Could Luxury be a Man’s World After All?


Lucy Archibald | June 07, 2010

The men’s luxury market may still be niche but it could just be the growth engine that luxury brands need.

The men’s luxury market may still be niche but it could just be the growth engine that luxury brands need.

Although in recent years luxury retailers have recognized the power of the ‘pink pound’, the wider male market hasn’t been a major focus at retail. Instead there has been a tendency to channel resources into capturing the female market which has traditionally spent more on clothes and luxury ‘non-essentials’. But could the menswear category now be set to steal back some of the thunder?

At Reuter’s Global Luxury Summit last week, the male market struck many executives as a largely unexplored avenue for much-needed growth; and CEO at Valentino, Stefano Sassi expects this growth to happen quickly. Men’s items currently account for about 8% of sales at Valentino — a proportion which he believes could double within the next three years.

Socially, men are now being held to higher standards in terms of appearance. This social shift is particularly evident in countries like China, which are experiencing the social effects of having a substantial professional class for the first time. Effectively cashing in on the male market will, however, take much more than simply channeling more money into advertising male products.

Lew Frankfort CEO of Coach, is planning a large scale strategy to open more stand-alone male stores with location as the key: “We are thinking about urban and nearby suburbs outside major metropolitan areas where there is a more discerning male consumer,” Frankfort said.

Even Oscar de la Renta, renowned for his ladylike aesthetic, is considering branching out into men’s fashion, proving that interest in the category is shared by even the less likely designer names.

Paying due attention to the male market is no doubt wise at a time when no revenue stream can afford to go unexplored. But this is still an embryonic trend, largely contained to cosmopolitan and progressive areas of the market, leaving some retailers sceptical.

At Saks Fifth Avenue, women’s apparel made up about 35 percent of the department store’s total sales in 2009, more than double that of men’s clothing.The company’s CEO Stephen Sadove said he did not expect that ratio to change much.

Coach’s largely optimistic CEO also confessed to a belief that "the American male is largely uneducable. We need to focus on the segment of males that have real discerning taste,” said Frankfort. There is clearly a long way to go before shopping evolves to become not so much an unwelcome task as a pleasurable leisure activity for men.

While this may be true of the conservative American market where women still tend to shop for men, the bigger picture suggests that there is money to be made in an expanding male luxury market.

Sydney Morning Herald