A Ten Question Q&A with Eric Jennings VP and Fashion Director of Menswear at Saks Fifth Avenue

LA Models - (L) to (R) Lamon Archy, Chris Whelan, James Davenport, Jonathan Waud, David Mintz and John Vanenberg at Saks Fifth Ave - LA Gay Men's Chorus Event

During his recent trip to Los Angeles for a menswear trend presentation to benefit the Gay Men’s Chorus of LA, Eric Jennings, Vice President and Fashion Director of Menswear at Saks Fifth Avenue sat down with me for a ten question Q&A.

Hallman: How has the current economic situation changed what you do as Menswear Director for Saks Fifth Avenue?

Jennings: It’s placed more limitation on some of the new lines that we can bring in. I’ve always been inspired by young designers and I love seeing what they’re doing and supporting them but when times are tuff you really need to focus on your existing business by making sure that it remains healthy.

Hallman: Are men shopping differently today or with a different focus compared to how they shopped five or ten years ago when the economy was stronger?

Jennings: Absolutely. I think men today are shopping with the intent of building a lasting wardrobe. Men are no longer looking for fast trend items. The focus has shifted to key pieces that they can build on.

Hallman: Are men today like most shoppers in this economy asking more questions as they shop, has price become more of a concern, are they looking for deals?

Saks Fifth Avenue - Mens Collection: Grey Cashmere Blazer $1,298

Jennings: I think men have always questioned, what am I wearing, is it worth it, does it have longevity, and what’s the life span in terms of quality and style. This is probably a question asked even more so today since I feel that men are investing in their wardrobe and their appearance and they want to make sure that what they are buying is of great value, which is one of the reasons our Saks Fifth Avenue private label is doing so well. When the economy was stronger I think people were more concerned with logos and brands but today their looking at quality, make and craftsmanship and at Saks we’ve working hard to educate our customer about that.

Hallman: Do you see an advantage here for Saks even in these bad economic times?

Jennings: Yes definitely I think now its about right sizing your business. Before we had more excessive inventory and if a shopper waited long enough they could buy it on sale.  However today the supply isn’t as great. Inventory control has shifted and is more focused and I think thats the way most businesses are running today.

Hallman: So for Fall 2010 what are some of the men’s trends that you’re excited about?

Polo Ralph Lauren - Shawl Collar Cardigan $350

Jennings: I love what’s happening with cardigans this Fall. We’re seeing shawl collar cardigans, chunky cardigans, cardigans as outerwear and cardigans that can be worn under a sports coat or suit. I love all the boots that we saw on the runway and how they’re translating into everyday wear. I love the return of the monk strap dress shoes. We haven’t seen it in a while so I think it looks fresh and new. I’m a fan of the continuation of the “Mad Men” style. I love the 1965 JFK look. I feel that it’s a really strong look and young people have embraced it.

Hallman: Do you feel that “Mad Men” has had a great influence upon men’s fashion and how men are dressing today?

Jennings: Yes a huge influence and I think that its timely because there’s been a resurgence towards Americana, vintage worker wear. I see a remembrance of icons like Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. And when we look at them today they look just as relevant as they did in the 1960s and I feel that many designers are looking to them for  inspiration. I like it.

Hallman: Who are some of your favorite menswear designer’s this Fall?

Rag & Bone - Driving Coat $785 Chatsworth Fair Isle Sweater $435 Twill Chinos $255 Cashmere Sheldon Ribbed Beanie $115

Jennings: I have quite a few favorites for Fall. Rag & Bone, Simon Spur, Neil Barrett, and Michael Bastian are a few of my favorites this season.

Hallman: Men are dressing differently today for business. Causal Friday has become casual Monday thru Friday. How has this changed the menswear business?

Jennings: I’ve found in my travels around the country, meeting our menswear customer, that most of them don’t wear suits Monday thru Friday, but do wear suits at least once or twice a week so the suit is not dead and there’s still a purpose and need for it. But I think you need to be selective with the type of suit you buy when you’re shopping. However in terms of business causal, which is ubiquitous, no matter what part of the country I find myself in. That will be our big message for Spring 2011, teaching men how to dress business causal, but still professional.

Saks Fifth Ave - Men's Collection: Travel Blazer $795

Hallman: What are the five mistakes that you feel men make when shopping?

Jennings: The five mistakes that men make are fit, fit, fit, fit and fit. There’s a big epidemic in this country and I find men don’t know how to wear clothes that fits them properly. They don’t know what to look for when they try on a garment. Whether its a ripped pair of jeans, a sports coat, or a suit; unless there’s someone with them that understands fit, they typically make mistakes and that’s one of my goals to help men understand fit better.

Hallman: What are the essentials that every man should pack when traveling for business or pleasure?

Florsheim by Duckien Brown - Cordovan Brogue Lace Ups $575

Jennings: The first essential that every man should travel with is the sports coat. You can base your whole travel wardrobe around a great sports coat. It can be paired with jeans, corduroys, cotton twill non-denim bottoms or a great pair of wool flannel slacks. Next, always travel with a few great ties, but not silk ties. Take a cotton, linen, wool or cashmere tie that can be rolled and packed easily. A lightweight trench coat is always an important essential for travel, as well as a great pair of brogues because they’re the perfect shoe that can be worn with or without socks, with denim or slacks, as well as dressed up or down. They’re the ideal shoe that can be worn with everything.

Eric Jennings is Vice President and Fashion Director of Menswear at Saks Fifth Avenue.

Saks Fifth Avenue Men’s Store Info: http://www.saks.com or 877.551.SAKS

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