HMX Group debuts new men’s retail concept in Beverly Hills

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HMX Group, the New York City-based apparel manufacturer that owns a stable of American brands including Hickey Freeman, Bobby Jones and its Hart Schaffner Marx flagship label (and the one President Obama chose to wear to his inauguration), has opened a 2,000-square-foot men’s store in Beverly Hills, marking the first time all of its menswear brands (which also include Coppley and Palm Beach) will be under one retail roof .

“We really want to use the store as a laboratory more than anything,” said HMX’s chief creative officer and president, Joseph Abboud, ”a place where we can test new products -- and showcase the full breadth of our brands.”


But this particular laboratory, which opened its doors at 310 N. Beverly Drive on Friday, is about as far from the cold, antiseptic aesthetic as that word implies, with mahogany cabinetry, distressed oak tables, and accents in blackened steel. The clubby, den-like feel is completed with kilim rugs, furniture upholstered in the company’s fabrics (including a Hickey Freeman suit stripe), mannequins wrapped in tea-dyed muslin and a back wall filled with small pairs of mounted antlers. The store is called Streets of Beverly Hills, and Abboud said the “streets” concept (the name will change with each new locale) has been something he and chief executive Doug Williams have been working on in some form or another since Abboud came on board in January 2010. And he’s quick to point out that the standalone store isn’t intended to compete with wholesale accounts like Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, but rather to serve as a proving ground.

“Our retailers do a fantastic job, but like any good retailer they buy us what they need us for. If they see Hart Schaffner Marx as a [resource for] dark, dressy suits, as many of them do, that’s great -- we love that. But that’s only one dimension of what what we offer. We can show off our madras and seersucker, our soft, unlined, unstructured suits.”

Abboud said the three company-owned North American factories (one in Illinois, one in Massachusetts and one in Toronto) provide a unique advantage at the retail level. “If we want to make one, two or three of something, we can. If, for some reason, we feel it’s necessary to have an ivory doeskin blazer in the Beverly Hills store for fall, and want to make just 12 of them, we can do that.”

“With this store we have a bit more of an unedited interaction with the consumer. If the customer is buying into something we can turn to our wholsesale accounts and say: ‘We’ve tried this in three or five of our stores and here are the numbers.’ ”

Five stores wasn’t a competely random example for Abboud to use, it turns out, since that’s how many the company plans to open over the next year. The next is expected to be Streets of Georgetown -- which is slated to open in the Washington neighborhood of the same name in mid-September, and Abboud says cities including Chicago and Boston (“both great clothing cities,” he says) are on the short list.

In addition to showcasing a deep bench of sportswear, tailored clothing and made-to-measure suits from its own brands, the store will also sell a small selection of non-HMX Group products (such as Filson bags). Abboud hopes those unexpected curated offerings, and the company’s ability to do limited-run, store-exclusive product, will create a vibe that’s more menswear emporium than traditional retail space.

One thing customers won’t find in the new concept stores is anything bearing a Joseph Abboud label. The menswear designer is no longer affiliated with his namesake brand, having sold the trademark to JA Apparel in 2000 for $65 million. (A years-long legal battle over the designer’s right to use his own name in conjuction with other commercial projects finally ended last year, with a ruling in Abboud’s favor.)

But, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t eventually happen. Over the summer rumors started to surface that HMX Group was one of two companies interested in purchasing or licensing the label (the other rumored suitor was Iconix Brand Group, which owns a vast stable of apparel brands including Op, London Fog, Joe Boxer and Ed Hardy, which it operates under a licensing model).

Asked about the prospect of reuniting Joseph Abboud the man with Joseph Abboud the brand, Abboud was as diplomatic as he was enthusiastic.

“Let me put it this way: In my opinion, it would be great for everyone should that happen,” he said. “But that’s a parallel course of action for me right now. My focus is on whatever label I’m working for. It’s about the product for me so I’m as happy doing this where I am as if I were doing it for any other label. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, right?”

Whether the new retail concept ultimately passes the sniff test with consumers remains to be seen, but it certainly feels like a breath of fresh air for the 124-year-old company.

-- Adam Tschorn


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Photos, from top: The exterior and interior of HMX Group’s Streets of Beverly Hills multibrand menswear emporium; some of the jackets from the company’s stable of menswear brands. Credit: Adam Tschorn / Los Angeles Times