As we end the decade, it’s time to look back at the highs (& low) of its final year and acknowledge those doing great things in men’s grooming and fashion. Hype is still just as important and the mega brands just keep getting bigger, but the great thing about fashion, and the reason I love it, is good ideas can come from anywhere.
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Best Label of 2019 Bottega Veneta
Just as Gucci starts to slow, Kering has Bottega Veneta creating all the hype thanks to it’s new British designer Daniel Lee. A graduate of Central Saint Martins College of Art, he has worked at Maison Margiela, Balenciaga and Donna Karan. Prior to joining Bottega Veneta, Lee was Director of Ready-to-Wear Design at Céline and he’s created a strict yet sexy reinterpretation of the Bottega Veneta signatures such as their basket weave leather.
It cools yet strict, minimal yet interesting and its influence is now everywhere.
Left - Bottega Veneta SS20
Best New Label of 2019 Carne Bollente
Carne Bollente is an independent Paris-based brand established in 2014 by Hijiri Endo,
Théodore Famery and Agoston Palinko. They focus on the relationship between sex and positivity, to allow people to embrace their own sexuality and kinks through their clothes. By pairing straightforward streetwear staples with scenic sex illustrations, which manage to cover a wide scope of sexual taboos without verging on the problematic, Carne Bollente inject irreverence and provocation into no-frills basics.
Left - Carne Bollente - Bimbo Unchained 2 Blue Denim Jacket - €230
Best High Street of 2019 Jaded London
The High-Street became something of a dirty word this year. It’s tough out there and menswear has been hit harder than most. While some brands ditched menswear entirely, others have taken the plunge and really gone for it.
Fun and affordable, Jaded London gets on all the big trends without the price tags. The made for Insta clothes are by brother and sister team, Grant and Jade Goulden, who launched in 2013. Dior Saddle bag for £40, anyone?
Best Grooming Product 2019 GilletteLabs
This year we were introduced to the first heated razor and its good. Part of the new ‘GilletteLabs’ stable, the stainless steel warming bar has adjustable temperature levels and a wireless magnetic charging dock to make this a revolutionary shaving sensation. Much higher than the usual Gillette price tag, it will be interesting to see how popular this has been.
Left - GilletteLabs - Heated Razor - £199
Best Grooming Brand 2019 Baxter of California
It’s getting increasing difficult to stand out in the crowded men’s grooming market and with everybody jumping on the unisex band wagon anyway, where does it leave it? Baxter of California now has the expertise of L’Oréal behind it and is a reliable mid-priced grooming brand. Based on its Californian surf heritage since 1965, it was one of the first in men’s grooming. For an everyday easy product I swear by the Oil Free Moisturiser.
Below - Baxter of California - Oil Free Moisturiser - £24
Fragrance of the Year 2019 - Ostens Impression Patchouli Heart No.1
Ostens was a new fragrance brand this year and completely won me over to patchouli.
This scent by Domitille Michalon-Bertier includes rosemary, lavandin, lavender absolute, immortelle absolute LMR, ciste labdanum absolute and is gorgeous. Easily my favourite of the year.
Left - Ostens Impression Patchouli Heart IFF-LMR No. 1 - 50ml - £85
Most Stylish Programme 2019 - Chernobyl
Possibly not the most stylish, but definitely the most memorable and impactful. Chernobyl took us on a jaw-dropping adventure in 1980s Ukraine charting the meltdown of the nuclear reactor. The wardrobe of drab Soviet suiting and military garments seemed to bookend the current trend of vintage dress down.
Best Menswear Collaboration 2019 - Moncler Genius
Moncler did the clever thing for our short attention span times and commissioned a new designer to do a new collection every few weeks and keep dropping throughout the season. Designers have included Craig Green, Simone Rocha, Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino, Richard Quinn, 1017 Alyx 9SM and Palm Angels, along with two of the brand’s own labels, 1952 and Grenoble.
It has kept it fresh, reliable and is producing some of the best outerwear to suit every fashion wanker’s taste.
Left - Craig Green Moncler Genius
Special ChicGeek Award 2019 - Drake’s
Charting its own preppy course, Drake’s has stealthy positioned itself as the bastion of contemporary classic British menswear. The new store on Savile Row shows they’re continued success and with Michael Hill’s tasteful eye over everything, it’s the most colourful quality menswear you’re going to find anywhere. Expanded far beyond its original silk ties and accessorises, it’s now a full men’s outfitters and the type of British label the Japanese and Koreans go crazy for.
Right - Drake's new Savile Row store
Most Stylish Man of 2019 Timothée Chalamet
A best dressed person is somebody you can’t wait to see what they put on next. Anybody who leaves you guessing and then smashing it out of the park is always the most interesting and therefore crowned best dressed.
