University of Fashion Blog

Posts by: Martha Nieto

Martha Nieto

Martha J. Nieto is a regular contributor for the University of Fashion. She is Colombian by birth but lives between Milan and New York and travels frequently around Asia for business. She has an extensive experience in merchandising/buying and product development by working for the past 15 years with high-level designers at top European luxury companies, such as L’Oréal, Gianfranco Ferre, Valentino, Roberto Cavalli, Trussardi and Frette. She also has had the privilege to work with prominent fashion colleges and institutes, such as La Salle College, The New School of Design, Accademia del Lusso and Accademia Costume and Moda, forming future generations of fashion managers. She has always been a key liaison between design and commercial teams, identifying and developing effective product strategies, in order to drive seasonal business and brand positioning worldwide. Today she owns her own International Fashion Consulting Firm for fashion retailers and emerging designers, who are looking to strengthen and internationalized their fashion business. Follow her on Twitter & Instagram @marthajnieto.

THE NEW REIGNING GENERATION – GEN Z

Courtesy of Elle

(Courtesy of Elle)

Let’s face it, the focus of the last decade has been mostly all about Millennials (the group also known as Gen Y and Echo Boomers/the children of Baby Boomers). Millennials being the demographic cohort born between 1980 – 1994, who came of age (10 – 22 years old) between 1990 to 2004 and who represent approximately 71 million in the United States alone. Fashion brands and marketers got to know them well over the years and they expended lots of time and money understanding their shopping patterns.

But now…a new generation is taking center stage, Generation Z (also known as post-Millennials and the digital generation). Gen Z is defined as those born between the years 1995 to 2009 and who are coming of age between 2005 – 2020. Their current population is 21 million, but according to the U.S. Census, that number is projected to grow to 80 million, with spending power estimated at $200 billion annually and over $1 trillion globally in indirect spending power when you factor in their influence on parental or household purchases. Gen Zers are mega influencers and you can believe that fashion brands and retailers have been working overtime, trying to understand and cater to this new demographic.

Never mind the fact that some of this new cohort are not even old enough to vote, they are for sure driving the present and future of the fashion industry. According to a report by Barclays, “by 2020 Generation Z will be the largest group of consumers globally. They will account for 40% of consumers in the U.S., Europe and the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and 10% of the rest of the world.” This generation has huge spending power.

Gen Zers are the first generation to be connected to social media from birth. They have the capacity to share events, opinions and experiences, and are changing society at lightning speed. In addition, they are empowered on how they view life and are simultaneously setting the stage for common attitudes within their own tribe. Gen Z are living in an exceptional world, one that is very different from previous generations. Let’s explore what Gen Zers are all about.

Photo Courtesy: Getty Images, Payton Hartsell

(Photo Courtesy: Getty Images, Payton Hartsell)

Digital Natives

Millennials were introduced to the rise of social media, tablets, smart devices and the mobility/connection that the digital revolution created as they were growing up. Gen Zers, on the other hand, were born digital and therefore have no idea that this is something new. Being digital is part of their DNA and as a result they are extremely tech-savvy and are self-learners. They have never known a world whereby they couldn’t instantly get connected or find the answer to any question that crosses their mind. They literally are growing up online and are connected more than 90% of their free time.

Courtesy of Getty Images

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

Economically Conservative

Another fact about Gen Z, is that they have only known turbulence and instability, having lived through the aftermath of 9/11 and experienced war and economic recession. They may have older siblings who struggled to find work during the recession, and this has now driven them to focus on self-awareness, personal reliance, financial conservatism and hard work. Therefore, they are more conscious on how they spend their money. They are aware of volatility within the market. And although the economy is currently strong, they are very careful where they invest and spend their money, should the economy slow. This also leads them to analyze brands more carefully. Contrary to Millennials, Gen Z are less idealistic and more realistic and for that reason fashion is less about ‘fitting in’ and more about making choices that reflect their identity. They are not spending less, they are just making smarter choices that reflect who they really are.

