CHICAGO The Chicago Collective appears to be the “it” show for independent men’s specialty stores.

Under the eye of show director Bruce Schedler, the show is being touted as the top spot to find an assortment of the industry’s finest labels from the the U.S. and Italy. Buyers praise its layout, amenities and brand mix, which allows them to do their seasonal shopping in one location.

Although other regional shows such as in Dallas are also gaining in popularity, it is still Chicago that gets the most enthusiastic thumbs-up.

Bob Mitchell, co-chief executive officer of Mitchells Stores, said his buying team has been attending the Collective for a while but this was his first visit. “Everyone says it’s the best show so I decided to experience it myself.”

He was impressed. “It’s easy — it’s all in one place and it’s very organized — everything from contemporary to luxury Italian brands. It’s very accessible.” 

The only downside, he said, is that the show is fairly late in the season for his stores. “We’re almost done buying so I wish it were earlier in the cycle.”

“It’s an incredible show where you can find almost everyone and everything you need to see,” said Dana Katz of Miltons in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. He also visited New York and will head to Las Vegas for Project to pick up some final pieces he wasn’t able to find elsewhere, notably Turkish and California-based clothing resources.

Keith Kinkade of Kinkade’s Fine Clothing in Ridgeland, Mississippi, also cited the convenience of the show. “I’ve been coming here for 15 years and I can get all my buying done in one spot. Bruce does a great job and the show gets better and better every year. His leadership and a team that understands his vision attract the retailers and when the retailers are here, so are the vendors.”

Peter Leff, executive vice president of wholesale for Tommy Bahama, said: “This show has emerged as the number-one men’s specialty store show in the country. It’s so concise, everything is on one floor, it’s an easy shopping experience, the lighting is good, so is the Wi-Fi and the food, and Chicago is a great city. Those are all great enticements to get the better retailers here.”

Dan Orwig, president of Peerless Clothing, said the brand showed at Dallas as well and will also have a presence at Project. 

“Dallas is increasingly important but Chicago has become the most efficient, productive, luxury-driven show in the market — especially for us in tailored clothing,” he said. 

Orwig characterized Chicago as “a writing show” and Vegas as more of a “marketing show,” where he will bring the company’s Kenneth Cole sportswear line and some more fashionable pieces to appeal to the mainstream/moderate retailers.

“We’re trying to be loud about Peerless and tailored clothing, so we’ve got to be there.”

Schedler said this edition of the Collective drew 426 exhibitors, including more than 60 Italian brands sponsored by the Italian Trade Agency. The show is completely sold out with a long waiting list.

He said he noticed the popularity start to rise before the pandemic forced its closure, but once the show restarted as the health crisis waned, “we blasted up. Having the Italian Trade Commission here is a big factor and attracted a lot of interest.”

He said there is a new president of the Chicago Merchandise Mart, where the show is held, and he’s talking about how he might secure some more space for future editions. But don’t expect the size to be significantly larger, he said. “It’s focused and efficient. If we doubled the space, it wouldn’t double the number of buyers, so we’re wondering if it really needs to be much bigger.”

Schedler is hoping to replicate the success of the men’s show with Chicago Collective Women’s Edition, which will make its debut March 5 to 7. 

Although the mart has held women’s shows before under the Stylemax name, this show will be more upscale. Some 200 exhibitors are expected at the first edition and he plans to systematically expand that number as the show gains momentum. “We want it to be a smaller show to start and we’ll build on it,” he said.

Here, some of the highlights from the men’s show last week. 

Brand: Rhone

Backstory: The company was founded in 2014 strictly as a men’s activewear brand but through the years it has expanded into several other categories, including the popular Commuter Collection of staples created from technical fabrics that provide stretch, anti-odor and wrinkle-resistance properties. Over the years Rhone has attracted a number of well-heeled investors including L Catterton, which made a significant investment in the brand in 2017, followed by a group that included former NFL Network and ESPN executive Steve Bornstein; David Stern, NBA commissioner emeritus; sports personality Ryen Russillo; Shane Battier, former NBA player, and M3 Ventures, an investment fund managed by former CAA executive Martin Dolfi.

