Over our time in the menswear industry we've been fortunate enough to meet some great people, collaborate with exceptional brands, and build relationships with men and women who have gained respect from me and their peers worldwide. I'm humbled just to know them and proud to be able to call on them from time to time.
So without further adieu we'd like to introduce the IG Menswear Dialogue Series. We will be bringing you intimate--but not that intimate--discussions with tailors, designers, editors, bloggers, and other craftsman whom I'm proud to call friends, focused on specific style issues from the cut of a double breasted blazer to the state of menswear to the advantages of vegetable tanned leather. Over the coming weeks we will post these short conversations with the menswear insiders themselves. First up, Mr. Harry Sheff, Web Editor of MRketplace magazine. He's got a lot to say. We suggest you take a listen.
Spring 2012 issue of MR Magazine
Image Granted -
What is your title/occupation/trade?
Harry Sheff -
My name is Harry Sheff and I'm an editor at MR Magazine, a menswear journal that covers retail for the trade. I write features for the print magazine, mostly on shirts and ties, and news and features for MR's website, MRketplace.com. In my spare time, I write about men's colognes and fine spirits and cocktails at a blog called Cocktails & Cologne.
As an editor for a major menswear publication what is your overall assessment of the menswear industry in general? Is menswear headed in the right direction or are we on a runaway train about to fall off a cliff?
HS -That's tough. Fifty years ago, every town and every region had an independent department store. Within the last fifteen years, almost all of them either shut down or got swallowed up in what is now Macy's. It's shocking. And while that's been happening, domestic manufacturing has all but disappeared. Single-branded chains like Gap and J. Crew have become the default shopping spot for the typical guy, and Macy's has increased the penetration of its house brands to alarming levels. Choice—at least in the form of affordable apparel—for regular guys in this country is disappearing. That said, two trends have given us hope. One is what we'd generically call the dress-up trend and the other is the heritage/workwear trend. With dress-up, we've got guys wearing suits as fashion, rather than a uniform we grudgingly put on for work. Suits have slimmed down, as have dress shirts. The more specific and hence better-fitting sizing of dress shirts (neck and sleeve sizes rather than small/medium/large) has made them more attractive to wear outside of the office, too; shirt makers have addressed this by designing shirts that can be worn without ties after work. At the same time, more guys are wearing narrow ties both at night with slim-fitting suits, and casually with sport jackets and jeans. Seasonal fabrics like cotton, linen and wool have come back in neckwear, and bow ties are finally seen as novel accessories instead of signifiers of stodginess. The heritage and workwear trends signify a nostalgic fascination with American-made clothing and a longing for apparel that had a purpose, like work boots and waxed cotton jackets. We're returning to the brands our fathers and grandfathers wore, with iconic pieces like Burberry trench coats, Red Wing boots, and Pendleton's wool plaid shirts. We're interested in raw denim woven in California or Japan on old looms. And in some cases, it's creating pride in our ability to make high quality goods in this country—even if it isn't creating a whole lot of new jobs. Is menswear going in the right direction? I don't know; it's going in so many directions at once. But at least we're seeing some efforts to reverse bad trends, like casualization and an over-reliance on foreign manufacturing.
What do you see in the future for menswear retailers? What will men domestic and international be buying tomorrow and five years from now versus what they were buying 5 years ago? What will retailers domestic and international be selling tomorrow and five years from now versus what they sold five years ago?
Department stores have been disappearing because of a combination of mergers and the proliferation of single-branded retailers. This has had a tremendous negative impact on small independent retailers. Often the only way for small local menswear stores to survive was to go luxury. The margins on $300 and $500 suits (never mind affordable casual apparel) are too small and the competition from chains like Men's Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank, much less Macy's, is too strong. But even many of the luxury stores still didn't survive the recession. As far as trends go, we've been getting a lot of our direction from Europe and Japan for years now. The Japanese have been fascinated by American brands and 20th century American style, and it's come full circle: we're having the cultural mirror turned on us in a bizarre way. Some of the best interpreters of American style have been Japanese. But that's what Ralph Lauren has been doing for the last 40 years, and J. Crew for the last ten. Both Ralph Lauren and J. Crew do Brooks Brothers better than Brooks Brothers. It would be fun to see them catch up. But regarding the future, we're finally seeing more innovative approaches to technical fabrics. I'd compare it to Hollywood special effects. Directors would get so wrapped up in CGI that it would dominate movies at the expense of good plots, and you'd only see them in action movies. Technical fabrics were likewise used for action sports, and only in wild and garish colors. Now we're starting to see the true potential of new textiles as they reach mainstream brands and show up in casual and dress apparel.
What is your stance on the blogosphere, #menswear, tumblr etc. and how it impacts the core of true journalism? Do you think print is threatened? Dying? Already dead?
True journalism hardly exists in the blogosphere, and there are many reasons for that. First, doing your own research and taking your own photos is time-consuming and expensive. It's a lot easier to post the press releases and supplied photos from brands that pitch you. The most egregious example of this showed up when GQ announced the nominees in February for their "best new menswear designer of the year" contest. The e-mail that was sent out had a typo in it, one that didn't appear in the attached press release. Lazy bloggers—I counted three of them that morning—just copied and pasted the list of designers, rendering Todd Snyder as Yodd Snyder. If they'd just taken the time to read the press release (or had the background knowledge to catch the error) instead of just spastically posting the list from the body of the e-mail, that wouldn't have happened. And some of the better bloggers out there seem more motivated by self promotion and scoring free stuff than by a true love for men's clothing. Look at GQ's embarrassingly earnest "Oral History of Menswear Blogging". These bloggers are so inwardly focused that they're already writing their own history, just a few years in. They should be writing the history of menswear, interviewing people from the industry. Instead, they're interviewing each other. So is print threatened by bloggers? Yes, but no more than anything else. I think as it gets harder for traditional magazines to make money off of traditional advertising—in print, online, or in iPad editions—editorial content will migrate to wholly sponsored sources like Gilt Manual. And that's not a good thing. A whole generation of bloggers and readers are coming up with no experience with editorial integrity. Why is blogger X writing about this new pair of sneakers? Because the company sent him a free pair. Why is Gilt Manual writing about Brand Y? Because they're trying to sell it to you—it's an ad in the form of an article. Not that print independent print magazines are any less guilty of it. We've all got to pay the bills. But notice that I've referred to GQ a couple times. It's still a great magazine and I still think there's no substitute for it in print. Okay, maybe on a tablet or iPad. I guess the good news is that GQ (and to some extent Complex; less so Esquire) remains at the epicenter of the menswear blogging world, keeping it cohesive and giving new voices greater reach. The fact that guys give a shit about what they wear, and care enough to blog obsessively about it, is wonderful news. In the 90s, we all just let ourselves go. I'm not even talking about the brief grunge trend, I mean in everything from Casual Fridays to the baggier, boxier fit of suits. We—some of us, anyway—woke up and realized that we could be comfortable and look good, that wearing flip-flops and sweat pants on an airplane is just pathetic.