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Menswear heads down quality street

Katherine Rushton

Menswear is nearly always the first to suffer in a recession. But could it also be the first to recover?

June was a month characterised by World Cup excitement on the one hand and Budget uncertainty on the other, so it came as little surprise that the British Retail Consortium’s members experienced a slowdown in sales of clothing and footwear.

Menswear - the theme of this week’s issue - had a particularly difficult month. This category is nearly always the first to suffer in a recession, beset as it is by slower-moving trends and men’s tendency to cut spending on themselves before they do on their partners and children. But could it also be the first to recover?

Certainly brands and retailers are trying their best to coax this embattled category out of the doldrums, and it is heartening to see them do this without simply slashing prices.

Last week’s edition of streetwear trade show Bread & Butter in Berlin showed a commitment to quality, detailing and traditional production that spoke of value for money in the old-fashioned sense. Brands like Lyle & Scott, and denim specialists Pepe Jeans and Denham all had archive-inspired ranges, largely sourced from British manufacturers and enriched with hand-finishes that helped to justify higher price points.

The quality strategy is also starting to work on the high street. Since Brian Brick took the helm of menswear retailer Moss Bros just over a year ago, it has narrowed losses by turning its back on bargain-basement prices and instead underscoring its specialist credentials.

Meanwhile, TM Lewin has followed Moss Bros and Charles Tyrwhitt’s leads to launch its own made-to-measure service. It remains to be seen whether the strategy will work - but the signs are good. As Brick points out on p24, at times like these no one wants to “look like a scruff” in the office, and men will still invest if the quality is right. It just falls to brands and retailers to cut their cloth to fit.

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