Some luxury brands have always catered exclusively to either men or women—think Dunhill, Ermenegildo Zegna, and Brioni for men or Jimmy Choo and Christian Lacroix for the ladies. But most are happy to promote their stores as emporiums for both sexes. Yet just as some educators believe that single-sex classrooms are better for learning, some luxury brands are finding that single-sex boutiques boost the bottom line. While it's not exactly a man's world on Main Street, luxury brands are increasingly offering greater exclusivity in men-only shops.
The trend took off two years ago, when the Hankyu department store opened in Osaka, Japan, with its entire 16,000 square meters of floor space devoted to masculine products from shoes to cigars. Soon after, Louis Vuitton opened its first men-only store inside Hankyu, replete with leather furniture, pure wool carpet, and a goatskin rug. Around the same time, the British fashion queen Vivienne Westwood, who can spot a forward-looking trend seasons away, also opened her first store geared for men in Tokyo.
Now others are catching on. On Feb. 9, Hermès will open its first men-only store on Madison Avenue in New York. Housed in a classic brownstone, the 817-square-meter interior will resemble a cross between a traditional tailor's shop and a gentlemen's club, reimagined with a contemporary vibe. The fourth floor, designed to evoke the feel of a private home, will be devoted to made-to-measure wear, including bespoke suits as well as special-order items like luggage. Meanwhile, a few blocks uptown, Ralph Lauren has announced plans to convert its landmark Rhinelander mansion into a shop for men only, a move that underscores the importance of the menswear market to the company.
For all the talk of women's rising spending power, luxury brands seem to be courting the fashion-savvy male these days. "Luxury fashion brands that have catered primarily to women see the menswear market as a growth opportunity in a low-growth market," says Milton Pedraza, CEO of the New York–based research firm the Luxury Institute. "They have had some male offerings for some time and feel they can gain market share from weak competitors, primarily top Italian brands that cater to men only and whose tired and outdated brands currently attract primarily older men due to lack of great marketing and 'cool' factor."
In some cases the move to men-only stores follows a steady rise in menswear sales. Louis Vuitton, which recently opened a men-only boutique inside Harrods, has seen "very strong growth" in its menswear business, says Jean-Baptiste Debains, president of Louis Vuitton Asia Pacific. "We want bigger and more differentiated places for men…and I believe it is a trend that will spread." The luxury giant's interest in creating different shopping atmospheres for men and women extends to existing equal-opportunity stores, which have made subtle changes to color and lighting schemes in the men's departments. "We know that men don't necessarily have the same expectation and don't behave in the same way in stores," says Debains.
Men can be very loyal customers, supporting their favorite brands more than women do, but they also tend to adopt a cavelike attitude toward shopping. "It's a cliché, but men like to hunt, while women gather," says Christian Barker, editor in chief of The Rake, a classical-style magazine for men. "Men will set out on a shopping expedition with a clear, specific goal in mind, and once they've found what they want, they quickly seek refuge from the crowd. Women are content to spend hours trawling, often with no clear goal. But give a man a retail environment where he feels at home—or even more comfortable than he does at home—and you'll keep him there longer, and almost certainly sell him more."
Even luxury brands already strongly associated with menswear are paying more attention to their retail space, trying to create a private club environment. Barker cites Tom Ford's flagship boutique in New York as a prime example. The über-luxurious store boasts perforated suede walls, gilt mirrors, a faux fireplace, and even a bronze desk draped in gold alligator skins. Suits are displayed in glass cabinets like works of art. Similarly, Alfred Dunhill launched a "Home" store in Ginza, Japan, in 2008, which offers a comprehensive array of the company's menswear, leather goods, and accessories, including limited-edition ties, cufflinks, and even surfboards. It also houses a spa, valet services, and dining rooms. Since then Dunhill has opened similar Homes in London and Shanghai; the London shop features a state-of-the-art humidor and a private cinema.
The men-only concept store is likely to expand as luxury firms pursue male spending power in emerging markets, particularly in Asia. "Though things are slowly changing, traditionally the man has had the spending power in China," says Barker. "And now that the affluent Chinese customer isn't under pressure to conceal his wealth, men are really treating themselves and visibly enjoying the fruits of their success." And that doesn't entail plowing through miles of lipstick and high-heel shoes to find what they want.