Saturday, July 25, 2009

Can Menswear Save the Luxury Market?

In Dana Thomas’ Deluxe, the luxury market is in peril. The fashion industry’s matriarch is showing signs of aging and her offspring have merged into conglomerates leaving her wondering if her legacy is coming to an end.

The imagery is not far-fetched. The luxury market has fallen prey to salivating counterfeiters (despite courtroom battles and appeals to Congress for protection) and further wounded by major designers publicly stating their amusement of being copied. It has been losing its elite customers to the global recession and the Madoffs of the world, but what is probably most disconcerting is the art of craftsmanship replaced by machines and severely under-paid worker bees.

Who will come to her rescue? It appears this is a man’s job and a second-generation at that.

Haute couture’s little brother, menswear, has increasingly emerged as the luxury market’s saving grace.

Locally, menswear clothing stores such as Everard's Clothing, Redeem, and Lost Boys are experiencing relative progress when their womenswear counterparts are feeling the pinch.

The fact is men need clothes, too, and a suit from Men’s Warehouse is not landing or securing the job or the casual pair of jeans lasting for more than a season. So, they are turning to local ateliers or clothing stores to invest in quality brands or customized pieces that bring longevity and style.

Lost Boys is the visual for Dana Thomas’s summation that “luxury wasn’t simply a product, it was a lifestyle, one that denoted a history of tradition, superior quality and offered a pampered buying experience.” Kelly’s interpretation is a light-filled space in a row-house modernized by what a guy wants: a plasma TV, King-size sofa chairs, a refrigerator stocked with Stella Artois, off-set by exposed brick walls and hardwood floors – an updated lair.

Kelly Muccio, the 28-year-old fashion wunderkind behind Lost Boys, disagrees with the growing perception of the luxury markets’ demise. “This is the best time for independent designers and local businesses who offer what is considered a luxury good because the consumer realizes that they need to invest in a style and the luxury market gives you that.

“It is more important than ever to define your style,” continued the former financier. “This is the time to outperform and show yourself as a commodity and the easiest way to do that is to dress the part.”

Although Kelly considers her clothier as part of the luxury market, she does not equate it with “high-end.” The average cost of a pair of jeans sets him back $200 (i.e., Earnest Sewn), which is cheaper when you consider spending twice that much on jeans that are replaced year after year.

The “pampering” may come in the form of a beer and personal styling, but more so her trained eye for the highest quality pieces with style and brand authencity. Among the shortlist of designers she carries is eco-conscious designer Rogan Gregory, of Loomstate and Edun. The designer plans to design a t-shirt in collaboration with the store to be revealed this fall. Stay tuned for a future trunk show.

“We intentionally carry few designers because we believe in an minimalist wardrobe,” Kelly says. “I have personally edited the selection process for you where you are only going to find the best cut of jean or well-constructed shirt.”

Time will only tell how the luxury market survives this economic impasse. Perhaps, it’s fate rests in the hands of the little brother or its role in the environment (more on that in a following blog i.e., luxury goods sustainable through its slow production process and lifespan), but let’s not be too quick to write its obituary.

(Photos courtesy of Kelly Muccio, Lost Boys)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Redeem Us

Every city has its hotspots. For DC, the jazz scene dominated 14th Street NW in the early twentieth century. Speakeasies and other club dens attracted jazz legends and men who wore fedoras and wingtips and women who donned bold-colored dresses and hats with plumes.

This was where fashion and music synchronized.

Today, the historic HR-57 jazz club now calls upscale wine bars, clothing boutiques, and art galleries its neighbors. Dress code not apply.

In 2006, Lori Parkerson opened Redeem, a men’s and women’s clothing store located fortuitously a few blocks north of the club.

“I always saw fashion and music as equals,” says Lori, a DC native. Such revelation stems from her innate sense of style coupled with a career in the entertainment industry.

If we can learn anything from the fashion and music industry it is the notion that self-expression can take many forms – lyrically and figuratively. We sing and dress according to events and influences that were inspired by or resulted from change.

Henceforth, Redeem. Anointed on the storefront’s window is a modern depiction (etching) of the Agnus Dei, or Lamb of God. A gear replaces the halo. Christ, the redeemer. It intrigues by-passers who note this is not your ordinary clothing store. Walking by is simply not an option.

Upon entering, your senses are stimulated. The alternative rock music juxtaposes with vintage furniture instantly puts you in a groove. This is what urban renewal looks like.

“My friend who is a designer said once that you can’t choose your customer, and it is so true,” Lori exclaims. “Who we thought would be a customer turned out to be so much more than that. Our youngest customer was a 10-year-old girl who fit into a small-cut jean and then we have men and women well into their 60s.”

Age is irrelative when you consider a shared desire to own a luxury garment that takes the guessing out of “how to style.” Lori’s style influences her selection of timeless pieces where the attention is in the details.

Take the Wrath Arcane mens’ slim fitting black pants Lori sports with confidence. The menswear label takes a traditional design and embellishes it with buttons, frayed hemlines, or haphazardly-placed pockets. Religion, a UK-label, creates cinematic flare in its tailored mens and womens shirts.

“Confidence is what makes our pieces work,” Lori says, whose own style she describes as edgy.

You will not find the basic t-shirt here or mass-produced items, with the exception of the popular jean label, Earnest Sewn. Lori and her staff buy from independent designers, many of whom run in-house productions. Of late, Love Brigade, a Brooklyn-based design duo and DC-label, Plastic Heaven, are new additions exclusive to the store. Eco-fashionistas can find items from Covet’s spring 2009 collection, while Recession Rags’s Bermuda shorts made from vintage fabrics stay in stock for about a day (guys, more size 32 are on en route!). Think concert wear for neighboring 9:30 Club or Black Cat or just channeling your inner rock star.

The store actively participates in the Mid-City Business Association and has partnered with the Corcoran Gallery of Art in a project to promote the creative economy. And the first Thursday of each month, it hosts a knitters social club thanks to the store’s resident knitter, Christi.

For all its prosperity, Lori is humbled given the current economy. Her neighbor, Circle Boutique, was not so fortunate. The vacant space is a harsh reminder of the instability many small businesses are facing. In an effort to save local businesses in the U and 14th Street corridor, Redeem is part of a grassroots campaign encouraging customers to shop. The 350 Project asks customers to commit to spending $50 a month at any three favorite stores.

They didn’t have to twist my arm. After eyeing a taupe sleeveless shirt-dress by Covet, I was won over by a gold chain necklace with reclaimed strips of grey leather by AK Vintage (Portland-based jewelry designer). The necklace had a few strong contenders: Stolen Girlfriends Club (New Zealand) and the Realm collection by Jesse Walker (DC).

After my visit, I left feeling hopeful. I not only supported a local business and an independent (eco) designer, but found a deeper appreciation of our creative talents and in those that inspire change.

So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to get your groove on.