Nili Lotan is ready to play ball with the guys. The Israeli-American designer who left a corporate design job in 2003 to launch a six-piece collection has steadily grown her label into a chic yet louche luxury womenswear brand. As the market and tastes have shifted men’s style, the timing was ripe to offer her easygoing yet polished aesthetic to menswear pieces.
“I was having dinner with Alison Loehnis of Net-a-Porter and Mr. Porter, and she said to me, ‘If you do menswear, you would be on fire,'” she recalled the retailer saying. “At the same time, while I wasn’t aware of the unprecedented boom in men’s clothing, I sensed a shift towards a relaxed point of view that had started before the pandemic. It felt like what I do for women; a shift towards looser looks,” she told Fashion Network. Lotan noticed men moving from suits and tight jeans to wide-leg pants and oversized, looser looks.
Lotan is keenly aware of her role as a female designer of men’s attire. Moreso, she felt the vibe and aesthetic of the brand translate to men. “I don’t like the word casual because it’s polished yet cool. I’m selling a luxury collection,” she explained. Lotan says the brand is well established in the sweet spot between contemporary and luxury and is aspirational. Women’s pants start at $395, which is high contemporary but the line also offers coats from $4000 to $6000.
The men’s collection is stocked with edgy takes on classic dressing; think skinny cropped cargo pants, chunky knit quarter-zip sweaters, an oversized trench, and a lean-fit leather flight jacket together with a nonchalant yet luxurious attitude. It would be easy to think Lotan’s men would appeal to a John Varvatos-man; hers is a bit less rock and roll. “Men are more interested in fashion and are living a WFH and traveling lifestyle now. They need clothes that aren’t suits. In a year or two, menswear should be 25 percent of my business,” she said. Her campaign targets two age groups; 35-45 and 45-55 plus.
DTC makes up 50 percent of the Nili Lotan design Studio business, which the founder says has averaged a 50-60 percent YOY growth since launching. Since wholesale is also important, she continues to do seasons according to that shipping calendar but has taken a different approach to her distribution. “In 2019, I shifted my business and put in a context and structure of designing a wardrobe. Looking at sweaters in July is ridiculous, especially with what is happening with the climate. For my channels, I decided to promote the collection with a ‘buy now, wear now’ approach,” she offered.
Lotan opened her first store in Tribeca in 2006 and has, as she puts it, “experienced slow and organic growth into a lifestyle brand.” With three physical stores, two in New York and one in Palm Beach, a healthy DTC and online business, the designer has set sights on the West Coast. Before the end of the year, she will open a store on Sycamore in Los Angeles.
“It’s really off the grid. It’s a media and news area with an interesting crowd. Beyoncé and Jay Z have a studio/office there. It has a cool restaurant called Gigi and Tartine bakery, which is happening. It’s less commercial and more of a destination store. Los Angeles was important to have a store to experience the brand physically because 40 percent of my e-comm business is there,” noted Lotan.
Like the rest of Lotan’s stores, the 1,400 square foot LA space will reflect the gallery mood of her other stores. For the time being, there will be a dedicated space in the women’s store to house the men’s collection, but eventually, the brand will open men’s stores.
Lotan also revealed a bag launch this coming September to round out the lifestyle aspect of the brand. Thus far, she has done exceptionally well with her three belt styles which she demonstrates on the brand’s social media channel. The brand sells hundreds of belts weekly and has difficulty keeping them in stock.
“I tested two bags during Covid, and I will launch three styles for day and evening in leather suede and crocodile. It’s what I want to see in a bag,” she said of the venture adding, “I use recycled fabrics, but to me, sustainable is the quantity. No one needs 15 bags, and when I do a new category, I concentrate on what I need.”