The rise of the high street peacocks Topman

Menswear is often viewed in isolation. Many designers or brands who produce both men’s and women’s clothes often keep them apart when showing them to the press. The times they are together, the menswear often looks conservative and dowdy compared to its feminine counterpart.

Left - Topman AW18

So, it was with some excitement, when I attended the newly merged Topman/Topshop AW18 preview a few months ago, that the menswear was louder than the women’s. Looking across the room I thought I'd stepped to the wrong side. And, let’s be honest, Topshop womenswear isn’t exactly for shy wallflowers. 

The rise of the high street peacocks RiverIsland

To me this signified the new confidence in high-street menswear and menswear in general. Topman has had a rocky patch of late and could have easily played safe and opted for simple basics and proven product. But, no, this was like a wardrobe for Harry Styles’ global world tour! A new Global Design Director, overseeing both Topman and Topshop, Anthony Cuthbertson, had arrived from Just Cavalli.

It’s as though Gucci has pushed the door open for this type of exhibitionist menswear and the British high-street has, literally, kicked it open. I don’t think menswear has been this colourful and bold since Tommy Nutter was a leading figure.

Right - Versace taste, lemonade budget?! AW18 River Island

And, it’s not just Topman. It’s River Island, ASOS, boohoo and many others who are reacting to an experimental male consumer who isn’t constrained by gender or the feeling of conforming.

Victoria Hunt, Senior Designer, River Island, says, “Menswear trends have been bolder of late, so there’s been a natural progression towards more adventurous clothing; not just at River Island, but across the entire industry. Catwalks are pushing the limits and this trickles down to make standout fashion more readily available."

“The trend for loud prints and statement pieces seems to be a natural fit for our men’s consumer, so we’ve really embraced it. We are also consciously driving the brand to be more cohesive across all of our departments, although our menswear, womenswear and kidswear customers are all different our collections should be instantly recognisable as River Island.” says Hunt.

Shane Chin, Menswear Design Manager, boohooMAN, says,“At boohooMAN we listen and learn from our customer and grow our collections to suit our guy. It’s a really exciting time for boohooMAN and we’re lucky to have a broad customer base that isn’t afraid to go after new trends and styles.”

The rise of the high street peacocks Topman sequinned tracksuit

“Ideas have been taken mainly from street style and considering how our guy will ultimately wear and style the garments we design. I think the resurgence of Gucci has put a real focus on bringing the fun side back to fashion and by mixing this with the current focus on streetwear, we’ve been able to push the boundaries further in the collections.” says Chin

Street style, influencers and social media seems to be playing a massive part of this growth in experimentation. One is feeding the other and so the cycle continues. These are items made for Instagram and the frenzy to standout on the platform. These are the type of clothes that make better pictures.

Left - Sequin trackies? Topman AW18 Like sequins? See TheChicGeek's picks here

“We gather ideas from all areas as inspiration for our designs: street style, editorials, art and travel to name a few. There are a lot of the big fashion houses pushing bold florals and baroques, but we’re seeing this a lot on the street too. We are always on the look out for new and exciting fashion.” says Hunt.

“Social media has given rise to this in a big way, trends are able to gain momentum so much faster now. Look at the bumbag/cross body bag – who could have predicted that was going to be so huge?” she says.

Designer fashion has become so expensive and, with the younger generation having less money or earning less, these retailers and brands are allowing guys to look as baroque as a Versace model for pocket money prices. I think the affordable prices are encouraging men to be more experimental knowing they haven’t committed as much when it doesn’t cost a month’s rent.

“Menswear is adapting to the growth of social media and the way that style inspo. is so readily available. There’s a real buzz around menswear and it’s exciting to see menswear have more of a focus at fashion weeks around the world, each season. I think the range of brands showing menswear and womenswear in the same shows has also had an effect on people being more inspired by menswear and menswear styling.” says Chin.

It’s interesting that something that was seen as a step back for menswear - the merging of designer catwalk collections - has actually made menswear step up to mirror the womenswear in its distinctive and look-at-me aesthetic and raise its awareness.

Hunt says, “The growth of menswear in general has made high end fashion so much more accessible and relevant to the customer. All over the world, menswear fashion weeks gets so much coverage on social media that men are seeing celebrities and influencers in more experimental trends and dressings and that’s something that they aspire to. 

“Just yesterday I was at graduate fashion week and the amount of students choosing to study menswear has grown hugely over the past few years, so there is definitely more to come. It’s also a rebellion in part to the button-down sartorial looks of a few years back. Now, guys want to break and bend the rules, throwing prints, sportswear, tailoring and streetwear together effortlessly.” she says.

