast plain-front model for weekends.
Wurtzburger continues, 'Speaking of suits, I also have a feeling that double-breasteds are coming back and they have a really different feeling done in a soft make.'
Turning to action at the show, he says there's a lot of at-once buying. 'And it looks like stores are actually scrambling for sport coats. We're doing extremely well with small neats.'
Commenting on the major change in open-to-buys, Joshua Weiss, executive vice-president, Bayer Marketing Group, reports stores are taking suit dollars and putting them into slacks, sport shirts and outerwear.
'We've just launched leathers and suedes in our Fioravanti line and while the smooth lambskins have done very well, suedes are doing even better,' he adds. 'They look richer and more elegant than the black leather blazers that are all over the show.
'I think what you see here at the show proves that everybody is expanding into new classifications. But stores aren't going out of the clothing business. We've had an absolute explosion in soft sport coats in wools and double-knits. We think this is going to be a bang-up show -- there are tons of new ideas here and there are tons of goods to sell. Stores are in a buying mood.'
'The word now is diversification,' says Robin Worley, CEO, Warren Sewell Clothing Co. 'We're now into leathers, outerwear and shirt-coats. Leather so far has been fantastic and we're going to have a 30 percent increase for fall. I feel outerwear will last longer than leather and it's a more stable investment. But we'll have another strong year with leather, because it fits the casual scene so perfectly.'
An early bird in leather, Marcraft Apparel Group went from 40,000 blazers for fall 2000 to 100,000 for next fall. Jeffrey Brody, president of the Jones New York Classic division, says sell-throughs range from 20 to 25 percent.
'Sport coat buyers were never accustomed to this kind of action. We now have three different styles in black, cordovan and luggage brown, and I'd estimate they're 40 percent of our sport coat sales. In fact, there's a tug of war going on at the big stores between the leather and the sport coat buyer on who will carry it. It flies out in either department,' he says.
'I feel we'll have at least one more hot season. And let's face it, they're making up for a lot of lost suit sales.'
Palm Beach went into the sportswear business last year and, according to Stu Merrill, vice-president, sales, 'we've had a tremendous reaction. The merchandise is new, fresh and we're priced right. We initially sold collection to specialty stores, but now the majors are coming in to look at it. We have a pretty clear collection story, but it's getting garbled at the retail level. We think our way of integrating sportswear with clothing defines business casual.
'Were coordinated from top to bottom -- slacks, sport shirts, outerwear and tailored clothing. The way we're selling sportswear, it's not a trade-off. Sport coats and slacks are way up and suits are a maintenance category.'
Arnold Silverstone, president, SFI, makes no bones about the fact that the company is in the collection business. 'Now the stores are buying packages from us and they're not concerned about the price if the look and lifestyle are right. With each of our four packages we go from suits and jackets to pants, sweaters, sport shirts and even dress shirts and ties. But we're still a tailored clothing company and this is the bulk of the buy.'
The big growth for this fall, he continues, will be in sport coats and slacks. 'Percentagewise, the biggest growth has been in pants, followed by sport coats. And this reflected in our sales. A year ago, we were 60 percent suits and 40 percent sport coats. Now it's reversed,' he adds.
Add Coppley to the growing collection crowd, but Warwick Jones, vice-president, sales, is one of the many who say the suit business isn't that bad. 'Realistically, there are pockets around the country where suits are selling. Of course, sport coats and slacks are much more universal. And today the excitement is certainly in sport coats. Our soft shirt-jackets are about 15 to 20 percent of the classification. And this is only the beginning.'
With Nautica heavily into licensed products, Mike Sandler, president of Nautica and Geoffrey Beene Tailored Clothing, reports the company is selling clothing at the show. 'They're coming to me for suits, sport coats and separates, and finished-bottom pants. And we're doing more than I projected. Certainly, sport coats are more in demand and we're selling fancies, fancies, fancies -- windowpanes, plaids and updated basics like herringbones with a windowpane on it.'
One big change for fall is the way separates are moving into traditional. 'They began in contemporary modern suits in black,' says Sandler. 'Now we're selling navy, mid-gray and olive in a soft-shoulder model. Honestly, we're having a hard time keeping up with the deliveries.'
And that's pretty much the story for the booming leather blazer classification at MAGIC.