by Antonio Lilliu
Urgently wanted - HOMME FATALE!
BOF, the English magazine for fashion insiders, quoting the Dior men's collection AW 2016 by Ralf Simons at the end of PARIS Fashion Week in January, delivered following statement... "A GOOD NIGHTMARE IS ALWAYS BETTER THAN A BAD DREAM."
Among tragedy, drama and comedy, there is a minor genre: The Chronicle. For next season Fashion choose to write the chronicle of a distressed man, who, betrayed by the lies of all rules, has lost the confidence in his leading role in the reality, blending luxury and trash randomly looking for a new identity. This is “THE NIGHMARE”: a good one, because refusing to take refuge in the comfort of “DREAMS”, this man will find his own way after a growth experience, necessarily painful.
Does men’s underwear world reflect the same “anguish” of Paris high-end fashion’s shows?
The message emerging from the male sector of SIL-Exhibition in Paris, a couple of weeks later, was neither of nightmares nor of dreams, at most that of a big sleep, one of those from which you wake up fed up for not being able to remember dreams, if there ever were any. But that’s no wonder as men’ underwear is always some light years later than fashion!
The consistent loss of market's volume of gents’ underwear has been lasting for years now. Although the fierce market competition rewards periodically new Brands, this always happens at expense of others trademarks: countless market surveys and companies’ sales reports confirm the lack of growth for this market segment. Multi-brand department stores allocate less and less space for men's underwear, not rarely before cancelling intimate apparel offer for gents, sometimes just before disappearing themselves: a phenomenon which unfortunately takes place all around Europe. La Rinascente in Milan, KaDeWe in Berlin, Harrod's in London and Galeries Lafayette in Paris are the last paradise, for male customers looking for a real shopping-experience in intimate apparel. Everything else is ... virtual experience, a kind of professional assisted survival, which ultimately does nothing but promote the atavistic laziness of some audience. Evidently, doom saying for men's underwear from all fronts!
Then, what are Brands doing to motivate end-consumers to purchase intimate apparel, conveying their USP to establish a dialogue with male consumers? Most specialist trademarks take refuge in the mirage of their Comfort Zone, letting an army of product-managers to run more and more accurate analysis of brand’s (decreasing) sales, expecting algorithms to define product policy as well as market strategies. Instead of following attentively the change of men psyche and behaviors they restyle season after season the archetype of the “old patriarch”; instead of renewing radically their distribution strategy into an Omni-channel vision, they move the focus from traditional retail to the next terminal ill, the textile retail; instead to build a straight dialogue with the end-consumer, they spare no effort trying to please buyers.
Talking to press and customers I have often explained that the market for men's underwear requires nowadays no revolution but innovation.
Real innovations are often even more disruptive than many “only apparent” revolutions: The Bolshevik revolution and the French one gave rise to political fanaticism and terror regimes increasing to the utmost inequalities that they would fight. The Dior revolution brought women to wear again bust and crinolines, just like in the days of the Rococo Queen Marie Antoinette.
Lacking of visions and ambitions too many brands try the luck doing a facelift to their image renaming as ”ICONS” their Archive’s items. Something like to say…” if you wear what your grandfather did, you can never be wrong!”: just like to say “Hermés Kelly-bag is always right”. If you think, at this point, that’s marketing bull shit, I think, you got the point!
In Men's underwear emerge nowadays, therefor, four key trends:
The boring luxury: luxury brands, whose major benefits are quality of yarns, fabrics and fit don't have an easy life in a world increasingly victim of appearance. It seems almost impossible to increase brand desirability throughout quality’s advertising, easier is to feature class and economic power of the customer target as the antithesis to sex-appeal and youth. Just put some less fresh masculine beauty, flaunting gray hair and beard as physical symbol of ascetical wisdom and social success. When you realize that the generational turnover of your customers becomes indirectly proportional to sales’ decrease, in order to re-launch the brand just take a 30-years-younger guy, add some tattoos here & there, perhaps an attractive female presence in a designer furniture environment…and just wait for the big boom! For desperate Marketing-cases there are uncountable foot-ball stars to be hired as testimonials. The only exception to this kind of wish-thinking Marketing is LA PERLA, which is making such a good job in Lady’s lingerie that I still have hopes they will become the new exclusive underwear brand for gents in the new Millennium-Era.
The Joker: comics, irreverent slogans and provocative prints are the ingredients of the joker underwear-style, with real funny effects until the 18th birthday!
Sex-Bomb: AussieBum is the latest brand to have reinvented in the intimates’ world the iconography of a hedonistic and unbridled playing virility. Born in Australia's beaches, this brand has contaminated intimate apparel with accents of swimwear and translated into swimwear intimate aspirations. The explicit sexual message of AussieBum has been able to revive a great interest around male underwear during the last fifteen years, making the brand the natural successor of HOM of the ‘70s, Nikos of the ‘80s and the Calvin Klein of the ‘90s. The AussieBum’s man is the Beef-Cake of the last glimpses of the 20th century, a superlative manhood basically sculpted in a gym and smoothed by Photoshop.
The “Third spring”: during Andropause the search of lost time translates for many men in bizarre behaviors. Thong, transparent fabrics, Lurex decors, animal prints, etc. become practices designed to exorcise the inexorable passage of time, which ultimately reveal the desperate vulnerability of the wearer rather than strengthening his sex-appeal.
The Casual customer: the word “casual” has been notoriously banned from the fashion vocabulary in the last twenty years. In fact, there is nothing “casual” in fashion, a part of those customers who have no interested in fashion but only in price and in the features of a branded brief’s band. Countless brands choose a market positioning based on price, functionality and brand’s cross-selling while creating a pleasant main-stream style just not to polarize the clientele.
Being a man more than a bed of roses is a fatality, whose features underwear brands have to face to (re-) deepen and (re-)translate into a modern language beyond a stereotyped image of manhood. Market has its logic and men are not necessarily worse customers than woman, as menswear business shows, but they want nowadays new stuff in intimates, too.