It would be silly to suggest that this guy was the majority of men, but it's growing and it’s a younger male consumer who will influence his social circle both on and off-line. 

The rise of the high street peacocks RiverIsland“It’s a really wide demographic – from the well-groomed Ibiza guy that likes to wear a matching twin set by the pool, to the fashionista that clashes three different prints in to one look!” says Hunt.

“The market continues to grow at more than double the rate of womenswear, so it’s not going to slow down any time soon. Men will continue to experiment and it will be exciting to see what’s next – gender is no longer a static thing, so guys don’t feel that they have to conform in the same way. We can be whoever we’d like to be and clothing is a great way of expressing that.” she says.

Right - The sequins keep coming - River Island AW18

Chin says, “I think people’s attitudes towards menswear are changing. Even in the last decade, and in my career to date, menswear trends and styles are becoming more adventurous each year. The lines are blurring and fashion is no longer a womenswear focused arena.”

Affordable menswear has never been produced in such volume and with such experimentation. Sequins, fringing, patches, badges, louder and louder patterns and prints, make this like a sweet shop for modern day Marc Bolans. This feels like a really exciting time for high-street menswear and the British are leading the charge. Where we lead, others will follow, and it’ll be interesting to see where this type of outlandish menswear can go.

Can fashion ever be sustainable? linen flax celc

Fashion, in its nature, isn’t logical. Before things are broken or unusable we move onto consuming the next item all under the umbrella of ‘fashion’. It’s a huge, global business which basically comes down to us buying more things than we need and, also, new things before our existing things are redundant or can no longer fulfil their purpose. 

It’s also very creative and what makes us human beings.

Left - Northern European fields full of flax

It’s therefore not in the fashion business’ interest to get us, as consumers, to buy or use less. So, what we’ve seen over the latest few years is many retailers using the term ‘sustainable’ to give our consumption the gloss of being better or even good for the environment while continuing to encourage us to buy even larger amounts.

It’s difficult for retailers and brands to tell us to buy less or not at all. They want us to feel good while we are shopping, but can ‘fashion’ ever be sustainable and what does ‘sustainable’ even mean?

Bruce Montgomery, Course leader BA hons Fashion UCA Epsom/Menswear Consultant, says, “While it’s a mammoth task, fashion needs to become sustainable. The industry is over producing, this is leading to excessive consumption with 300,000 tons of clothing being dumped on landfill either by both retailers and consumers rather than recycled. Patagonia’s don’t buy this jacket campaign and Stella McCartney’s fashion campaign shot with models lying in landfill tried to raise awareness to the problem, but much more industry commitment is needed.”

“Brands have understood its positive to be seen as ‘sustainable’. This has led to many jumping on the marketing bandwagon without any commitment and just greenwashing the surface of the topic. The word unfortunately is in danger of being watered down in the same way the word ‘luxury’ is now applied to fast fashion products. Why should consumers believe brands when they discover there is no substance behind a brand’s sustainable stance or strategy?” says Montgomery.

Niche brands with stringent green credentials are really trying to separate themselves from the mainstream ‘sustainable’ bandwagon. Swedish, independent outdoor clothing brand, Houdini, aims to “become fully circular in sustainability - and setting the standard for sustainable fashion and its mission towards ‘impact positive’ status”. Ninety one percent of their product is made from recycled, recyclable, renewable, biodegradable or Bluesign - it eliminates harmful substances right from the beginning of the manufacturing process and sets and controls standards for an environmentally friendly and safe production - certified fabrics.

Eva Karlsson, CEO, Houdini Sportswear, says, "We find ‘sustainability’ not only a boring phrase, but an underwhelming ambition. To be sustainable should be seen as the bare minimum for an organisation’s social and environmental impact. Imagine a world where businesses set out to have a positive impact on the planet, and customers demanded it.”

Can fashion ever be ‘sustainable’? “With the knowledge and available technologies of today fashion (as in apparel) could and should be way closer to sustainable than what is currently the case. The trouble is best technologies and best practices are seldom implemented by retailers and brands, or some are implemented for one specific product or product group rather than for the big bulk. This is true not only for environmental factors, but for social and ethical factors as well.” says Karlsson.

“There are numerous reasons for this. Lack of guts and willpower to change, lack of knowledge, lack of time in an ever speedier fast fashion market. On the systemic level hinders are built into the system – buyers and sustainability managers are often working in their separate silos, the pricing structures of today work against the transition to sustainable business practices and regulations are poor.” she says.

