Eye on Fashion Week
How Two of New York's Best Stores Conquered Pitti Uomo
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From the fun-loving family of The Armoury to the business-first attitude of Bergdorf Goodman, here's what two stores serving up some of the best duds around actually did at the menswear mecca
Sure, detractors might say Pitti Uomo has become overrun with peacocks and Internet fashion fame hopefuls, guys who suit up and show up to do anything but actual work. And all that noise can make it easy to forget that there's actual business occurring behind the patterned and neon-colored swarms. Big business. See, the real heroes of Pitti are the buyers, who, while representing various retailers across the globe, spend the trade show traveling from booth to booth to procure next season's best merchandise for their respective stores and keeping their eyes open for the next great label to introduce to their customers. But not all buyers navigate Pitti Uomo's vast terrain the same way, even when the stores they represent both call New York City home. Take The Armoury and Bergdorf Goodman. One, a meticulous independent shop that curates a collection of gentlemanly pieces from around the globe, the other, America's premier destination for designer menswear. Each requires a unique game plan for securing the best Fall-Winter 2016 merchandise.
For The Armoury, a Hong Kong-based store that set up shop in New York City's TriBeCa neighborhood in 2013, Pitti Uomo is a business critical event on the calendar. As a store that specializes in traditional menswear offerings—suits, shirts, ties, pocket squares, and hard-bottom shoes make up the majority of products—Pitti is an opportunity to see reps from independent brands in person, and touch, feel, and try on their products. But there are a lot of products at Pitti Uomo. So much so, that the sheer volume of goods and brands can be overwhelming. And for a store that only carries a handful of labels and has limited stock space, being discerning but thorough is the name of the game. Sure, bigger retailers can afford to swing and miss every once in a while, but when you're the guy with just one small store in New York City, even a single shoe collecting dust on a shelf could feasibly make a real difference to the bottom line.
Pitti Uomo is a time when the shared fantasies of the perfect suited-up look or pair of dress shoes get to become a reality.
When I met up with a few of The Armoury's finest at the trade show, including NYC store manager Jake Grantham and co-owners Mark Cho and Alan See, they were selecting shoes from a relatively unknown Spanish label called Carmina. For the next hour and a half, they debated which styles, colors, widths, fabrics and varying dress shoe silhouettes would work best for the shop. It wasn't the most exhilarating 90 minutes of my life, but it's that attention to detail which sets The Armoury apart from the average A.P.C. and Alden-stocking menswear shop. (For the record, we love A.P.C. and Alden, but their products are widely available here in the U.S.—especially New York City.) While at times the process appeared chaotic, it highlighted one of the advantages of being a small shop. With no stockholders or corporate bosses to answer to, you know as a customer the products that end up in store are there because the store's owners like them, not simply because they're the new "it" label of the moment, or because a market report told them "x" is "having a moment."
Ultimately, The Amoury uses the trade show as a way to strengthen relationships—with brands, with each other—that will hopefully translate to happy customers on the store floor. After all, the store vets its employees based on their appreciation of finely crafted menswear, which creates a sense of camaraderie amongst employees who bond over their love of traditional menswear and where to buy it. Pitti Uomo is simply a time when their shared fantasies of the perfect suited-up look or pair of dress shoes get to become a reality.
Shifting from a small store that preaches the philosophies of a particular style to the king of luxury retail in New York City brings us to The Neiman Marcus Group-owned Bergdorf Goodman. Unlike The Armoury, Bergdorf houses a wide swath of menswear under its three story roof, from Givenchy T-shirts to Tom Ford suits, Dries Van Noten silk bombers to Loro Piana cashmere knits. Steering the ship of the store's menswear POV is men's fashion director Bruce Pask, former T Magazineeditor turned retail bigwig (and Pitti Uomo street style star in his own right). But the appointments with major fashion houses will happen in the coming weeks, so Pask's goals at Pitti include meeting with some the makers of BG's private label goods (say Barbisio, maker of high-end fedoras), and making selections for the store from the new Brunello Cucinelli collection—a label whose luxurious classics are at the core of what Bergdorf Goodman's men's department is most known for. Additionally, he scours the floor scouting new labels that might work within BG's well-established range of luxury goods.
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And though Pask is rigorous with his exploration of the trade show, making sure each and every piece, be it leather gloves or a patterned scarf, found at Pitti Uomo are the perfect fit for BG, he also uses the show to put himself in a more realistic retail frame of mind before jetting off to Milan and Paris. There, the grand scale runway shows often display artistically brilliant but highly-unwearable clothing. "[At Pitti], there are clothes that are actually going to be on the floor and sold," he says. "It gives you a very grounded perspective. It helps you gain perspective on what we can actually sell and be commercial, and what is going to be compelling to a customer." Where The Armoury scoops up products based on the personal taste of its employees, Pask and the Bergdorf's buying team, with which he closely works, must always keep the customers' preferences in mind. And when a selection of menswear needs to be as diverse as Bergdorf's is, it requires a total awareness of the market and ability to pluck the right things out of it, to get there. After all, Pask isn't selling a single look—he's selling good taste in the form of a guy's dream closet.
The real beauty of Pitti Uomo—and of owning/operating a store—is that it's a "build your own adventure" atmosphere. Stores and brands can re-invent themselves, which in turn gives customers the chance to do the same. As I learned, there's no right way to do Pitti Uomo. But come July, all of the street style shots taken this season will be a distant memory. Meanwhile, if you find yourself in New York around that time, make sure to stop by The Armoury or Bergdorf Goodman, where all of the swanky menswear goods the guys loved will just be hitting shelves.
- Source: GQ