 

Social Activists

Gen Z is the first generation that has grown up in a world that is more openly diverse than in the past. They are much more conscious about their future. Globalization has allowed the mix and migration of cultures. Most of this generation grew up having an African American president in the U.S. – Barack Obama – and a woman Chancellor in Germany – Angela Merkle, phenomena that was not even thinkable in the past. The increased attention on the LGBT and environmental movements have forced impressive changes in history, making marriage equality a reality in places such as the U.S. and India, as well as the banning of plastic bags from different places, like China and the U.K. These and other related events have shaped Generation Z. Therefore, it is no surprise that this demographic cohort looks for brands that are conscious of the environment, diversely-inclusive and that offer non-gendered products.

Courtesy Time magazine

(Courtesy Time magazine)

A Generation Empowered

Contrary to Millennials, Gen Zers didn’t grow up over protected. They have not been given trophies just for participating. This generation has not been sheltered from the evils of the world. On the other hand, parents of this generation have taught their kids how to defend themselves in a world, where there is easy access to everything. They have been educating their kids and preparing them to deal with life’s difficulties, such as internet bullies, predators, school violence, economic setbacks and career challenges. Parents of Generation Z tend to have more open and consultative relationships with their children. They are pushing stronger to prepare them for life and this has created individuals with higher expectations. This unique social environment has made them a generation that is intuitively innovative, goal-oriented and realistic.

All the social characteristics and traits discussed above, can be seen in their preferences for fashion, entertainment and advertisement. And that is why they are so interesting. They have a unique way of seeing the world, and we need to see the world through their eyes in order to cater to them correctly.

 

So, what are Gen Zers looking for?

Generation Z may be perceived as impatient with short attention spans, but they are not superficial, they are quite hungry for authenticity. They want brands that meet their real needs, and they are always looking for the better, faster and more fun option in a brand. They are looking for brands with a realistic storytelling, something that connects with their individuality and their tribe. They are not obsessing with stereotypes, or images of beauty standards that have been created so far. Instead they actually challenge those old standards, because they want to relate with brands that resembles themselves. This generation doesn’t feel the need to change to fit in, in this world. They simply want to be their own true self and they are choosing brands that honestly reflect this inclusivity and diversity.

Generation Z is highly educated, technologically savvy and naturally creative. Even if they are immersed in social media, which may seem to some as trivial, they best use it to create a positive impact in the world. Therefore, you see them more likely pointing out injustice, racism and inequality. They only want to be associated with brands that are social and environmentally responsible, or which have a greater purpose than just “selling a shirt.” They are not to be fooled, they do not fall for beautiful things without content. They may be young, but they are way advanced for their time.

 

Courtesy of Business of Fashion

(Courtesy of Business of Fashion)

How can brands and retailers connect to these savvy consumers?

Thanks to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, Gen Zers get to share everything they do, buy, and experience with their friends – real time. Because of this, they expect shopping to also be experiential. They don’t want to only buy “stuff,” they also want to buy the “experience,” with the product becoming an added bonus. For retailers, it’s as simple as encouraging a consumer to upload to their new outfit to Instagram, to personalize a bag with their initials, or, as complex as what some stores in N.Y.’s Soho have done, adding interactive technology, a meditation studio, or in-store basketball court among others. Retail stores are now realizing that they need to offer more than just a ‘transaction.’ A great example of this is Farfetch. Last year they launched their pop-up “Store of the Future,” where they provided a screen for customers to sign in and search for their bucket list or purchase history. They also have smart mirrors, so customers can request different sizes, alternative products or even pay without leaving the dressing room. Another example is the House of Vans London Skatepark, a location where art, music, BMX, street culture and fashion all meet up.