Can fashion ever be sustainable? linen flax celc water consumptionIs the future buying differently then? The Victoria & Albert Museum recently held an exhibition entitled ‘Fashioned From Nature’ looking at the materials and inspiration the fashion industry has taken from nature. It was sponsored by CELC, The European Confederation of Flax and Hemp and they used the exhibition to highlight and promote this natural fibre - linen.

Marie-Emmanuelle Belzung, Director, CELC, The European Confederation of Flax and Hemp, says, “Not many people know – almost nobody – that three countries in Europe are the worldwide leader in flax production: France, Belgium and the Netherlands. More than 80 per cent of worldwide production comes from these three. And the quality from here is far superior to elsewhere, because the climate and conditions are perfect, and the knowledge and expertise are far superior. So, linen production is very local – you can see the fields from the Eurostar.”

Right - Flax - linen - grows naturally with no irrigation

“And there is no irrigation – no water needed, no GMO, no waste, no poison going into the water system, which is vital when you consider the demand for water in the future. Plus, linen is a good local employer: it takes five times more labour than wheat, because flax is a very technical crop. More technical than corn or wheat or other agricultural products that might occupy the fields. Then, the process of transferring the plant to the fibre is purely mechanical, involving no chemistry. Linen is natural, and entirely sustainable.” says Belzung.

Compared to cotton, which uses enormous amounts of pesticides and water, linen is a local European crop and is underused in fashion with many associating it with seasonal summer shirts and suits.

“Linen’s continued popularity is thanks to innovation. In the last ten years, linen the textile has enjoyed two major innovations. Knitted fabric has developed thanks to innovation on the yarn. Knitted linen overturns one stereotype: it is linen that does not wrinkle. Second is washed linen, which gives the fabric some pep and so seduces a new generation of consumers. Makes linen soft and chic.” says Belzung.

“In our special project with Chelsea College of Arts the concept of linen as a sports fabric – natural moisture management, naturally hypoallergenic and anti-bacterial – was one of the strongest ideas. Of course, blending anything with petro-chemicals diminishes the sustainability argument. Flax fibres are also being combined with eco-plastics to create, for example, car interiors, speakers and sporting equipment such as skis.” she says.

Flax fibreLinen is a perfect example of how consumers can swap one fabric for another. If consumers have a choice between a white cotton shirt and a white linen shirt, with this knowledge, they can make a more educated decision with less environmental impact.

Montgomery says, “We are consuming more cotton than we are growing, so materials like flax will need to be used more by designers in the future. An education programme will be needed because, while brands continue to use cotton, consumers will buy it instead of alternatives such as flax because they are familiar with it. The Copenhagen Sustainable Fashion Summit has been very successful in getting high profile leaders from academia and industry together to discuss sustainability, but it is still only covering the converted. The loop from producer to consumer needs to be joined up.”

Right - Raw linen on display in the Victoria & Albert Museum Exhibition ‘Fashioned From Nature

“We need the whole industry to understand that sustainability needs to be applied to all aspects of the fashion business. Starting from yarns to fabric, manufacture, producing less through better range planning, making more locally, as well as recycling. Technology is being used to resolve the issue and their are new developments coming through such as polymer recycling, but this will take time. A lot more can be done in the short term simply by every brand making a sustainable commitment. The Kering group for example have been very pro active in enforcing their sustainable strategy across the group, while the Ellen MacArthur Foundation is researching new ways to inspire a generation to re-think, re-design and build a better future through a circular economy.” he says. 

“If the industry would let go of business as usual and decide on making the transition without compromise it could do so today. With emerging technology it could reach even further, becoming truly sustainable, restorative and even regenerative.” says Karlsson.

I don’t think it’s realistic to ask people to buy less. It’s even more patronising to ask people with less money not to buy cheaper clothes. We need people to buy differently while we wait for technology and economics to close the circle on fashion items. 

In the future, I can see us recycling our clothes like we do with other recyclables. Putting them into piles according to their fibre make up. This will satisfy the speed of fashion and also the in-built disposabiltiy.

Things need to go around and around and around. It’s not enough for something to be made out of plastic bottles once. It, itself, needs to be recyclable and then into something else and then something else. We need to close the loop. That is sustainable.

Monday, 16 July 2018 10:36

Trend Mr Matchy-Matchy Co-Ord Sets

Trend matchy matchy co-ord sets River Island Jaded London

I remember a few years ago, at a River Island press day where they were previewing their new summer collection, I spied a patterned short sleeved shirt and matching shorts in the same fabric. It was the first time I had seen a holiday suit like this and it looked fun and fresh.