This year I recognise Timothée Chalamet who famously said he doesn’t have a stylist. “I don’t want to work with a stylist or anything. I’ve been following designers like Raf, Haider Ackermann, Hedi Slimane—these guys are like rock stars. They’re artists.” he told Frank Ocean in a Q&A for VMan magazine in 2018.
Hi skinny frame and romantic locks have made him a youthful menswear pin-up who isn’t afraid to try something new.
Turkey of 2019 - Burberry
I just don’t get it. Riccardo Tisci has stripped all the personality out of Burberry. Rather than building on Christopher Bailey’s legacy and momentum, he seems intent on doing the opposite. Prices have gone up and the original ideas have gone down. It all just looks like it’s trying too hard and doesn’t have any identity.
It’s seems intent on ignoring the hero product of the trench and opting for gimmicks. If the Chinese stop buying, they’re going to need to change things quickly. It will be interesting to see whether sales are sustained at a label that has lost its kudos amongst the fashion crowd.
Burberry - Large Logo and Kingdom Detail Nevis Backpack - £1090
Not all high streets are created equal. The government has just announced the first 14 high streets to receive financial support as part of a pilot called the ‘High Streets Task Force’, which will be rolled out across the country over 2020. Each will receive up to £25million worth of “training, face-to-face support and access to research” from industry experts who will team up with local leaders.
Left - Huyton Town Centre in Knowsley set to get £25 million of investment
In July the £3.6 billion ‘Towns Fund’ was announced by the government, including this £1 billion High Streets Fund to “help high streets adapt and evolve while remaining vibrant places for their community”.
“This government is investing £3.6billion in our great towns, including £1billion to help our high streets to adapt and evolve while remaining vibrant and safe places at the heart of our communities." said Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick said last week.
“Having announced the first 101 high streets that can benefit from £25 million each back in the summer, I am announcing support from our new High Streets Task Force for a further 20 places and naming 14 of these today.” he said.
So, the government has a ‘Future High Streets Fund’ and a ‘High Streets Task Force’ each giving high-streets £25 million to boost their local economies. This is fantastic, but, is this spreading the money too thin? While any money is welcome, wouldn’t the government be better targeting fewer towns with more money to really have a lasting and deeper effect to stem the bleed from our high-streets?
Many of these high-streets are lost and are never going to thrive while there are many that are simply declining, can be saved and just need an injection of cash and energy.
On the recently announced list of 14 high streets is Thornton Heath in Croydon in South London. Apart from being the home of Stormzy, the majority of people would have never have heard of it. Thornton Heath hasn’t had a thriving high-street since the 1950s. Apart from a 1970s Tesco there really is nothing there and never will be. Being a realist, the area doesn’t have much money and is far down on the list of being gentrified. The local council recently spent money on paving and planting so it has had some grass roots investment to boost its apperance. Supporting businesses which don’t have the customers to pass the baton onto is pointless. Thornton Heath is more a local parade of shops than a ‘high-street’. The government would be better off targeting the larger and more connected Croydon high-street nearby which is in desperate need of investment especially with the wobbling of the proposed Westfield shopping centre project
Looking at the announced list some look like tertiary high-streets such as Swinton Town centre in Salford, Stirchley in Birmingham and Huyton Town Centre in Knowsley. And while it’s great to give these areas a refresh, the future of high-streets is fewer but better. The places announced will benefit from bespoke support and guidance from the new ‘High Streets Task Force’, announced by the government in response to recommendations of an expert panel on the high street chaired by Sir John Timpson. The High Streets Task Force will give “face-to-face support, access to cutting-edge research, new online training, and local footfall data to give businesses that vital edge and transform local town centres”. The government says it wants to "level" up towns and regions, “ensuring prosperity and opportunity are available to everyone”.
But, can "up to £25 million" be anything more than cosmetic?
Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, Rt Hon Jake Berry, said, “Every place has its own unique strengths and challenges but all our town centres and high streets have one thing in common – they are the lifeblood of communities.
“The tailored support from our new High Streets Task Force and up to £25 million each from the Towns Fund for 100 places gives communities the money and support they need to unleash the potential of their towns.
“This people’s government is backing people across the Northern Powerhouse and every part of the UK to succeed no matter where they live.” he said.
Right - Thornton Heath in the London Borough of Croydon has already had recent investment to its high street with new pavements and planting
The high-street ‘Task Force’ is run by the ‘Institute for Place Management’ on behalf of the government, and is holding an open recruitment for a Board Chair to provide expert leadership to this programme. The Task Force brings together a range of expert groups on reinventing and restructuring places, including the Royal Town Planning Institute and The Design Council.