 

Farfetch’s  pop-up Store of the Future (Courtesy of Bloomberg)

Farfetch’s pop-up Store of the Future (Courtesy of Bloomberg)

 

House of Vans   Deep Bowl    London Skatepark                                            (Courtesy of Skateparks)

House of Vans Deep Bowl London Skatepark (Courtesy of Skateparks)

What experimental shopping tells us about Generation Z is that they care about things that connect them to other people. They are constantly looking for something that is going to stay with them, that is going to feel authentic and not robotic. Also, they are looking to ‘connect’ to the brand and the retailer. So today, smart brands realize that they must sell an experience along with their product. This experience doesn’t necessarily mean having to have complex in-store technology to ensure a remarkable customer experience, but they will need to offer a memorable interaction with the consumer. It has to be original, meaning it has to be close to the brand’s values and authenticity. The interaction needs to connect with the personality of the consumer and it needs to be unexpected and unique. It is all about personalizing the shopping experience and providing more than just a product.

As the fashion industry continues to decode the likes and preferences for Gen Z, others like futurist/demographer Mark McCrindle is leading the campaign to call anyone born after 2010 a part of Generation Alpha. According to him, 2.5 million Alphas are born around the globe every week.

 

Care to share a favorite Gen Z story of this group is helping to change the world?

THE CHANGING FACE OF GLOBAL MENSWEAR

- - Fashion History, Menswear
Courtesy of i-d.vice.com

Courtesy of i-d.vice.com

Menswear is in constant evolution. The end-consumer is dictating what they want, which tribe they choose to belong to, and the personality they want to project. This has made the menswear industry very competitive, and in response, men’s fashion houses have been obligated to change their game, to listen to their consumer and are appointing new designers who understand the new generation and, more particularly, who understand their subcultures and tribes. The main focus in today’s menswear industry is to appeal to the final consumer’s lifestyle. This challenge goes beyond offering a good product, it also needs to be a product that ‘speaks’ to men’s tribes and their individual personalities. So, let’s examine who these new players are, what they are offering and who they are speaking to, and how they are seismically changing the present and future of the global menswear industry.

Kim Jones creative director Dior Homme (Courtesy BoF)

Kim Jones creative director Dior Homme (Courtesy BoF)

Recent new appointments in the menswear fashion industry, such as Kim Jones at Dior Homme and Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton Men’s (both brands under the LVMH umbrella), indicate that the market has changed. Fashion houses are now taking risks because they have identified that they must go forward to remain relevant for the next generation and those to follow. What do these players have in common? Both represent a movement that had been growing the past year. Kim Jones formerly at Louis Vuitton men’s and who created a blockbuster collaboration with the hip brand Supreme is now creative director at heritage brand Dior Homme.

Virgil Abloh creative director Louis Vuitton Men’s (Courtesyhighsnobiety.com)

Virgil Abloh creative director Louis Vuitton Men’s (Courtesyhighsnobiety.com)

Virgil Abloh, from DJ, music producer, Fendi intern, Kanye West’s creative director, to artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s men’s wear collection since March 2018, Abloh is also chief executive officer of the Milan-based label Off-White, a fashion house that he founded in 2013.

Both of these visionaries believe in ‘bottom-up’ fashion that is, bringing the street to high fashion, as well as the flexibility offered by social-media influenced athleisure, with its emphasis on T-shirts, and its reflection of a D-jin and music culture. The concept of ‘bottom-up’ is not new, Yves Saint Laurent made it his montra in the 70s and Marc Jacobs turned to the streets for his Grunge Collection in the 80s. But those were womenswear collections. Both Kim and Abloh have a history in designing streetwear for men and have each collaborated with Nike.

Although Jones studied design at Central Saint Martin’s and Abloh cut his teeth designing for Kanye West, both admit that they have gotten to know ‘fashion’ along the way. Their current collections speak to a new lifestyle, to a subculture of a younger generation and they are implementing street casual styles into their high fashion collections. To be clear, they are not abolishing suits or formalwear, they are just giving it a streetwear twist.

For example, presenting in their show a monochromatic suit with a t-shirt, technical sneakers and unique details around zippers, or presenting high quality functional bags with chain details. They are unifying two worlds we would not have imagined could speak to each other in the past. Formal and casual, function and decoration, these are no longer distinct categories, but ones that merge with each other. At the same time, these designers manage to speak to a tribe who is looking to be more individual while seeking to be included.