Left - River Island - Jaded Red Tropical Short Sleeve Shirt - £45, Shorts - £35

Trend matchy matchy co-ord sets Topman Jaded LondonI remember badgering them to let me know when it was released and it turned out the matching shorts never went into production. Damn. They did, thankfully, send me the sample, FYI. WIN!

Anyway, men’s holiday wardrobes have come a long way and, now, matchy-matchy ‘Co-Ord’ shirts and short combos sets are everywhere. 

They’re a little bit like holiday pyjamas you can wear out and show a fun and confident side. Holidays are a time to experiment and these suits are a comfortable no-brainer. Get involved.

Left - Topman - Jaded Baroque Shirt & Shorts Co-Ord Set - £75

 

Trend matchy matchy co-ord sets Boohoo Jaded LondonLeft - Boohoo - Top - £15, Shorts - £12

Trend matchy matchy co-ord sets ASOS DESIGNLeft - ASOS DESIGN - Retro Sports Print Co-Ord - £34

Trend matchy matchy co-ord sets silver sequins Jaded London

Left - Jaded London - Sliver Sequin Shorts - £50, Shirt - £60

Friday, 13 July 2018 15:16

Hot List The Chain Loafer

Chain Loafer Menswear Must Have Autumn 2018 Tom Ford Harrods menswear

Tom Ford is a designer and brand who does his/its own thing. It knows its customer and it services their needs and wants for items of clothing that are expensive, luxurious and suits their lifestyles. He doesn’t usually chase trends, but you know he always has one eye on them.

He knows exactly how to update a classic to make it relevant.

This is his version of the classic Gucci snaffle loafer. A style of shoe he knows well after spending all those years in charge. The chain adds an element of bad taste which is so prevalent in fashion, today. This type of chain loafer appeared on the SS19 catwalk at Martine Rose and I also saw them in the G.H. Bass SS19 collection recently in Berlin.

These are luxury chav loafers and you need to team them with sportswear or other items of bad taste. If you really want to max the trend get them in coloured snakeskin - if you can afford them!

Left & Below - Tom Ford - York Chain Loafers - £590 from Harrods

Chain Loafer Menswear Must Have Autumn 2018 Tom Ford Harrods menswear

Sit on My face North Face Death of Superbrands

Take the escalators upstairs to the first floor in Harrods and a sign above the entrance to the women’s designer floor reads ‘Superbrands’. Inside, individual, luxury fashion brands are housed in marbled-lined shop-in-shops giving consumers the full brand experience. 

How these ‘Superbrands’ are anointed I’m not sure - it could be sales or how much they wanted to contribute to the fixtures and fittings - but, what we were willing to accept maybe ten year’s ago feels out of step with how we feel about brands right now.

Left - North Face or Sit On My Face?

Selfridges opened a similar ‘Superbrands’ room during the noughties, but has since dropped the moniker.

We’re moving into an anti big brand age and being labelled a ‘Superbrand’ isn’t the compliment it once was.

Fila Fendi Hey Reilly Death of Superbrands

“Superbrands…who are they? Self appointment does not make you a Superbrand. And really was it just an industry ‘thing’.  Did consumers really know or care who the Superbrands were?  Did consumers really buy into this???  I think probably not. It struck me as quite ‘self congratulatory,” says Jo Phillips, Creative Director, Cent Magazine.

Right - The Hey Reilly Fendi/Fila collab for AW18

“The newer generations want brands that are traceable, responsibly care for the environment with ingredients, content etc, that is traceable and kind to the earth. Some want to have one offs so they can be seen as elite, first adopters, trail blazers etc or there are those who want individual products so they look for independent brands, small runs etc so they don’t feel like clones. Sadly some want to wear brands head-to-toe, emblazoned with logos so we all know ..how much money they have??? But, its beginning to look a little tired, like those people that act like a sandwich advertising board for a brand..especially if they wear them head to toe…its all a bit tragic,” says Phillips.

First published in 1995, and now in its 19th edition, ‘The Superbrands Annual’ highlights brands from a wide range of sectors that have become the strongest and most iconic in their field. The brands are voted for by marketing experts, business professionals and thousands of British consumers. There are two separate surveys: Consumer Superbrands (the UK's strongest B2C brands) and Business Superbrands (the UK's strongest B2B brands).

“A Superbrand must fundamentally deliver a good quality product or service but they also must be famous, come to mind ahead of the competition and be emotively engaging and distinctive, for example have a personality or tone of voice that is unique (think Virgin Atlantic vs Delta), or have a purpose that people can identify with and buy into.” says Stephen Cheliotis, Chairman of Superbrands UK.

