L.A.'s Ferragamo shop leads the way in stores for men only

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

GUYS, Salvatore Ferragamo knows you want that $30,000 burgundy crocodile duffel -- and thinks it has the perfect lure. The brand’s new men’s boutique at the Beverly Center in L.A. -- the first of its kind in the country -- is a study in Italian-style man-luxe: 2,000 square feet of wood-grained walls, cream-colored floors and buttery leather couches where you can sip espresso while perusing the full men’s collection that ranges from $160 neckties to that oh-so extravagant duffel.

Male desire, thy name is paneling. And comfy chairs. And a store environment to call your own. At least that’s the formula that seems to be emerging as retailers train their powers of enticement on guys.

Looking beyond the purse-and-pumps model that built its business, Ferragamo is on the leading edge of a new and energetic grab for the hearts and wallets of men. Later this month, J. Crew is going man-centric, opening its first men’s store in a converted Tribeca drinking establishment, with a curated “best-of” collection alongside Globe-Trotter luggage and vintage Borsalino hats. By next fall, Hermès and Ralph Lauren plan to have Manhattan real estate devoted solely to men’s merchandise, and Tiffany recently opened its third men’s jewelry store in Japan.

Why the sudden discovery of the XY chromosome? It turns out that in the current economic environment, men’s shopping has been one of the few bright spots. According to Wendy Liebmann, chief executive of WSL Strategic Retail, a company that studies shopping habits, there are two reasons: Men are traditionally more optimistic than women on the economy (“Because they don’t see the prices at the grocery store every other day,” Liebmann says). And a new generation of style-savvy 20- to 40-year-old male shoppers is roaming the malls. The result is a retail landscape ripe for a shot of testosterone.

Since it opened June 28 , the Ferragamo shop, sandwiched between Lucky Brand Jeans and Mont Blanc on the mall’s seventh floor, has done better than expected, Ferragamo USA President Vincent Ottomanelli says -- even though the company’s Rodeo Drive flagship, with men’s and women’s clothes and accessories, is just a mile and a half away.

“Six or seven years ago, there wouldn’t have been the interest,” Ottomanelli says. “We might have sold a bunch of shoes, but it wouldn’t have supported a whole store.”

Liebmann agrees. “These guys aren’t just running in with their heads down to buy a blue button-down and a pair of chinos and leave,” she said. “They are more apt to absorb and experience fashion.” And having the brand’s entire men’s collection in one place helps ensure that this customer -- whether he’s looking for a key chain or a pair of patent leather sneakers -- is less likely to leave empty handed.

But the new store doesn’t just have more merchandise, it also looks markedly different from the brand’s others. It’s darker and almost clubby, with walnut fixtures and limestone floors, and more intimate display cases holding $295 leather wallets, $115 calfskin credit card cases and $160 money clips.

There’s none of the soaring glass and gleaming metal shelves characteristic of other Ferragamo boutiques and no need to hunt for a hidden male enclave in a space dominated by a wall of women’s handbags. And for the first time, Ottomanelli says, a Ferragamo store has a VIP area where guys can just chill out.

The retail outpost as pseudo-bar/gathering place isn’t accidental, Liebmann says. “What you’re starting to see is the recognition from retailers that it isn’t just about a different physical space; it’s about a different mood, a different environment. And sometimes another floor in the same building isn’t enough.”

It’s an approach being used beyond the luxury labels too. Preppy staple J. Crew is putting the final touches on its men’s-only space -- the former Liquor Store bar at 235 W. Broadway in New York City.

When the Liquor Store location opens later this month, it will be with the original fixtures -- including the bathrooms and the bar itself -- intact, as a showcase for the pricier men’s pieces in the line, including Japanese selvage denim and broken-in chinos, collaborations with Red Wing and Thomas Mason and an assortment of old-school brands like Mackintosh coats and Timex watches.

And this is just the beginning.

“This is definitely a turning point,” Liebmann says. “Retailers are realizing they have to create an emotional experience that makes these guys feel comfortable. This isn’t your father’s Oldsmobile -- or your father’s Brooks Brothers for that matter.”