 

Dior Homme SS19 by Kim Jones (Courtesy of Vogue Runway)

Dior Homme SS19 by Kim Jones (Courtesy of Vogue Runway)

Louis Vuitton SS19 by Virgil Abloh (Courtesy of Vogue Runway)

Louis Vuitton SS19 by Virgil Abloh (Courtesy of Vogue Runway)

This connects us to other players such as Alessandro Michele at Gucci and Hedi Slimane now at Celine. They address younger generations with a unique vision, one that is more eccentric with a retro vintage feel (Gucci), and another one, more focused on rock culture (the new Celine). Both address a very important trend of the moment: the androgynous phenomenon. The ungendered design is key for these designers. They created transversal collections and androgynous looks that dominate the conversation of their collections, influencing the menswear arena. This trend is not about men wearing skirts, it is about changing mindsets, showing that men have changed, both in, and the way they view fashion, and in how they exercise their masculinity. This is reflected in how they shop, and as a result designer brands are implementing these changes in their product strategy.

Gucci by Alessandro Michele (Courtesy Vogue Runway)

Gucci by Alessandro Michele (Courtesy Vogue Runway)

 

Celine by Hedi Slimane (Courtesy of Vogue Runway)

Celine by Hedi Slimane (Courtesy of Vogue Runway)

 

There has also been a change in formal menswear. New players such as Thom Browne, Musika Frère, or recognized designers such as Ozwald Boateng have brought new product strategies to this category. Ozwald Boateng has mixed traditional classic British tailoring with color and new cuts targeting elite consumers who have unique personalities and are not part of the status quo.

Thom Browne, with his wild creativity, his fantastic tailoring and commercial core product pieces, with a clear brand identity such as the tricolor web, has won a fan base among millennials who were looking for an alternative from traditional formalwear.

And then we get to Musika Frère, a brand that was born in social media, created by Aleks Musika and Davidson Petit- Frère. This brand has a “neoclassic tailoring” style, as the creators themselves call it, specializing in custom suits that often come in unusual colors, patterns and details. This brand’s style has drawn famous celebrities in the African American community.

Ozwald Boateng (Courtesy of OzwaldBoateng.com)

Ozwald Boateng (Courtesy of OzwaldBoateng.com)

Thom Browne (Courtesy The New York Times)

Thom Browne (Courtesy The New York Times)

 

Musika Frere (Courtesy of Instagram)

Musika Frere (Courtesy of Instagram)

So, what do all these brands have in common? Their product strategies have successfully attracted a specific tribe that still wants the elegance of a suit but in a unique and special way, something that truly represents them and their personalities and that makes them stand out.

As menswear evolves, brands in the industry have realized that the fundamental formula to attract new and younger consumers is to truly represent them. The key for fashion houses now is to adopt this bottom-up approach, understand their consumers, their tribe and subcultures, in order to cater to them in a genuine way. All of the above-mentioned brands have used different menswear strategies to be relevant to the market and its future generations. They have taken risks because they know that nowadays, men are freer and use fashion to show who they truly are.

To learn more about menswear design, be sure to check out the new menswear discipline on our  University of Fashion website.

Menswear: A Trip Down Memory Lane

- - Fashion History, Menswear

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In fashion, we tend to overlook the menswear industry. It doesn’t change as much with the seasons and is all about the details, the fit and the fabrics. For some, it is not as interesting as the womenswear… until now. Menswear has been growing faster than womenswear and is expected to reach $33 billion by 2020. That’s why it is extremely important, as a designer or retailer, to learn about this segment of the industry.

The University of Fashion has recently launched its menswear discipline, so before checking out our lessons, how about taking a trip down memory lane to understand how the menswear industry has evolved?

Men’s fashion was initially functional in purpose. Paleolithic nomads used animal skins as protection from environmental conditions. The Ancient Egyptians provided the first signs that men’s clothing could made the leap from function to fashion. In this period, clothing and accessories began to serve as key symbols of rank and fortune.

Later on, the wealthiest men adopted tunics, and this trend continued with the toga in Ancient Greece and Rome, as well in the Middle Ages. During these periods, the essential item was the fabric, made of the finest materials.

