Let it Snow!

Outerwear: It’s a $4 billion-plus business that has two main requisites: product innovation and cold weather.

Outerwear February 2014What a difference a year makes! This time last year it was all about global warming, transitional weights and a shorter selling season; not surprisingly, business was not terrific. This year, it’s all about the Polar Vortex, frigid fast-falling temps, endless snowstorms and erratic weather patterns. Throw in a good dose of fashion offerings and the result was a really strong outerwear season in most stores.

At left: Peacoats in slimmer fits were hot this season! (Model: Callan Grey Mintz; Photographer: Jon Macapodi)

Among his three brands (Tommy Hilfiger, Levi’s and Dockers), Ron Finestone at G-III sells most of the major stores and reports a strong season, with AUR’s up over last year, no heavy promotions and low end-season inventories. “My retail customers were not giving it away in January and consumer demand remained strong.”

Steve Weisbuch at London Fog/Michael Kors points out another plus factor: smart retailers are segmenting the mix with separate third- and fourth-quarter buys, holding off on the wools, heavier downs and parkas until later in the season.
Most importantly, says Weisbuch, younger guys are more into fashion. “They’re not buying outerwear to keep warm: if they see a cool coat, they buy it. And perhaps another one a few months later.”

According to retail consultant Danny Paul, specialty stores generally do 70 to 85 percent of their fall outerwear business in November and December; this year, the weather cooperated and better stores did well with unique, higher-priced goods. In Canada, Harry Rosen reported an outstanding outerwear season; in Nashville, Levy’s did especially well with topcoats. In fact, Fred Derring from DLS reports retailer requests from around the country for cashmere topcoats throughout the season. And Macy’s acknowledges their best outerwear season in years!

Outerwear February 2014Of course, not all stores did well: sometimes it was blamed on warm weather, but more often, it was uninspired assortments. “Let’s face it,” says a specialty store merchant in the Southwest: “My customer already owns several coats that are hardly worn-out: it takes something extra special to get him to buy.”

Extra special indeed. At Saks, Tom Ott reports an exceptional outerwear season based on strong fashion offerings. Best sellers included quality leathers and shearlings in the Northeast, transitional weights in the South. Hot items were updated slimmer peacoats, fine leathers, contemporary looks from Burberry, and for younger guys, styles from Moncler and Canada Goose. (Saks is now merchandising designer outerwear within individual designer collections as opposed to in a separate outerwear department; Moncler and Canada Goose are shown in contemporary.)

Outerwear February 2014In most stores, performance fabrics, lighter weights, multi-function designs (zip-out linings and bibs), military inspiration, biker jackets, toggle coats and layered looks were fall ’13 winners, as were both real and faux leathers. (These days, it’s hard to tell real from fake and the price differential is huge!) Technical fabrics (in shells and linings) that help regulate body temperature were also well accepted. Peacoats were a hit in many stores.

Fall ’14 forecast: look for this season’s styles to evolve in an even more fashion-forward direction. Classics (varsity styles, moto jackets, aviators, bombers) will re-emerge, especially with authentic brand labels. And don’t be surprised to see some below-the-knee lengths and bold patterns, as shown on designer runways in Europe. Sophisticated neutrals like navy and mocha (rather than black) were everywhere in Europe, as were mixed-media designs using contrast fabrics. Whether complex mixed media will work for American men is questionable, but in toned-down versions, it’s already performed well, (e.g. Michael Kors’ soft wool jacket with contrast sweater-knit trim; $300 ticket, $129.99 out the door was a sell-out in many major stores).

Down Upgrade

Rainforest ThermoLuxeAmong the most exciting technical innovations we recently came across is Rainforest’s new synthetic down called ThermoLuxe. Not only does it keep pricepoints affordable, but it’s actually a performance improvement on real down. Touch it: it feels like real down. Try on a quilted jacket: it weighs nothing! As Rainforest founder Jack Wu explains it, “Most poly fill is a single piece of fabric that’s cut. ThermoLuxe comprises low-weight high-loft clusters that fill the quilted channels like real down, but it’s water-repellant, so there’s no odor when it gets wet (thus no allergy issues). What’s more, the fiber won’t come out of the stitching (vs. real down fiber, which is smaller than the needle holes; even in the most expensive jackets, needle holes tend to expand).

“Down is a commodity and so prices fluctuate (usually up!). These jackets will be about $100 cheaper than real down and will offer many advantages. Plus, they provide the same warmth as 550-fill down. Of course, we’ll still do a big business in real down for those stores that want it.”

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