Male shoppers, are you Henry or Yummy?

HEY, BIG SPENDER: Mr Mullane is the creative director for Brioni, which is one of the brands targeting high-end male shoppers like Henry and Yummy


    May 02, 2014

    Male shoppers, are you Henry or Yummy?


    THE lexicon describing male shopping has recently been enriched with newly minted acronyms and portmanteaux, following in the vaunted (and derided) footsteps of "metrosexual".

    Bain & Company calls this spender-to-be Henry (High Earner, Not Rich Yet); HSBC, more cringe-worthily, calls him a Yummy (Young Urban Male). But if you christen him, will he come?

    The largest players in the industry are hoping yes.

    "Finally the men's business is waking up," said Gildo Zegna, the chief executive of the Ermenegildo Zegna Group. "We're taking it more seriously. We're trying to make it more fun."

    In 2012, Mr Zegna tapped Stefano Pilati, the respected but embattled former designer of Yves Saint Laurent, as head of design.

    His appointment capped 11/2 years of designer moves among Kering, LVMH and Zegna that effectively blur the once-clear line between "luxury" and "designer" menswear.

    The year before, Kering, whose stable includes Gucci, Bottega Veneta and Alexander McQueen, had acquired Brioni, a Roman label known for its suiting, and hired Brendan Mullane away from Givenchy to design for it.

    "We see clearly a big potential for men," said Jean-Marc Bellaiche, a senior partner at the Boston Consulting Group, where he leads the firm's luxury, fashion and beauty sectors.

    "This segment of what we call metrosexuals - those men, living in cities, making a lot of money, taking care of themselves, buying cosmetic products, buying the best brands for apparel, even wearing luxury bags - this is a growing segment."

    He added, with a chuckle: "I'm not the only one in meetings now with a luxury branded bag."

    The tier that is attracting much of the attention is at the very top of the market, in luxury. That tier is "absolutely" growing, said Bill Cournoyer, a vice-president at Bergdorf Goodman men's store.

    In December, Bergdorf opened a dedicated boutique for the Berluti collection, the only retailer to sell the collection outside of the brand's own stores.

    The style is young, trim and sleek, and the prices are, to put it politely, astronomical. A three-piece suit starts at more than US$5,000 (S$6,300).

    Mr Pilati's purview is also at the very top of the market. He was given charge of the Ermenegildo Zegna Couture collection, previously a small, super-premium line that was sold in a handful of Zegna stores but never made a point of focus.

    Now, it is shown on the runway, enlarged in price and in scale. Prices average 50 per cent higher than the main collection, with suits beginning at US$4,895.

    "I saw the market opportunity at the top," Mr Zegna said. "We picked the top price because I think this is the market niche that is growing."

    So many companies are moving so enthusiastically into that niche that it's tempting to see a sartorial arms race.

    "There are more brands that try to play in the high-end market," said Francesco Pesci, the chief executive of Brioni, where a suit can cost up to US$17,000. "Of course, this is a challenge. We like challenges. It's good to have competition in life, eh?"

    Over the course of 17 years at Brioni, whose storied past stretches back to 1945, Mr Pesci has seen this shift in the landscape firsthand.

    "When I started out my career in Brioni back in 1994, the market was a very different place," he said, divided between "fashionable brands", the work of individual designers emphasising trends, and "classic" brands.

    "Men have really realised that there is an art of dressing," he said. "Now, it's very accepted. There is a male consumer who knows 'I want this', and 'I want that'. They know what they're looking for."