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Harry Rosen CEO Larry Rosen, seen in Toronto on April 20, 2018, signed a deal with men’s luxury wear producer Ermenegildo Zegna to roll out and operate its shops in Canada.

J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

Larry Rosen is finding a new fashion fit in some unlikely ways.

The chief executive officer of posh men’s wear chain Harry Rosen Inc. has seen unprecedented upheaval in the business over the past two years. His suppliers are launching their own standalone stores and e-commerce sites – becoming key competitors – while U.S. upscale department stores Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue have set up shop in Canada.

The luxury sector has also suffered as cheaper alternatives have emerged. And office wear has shifted from suits, for which Harry Rosen is known, to more casual clothing, squeezing its sales.

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Against that tough backdrop, Mr. Rosen is looking to team up with other players through new joint ventures and acquisitions, amid similar initiatives among other retailers. The bet on new partners is critical after two years of no sales growth.

In a move that fits the adage, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”, the chain is teaming with some of its suppliers to run their standalone stores for them. Last month, Harry Rosen signed a deal with men’s luxury wear producer Ermenegildo Zegna to roll out and operate its shops in Canada.

Already it runs one in Vancouver, which it will remodel; it will open a second one this summer on Toronto’s Mink Mile – Bloor Street West – near the Harry Rosen flagship store. At least two or three more Zegna shops are possible across the country. The Canadian retailer is also teaming up with another supplier – trendy Dutch men’s wear producer Atelier Munro – for new shops, amid talks with other vendors.

At the same time, Mr. Rosen is looking for fashion retail acquisitions. Last year, Harry Rosen snapped up the high-end Davids Footwear, a chain of four stores, and plans to run as many as 20 of the outlets across Canada and upgrade its e-commerce. It’s helping Mr. Rosen learn about the women’s segment, building his confidence to do other takeovers in that sector.

“In a period of disruption, you can’t have normal growth strategies,” said Mr. Rosen, sporting a custom-made, wool-silk-linen Zegna jacket worth $3,000.

“We’re an aggressive company. Not growing for two years is enough – we’re going to grow this year. We’re going to force growth going forward.”

Mr. Rosen, 62, whose father launched his eponymous business 64 years ago, isn’t alone among fashion executives in forging unlikely alliances and investing in improving their e-commerce capabilities.

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Hudson’s Bay Co. has struck strategic partnerships with retailers such as TopShop (at its Canadian stores), Sephora (in its European stores) and Kleinfeld Bridal (in Toronto), while discounter Walmart Inc. has acquired online men’s wear retailer Bonobos and teamed up with HBC’s Lord & Taylor for upscale fashion cyber-retailing.

“Everybody has been hurt” by big shifts in retail, said Milton Pedraza, CEO of New York consultancy Luxury Institute, adding apparel has been the category most affected.

Men are dressing down and not buying as many suits and ties, while consumers generally are spending less on apparel and more on technology, restaurants and travel, he said. Partnerships are an efficient way for retailers to try to combat those threats with complementary businesses, he said.

“Everyone is looking at how to disrupt the market,” added Tamara Szames, fashion industry analyst at market research firm NPD Group.

The pressures are real. Apparel sales in Canada slipped 1 per cent to $26.9-billion for the year ended Feb. 28 from a year earlier, while men’s clothing sales also fell 1 per cent to $8.3-billion in that same period, according to NPD.

Sales of men’s suits tumbled 15 per cent to $928-million in that period, it found.

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Privately held Harry Rosen, with more than $300-million in annual sales, has felt its suit business slide, although not quite as steeply as the overall market, Mr. Rosen said. It saw its sales of ties tumble the most – 15 to 20 per cent – last year, he said. The chain is offsetting those shortfalls with stronger sales in coats, jackets, pants, shoes and sportswear and introducing more youthful lines, he said.

“Given the amount of disruption in our segment, we’re actually pleased” with the results, he said.

And while the chain’s sales have been flat in each of the past two years, he’s targeting a 10 per cent lift this year, he said.

In the new reality, Mr. Rosen is looking for more suppliers for which his chain can run their standalone stores. Why would he help the competition operate better and risk losing more business? “They’re going to happen anyway,” he said. “We can do it better than they ever will.” (He would not disclose the financial details of his partnerships.)

Atelier Munro is a newer and fast-growing supplier of Harry Rosen, for which it is launching pop-up shops. Munro makes trendy, less pricey men’s wear for millennials: Its suits cost $895 to $1,500 compared with Zegna’s $3,000 to $8,000. Mr. Rosen envisions launching Munro stores in hip shopping districts, such as Toronto’s Queen Street West, and not in malls.

To attract a youthful customer, Harry Rosen is showing younger, more diverse models in its marketing and, for the first time, using television commercials, which are being aired during sports broadcasts. And it’s adding personal assistants and customized shopping to its digital business – aiming to boost it to between 10 and 15 per cent of the chain’s sales within five years from 3 per cent today, he said.

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By later this year, he will bring into the chain one of his three sons – Ian, 28, a management consultant in Chicago and MBA graduate – to head its e-commerce efforts. Ian, the third generation of the Rosen family, will also be given a mandate to help set a future course for the business, his father said.

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