Men are putting more thought into how they dress, and women are taking notice.

Some designers who have catered exclusively to females are jumping into the menswear business, seeking to bring what they believe are new design sensibilities to an expanding and increasingly fashion-conscious men’s market.

Among the latest local companies to make the move is downtown L.A.’s Clover Canyon, which debuted its men’s collection last month and is launching a men’s footwear line this week as part of New York’s Fashion Week.

Rozae Nichols, Clover Canyon’s co-founder and creative director, has been a women’s designer for 25 years and said more men are paying attention to art and design through the Internet and social media platforms, and that’s helping drive men’s interest in fashion.

“I think men are more open to exploring color and print in these recent years,” she said. “We live in such a saturated-image world. People are more exposed to art and design than ever before. … And I think that’s part of the male gaze, too.”

Designers such as Nichols are entering a ripe market as sales of men’s accessories, footwear and apparel have been climbing the last couple of years.

U.S. men’s apparel sales were up 5.2 percent last year to $60.8 billion, according to a report from New York research firm NPD Group Inc. Men’s accessories also jumped up 9 percent to $13.6 billion last year.

“This increase in accessories also correlates with the growth we are seeing in men’s apparel and footwear,” said Marshal Cohen, NPD Group’s chief industry analyst. “Overall, men are becoming more interested in fashion, and retailers are building upon this trend by catering to them specifically.”

Taking note

Clover Canyon’s decision to expand its product line comes at a time when retailers are indeed taking notice. Seattle’s Nordstrom Inc. acquired Trunk Club, a Chicago-based menswear subscription service, for $350 million last month.

On the design side, women’s label Tory Burch of New York reportedly will launch a men’s line next year and Coach Inc. of New York, which announced the expansion of its men’s footwear collection last month, might also branch into men’s apparel next year. Michael Kors will carve out a space for menswear at a new flagship store in New York next year and plans to introduce a men’s fragrance.

Locally, both Clare Vivier of Silver Lake and Michael Stars Inc. of Hawthorne entered the men’s market this year.

“We decided that it’s now time,” said Jared Ellis, senior director of retail and e-commerce at Michael Stars. “We want to continue to grow our retail division and at women’s-only stores we find the footprint tends to be relatively on the small side. But adding a men’s category, we’ll be able to essentially double our size over the next five years.”

For women’s accessories designer Vivier, the foray into men’s accessories in April was due to customer demand.

“I had a number of men ask for men’s items, especially my husband who wanted his own Clare V. pieces,” said Vivier. “That’s when I knew it was time to expand.”

She said a men’s collection of small leather goods and tote bags will be sold at select Bloomingdale’s stores next year.

For Nichols, the impetus to create a men’s line came from retailers.

“In the women’s collection, there are eight to 10 pieces that are core to the collection,” she said, such as jersey T-shirts, neoprene bomber jackets and button-up shirts – that men also wear. “Many stores ordered in larger sizes for their male clients, so we’ve had a lot of requests (for men’s apparel) and it was a natural extension.”

First print

Prior to starting Clover Canyon in 2010, Nichols operated an eponymous women’s line for 16 years. She formed Clover with partner John Parros, who serves as chief executive. The business has 80 employees.

“It was during the downturn in the economy and I was looking to reinvent the company,” she said. “One of the largest differences to what we do with Clover Canyon is 95 percent of it is engineered prints, whereas Rozae Nichols … was a broader collection at a higher price point.”

Her nearly four-year-old contemporary line is famous for its bright and intricate prints, and has been worn by first lady Michelle Obama, singer Beyonce Knowles and actress Olivia Wilde.

The company designs four collections a year for women. It ships between 30,000 and 40,000 units every two to three months to brick-and-mortar retailers such as Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus and online retailers Shopbop and Revolve.

Nichols declined to state company revenue.

She said the majority of Clover Canyon’s clothing is manufactured in downtown Los Angeles, and the company works with local printing shops and sewers. It has an 8,000-square-foot cutting facility at its office in downtown.

Clover Canyon men’s line, set for this spring, will feature items such as a jersey tank for about $110 and a neoprene bomber jacket for about $380. For footwear, Nichols said it will start with two styles: a slide priced at $158 and a tennis shoe for $258.

Its bold digital prints are often influenced by various regions of the world and made from a collection of images that are then printed on garments. For example, its men’s collection is titled Electric Lotus, and is inspired by technology such as circuit boards and the philosophies of ancient Eastern medicine.

Nichols said creating the prints isn’t as simple as merging a few images on a computer.

“We have a whole art studio,” she said. “We do hand-painting, illustration and take a lot of our own photographs.”

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