The Commuter Collection is a key category for Rhone.

Key styles: For fall, the company updated its core styles of Delta pique polos with a subdued color palette of creams and purples, available in both long- and short-sleeved options. The shirts, which can work for sports or for the office, offer cooling technology and UPF 50 sun protection. In addition, the collection included fleece jackets and vests and a hooded waffle henley. In the Commuter Collection, a pinstripe dress shirt was a key addition.

Retail prices: Long-sleeved polos were $98, the Commuter shirt was $128, the Commuter pant was $138, a fleece shacket was $168 and the waffle-knit hoodie was $98.

Brand: Tommy Bahama

Backstory: The Seattle-based brand, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, has moved well beyond its history as just a colorful men’s silk camp shirt brand. Today, the flagship division of Oxford Industries offers a wide array of products for men and women — everything from casual pants, shorts and shirts to swimwear, sweaters and jackets — all with the same lighthearted aesthetic: to make life one long weekend. The brand also operates a fleet of restaurants, has numerous licensed products, including the ubiquitous beach chair, and it recently signed a deal to open its first Tommy Bahama resort in Indian Wells, California.

The Harbor Point pant is a new addition for fall.

Key styles: Bottoms have been especially popular this fall, led by updates to the brand’s key franchises: On Par, a dressy performance pant that is being offered in a jogger bottom; the Chip Shot, a technical bottom offered in plain-front or five-pocket models, and the top-selling Boracay twill model. New this season is the Harbor Point collection of knits, offered in a variety of silhouettes including pants, shorts and jackets. Also popular are shirt jackets and sweaters in washed fabrics.

Retail prices: The Harbor Point pant is $148, the Boracay pant is $138 and the Chip Shot and On Par pants are $128.

Brand: Jack Victor

Designer: James Watson, creative director

Backstory: The privately owned Montreal-based brand is celebrating its 110th anniversary this year, and it’s a far cry from the clothing Jack Wigdorovici sold door-to-door in a remote Quebec town after leaving Romania in 1907. His grandson, Alan Victor, took the reins in 2011 and revamped the company that was best known for its suits. Today, Jack Victor has modernized its offering and created a lifestyle collection that runs the gamut from jersey knit sport coats, suede jackets, printed sport shirts and polo crews to five-pocket pants. 

Jack Victor offers a variety of tailored and luxury sportswear options.

Key styles: For fall, the brand is shining a light on velvet sport coats, available in a range of colors from emerald green and black to bordeaux. Sport coats in aggressive window pane patterns are offered in gray, and jersey knit blazers in eggplant mélange are also popular. The brand’s Comfortwear collection includes pieces that blur the line between formal and casual dressing, including blazers in 100 percent cashmere and blends as well as double-faced fabrics. Under Watson’s tutelage, the company’s tailored sportswear ranges from cashmere and silk crewneck sweaters, cotton and lyocell sport shirts, an array of luxurious polos and bombers in goat suede or lambswool.

Retail prices: Knit blazers are $995 to $1,595, sport coats are $795 to $1,095, suits are $995 to $1,395, velvet blazers are $795 and the lambswool bomber is $1,498. The sweaters are $278 and woven shirts start at $198.

Brand: Artigiano del Guanto

Backstory: The Italian glove brand was founded by Giovanni Ricciardiello, master glover, in 1955. Today, the Naples-based company is run by his children, Francesco, Mimmo and Flora, who continue their father’s dedication to craftsmanship and artisanal heritage. The handcrafted gloves use natural tanning techniques for the leathers, some mixed with other fibers that are processed through modern methods.

A look from Artigiano del Guanto.

Key styles: The leather gloves are made from Ethiopian lambskin, South American Carpincho, Peruvian peccary and North American deerskin. Inner linings include Italian wools and cashmeres as well as silks and premium-grade nylons. One key style offers three colors: black on the back, green on the palm and a burgundy thumb. Driving gloves feature holes in the knuckles and half-fingers in some models. With all of the gloves, the company offers customized packaging, placing each pair in its own box with a complementary leather keychain and a brochure highlighting the company’s history.

Retail prices: Landed prices range from $80 to $120.