Things have changed since 1995 and while many brands once wanted to make it onto the Superbrands list, it feels like the energy for consumers is turning towards start-ups and young, dynamic brands rather than something larger and established. People have become suspicious of big companies and this form of back slapping feels somewhat arrogant.

“While the fundamentals of what makes a strong reputation and what drives a positive perception have not in my view fundamentally changed, much of the context of marketing and buying has shifted substantially. For example, the channels or tools used to communicate with consumers has changed and there are now many more options, the consumers’ demands have has also rightly risen. With increased competition, not only has the bar been raised, but brands are increasingly called to account for poor delivery, for example through social media.” says Cheliotis.

Darling Carling OiBoy Death of Superbrands

“In many ways, brands are still, besides people, the most important asset a company has. A strong reputation in the market is essential to success. In this country we often focus too much on short-term success and short-term metrics, but really focussing on creating a distinctive brand with a clear purpose, point of view, personality and proposition should be a fundamental board consideration.” says Cheliotis.

As part of this change in thinking we’re seeing smaller brands or artists hijacking or playing around with established brands’ logos and slogans. These comical or clever playing with words have made many people think about brands’ messages and what they really mean. It’s part of our age of #fakenews, growing suspicion and rage against the establishment. 

Left - OIBOY - £28

Since graduating from the Royal College of Art, Reilly has carved a unique position in the world of illustration and graphic art by playing with what is real or not in brand terms. His recent Hey Reilly AW18 collaboration with Fendi sees a play with the sportswear brand Fila. Both brands merge into a cool and playful outcome. It takes a level of confidence for brands to accept and give these tweaks their blessing. Other designers or artists such as Philip Normal, Proper Mag and OiBoy are all offering a British sense of humour on other people’s branding.

Based in South London, and founded by George Langham, OIBOY recently made its debut at Selfridges. “We all like to categorise everything into boxes, it makes us comfortable, but what makes a model super? "She's a ‘Supermodel’ not just a regular model”. Maybe adding 'super' to a brand or a model allows them to demand higher fees or prices because they are now super?! It's all bullshit really, BUT without these unaffordable (to the masses) 'superbrands', there wouldn't be brands like OIBOY, which is seen as affordable and accessible.” says Langham.

Is this about a lack of respect for brands who have spent many years and millions of pounds establishing themselves.

Yoots Boots OiBoy Death of Superbrands

“I’m not sure it’s a lack of respect from our side of things, we see what we do as something lighthearted and harmless fun. What seems to be happening is privileged kids glamorising the working class, even glamourising poverty in some cases, you can see this with the trend of every fashion shoot being on a council estate or pie 'n' mash shop or wherever, it's like going on a safari for them, seeing how the ‘others’ live…” he says.

Left - OIBOY - £28

“Well ,we used to take any brand that rang a chord with us and British culture/humour, hoping that the brand(s) would see the funny side of what we had done, at the same time, realise it’s guerilla advertising, we never look to discredit nor try to pass ourselves off as them, yet lately we’ve had some issues from 2 ‘superbrands’... the first one which is an American preppy brand who were fairly nice to us and asked us to kindly remove items from sale off of our site, the other, which is a French tennis brand, they tried taking us to the cleaners, so I guess to answer your question; we now can’t mess with clothing (super)brands, so we best stick to beverage companies from now on.” says Langham.

"It's just another marketing spin, why is Mark Ronson a 'super' producer not just a 'producer'? I like the idea of some super hero character producer coming in to save the day, but not really a super brand.” he says.

This reaction is about brands not taking themselves too seriously and being able to laugh at themselves. Many larger brands have built themselves a straight jacket of branding and guidelines and aren’t flexible enough to respond to the new consumer’s desires. This is about having a personality and being confident enough to join in the joke. They had this trouble when social media first appeared and they needed to have a singular voice.

Paul & Shark Proper Mag mug Death of Superbrands

Superbrands is a dated concept and as such illustrates the change in the way we view established brands. Today, you don’t want to be seen as being too successful. You want to be part of the struggle and that’s also why many big brands are starting smaller brands all the time. Just look at H&M and its growing stable.

Many Superbrands have lost sight of its product and got wrapped up in the brand too much. They need to disrupt themselves. I think we’ll see many of these brands falter unless they give more attention to the final product and particularly its quality and longevity. 

Right - Proper Mag Mug - £8

I wrote about ‘Russian Doll Brands’ - here