Courtesy of Flickr and Chatirygirl

Courtesy of Flickr and Chatirygirl

Menswear Revolution

A big shift in menswear followed the American (1775-1783) and French (1789-1799) Revolutions, when fashion became understated and “undress” was the popular opposition to the abundant adornments that defined aristocracy. While men continued to wear the waistcoat, coat and breeches of the previous period for both full dress and undress, they were now made of the same fabric, signaling the birth of the three-piece suit. The early 1800s saw the final abandonment of lace, embroidery and other embellishment from serious men’s clothing and it became gauche to dress like an aristocrat.

In Britain, Beau Brummell, a trendsetter of the time, was credited with introducing and making the modern man’s suit and necktie fashionable. Savile Row, or “The Row” as it is commonly-termed, became the center of traditional bespoke tailoring. This trend led to trousers that are popular in menswear today and have been for the past 200 years. What Paris was to women’s fashion, London was to men’s. After the American Civil War (1861-1865), standardized sizing in men’s clothing introduced the concept of mass-production, with less individual tailoring, and the necktie was introduced by 1880.

Frock Coat (Courtesy of He spoke style)

Frock Coat (Courtesy of He spoke style)

Bea Brummel (Courtesy of He Spoke Style)

Bea Brummel (Courtesy of He Spoke Style)

 

The 1900s

During the 1900s, the United States took an even less formal approach to fashion when they introduced the ‘sportswear’ trend. With the invention of the automobile, American fashion landed in England and the dinner jacket, a more leisurely attire, became popular among the younger generations.

Another big American fashion influence at the time was jazz music. A new generation of men were rebelling against the traditions of their fathers and clothing inspired by the Jazz Age was born, consisting of tight-fitting suits. America became the center of the men’s fashion world and modern fashion was here to stay. Blazers became popular for summer wear, the tuxedo was the jacket of the night, and the Zoot suit was popular in the nightclubs of Harlem. The “gangster influence” in suits was also an important trend. Fashion for men became a display of their personality and environment.

 

Zoot Suits (Courtesy of Vintage dancer)

Zoot Suits (Courtesy of Vintage dancer)

Casual Menswear Emerges

By the late 1940s and early 1950s, beginning with the introduction of the Hawaiian shirt, California surfer culture emerged and is ever present in men’s fashion even today. Another 50s trend was the “preppy look,” consisting of clothes worn by men at prep and Ivy League schools, such as button-down shirts, golf shirts, chino pants, and loafers. Other trendsetters in the 1950s included Elvis Presley and the British Teddy Boys. The key to these new fashion trends was comfort with personality, each trend helping to define the ‘tribe’ or subcultures to which a man chose to belong.

The 60s & 70s

The 1960s brought Italian fashion to the forefront. Brands emerged that were able to compete with the bespoke tailors of Saville Row. Still relevant among that group initial group are Brioni, Nino Cerutti and Ermenegildo Zegna.

With the ‘British Invasion’ of the 60s came another important influence, Collarless, cylindrical suits created for the Beatles by Pierre Cardin and Douglas Millings were all the rage and helped usher in the ‘mod look’ and later the ‘psychedelic look.’

By the 1970s, ‘disco style,’ popularized by the movie “Saturday Night Fever” and ‘punk style’ from London, brought a new generation of menswear consumers into the marketplace. The concept of individuality and personality was fundamental to this period and continues today.

 

Princeton 1950’s (Courtesy of Google Life archives)

Princeton 1950’s (Courtesy of Google Life archives)

10 years of Beatles style (Courtesy of Mauro Amaral)

10 years of Beatles style (Courtesy of Mauro Amaral)

The 80s Impact

The 1980s became known as the ‘decade of excess,’ as Baby Boomers and Yuppies placed importance on ‘status’ and ‘luxury.’ In the movie American Gigolo, Giorgio Armani designed relaxed, yet elegant, deconstructed suits that epitomized the sexy, wealthy young man (played by Richard Gere), as the “playboy” of the time. This trend was in contrast to the emergence of streetwear looks associated with the ‘breakdance’ movement, which consisted of sneakers, shoes with thick, elaborately patterned laces and colorful nylon tracksuits.

