If 2013 was the year of the ‘Selfie’, then 2014 might well go down as the year of the ‘Spornosexual’, a term coined by British journalist Mark Simpson to describe a new breed of body-conscious men who spend inordinate amounts of time at the gym, salon and spa, pumping, primping and preening themselves into slick Adonises. And then snap selfies afterwards, partly to admire their efforts, but mostly to show off their washboard abs and perfectly teased coifs to their followers on social media.
Simpson’s article, which first appeared in The Telegraph in June, quickly went viral and sparked on online debate. Simpson has a knack for capturing the zeitgeist – it was he who gave us the metrosexual 20 years ago. The thing is, he isn’t the only one to have dreamt up a fancy catchphrase for this contemporary phenomenon. Banking giant HSBC, in a March consumer report, pointed to the rise of the ‘Yummies’, or Young Urban Males, who are rapidly changing the face of modern luxury retail. “The metro-sexual, that cliché from 20 years ago, is now becoming a commercial reality,” said the report.
As Jeremy Lewis, editor of Garmento, told The Business of Fashion: “I think the world’s attitudes towards masculinity have really progressed… The classic male archetype has been pretty misogynistic, sexist and slightly fascist and I think that’s broken down quite a bit over the last 20 years. It makes more sense in a world that is becoming less patriarchal that the male identity would shift to allow for something like fashion or style, once considered feminine and therefore unnacceptable, to be adopted.”
Social media has had a huge part to play in this attitude shift, especially street-style blogs. And cringe-worthy or not, buzzwords like Spornosexual and Yummy come on the back of hard data. A 2013 study by consulting firm Bain & Company revealed that men make up 40 per cent of the luxury market, with a compound annual growth rate of seven per cent from 2010 to 2013. This far outperforms the four per cent for women’s. Market intelligence firm Euromonitor, which tracks sales of apparel and footwear, reported a 4.8 per cent year-on-year growth for menswear in 2013, versus 4.5 per cent for womenswear.
Luxury brands and conglomerates have responded to these tendencies like sharks drawn to a feeding frenzy, ramping up their product offerings for men and opening dedicated men’s stores in key global cities. Fashion powerhouse Prada, in an April earnings report, announced plans to up the number of its standalone menswear boutiques from 30 to 80 over the next three to five years, in the process doubling its menswear revenue to €1.5 billion (S$2.5 billion). Similarly, Michael Kors CEO John Idol remains optimistic that its menswear division will one day hit the billion-dollar mark. CNBC estimates that the brand’s men’s business is currently worth about US$300 million.
The titans of global luxury, LVMH and Kering, can’t possibly sit in the sidelines amid such seismic shifts in the retail landscape, so they’ve promptly gone on the offensive as well. The latter, which bought Roman suitmakers Brioni in 2011, hired Givenchy designer Brendan Mullane to inject new blood into the heritage label. In 2012, LVMH appointed Alessandro Sartori, ex-Z Zegna designer, to create a complete ready-to-wear collection for Parisian shoemakers Berluti. The following year, it appointed rising star JW Anderson to helm Spanish heritage brand Loewe.
Singapore, as a buzzing international port-of-call and home to one of the world’s greatest concentrations of high net worth individuals, is part of this global ‘menaissance’ – another catchy/tacky watchword put forth by Euromonitor. The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) has been shaping up as a menswear hub of late, with the likes of uber-luxe brands Tom Ford and Hackett setting up shop. “The Singapore opening is very significant because there is a very sophisticated client who wants the finest accessories and clothing for all aspects of their life, and they want it presented in a modern way that resonates with the new world that is fast emerging in Asia,” says Ford in a press statement.
The 2,031 sq ft Singapore boutique, which opened in April, is modelled after the brand’s Madison Avenue, New York flagship. Swathed in acres of marble, mirror, glass and chrome, it’s a glamorous, refined setting in which to peruse the selection of ready-to-wear, made-to-measure suiting, luggage and perfumes. Meanwhile, those whose tastes veer towards the British landed gentry will find themselves in seventh heaven at Hackett, a 2,575 sq ft emporium of gentlemen’s clothing and accessories – such as tweed suits and enamel cufflinks – that opened last December.
“The interest in luxury menswear in Asia has grown exponentially in the last five years,” says Johnny Manglani, CEO of menswear retail empire Uomo Group. Back in 2010, Manglani rode the first wave when he launched Uomo Collezioni and Stefano Ricci, followed in quick succession by Santoni, Zilli and Brioni – stalwarts of the Italian power dressing universe. It was a smart move, given the number of high rollers that filter through the casino on any given day, particularly those from mainland China.
Much of the menswear boom, to begin with, was driven by the spending power of the Chinese male. In 2012, men accounted for 55 per cent of China’s luxury market, well above the 40 per cent global average, according to research firm CLSA. Come September, Uomo Group will add another feather to its cap with the opening of its latest store, Billionaire Italian Couture, a label owned by the very colourful Italian magnate Flavio Briatore.
Away from the bright lights of MBS, Robinsons Orchard opened last November to much acclaim, not only for its image revamp but also for its fashion-forward merchandising mix. The fourth level was entirely given over to men and populated with exclusive and new-to-market labels such as John Varvatos, Shinola and The Kooples. This past June, ultra-hip Hong Kong-based lifestyle company Kapok opened its first Singapore flagship at the National Design Centre. Menswear brands offered at the 2,300 sq ft outlet include cult favourites like Ami, Maison Kitsune and Sunspel.
But perhaps the most compelling tribute to the clout of the male consumer came from Hermes, when it staged back-to-back, male-centric events earlier this year – the Men on the Move extravaganza at the Old Kallang Airport in April, followed by the Masculins Singuliers exhibition at the Scotts Square boutique in May. This celebration of the brand’s men’s offerings was previously held in Beijing, Paris, Miami, Seoul and Frankfurt, and it is, according to Artistic Director Veronique Nichanian, “The best proposal to show the richness of the men’s universe collection – the ready-to-wear, bags, shoes, silk, even the beautiful Avions Voisin car,” she says, referring to the 1936 Avions Voisin C28 Aerosport upholstered in – what else – Hermes leather.