Brand: Inis Meáin

Backstory: Inis Meáin is one of the three Aran Islands that lie on the far edge of Europe, 30 miles off the western shore of Ireland. Founded in 1976 by Tarlach de Blácam and Áine Ní Chonghaile, located on its namesake island in Galway Bay, Ireland, Inis Meáin draws inspiration from the isle’s landscape and heritage, producing individual, unique pieces of knitwear in the finest yarns, all exquisitely finished by hand. The knitwear brand chooses not to mass produce and instead specializes in small runs of new styles by altering the settings on its machinery several times each day, so it can produce up to 50 styles each season, reinterpreting traditional stitches and styles into sophisticated garments for contemporary living.

Key styles: The Aran cable fisherman sweater, the Máirtín Beag with a high neck, the landscape sweater (in a multicolor ombré finish) and the boatbuilder turtleneck sweater with raglan sleeves are among the company’s most popular styles.

Knits from Inis Meáin’s fall 2023 collection.

Retail prices: Knitwear ranges from $495 to $1,000 and outerwear pieces such as shirt-jackets start at $575 and go up to $1,000 for the longer coat versions.

Brand: Fradi

Backstory: With a penchant for menswear that remains true to a classic aesthetic, what began in 1996 as a small family business founded by brothers Francesco and Domenico Dimarco, has evolved into a “Mediterranean lifestyle” line inspired by the Puglia region and its landscape. With a design approach of clean, sharp, and clear lines, Fradi offers a wardrobe that is multipurpose and functional.

Looks from Fradi’s fall 2023 collection.

Key styles: A wool jersey flannel pin-striped blazer (also available in a herringbone option); a wool and Neoprene jersey coat, and the Hyper capsule, which features items such as blazers, puffer vests and parkas with a technical approach both in materials and by various waterproof and weather-resistant elements are among the top sellers.

Retail prices: $895 for the water-resistant wool cashmere down-fill vest, $995 to 1,295 for the sport jackets (with optional detachable hoods), $1,495 for the suede down-fill jacket and $395 for the 7-gauge merino two-tone ribbed hoodies.

Brand: Windsor

Designer: Tobias Harprecht

Backstory: Windsor has managed to build a reputation in the world of fashion thanks to its belief in quality and innovation. Founded in 1889 by Leo Roos and Isidor Kahn, two German merchants, the brand initially dealt in men’s clothing crafted from fine materials in the textile center of Bielefeld, Germany. But after a change of ownership, the firm developed into a modern industrial company at the end of the ’30s. In the ’60s, the clothing factory received its current name: Windsor, which is inspired by fine English fabrics and an appreciation of the English royal family. In the late ’70s, Windsor introduced its first women’s range, and today, the label provides a variety of classic and trend-driven pieces. For fall, New York agency TAP Group and its fashion managers Tony Lucia, Andrew Weisbrot and Paul Buckter are spearheading the launch of the luxury label in the American market. 

A look from Windsor’s fall 2023 collection.

Key styles: For fall, the band offered a recycled cashmere story seen in overshirts, double-breasted jackets and textured knitwear, along with corduroy double-breasted jackets and herringbone textured nylon coats.

Retail prices: Overshirts range upward of $895 while jackets sell for $1,400 and cashmere outerwear, such as long coats, top out at $1,550.

Brand: Fioroni

Backstory: The knit label was officially founded in 2008 but comes from a family tradition dating back to 1978 when the Fioroni family started a workshop specializing in embroidery and weaving on the shores of Lake Trasimeno in Italy. The brand bases its production on eco-sustainability, traceability in the supply chain, the natural origin of raw materials and the use of marginal leather coming mainly from the food sector. Mongolian cashmere is spun and hand woven in an artisanal style, with each weft added by hand on every single needle of the binder.

A look from Fioroni’s fall 2023 collection.

Key styles: The brand’s top items include a duvet hooded sweater, a shawl-collar cardigan, double-faced bomber jackets with knitted backs and sleeves and tailored cashmere shirts.

Retail prices: A hoodie retails for $1,600, sweaters range from $750 to $1,500 and outerwear comes in at $2,000 to $2,500.

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