Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Thom Browne Experiment

I’m in Jeffrey today and the new Thom Browne Spring 2006 collection is starting to hit the floor. It is really beautiful, pale grey base pieces with equally pale pink and yellow shirts, knits, yellow striped pants, pale yellow floral pattern sportcoat, and tying it all together hand-pieced madras sportcoat and shorts. The rack is beautifully coordinated and merchandised, except for one thing: about half of the available bottoms are shorts – not any old shorts, but $715ish shorts! I’m sure they are beautifully bespokeish shorts but they are still $715!!! Marni, Barrett, Dior – all had shorts but in the $250 to $300 range; still a lot for shorts but at least comparable.

So here is my question. If Thom Browne ultimately fails, who is to blame? Thom, for letting an important store like Jeffrey order a huge percentage of their order in shorts, or Jeffrey for ordering the shorts in the first place? If Jeffrey sells over 60% or 70% of those shorts at full price everyone is happy but if he doesn’t, then that is when the finger pointing begins.

Thom is trusting that Jeffrey is ordering something he knows he can sell in his store; lets face it though, Thom needs the order not only from a financial standpoint but also from a credibility standpoint. Jeffrey needs designers like Thom to keep his store relevant and exciting, but he is probably willing to take a bigger risk on Thom’s buy because in the big picture it is a small percentage of Jeffrey’s overall mens business.

The problem is when a guy like me, or just about any other straight or gay man I know, is willing to buy a $3000 sportscoat I don’t want a $700 pair of shorts to go with it. It is all about the merchandising; sure offer one pair of shorts but give me more pants to choose from – the pants are only $800, a comparative deal.

So at the end of the season when Thom only hits a 50% sell thru (sounds high to me, but let’s just say) don’t you think it will be those shorts? Again who is to blame? Will Jeffrey buy less next season when he looks at his reports and sees his sell thru was off,maybe (retailers have a short memory when you remind them that you warned them not to buy a certain item), Well, guess what, I just saw Thom’s collection for next season (Fall 2006) and it was full of wool shorts. Even if Jeffrey wanted to buy more pants he may not be able to, especially if he wants to stay true to representing Thom vision (which ultimately is what ever designer wants anyway). Is Thom offering the right merchandise for actual sales?

What are the bigger ramifications here for Thom and Jeffrey? For Jeffrey, not much. He will just move on to the next hot designer. For Thom, the consequences are much more dire. When stores that carry a similar mix as Jeffrey come to New York for market they always shop Jeffrey. They pay just as much attention to who Jeffrey has dropped as whom he has added. If Thom drops from Jeffrey he only has Bergdorf which is a lot different than having both.

I have personally been through this dance many times and it is no fun, but that is why I find what is happening in New York menswear so fascinating. This New York menswear revival will either happen or it won’t, but we will know pretty quickly.
I can’t wait to see how Spring sells.


Close comment

Detach comments


  1. LA Guy

    February 11, 2006 at 10:30 pm

    If there is a 50% sell through, I will eat my shorts. Even the most diehard fashion follower has his limit, and $750 shorts say “fashion victim” even to Elton John.

  2. The Sartorialist

    February 11, 2006 at 10:57 pm

    If he sells most of the items besides the shorts he could reach it or if you do it in dollars he just has to sell the big ticket items like the beautiful sportscoats to hit that number. He doesn’t have a huge buy there or maybe he has not shipped it all yet. Shipping alone has killed many perfectly salable collections.

    What i’m talking about has more to do with merchandising than just fashion

  3. Get Smart

    February 12, 2006 at 12:52 am

    Fear not Thom Browne, a lot of folks were very impressed by the Emperor’s new clothes.

  4. pure

    February 12, 2006 at 7:31 am

    Thom Browne just shows again that designerlabels are the most overrated things in the fashion industry.
    750 $ for shorts? Nah, this is not a good marketing, sorry.

  5. Chris

    February 12, 2006 at 10:58 am

    I agree with pure, that’s just highway robbery. Don’t get me wrong, Thom Browne knows his menswear and I happen to like them, but that’s just too much. Way too much.

