Unsuited to new era? Fate of formal fashion hangs by a thread

Jonathan Barrett, Martinne Geller and Silvia Aloisi

MILAN / SYDNEI / LONDON ( Reuters) — Brunello Cucinelli, the Italian luxury brand, produces men's suits for up to EUR 7,000 ($8,200).

But he, too, hasn't been wearing a suit for months – like most people in the world – and even bought one.

Cucinelli told Reuters in Milan when he launched his most recent collector in September with a light-grey blazer, "We have been locked all away, so this is my first jacket since March."

Many workers in "clean collar" occupations have a fresh embrace of sweat pants, a pattern that some analysts are expecting to survive.

And there are few, if any, marriages or groups.

This dramatic transition in behavior, which covers each continent, has deep implications in the supply chain for suits and formal wear.

Prices have been in free fall, hitting down by ten years in Australia, the world's biggest manufacturer of merino wool.

In all available sheds, several sheep farmers are in desperate straits, in the expectation that they can recover.

The wool mills that purchase from farmers and woven the textiles for fine suits in Northern Italy saw their own orders from retailers willing.

Several supermarket stores, including Men's Wearhouse, Brooks Brothers and TM Lewin, specialize in business costume in the United States and Europe over recent months, have closed shops or applied for banking and more may follow.

Players at all levels told Reuters that they had to adjust to survive, ranging from farmers who turn to other forms of agriculture to mills that produce delays that are more resistant against frozen suits for a new breed of suits.

The managing director of Lanificio Botto Giuseppe, a wool mill in Biella cloth hub Italy, which counts Armani, Max Mara, Ralph Lauren and Hermes among its customers "those who want to be more casual and less likely to wear a formal suit," said Silvio Botto Poala.

"You see men wearing a shirt, maybe even a crawl, but not many suits with Zoom conferences and clever functions."


In Australia, fine wool rates have dropped by more than half over a worrying eighteen months, with good imports of merino wool from Italian mills almost halting.

In early September the benchmark price of merinowool declined by A$ 20.16 at the beginning of 2019, to A$ 8.58 ($6.1) per kg.

It has recovered to just a little over A$ 10 since then.

Andrew Blanch, New England wool's Managing Director in NS, which supplies wool to Italian textile manufacturers from farms, said many customers already had excess supplies.

Blanch, speaking on the phone from wool auction in Sydney's West suburbs, said, "They all have wool to get rid of before they even head home."

"Where shops aren't accessible, everything is back-up. Most of the orders against which we purchased wool were canceled in the US and in Europe by our buyers."

Chinese firms, along avec Italy, are now "the only exhibition in the region," despite Chinese consumers now purchasing fewer wool, which has acquired much of Australia's exports of wool over A$ 3 billion per year.

While some people do have three years of drought and sell their ball into the poor market to hold their money floated, many of the merino sheep farmers store their wool in storehouses and storage facilities.

Dave Young, a farmer near the New South Wales town of Yass said, "Not everybody is large enough to keep their wool clip and wait to adjust the amount."

"It is a relatively short time after shearing that we are in the position to meet the market."

Young, whose property consists of around 4,500 cattle, said he concentrated on some activities in order to supply lamb meat.


Botto Poala predicts its revenue in the factory to decline by 25 percent relative to EUR 63 million last year, and it will take two or three years to rebound.

His company is, though, sheltered in a certain degree since it primarily produces women's garments.

"There's a 50-80% decline in turnover for certain firms," said Ettore Piacenza, General Manager, a century-old family company with 52 million euros annual profits, of the Fratelli Piacenza Wool Fabrication.

He also oversees the wool factory department of the local firm.

Botto Poala said that more than 50% of the turnover of his mill is now made of wool that is spread out to handle or incorporate lycra in particular.

Because whatever demands are left for suits, it is certainly more likely for textiles that are more stubborne and quickly expand, though wool mills often use certain clothes for casual wear.

For example, a "24-hour jacket," made of jersey and cotton mixing, was recently launched by Italian luxury label Etro.

'My types are in PJs' '

A steady shift into casual wear has been going on for years.

The dress code for their employees was also relaxed by Goldman Sachs – a balcony with custom suits.

Not to mention the rise of the hipster crowd in Silicon Valley.

However, COVID has turned this move turbocharged, improving the revenues of comfort apparel and sportswear, at the cost of business.

Nike is a global mode search platform, LyST, analyzing the behavior of more than nine million shoppers a month, during the second quarter of this year, when many people in the world locked up.

That was the first time that the luxury apparel company hasn't come first since the Lyst Index started.

In the three months from Aug. 1, the GAP Athletic Unit, which sells clothes, jogging pants, sweats, and training tops, was its best fashion line.

Sales grew by 6% relative to the 52% decline in the Republic of Banana, popular for its clothing.

Suits ranked among France, Italy and Germany, according to the information collected by StyleSage, which combines web-site prices, among the highest discounted and lowest-sales items in September.

Cheaper to mid-market brands such as Asos, Topman, Guess and Hugo Boss is up to 50%.

U.S. retailers including Jos have experienced the collapse in the office attraction demand.

A. Bank and J. Bank.

Crews are facing unclear future to petition for bankruptcy in the summit and several other retailers.

The Coresight Analysis Retail Advisor expects that by year-end there will be 20,000 to 25,000 US shops shutting, up from about 9,800 in 2019.

"I don't admit that I bought some office wear this year. There are very few suits on the display so I can tell you that I'm moving to the area," said Mayer Brown, London attorney James Whitaker.

In reality, after the lockdown ended Jasper Littman, a tailor educated in Savile Row, London street known for being customized to the individual's needs, has been "very sluggish" to company.

Littman said his clients "hang in their pyjamas at home," most of them attorneys and Bankers.

It produces about 200 suits a year, and by 2020 it has only made 63.

Customers are unable to gamble going by train bringing also suits which have already been prepared with a charged deposit.

"It makes little sense for them to do that, since they will take the suit they couldn't carry."

(Additional report from Jill Gralow, Carolyn Cohn and Aleksandra Michalska; Editing by Pravin Char) (Silvia Aloisi in Milan, Jonathan Barrett, Sydney and Martinne Geller in London)