The Proud Fathers - Amsterdam 1958

The Proud Fathers - Amsterdam 1958

The official birth of the IMG took place on the 29th and 30th of September 1958, a protracted but significantly happy event presided over by some of the great European menswear specialists of the time who saw the need and virtue of sharing ideas and experiences. Six would-be fathers of the ‘soon-to-be born’ International Menswear Group gathered in the American Hotel in Amsterdam to talk of creating an organization made up of privately owned and family managed menswear specialist retailers, that would share information, knowledge and experience to enhance and strengthen each ones ability to consolidate and develop their businesses at a time when department stores and discounters were beginning to compete with better quality retailing.

With The Treaty of Rome in 1957, European nations became more closely aligned. But this also heralded the genesis of the ‘multi-national’ store concept with national retailers branching out into neighbouring territories and threatening previously sacrosanct boundaries.

The early IMG members took note of this trend and the decline in tailoring promoting the need for better quality ready-to-wear menswear specialists who could offer the same service and individuality as their tailoring forebears.

The ‘father of the fathers’ within this group was the celebrated and respected Mr JBWA Giesbers from Meddens of Holland whose vision it was to establish such a forum and who was unanimously called on to become the first president and secretary of the IMG in 1958.

Present at the first meeting were President Giesbers and Messrs. Fein from Switzerland, Bruun from Brødrene Andersen in Denmark, Tekenbroek of the Netherlands, Cason and Ströms from Sweden.

The second meeting of the IMG also took place in Amsterdam and included Messrs. Heinemann; Ström; Fein from Fein-Kaller; Bruun from Brødrene Andersen; Giesbers the president, young James Giesbers and Wim Saris from Meddens; Ballière from Madelios; Bengt and Sven Cason representing AB Cason-Kläder of Sweden and Jos Brans from Edsor ties, a major supplier to several IMG members and a driving force behind the creation of the IMG.

Growing Up: The Early Years

In the early formative years of the IMG, two members were allowed from each country. This was subsequently changed to one in 1959 during which year Tekenbroek left the group. Cason-Kläder, as original charter members, remained on as the second Swedish member and Sven Cason elected secretary. Subsequently, Sven Cason was re-elected secretary remaining integral to the group even after retiring from his position as an executive director of Cason-Kläder.

Meetings were scheduled to take place in early autumn and early spring each year. This was changed in 1966 to just one annual conference scheduled in September and in the 70’s to May which to this day is the customary month for the gathering of what is now a far larger and more international group.

Since 1958, when the inaugural conference took place in Amsterdam, meetings have been convened in Zürich, Stockholm, Rome, Copenhagen, The Hague, Malmö, Lausanne, London, Paris, Cologne, Helsinki, Hamburg, Barcelona, Lugano, and Düsseldorf; Graz, Toronto, Berlin, Reykjavik, New York, Melbourne, not necessarily in that order and sometimes more than once.

Circumstances have invariably dictated the fortunes and misfortunes of members of the IMG and sadly there have been some casualties along the way. But for such a group to have not only survived but prospered is astounding when one considers the pressures and preoccupations that all businesses are subjected to particularly over the past 20 years.

Certainly the IMG self-regulates and insists on very strict guidelines of confidentiality and behaviour. Certainly, also, it takes a particular quality and calibre of member to maintain the sort of dedication and proactive contribution required making the group as a whole function effectively and to everyone’s advantage.

Thus does the IMG constantly review its purpose and goals to make sure that what comes out of their continual interaction, both at conference and inter-conference level, is seen to be of practical and philosophical ‘take-home’ value to each member.

English Language and Common Currency

All IMG meetings, conversations and correspondence are conducted in the English language; all currencies are converted to Euro; full disclosure of information and figures are presented each year and these are analysed, dissected and discussed in details; issues of relevance to the group members are put on the agenda and debated at conference level. One of the ever-consuming passions of the IMG is to compare suppliers’ products, performance and value. The earliest principles laid down by the first members indicated that finding new merchandise and sharing buying experiences were the compelling raisons d’être for the formation of the IMG, and the closer scrutiny and analysis of figures became a sophisticated development from that point.

The proprietor of each IMG member company is essentially a merchant at heart, by choice and the taste and style of each member defines the character of each IMG Company.

In 1966 Mr Giesbers retired as president and was succeeded by Mr Jörgen Bruun from Brødrene Andersen in Copenhagen and in 1970 Mr Lesley Parker from Simpson’s London, became secretary, a post he held admirably for several years before becoming secretary of the famous British Menswear Guild in Savile Row.

An important link at that time was the contribution that Bengt Cason made to the IMG. He served as vice-president from 1969-1971 and succeeded Jorgen Bruun as president until 1974 during which year his company merged with Austin Reed and at which time he became managing director of Austin Reed (Scandinavia), controlling stores in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, Lund and Copenhagen.

