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SaksPreview3 Usually when a department store holds a spring preview, what you see is a finely edited selection of its various merchandise managers' favorite picks for the season —typically from third party vendors and designers. When we went to see Saks Ffith Avenue's Men's preview for Spring 2011 yesterday, what we saw was a private label program so well integrated that it could easily fill a freestanding boutique of its own. Rather than having their buyers select private label items to round out their individual department's assortments or provide opening price points, Saks has re-conceived its house brand as an elegant collection of classics based on its customers' needs and tastes, so a light trenchcoat, for example, is developed with Italian outerwear specialists Allegri. SaksPreview1 Fine gauge cashmere is knitted from Scottish yarns and Italian suits are made by celebrated Neapolitan tailor Gianluca Isaia. Of course, a retailer's instinct for quick response figures into the mix as well, so last year's sellout linen shirts will be back in abundance.

The collection is not meant to be a fashion line to compete with Armani or Zegna, but The Shophound was really impressed by the thoughtful sourcing and the remarkable value of much of the products. SaksPreview2 Shoes, an ongiong program, have been developed with a single manufacturer, so Spring offers classic Italian made dress shoes in a new cognac shade coming in under $400, but looking far more expensive. Wallets in pricey American alligator are stitched together by the same Louisiana source who farms the skins. The collection even includes socks and sterling silver accessories, but that wasn't all Saks had to show us yesterday.

SaksPreview6 In a separate corner was the Crown Collection, rolling out to stores next year. Conceived with a different customer in mind, this completely separate label is aimed at a guy interested in something bolder than refined classics, and that means graphic printed "restaurant" shirts, velvet jackets and even s specially designed collection of sunglasses. We can immediately see it selling well in Vegas and Miami, but mainly is shows that Saks is aware of its need to appeal to a diversity customers and tastes, putting them in a good position to ride out a still tricky time for every retailer.

After the jump, a few more images.
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