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FASHION : Discounters Dote on Men for a Change

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Five years ago, the likelihood of finding men’s designer fashions at moderate prices was comparable to, say, that of dining on caviar at Dodger Stadium.

But today, large discount chains, such as Marshalls and Ross Dress for Less, department store outlets and family-owned stores offer savings--sometimes 50% or more--on designer labels.

Some of the items sold in discount stores are identical to those found in higher-priced department and specialty stores; others are manufacturers’ overruns; still others are unsold inventory that may be a season or two out of date.

Menswear designers Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Hugo Boss and Giorgio Armani must be chagrined to discover that their suits, priced at $600 and up in department stores, can be had for less than $200. Sport coats with price tags of $400 sell for $90; $140 sweaters are marked down to less than $30; $110 designer jeans and dress slacks go for $25, and boldly printed rayon shirts that usually sell for $65-plus can be had for less than $20.

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“Designers used to wait till the following season before selling to discounters,” says Tom Julian, associate fashion director for the New York-based Men’s Fashion Assn., a nonprofit organization that monitors the menswear industry.

“But because of bad retail credit on the part of more and more department stores and the buildup of excess merchandise in manufacturers’ warehouses due to cancellations, designers have been forced to make serious economic decisions and are choosing to sell to discounters who have good credit and who often pay up front.”

Although some discount clothing stores have had a reputation for carrying seasons-old merchandise or seconds, many of these store owners have become quite savvy in the last few years.

Family-owned discounters are feeding off manufacturers’ and designers’ needs for greater retail distribution and striking bargains that they later pass on to their customers.

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Large-chain discounters are taking advantage of their enormous size--Marshalls, for example, has more than 400 stores nationwide--and using their clout to entice designer labels into their stores.

Says Karin Whiting, a fashion consultant for Marshalls: “The men’s business has been one of our strong points because more men are shopping for themselves, particularly in big cities like Los Angeles, and because we recently started a collections department featuring trendier, designer names like one might find in GQ magazine.”

While many retail stores reported sluggish sales during Christmas, Whiting says Marshalls, with regular discounts of 30% to 60% on menswear, had a good holiday season.

“A customer can go and pay full price if he wants to,” Whiting adds. “It all depends if he wants glamour and glitz when he shops, or if he’s more self-service and convenience oriented.”

The Pasadena Marshalls store has one of the best selections and lowest prices in the chain, store officials say. Manager Dave Glen says his store lobbies hard for the best merchandise, including Perry Ellis, Nino Cerruti and Andrew Fezza suits ($600 and up at department and specialty stores) for $149. Other recent bargains included Perry Ellis sand-washed silk separates ($75-$150) for $24 to $79; a Bill Robinson floral silk necktie ($75) for $24.99, and cotton tuxedo shirts (regularly $150) for $49.

Bargains on designer menswear can also be found at the outlets of many well-known stores. For example, Politix, The Gap and G.Hq., all contemporary specialty chains, have outlets; the recently renovated Citadel, in Commerce, houses the first two and the latter is in Van Nuys. These stores often sell fashionable merchandise for discounts of up to 75%.

The Gap and Politix sell one-season-old menswear with their own labels. G.Hq. sells American and European designer labels. Some of the bargains at Politix this season include linen/cotton/viscose jackets (regularly $125-$150) for $49; $79 dress slacks on sale for $19, and $125 sweaters priced at $39.

One of the largest family-owned men’s discount clothing operations in the Los Angeles area is run by two branches of the Piller family. Jerry Piller of Pasadena and Ron Piller of Eagle Rock (Jerry is Ron’s uncle) run separate businesses with a similar theme.

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“We cater to a very eclectic group of men--just about anyone looking for a bargain,” says Ron Piller, who owns stores in Eagle Rock and Torrance. “We have a large selection of clothes for women and some things for children. But our men’s department is really the battery to this engine.” Everything at Piller’s of Eagle Rock is half-price. The real deals, however, come when the store has its periodic three-for-the-price-of-one sales.

A recent pilgrimage to the store turned up menswear bargains in every corner of the massive, 25,000-square-foot shop. Perry Ellis, Polo, Hugo Boss and Lanvin suits that retail for $575 at other stores were priced as low as $190. Daniel Cremieux and Robert Bruce sweaters priced at $149 were neatly stacked and marked down to $35. Name-brand pants by such makers as Generra, Bugle Boy, Kad, Pazzo, New Man, Excess Baggage and Levi’s were selling from $19 to $38.

But the best bargains were Winston Woods leather jackets for $219. The same jackets go for $525 in department stores. Piller’s also carries shoes by Nunn Bush, Cable & Co., Dexter, Allen-Edmonds and Roman Martegani, all at 30% to 50% off.

“The only thing our customers need is a lot of imagination when they come here,” Piller says. Although the store is neatly laid out, the better designer labels are scattered instead of coordinated as outfits. What’s more, there are few salespeople to speak of, so “nobody will bother you while you shop,” Piller says. And because the store is open only Friday through Sunday, it is often crowded.

David Sacks, owner of Sacks SFO stores throughout Los Angeles, says 48% of his business is in contemporary menswear labels priced 40% to 60% below retail. One visit to the store turned up bargains on such items as Philippe Monet and M. Julian leather jackets ($500 and up) for $119 to $198; Shang Hai, Jhane Barnes and Maxwear rayon suits (regularly $300) priced $70 to $110; and Zylos/Geroge Machado and Axis rayon print shirts ($40 to $60) for $19.99.

Alan Schniderman, owner of 3rd Faze on La Brea Avenue, offers designer and contemporary menswear at discounts of 70% or more. The store is running a $12 promotion on Weavers-brand T-shirts, polo shirts and turtlenecks.

Other bargains include $225 Studio Tokyo jackets priced at $92, $260 Shang Hai suits for $135, and $50 Point Zero and Z. Cavaricci pants for $19.99. The store also has a special on oxford-cloth dress shirts for $8.

A Select Guide to Discount Men’s Clothing Stores

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* G.Hq. Outlet, 19413 Victory Blvd., Van Nuys; (818) 708-8999. A small outlet store carrying designer and contemporary menswear labels culled from the chain’s 33 stores. Prices range from $10 to $90.

* Jerry Piller’s, 937 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena (818) 796-9559. A large discount outlet carrying men’s designer labels and brand-name merchandise at prices 50% to 75% lower than many department stores. Prices range from $2 to $250.

* Marshalls Pasadena, 3855 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena (818) 351-9611. The Pasadena outlet of a chain carrying designer labels and brand-name merchandise for men, women and children. Menswear prices range from $12 to $219.

* Piller’s of Eagle Rock, 1800 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock (213) 257-8166. Also in Torrance at 1421 Marcelina, (213) 212-5152. A massive 25,000-square-foot warehouse with designer labels and brand-name menswear. Prices range from $2 to $250.

* Politix Outlet, the Citadel, 100 Citadel Drive, Suite 138, City of Commerce (213) 887-1140. A small outlet carrying private-label menswear culled from the company’s 14 stores. Prices range from $19 to $150.

* Sacks SFO, 652 N. La Brea, Los Angeles (213) 939-3993. A discount store with operations in West Los Angeles, Culver City, West Hollywood, Tarzana, Burbank and Studo City. The store carries designer labels and brand-name menswear and women’s wear at prices ranging from $16.99 to $249.

* 3rd Faze, 1157 N. La Brea, Los Angeles (213) 851-5447. A men’s and women’s designer-clothing outlet with a large selection of knits and suiting separates. Prices range from $8 to $135.


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