The 94th edition of Pitti Uomo saw the usual array of peacocks trying to out-style each other, with the panama hat being the most spotted accessory of choice. Tom Bottomley went along with his own buying hat on, to seek out some brands with a point of difference who are aiming to establish a foothold in the UK market.
Established for seven years in Asia, and originating from Hong Kong where it has four own brand shops and its own factory, Doughnut ‘Outdoor Gear’ has particularly found success in the Japanese market where it currently has over 120 stockists. Only launched in to the European market a little over two years ago, and now sold by Zalando, UK distributor, Jarrod Clarke, of Brand Co. Distribution, has recently got it in to Urban Outfitters, where he says the backpacks have hit the ground running. “It’s a product you have to see and feel the quality to really appreciate, that’s why it actually sells much better in stores than online. There’s a lot of secret compartments and hidden details.” Clarke says the likes of Herschel Supply Co., which really created the demand for cool backpacks and has dominated the area for some time, now has something to give it a run for its money. “People are now after something new,” he says. Doughnut is definitely one to watch.
Block & Last
Only in its third year, Block & Last started out doing high-end made in England footwear, and has now ventured in to doing some clothing as well. The jackets have already been well received, including by the excellently edited Flow boutique in Florence. The man behind it is former design and innovation director at Umbro, Graham Gordon, who also previously worked at Puma Black Station, responsible for all the collaborations, including with Alexander McQueen. He says: “Nobody has ever challenged the way welted footwear is produced, so I wanted to take all the great things I’ve learnt in sports shoe innovation, and put them in to a welted shoe.” The original footwear design actually comes from a WWI officer’s boot, but the new versions utilise 3D print technology. The jacket design stems from a WWII navy engine room jacket, and there is also a new bowling shirt for s/s19. Jeans and trousers will be added for a/w19, and Block & Last will be debuting in the newly refurbished Present shop in Shoreditch this autumn.
A brand that needs no introduction, founded in Maine, USA, in 1946, and one forever at the forefront of the deck shoe and loafer market, now has a whole new story to tell. Acquired on July 31, 2017, from Wolverine World Wide by Italian company, BasicNet S.p.A, which also owns the Superga, K-Way and Kappa brands, this is the first collection to be produced by the new owners. Sebago key account manager, Tobias Mackie, says: “We’ve now got three new separate categories for s/s19, with the ‘Campsite’ moccasin collection using Vibram soles sitting at the top tier, set to retail between £150 – £180 and targeting the likes of Kafka, Oi Polloi and Dover Street Market.” The second tier collection features suede derby and brogue shoes, with names such as ‘Princeton’ and ‘Harvard’, using lightweight EVA sole units. Then comes a whole new ‘Vulcanised’ line, with one style called ‘John’, inspired by a Sebago shoe worn by John F. Kennedy in the 1960’s. “Sebago wants to be known as more than just a deck shoe brand. We want to be a full fashion footwear brand,” adds Mackie.
This is one of those high-end English leather goods brands that you could mistake for having been around for a hundred years or more, though it was actually only established in 1997 by one Robert Simpson (who died five years ago). He was formerly a director at luxury London leather goods brand, Tanner Krolle. Originally producing traditional handstitched British briefcases, supplying top-end London footwear shops, such as George Cleverly and John Lobb, the offer has widened considerably since then, to include lifestyle products such as canvas and bridal leather rucksacks, an overnight bag, wallets, tote bags and laptop bags. William Asprey, from the family synonymous with British luxury goods, bought the business before Simpson passed away. Simpson London managing director, Patrick Coyne, says: “He has invested heavily in the business, and we now have first class manufacturing facilities in Canning Town, with 28 craftspeople. We do a lot of private label work, as well as leather goods for Savile Row tailors. Some guys want a leather wallet with a lining to match the lining of their new suit.” The aim now is to grow the Simpson London brand in its own right, and a new e-commerce platform is planned for this October.
This Swedish brand dates back to 1903 and is as old as Tiger of Sweden, though, at the moment, nowhere near as prominent in the menswear market outside of Scandinavia. That could soon be about to change, with a whole new team in place, including key former Tiger of Sweden employees, a fresh focus and full collections growing stronger by the season. It has just launched in Selfridges, and that could provide the UK springboard the brand has been waiting for. Add to that, a standalone Central London retail store, also with showroom space on the premises, is planned for 2019. Anton Llewelyn, director at Social Brand Distribution Ltd., who was largely responsible for Tiger’s early UK success, is now leading the mission to make Oscar Jacobson a leading brand in the UK too. He comments: “I was watching the ascendancy of the brand in its home market, and how it was claiming more market share. I thought there was no reason why that could not be reflected in the UK.” For s/s19 there’s some strong relaxed tailoring, very wearable summer shirting and quality outerwear pieces.
Situated in Pitti Uomo’s all-new ‘I go out’ area, made to look and feel like you’re in the great outdoors, Mountain Research, from Tokyo, certainly has a point of difference. For a start, unlike so many of the outdoors-focused brands that use a lot of colour, Mountain Research’s whole s/s19 collection is black with white. It’s a bit quirky and niche, but appealed to the Present buyer on the stand, and it already sells to Garbstore in London. There’s military, punk and even Ivy League influences, combined with technical detailing which, when all put together, gives something quite unique. The brand has been around since 2005, though the original company was founded back in 1992 as General Research. It’s definitely one for buyers seeking something more avant garde, and it was a first ever showing at Pitti. Sales manager, Hiromori Yabe, says: “Everyone else in the ‘I go out’ area has colourful collections, but we like to be different. We don’t see why you can’t wear a button-down shirt for camping, trekking or climbing a mountain. Sometimes we use a quick-dry material for the button-down shirts, to make them more functional. It’s function meets tradition.”