 

The 90s Clean & Classic

As a backlash to 80s ‘bad taste,’ the 1990s represented the clean, pared down era, a time when menswear returned to beautifully tailored suits in classic colors, especially those from Helmut Lang, Ermenegildo Zegna, Hugo Boss, Nino Cerutti, Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren. The term “metrosexual” was coined by British journalist Mark Simpson as the trait of an urban male of any sexual orientation (usually heterosexual) who has a strong aesthetic sense and spends a great amount of time and money on his appearance and lifestyle. Italian suits were the basis for luxury and high-quality dressing. The Armani suit dressed the businessman throughout the decade until “business casual” took over in the mid-to-late 1990s. Other trends went in and out of fashion during this decade including the grunge look and a return to punk style, although this time known as ‘cyber punk’ and ‘hip-hop style,’ inspired by street culture. In an ironic move, the preppy look made a comeback in the late 90s, closely associated with the Tommy Hilfiger clothing line, which emulated the more expensive preppy look pioneered a decade earlier by Ralph Lauren.

Richard Gere in Armani from the movie American Gigolo (Courtesy of Classiq me)

Richard Gere in Armani from the movie American Gigolo (Courtesy of Classiq me)

 

Break Dancing (Courtesy Getty images)

Break Dancing (Courtesy Getty images)

New Millennium – A Look Back & Forward

The new millennium began with a retro influence, a mixture of the best elements of all previous fashion eras. Once the first major American corporation Alcoa sanctioned casual office attire in 1991, it wasn’t long before “casual Friday” was replaced with “casual everyday” as most companies loosened their dress code restrictions, with the exception of the legal and financial professions and those requiring uniforms.

In 2000, designer Hedi Slimane introduced the ‘ultra-skinny silhouette’ at Dior and mainstreamed them later at Saint Laurent – ushering in a seismic shift in the menswear industry.

In 2006, American designer Thom Browne burst onto the menswear stage with his ‘short length suits.’ Sports, performance apparel and the new athleisurewear category, continue to play a major role in men’s clothing.

As designers attempt to blur the lines between men and women’s fashion, such as J.W. Anderson and his ‘shared closet’ concept, the androgynous fashion movement continues to be explored.

With a booming economy bespoke tailoring is enjoying a comeback. New bespoke tailors are gaining popularity, with brands such as Ozwald Boateng (British-Ghanian descent) and Musika Frère (American), whose suits are offered in unusual colors and patterns, and whose client list includes, Jay Z, Michael B. Jordan, Stephen Curry, Kevin Hart and even Beyoncé.

In 2018, John Galiano introduced the world to ‘men’s couture’ with his Artisanal bias cut suits for Maison Margiela.

 

Hedi Slimane – Skinny jeans (Courtesy Dior Homme)

Hedi Slimane – Skinny jeans (Courtesy Dior Homme)

Today, the top designer menswear brands are truly an international set. Among the top 10 are:  Tom Ford (American), Gucci (Italian-Alessandro Michele), Neil Barrett (British), Thom Browne (American), DSquared2 (Canadians -Dean and Dan Caten), Dolce & Gabbana (Italian), Moncler (French), Louis Vuitton (French house-American designer Virgil Abloh), Prada (Italian) and Balmain (French-Olivier Rousteing).

Menswear has certainly evolved, from a rigid, controlled look, to one that is more casual, more personal and more connected to today’s lifestyle. Yes, menswear doesn’t change radically, but its evolution definitely shows that men are using fashion to express who they are now. Men who are freer to be themselves, men who are more comfortable in their own skin, and who are using fashion for self-expression, makes the future of menswear an exciting proposition.

Louis Vuitton by Virgil Abloh (Courtesy of Louis Vuitton)

Louis Vuitton by Virgil Abloh (Courtesy of Louis Vuitton)

Care to share who are your favorite menswear designer/designers of all time?