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Business Analysis & Features

Hey, big spenders: how men are saving fashion

Men now make up 40 per cent of the luxury goods market - and the proportion is growing

From 18th-century dandies to the rise of the “metrosexual” male, there have always been men who dress well and invest huge sums on their appearance. Now there is research to prove that men are giving women a run for their money in the luxury style stakes.

The researcher Bain & Co found that men now make up 40 per cent of the luxury goods market globally – and it is growing. Menswear sales rose by an average of 7 per cent between 2010 and 2013, compared with just 4 per cent for womenswear. Men are also buying more of the products women were known to covet: bags, clothes and cosmetics.

Kering, which owns brands including Brioni, Alexander McQueen and Saint-Laurent, last night revealed that “strong growth” in menswear had been one of the key factors behind a 6 per cent leap in quarterly sales of its luxury division. The Bottega Veneta brand was singled out as a star male performer.

And  all that at a time when Gucci’s womenswear fashions have been enduring less than sparkling sales.

The company, which also announced plans to restructure its luxury arm yesterday, has focused on menswear recently. Gucci teamed up with the Italian style guru Lapo Elkann to create a collection for men and it has been opening menswear-only stores under its Alexander McQueen brand.

In a research paper last month, Erwan Rambourg of HSBC identified a new category – the “yummy” (young urban male). HSBC says the rise in urbanisation in emerging markets and development of digital sales in luxury is helping to drive this trend. The media has already had a field day with “metrosexual” man, but luxury brands have been making sure they are designing the right products to attract wealthy, fashion-conscious men.

Last week, Burberry said that menswear sales in the second half of the year had jumped by 13 per cent.

Meanwhile, Marks & Spencer’s Middle Eastern franchise partner, Al-Futtaim, recently opened a new shop for M&S in Kuwait that showcases its suit collection Savile Row Inspired on a catwalk at the entrance to the store.

But is this new, smart, rich, luxury male shopper predominantly Asian? Bain reports that in China the proportion of luxury shoppers is split 50:50 between men and women, while in Europe men made up just 35 per cent of the total last year.

But the typical Briton is also getting involved too, according to Graeme Ellisdon, owner of leather brand Osprey London, which sells a typical satchel for around £300. “We have seen a rise in male shoppers, particularly online,” Mr Ellisdon says. “They are influenced by the media and advertising but if they look online for one thing, they are now more likely to browse the site as well.

“There is also more for men to buy now. Brands are catering for them.” Little wonder, then, that this is the generation of men who can aspire to the first male supermodel –Essex boy David Gandy – who regularly tweets pictures of his suit fittings at Savile Row tailor Henry Poole & Co.

Mr Ellisdon says men’s products now make up about 18 per cent of sales at Osprey – a marked rise as it was “below 10 per cent for a long time”. Osprey is also considering the launch of a watch collection for men.

Mark Cho, joint owner of Hong Kong and New York menswear business The Armoury and tie specialist Drake’s London (see panel, below) says: “There is a resurgence in the classic look both in London and overseas. Men are looking back towards ‘the good old days’ and buying more conservative items in classic styles, with the rationale that these items will be useful to them for a long time.”

Richard Cope, a researcher from research group Mintel, agrees: “Taking pride and taking greater confidence from maintaining a well-groomed appearance now defines what it is to be ‘a man’ in today’s society. Rather than being in a minority, men who buy grooming products to boost self-esteem or feel more attractive are now in the majority.”

So is man turning out to be the saviour of the high street, or at least Bond Street? Male shoppers might be a growing segment but Mr Rambourg urges caution. “Men are less crisis-resilient as the motto ‘cut for yourself, then for your wife, then for your kids’ appears to have some truth behind it,” he says, “and, historically, watches in a downturn have been a good example of this. Hence having a greater proportion of sales to men could mean greater downside in a downturn.”

So rather than watching women’s hemlines and lipstick sales in a recession, a tumble in man bags sales could be the better figure to monitor.

Ties are us: The resurgence in grooming

With Jude Law and Daniel Craig big fans, the booming growth of tie brand Drake’s London might seem inevitable. In 2010, former banker Mark Cho teamed up with menswear expert Michael Hill to buy the business from its founder Michael Drake, a former Aquascutum designer. Since then they have opened a new factory, bought a shirt business and are on track to reach £7.3m in sales next year. Mr Hill, who has worked at Drake’s for a decade and runs the day-to-day business for majority investor Mr Cho, says Drake’s outlook is good because of the resurgence in smart dressing. Drakes, founded in 1977, predominantly made ties for other retailers but Mr Hill decided it had the chance to become a brand in its own right. Mr Hill, whose father ran Charles Hill Silks until he sold it to Turnbull & Asser, now has customers in Europe, the US and Asia.

The first part of Mr Hill and Mr Cho's plan for Drakes was a new factory and shop. They bought the business in July 2010 and by April 2011 they had secured a shop in Mayfair - Clifford Street, close to the eponymous tailors of Savile Row. By the middle of last year the next phase was complete – a new factory had been built in east London with a shop in the ground floor and flats above to let out. The address was appropriate – Haberdasher Street, close to Old Street and Mr Hill spends his week in London, living in a flat above the shop, and travels to Chard on Friday’s and then spends the weekend with his family in Devon.

The next phase of growth was the purchase of manufacturer Rayner & Sturges' Cleeve shirt brand and its factory in Chard in Somerset, when then owner – Robert Boyd-Bowman - decided to wind up his businesses.

The new shirts were launched into shops in the past few months and now make up around 10-15 per cent of whole business.

After Drake’s bought the business in Chard it took the company’s headcount to 100 people - 60 in London and 40 in Chard. But ties are still the majority of the business and what initially attracted Mr Cho.

Mr Cho says of his decision to buy the business: “It was a viable business but more importantly. I want to do my part to keep ties an essential part of a man's wardrobe. The tie is the only piece of a man's clothing that is solely for decoration and by virtue of that, it is very expressive.”

Drake’s sells 100,000 ties a year and sales are around 70 per cent of the whole business. The group sells its own brand into department stores including Liberty, Selfridges, Harrods, Fortnum & Mason and Harvey Nichols with retail sales around 25 per cent of the total. Its private label business – the part that makes ties for other brands – is also still thriving.

After the rapid expansion recently, Mr Hill now wants the business to take a breather. He says: “We didn’t want to change too quickly. We do want to take it slowly.”

Mr Hill and Mr Cho have been helping to smarten up men, and in the process have smartened up Drake's balance sheet.