Despite the many changes that have swept through the industry over the last two decades, Ott says, the one thing that has remained constant is that Saks Fifth Avenue continues to be held as the gold standard for high-end fashion retailers, and he takes his mission to maintain that standard very seriously. “Our customers, they come into Saks Fifth Avenue to see fashion, so we definitely have an obligation to show the best that’s out there,” Ott says.
As fashion trends continue to change in menswear, Ott says Saks Fifth Avenue is changing along with them, bringing the best combination of high-end brands and labels to its customers while continuing to push the boundaries of fashion in new and exciting directions. With new stores opening in new markets and a focus on lifestyles as the driving force behind its merchandising, Ott says, Saks Fifth Avenue expects to be on top for a long time to come.
It takes a lot for a retailer to stand out, especially in Manhattan, and Saks Fifth Avenue has done a lot over the last 10 years to make it unique in the world of high-fashion retail. Ott says one of the most prominent steps the company took was to reorganize how it merchandises its stores. Whereas many retailers organize merchandise into men’s and women’s fashions and then break those down by label, Saks Fifth Avenue arranges merchandise by lifestyle. For example, apparel that could be classified as more modern in style can all be found in one place, while more classic styles are grouped together on another floor. Ott says this makes it easier for customers to shop based on their personal tastes and exposes them to a wider variety of labels and brands than they would be otherwise.
“We mix it all together and show it by lifestyle, so that’s something that has been a big change for us and a big difference over the last decade,” Ott says.
Ott says some of the most influential trends in men’s fashion right now are being driven by a more youthful outlook, even if the demographics have remained more or less the same. “Right now, what’s really driving our business is younger contemporary fashions, but I wouldn’t say younger, I would say younger-thinking,” he says.
For example, he adds, customers in the men’s department at Saks Fifth Avenue are looking for slimmer styles with a greater emphasis on color. “We’re seeing guys react to silhouette, so styles are trimmer and closer to the body,” Ott says. “Guys are also buying more color than ever before, and they have a real interest in shoes and accessories to complete the looks.”
Although most people would consider high fashion to be more formal, Ott says the trend is swinging away from that to a look that’s more relaxed. “I think if anything right now, what’s happening is there’s a movement toward casualization and a whole industry trend called ‘ath-leisure,’” he says. Spurred by a general trend away from traditional business attire, this new trend takes cues from activewear and sportswear to create a look that is casual but still focused on style. Now that many professionals have the freedom to dress more casually, they are looking for this type of style.
“So many people are able to dress how they want to go to work, and they’re not necessarily confined to a suit and tie,” Ott says.
Connected by Trends
Many of these trends are being driven by the Internet and social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter. Ott says young men are being heavily influenced by what they see celebrities and pro athletes – particularly NBA players – wearing when they post photos of themselves on social media.
“In the last two to three years, social media has made a big impact on the men’s fashion industry,” Ott says. “People are really in tune with fashion through that outlook.”
The speed with which trends come to the forefront today makes it all the more important that Saks Fifth Avenue establish and maintain good relationships with brands and labels. Ott says the store spends much time working with its designer partners to develop a plan that fits Saks Fifth Avenue’s model while also doing what’s best for the brand. “I think that we look at each of our relationships as trying to figure out what’s a win-win,” Ott says.
Pipeline for the Future
Saks Fifth Avenue is gearing up for the future in a big way. The company recently opened new stores in Sarasota, Fla., and for the first time ever outside of the continental United States in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and it will open two new stores in Toronto in 2016. Saks Fifth Avenue also is remodeling its flagship New York City store to better emphasize its lifestyle merchandising plan. “I think we’re going to have an opportunity to showcase new products in a way that was not possible before,” Ott says.
All of this will help Saks Fifth Avenue attract a new type of customer, one that Ott says is already beginning to identify the store as a retailer of choice. “What’s most exciting is that we are seeing a new customer who is coming to Saks,” Ott says, explaining that younger men in their 20s and 30s are becoming a much larger segment of the store’s customer base.
“You want that pipeline for the future so the customer can grow with you and keep the store relevant,” Ott says.