  6. MrWynn

    February 12, 2006 at 11:42 am

    It really is all about the merchandising, isn’t it? When you look at the true greats in retailing, say Louis Boston, they always attribute their success to knowing their customer. Jeffrey has certainly done well so I will give him the benefit of the doubt, however your assessment of the risk to Thom Browne is right on the money.

    Who knows, maybe there are enough guys out there who want to live out an English school boy fantasy.

    There has long been a strategy in retail of adding a little “spice” to the assortment to make it appear more interesting and to help sell more core product. Mr. Browne’s risk is being all spice and no meat.

  7. Anonymous

    February 12, 2006 at 12:04 pm

    One who buys TB doesn’t really care that they’re paying the premium…I think they rather like it. It’s Man Couture. Mr. Kalinsky, I believe, is very loyal to TB…and he knows..that there are a small legion of TB men who have the wherewithal…not to mention the 30″ waists. Besides $750 ain’t what it used to be.

  8. The Sartorialist

    February 12, 2006 at 1:44 pm

    I completely agree with the “Man Couture”, What Thom stands for in mens is closest to what John Galliano’s Dior means to women’s. It is well made, conceptual and directional. Unfortunately, Thom is unable to cash in big on the hype because he doesn’t yet have the mountain of auxiliary products to sell that Dior does.

    I have no idea the real relationship between Thom and Mr. Kalinsky but the relationship usually changes as the store becomes increasingly dependent on the sales they receive from a particular designer. How Jeffrey buys Jil Sander has always seemed more safe to me than how the collection is shown in the Jil store uptown. Jil is a big percentage of his buy and therefore he takes fewer risks. The only unknown regarding how Jeffrey buys Jil is how many pieces (usually the best pieces) never make to the floor because they are sent directly from the box to the houses of his best customers on approval. If this is indeed happening, it drains some of the excitement from the store but is is very good business. After all, I don’t have to pay his bills so he can run his business however he wants.

  9. Anonymous

    February 12, 2006 at 4:01 pm

    I don’t think TB is interested in cashing in and exploiting the “hype”. He’s been perfectly positioned to license his name, as well as advertise for a while..I think that’s part of why his customers are loyal and support him….it’s almost a “cause”. Not selling out, maintaining an exclusive brand, and refusing to size clothes for guys that shouldn’t be wearing it…is kinda hot. The last thing I want to see is my paunchy neighbor accross the hall wearing TB, sorry. I think all would be lost if he strayed from his expensive idiosyncratic convictions.

  10. The Sartorialist

    February 12, 2006 at 5:03 pm

    Unless Thom wants to be Alaia he will have to cash in to some extent.

  11. MrWynn

    February 12, 2006 at 5:29 pm

    To paraphrase the famous quote “write whatever you want about me, just spell my name right.”

  12. Anonymous

    February 13, 2006 at 11:31 am

    I had to wear woolen shorts as a child at school and they are probably the most uncomfortable and impratical items of clothing I have ever known. Why on earth would you want to resurrect them?

    And as for the price tag, I just don’t get it. You could fly to bermuda and have a tailor there make you up some shorts for the same price.

  13. Anonymous

    February 28, 2006 at 5:38 pm

    If the shorts you are talking about are the ones that I’ve seen (cream with gold/yellow brocade flowers that looks like a tapestry or drape) I think the reason behind them being sold for $700 is the material. It is quirky and kind of eccentric. If they were a suit wool then I wouldn’t expect them to be over $500. The fact of the matter is that someone is going to buy them (I mean you have ladies out there paying $3000 for Dolce & Gabbana jeans with a little bit of astrakhan here and there…men can afford to shell out $700 for these shorts); however, I won’t be the one buying them (I will stick to the tie made from that fabric).
    Anyways, point of the matter, I am really into Thom Browne (the dress shirts for $280-450 a pop are the best I’ve owned, even compared to some MTM I have). I am going tomorrow to buy my first suit from him at Ron Herman. I was planning on going into his studio to get it; but, my plans to go to NY anytime in the near future fell through.

  14. Anonymous

    January 11, 2007 at 4:55 am

    Thanks, Sartorialists for the insight on fashion merchandising. I’m learning a lot just by reading this post.

Leave a comment

Related posts