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Shops For Men

Shops Just for Men

New Wrinkle in Men’s Wear: Shops Just for Men

By ERIC WILSON – New York Times

The conventional wisdom about guys and shopping has always been that they go together like paisley and plaid, which is to say not very well. There is a reason men’s wear in most stores is relegated to the back walls and the basements, while women’s wear is front and center.

But at the beginning of another New York Fashion Week, an event long dominated by the top designers of women’s wear, it would seem that the fight for gender equality has finally come to the place where one might least expect it. When shopping, men are demanding better service, and retailers are providing it.

“For too long, male shoppers were considered to be the stepchildren,” said Jim Moore, the creative director of GQ. “There were a lot of assumptions on the retail level that men weren’t interested in fashion and that they just went to department stores to buy socks and underwear.”

But in recent months, a surprising number of retailers have opened stores that cater solely to their male customers, with specialized environments and customer service. Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue have remodeled their men’s floors, and Urban Outfitters created a separate catalog for men. Even Fashion Week has more events tailored to men’s wear.

Details magazine has rented a space this week at Lincoln Center, home to the fashion shows, to encourage more men’s designers, like John Bartlett and Mark McNairy, to show their collections here, rather than in Europe, where men’s designers typically get more respect.

While men have traditionally been stubborn consumers, and the fastest to close their wallets during times of economic strain, there is a growing sense among retailers, evidenced by the phenomenal success of new men’s concepts from labels like Coach and J. Crew, that a new generation of male consumers actually embraces fashion. Or at least that younger guys are not so afraid of shopping.

Luxury designer labels like Hermès and Bottega Veneta have responded to a growing market by opening distinct stores for men, and Lanvin, the French fashion house that dressed both the best actress and best actor winners at the Oscars this year, plans to open an expensive one on Madison Avenue this fall.

In August, Christian Louboutin, the designer known for his red-soled stilettos, opened a store for men in the meatpacking district, the first of three men’s-only stores planned this year. Mr. Louboutin expects men’s shoes to grow to 20 percent of his business, from 5 percent, within a few years. And they typically cost $2,000 a pair.

The trend has also reached more democratically priced stores like Club Monaco, Ralph Lauren and even Ugg, the shearling shoe company, which opened a men’s store this summer. On Thursday, Nordstrom is opening a temporary men’s store in SoHo, with products selected by the editors of GQ, like Warby Parker eyeglasses and Billy Reid sportswear. Other touches intended to appeal to guys include a coffee bar, complimentary shaves and, naturally, lots of gadgets.

The reason for all this attention to men is fairly obvious: since the recession, they have represented the fastest-growing segment of the adult apparel market, according to the NPD Group’s Consumer Tracking Service. In 2011, dollar sales in men’s wear increased 4 percent, to roughly $55 billion, led by strong gains in categories like dress shirts, tailored suits and sports coats. (The women’s market is twice as large, but it grew at a rate of 3 percent for the same period.)

While the gain in men’s wear is partly attributed to the economy, a bigger factor has likely been the broader interest in fashion.

“Men’s wear has traditionally lagged behind women’s wear for decades and decades,” said Marshal Cohen, the chief industry analyst of NPD. “It’s the first thing to spiral downward during a recession, and the last to recover — with the exception of this one.”

In a much-noticed remark made during a CNBC special in May that focused on the rise of J. Crew, Mickey Drexler, the chief executive who has long been considered a merchandising visionary, observed that “to walk through a women’s department, always, is just not a men’s thing.” And anything said by Mr. Drexler, who also charted much of the Gap’s growth in the 1990s, is generally seen as retail gold.

When the company began experimenting with men’s retail concepts in 2009, its success with a style of tailored suit called the Ludlow was a big surprise. So in March, it opened a spinoff suiting store in TriBeCa called the Ludlow Shop that has been a hit with male shoppers. Sales of men’s wear at J. Crew are now growing at a higher rate than women’s wear, according to the company, which has plans to open two more men’s shops this year, in Boston and Los Angeles.

Figuring out the new male consumer, however, is not so simple, and retailers are studying their shopping habits in intimate detail. Among the unexpected things they have discovered is that guys like chairs, which create the impression that it is fine for them to hang out in a store, even if they are not shopping. Darker colors are also important in the décor. And the music should be tailored to their tastes. A lot of stores are using the term “man caves.”

Since Coach, a company best known for its women’s handbags, began opening stores for men two years ago, its sales of men’s products like briefcases and wallets quadrupled, to a projected $400 million this year. Men have become such important customers that the company has differentiated the shopping environment for them in existing stores.

In its store at 595 Madison Avenue, the men’s area has chocolate-brown walls and subdued lighting, while the rest of the store is lined with gleaming white subway tiles. And men are greeted differently.

“Women like to be helped, while men like to help themselves, but be guided,” said Greg Unis, a senior vice president. “They don’t want to be pounced on when they first walk into the store.”

Inside Club Monaco’s Bloor Street flagship in Toronto, a dedicated space for men’s wear opened in November and has displays of tweed jackets mixed with chopped logs, and you might hear a track from the Rolling Stones album “Exile on Main St.” or 1960s reggae.

At the same moment in the women’s area, you would hear contemporary music from First Aid Kit or Warpaint, songs that inspired Caroline Belhumeur, the store’s women’s designer, this season. Another store for men is planned to open in Hong Kong this month with a theme of Americana, featuring Rancourt & Company shoes, Southwick suits and vintage Rolex watches.

“At this point,” said Aaron Levine, the company’s vice president for men’s design, “our guy wants to have his own environment and wants to be catered to much in the same way that our girl does.”

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