Ten Years Old, And Still Growing

The 10th anniversary of the IMG was celebrated in Amsterdam under the presidency of Mr Bruun and included the following members: Madelios of Paris, Gales of Spain, and Simpson’s of London, Cason-Kläder from Sweden, Dean of Belgium, and Fein-Kaller of Switzerland, Meddens of Holland and Kuusinen of Finland. Sven Cason still held the secretarial position. Unable to attend were Messrs. Savini from Brioni of Italy, Dorfmüller from Heimemann, Düsseldorf, and Carl Ström from Sweden. Such was the membership in 1968 that convened at the Amstel Hotel to hear members’ reports; to discuss prospective new members (Norway, Portugal, and USA); to debate the staff exchange programme; to discuss ‘modern merchandising methods’ (the very early days of EDP). To propose an overview of European fashion and to discuss the emergence of Hong Kong as a manufacturing source; to exchange opinions on staff training, group buying, prices and assortments; to conduct a seminar on ‘retailing-not only a job, a career’ and the introduction of credit cards.

Reporting, After a Fashion

The Fashion Report was, in those days a lengthy, superbly detailed and researched document prepared by Bengt Cason. Interwoven into his summary of the IMG's authoritative and leading-edge fashion predictions were, in 1966, the following: "summer fashion is not only beachwear and throw-away clothing. It also means garments for the elegant leisure-time. Everything is pastel, light blue and beige, Gelot and Place Vendôme the well of inspiration" and "the Orient has inspired the neck-tie picture. Due to the emancipation of the masculine way of dressing, ways have been opened to new ‘fraîche’ colour combinations and structures. The pops and classics leer at each other. Sometimes a mutual denominator can be found"! < And finally, "We believe in a profile of your own – a fashion for you. No one should be a slave to a dictatorial fashion. Today’s fashion picture offers possibilities of personal thinking, clothes improving the personality".

Certainly the philosophy of the IMG of today reflects accurately this sentiment of over 50 years ago. Each member interprets prevailing style in his own way, to his own experience and taste level.

Gaetano Savini of Brioni, considered the 'dernier mot' of style within the Group, held forth in his address to the IMG in April 1962 in Paris, that: ‘advisable are always side vents that permit one to move freely, especially as today people voyage mostly by car'. And 'buttons on the models without a collar are highly esteemed by the young people, and still more in style enchanting by the use of sympathetic and interesting silk scarves aided by three buttons’.

The Coming of Age: Looking Beyond Europe

Some years later the first IMG meeting outside Europe was held in the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto (as it was again in 2007). Leslie Parker from Simpson’s Piccadilly was the president at the time but unable to attend. Jörgen Nexøe-Larsen from Denmark as vice-president took over the meeting. The host was the emerging doyen of Canadian specialty retailing, Harry Rosen.

Paul Stuart of New York (Mitchell’s predecessor as the member from USA) and Harry Rosen had recently been welcomed into the previously all European IMG, bringing new thinking and techniques; broadening the scope of discussion and ideas. Shortly after this Argentina joined and in 1988, Australia.

The boom in international travel and the further globalization of major retailers during the 80’s predetermined that the IMG become a global organization in every way. To fully understand the international consumer and to be in a position to deal collectively and individually with these challenges was a common thread of conversation between members from this time on.

Curriculum Vitae, Cum Laude

The 30th anniversary of the IMG was celebrated in Oelde, Germany, home of the Rusche family and headquarters of the renowned SØR. The 40th anniversary was celebrated in Rome with Brioni as the host and in 2008 the IMG celebrated its 50th birthday in Milan. Now it is looking forward to celebrating another milestone: its 60th anniversary again in Milan during Fashion Week.  Sixty years since that brave band of warriors met in Amsterdam to give birth to such a wonderful concept. Their IMG child has grown into arguably the most significant and relevant apparel retail group in the world.

In 1997, for instance, the ‘Classico Italia’, a group of Italy’s very finest manufacturers, bestowed on the IMG their most prestigious award for its contribution to Italian fashion over many years.

Individual members have been similarly recognized both internationally and nationally. Brioni has won countless awards for its contribution to the world fashion industry; Harry Rosen has received 40 industry awards for business practice. Stenströms can proudly claim ‘By appointment to H.M. the King Carl XV1 Gustav of Sweden’ and ‘by appointment to H.M. the Queen of Sweden’; Queen Juliana of the Netherlands conferred the title ‘Royal’ to Meddens on the occasion of their 150th birthday. And so on.

The combined buying power of the IMG members is astonishing and with some major suppliers extremely important. This is in no small way brought about by mutual endorsement of brands and product between members. The relationships formed through recommendation between suppliers and IMG companies have proved beneficial and profitable for both parties.

The IMG in the 21st Century

New guidelines have been introduced and a six person committee formed which includes a president, a position currently held by Elif Capçi, COO Boyner Group, Turkey. The host for future conferences is invited by common consent and given two years to prepare. Each year the conference is convened in a different membership country. The host thus ‘lays bare’ his stores and business to the critical eyes of the other group members during a conducted tour of his entire operations. This is a wonderful opportunity to be frank, honest and constructive in assessing everything from product mix, store layout, windows, staff knowledge and service, tailoring and computer systems through to store organization.

In 2007 the Group agreed that Women’s Wear was an essential part of several IMG members’ business and the identity and logo for the Group, still known as the IMG, would become ‘IMG. Established 1958. The World’s Finest Apparel Retailers’.

The unchallengeable fact is that the IMG exists. Despite distances, cultures, languages and other priorities, this dream of Mr Giesbers, has not only survived recession, changing times and attrition, but has prospered and grown into the modern day IMG.