Ever since the 'boyfriend jean' and the 'boyfriend blazer' entered fashion's lexicon, menswear has been flexing its muscles. Right Said Fred should really re-release their 80's triumph. If it's not the soaring sales of traditional menswear retailers such as Moss Bros (like-for-like sales for Q2 up by 5.5%), the increased profile of London Collections Men (LCM) or the fact that GQ covers have rarely featured more tailoring and less torso (insert optional sad face emoji), then it's gender neutral collections. which are revolutionising the industry's traditional female bias.
To top it all, last year saw the coronation of menswear within the industry's royal court - a man at the helm of British Vogue. Edward Enninful, a 45-year-old Ghanaian-born "super stylist" will take the fashion bible's throne in August which, while unrelated to menswear's growth, is somewhat fitting with the growth of menswear.
London remains the home of menswear - from the bowler-hatted civil servant, spiky-haired punk in bondage trousers and dandy in his blazer, boater and spats, to the pinstriped stockbroker and today's Mods. It always has been and always will be. The tailored suit was born and bred in Savile Row, a street that remains the envy of designers, brand custodians and retailers the world over. As Dylan Jones, editor of GQ says: "London continues to confirm its place as the home of menswear, a hub of creativity showing the very best designers to a global audience. The menswear market showing in London incorporates not only internationally acclaimed brands but also luxury tailoring and emerging talent". Today, London is home to a whole host of young, energetic designers and also some of the biggest menswear brands in the world, including Paul Smith, Alexander McQueen and Burberry.
Following the advent of LCM in 2012 and the £40 million the event brings to the capital, London now sits firmly at the top of the pecking order of fashion capitals and this is something which all buyers and brands should draw upon.
Retailers have gotten wise to a growing demand for menswear, having identified a gap in a market set to grow by 30% to £15bn by 2021.
One of the advantages for retailers is that men, while often buying less than women in terms of volume, are typically less price-resistant and will repeat buy the pair perfect of trousers (or a t-shirt in seven different colours, as I have seen myself), thus offering retailers a high degree of loyalty and a customer worth courting.
According the Verdict Retail, the UK value clothing market will grow by £3.2 billion by 2021, equating to 23.6 percent growth on 2016, with menswear expected to "spearhead" the growth and outperform womenswear.
Michael Shalders, cofounder of distribution agency Love Brands Ltd, whose business strategy is very opportunity-driven, says: "All the market indicators show that menswear sector growth will outperform womenswear in the next 5 years. We've spoken to several industry figures who suggest this will be the case and then there's the market research which backs this up". For Love Brands Ltd, which has traditionally represented womenswear, menswear will be an entirely new project.
Verdict Retail's UK Value Clothing Market 2016-2021 report reveals that menswear will be the main driver, outpacing womenswear with its forecast growth of 29.2 percent by 2021. They state that male interest in fashion and personal appearance has increased and retailers have starting to respond to male consumers' growing demands. To the soundtrack of Carly Simon's 'You're so vain' , designers and retailers have had to up their game after years of neglecting 'Him' in favour of 'Her'. Indeed, our Bond-esque style icon Tom Hiddleston even says that Ilaria Urbinati (his stylist), is "one of the best things ever to happen to me". Imagine!
Studying the high street is fundamental for retailers. At last year's Drapers Fashion Forum, delegates learned from New Look menswear director Christopher Englinde that tapping into modern tribes and having a clear brand message are key factors in accessing the booming menswear market, which is set to reach almost £15bn by 2021 - a growth of 30%. Englinde described how the tastes of the evolving male consumer is based in "modern tribes" that fashion companies and retailers can tap into.
"In 1998, if you wanted to target men, you could start a suit company and that would be it," said Englinde. "Today you have to look into the market a little bit more. There is far more potential than just suits - millennials want to be unique, but they still want to belong to a group or 'tribe' that share their values."
Kate Ormrod, senior analyst at Verdict Retail, said: "Over the past decade, menswear has taken a back seat as value retailers have been focusing on enhancing womenswear offers. However, as male interest in fashion and personal appearance builds, retailers are starting to respond to male consumers' growing demands for more choice, style, and newness.[....] The likes of H&M and New Look have an opportunity to make significant share gains, but they must drive destination appeal and loyalty among shoppers."
So, what do male customers want? What's driving these preening peacocks? We know that shopping in itself is not the attraction, so it's down the clothes. As buyers prepare to open their order books, they might reflect on the words of the talent that was Alexander McQueen:
"Menswear is about subtlety. It's about good style and good taste".