The government is also seeking views on whether an online register of commercial properties would make it easier to bring empty shops back into use. It wants to understand people’s experiences of leasing commercial property – with a view to making ownership of high street properties more transparent, making it easier for businesses and community groups to find space and supporting investment in local areas.
This recent announcement builds on ongoing government action to support high streets, including cutting small retailers’ business rates bills by 50% from April, following more than £13 billion of business rates support since 2016.
The recent 2019 Conservative manifesto promised, “we will cut the burden of tax on business by reducing business rates. This will be done via a fundamental review of the system”. They pledged to increase the business rates discount available to businesses with a rateable value below £51,000 from 33 per cent to 50 per cent in 2020-21. They also plan to extend the discount to “grassroots music venues, small cinemas and pubs.” The changes to business rates would only apply to England as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland set their own business rate regimes. The discount is set to last for just one financial year.
Public money should always be a catalyst for private investment. The government investing money into local high-streets is a welcome initiative, but spreading it too thin and wasting money on high streets which look like they will never grow or thrive is a wasted opportunity. While new pavements and a cosmetic tart up does change perceptions, it will be small businesses and start-ups that will really change these areas together with private landlords. This is where a reassessment of business rates will be needed. The new money will be a boost, but will it be enough in the right places? Ideally it needs to ripple out into the local economy and help high-streets to survive the threat of online and reduced footfalls long after it has gone.
So, where should the government be putting its money? AskTraders, a company providing detailed information about share trading and brokers, conducted an analysis of the UK’s high streets, looking at ATM, bank branches, retail store closures and ONS % growth of the retail sector over the course of 2019. It found the “most declining” high streets were to be Poole, Blackpool - Blackpool is on the government list of 101 high streets announced in the summer - Warrington, Manchester and Swindon. Poole High Street has seen overall retail growth fall by four percent in 2019. Stopping the decline is just as important as providing a boost and maybe these larger centres would be a better investment to stop the rot.
Local councils can change parking restrictions and charges, or work with transport providers to make it easier for people to visit the shops. Local people will be glad to see investment on their high streets, but it will be profitable and sustainable businesses with customers spending money which will leave the lasting legacy.
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As we wave goodbye to another decade, it’s time to assess where we’ve been and what the next 10 years will have in store for the retail sector. It’s hard to think back to 2010 and not somehow feel it is closer than it really is. Nine years’ later and you’d think online had virtually replaced traditional retail, but it is still under 20% of total retail sales. About 7% of total retail sales were online in 2010 rising to 19% by 2019 as a percentage of total retail sales.
At the start of the decade, in June 2010, there were 1.97B internet users, by 2019, that figure had reached 4.54B users, 58.8% of the world’s population. Virtually all adults aged 16 to 44 years in the UK were recent internet users (99%) in 2019, compared with 47% of adults aged 75 years and over.
And this is before the roll out and connectivity of 5G. We’ll probably look back and feel we were living in the dark ages when it came to internet speeds when we finally have uninterrupted data and mobile signal.
Left - Autonomous vehicles will be the future of deliveries
While online sales have grown nearly 3 times as a proportion of retail sales over the decade, it’s interesting to look at the growing monopoly of the internet. In the USA, the top five online retailers own 64.7% of sales, (data via Statista).
While online retail sales growth appears to be slowing nobody knows the final plateauing retail mix in numbers yet. One recent report by the analysts ‘Retail Economics’ for the law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, says online shopping could more than double its share of the retail market by 2028. The internet is expected to account for 53% of retail sales in 10 years’ time as younger people who have grown up with the internet become more than half the UK’s adult population according to the report.
Richard Lim, of Retail Economics, said: “Successful retailers have always had to reinvent themselves to stay relevant. However, the pace of change will inevitably prove too fast for many. It definitely feels like the digital retail revolution is only just getting started.”
Arguably the most important revolution in the coming decade will be automation and automated vehicles. Take the human out of something and it instantly becomes far cheaper and more flexible.
The automated car is coming, it’s just a matter of when. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla said that he anticipates completion of fully autonomous technology by the end of 2019 with their self-driving vehicles being so advanced in 2020 that the driver can basically take a nap. He said, “I think we will be ‘feature-complete’ on full self-driving this year, meaning the car will be able to find you in a parking lot, pick you up, take you all the way to your destination without an intervention this year.”
There will be rigorous testing and legislation for this to happen, which will take time, but once vehicles become fully driverless and trusted we’ll be able to have everything delivered at anytime for very little cost. It will revolutionise delivery and the volumes of deliveries. Things will no longer be a hassle to return and as such, will be easier to buy. You'll never be out when you know exactly when your delivery is to arrive.
Right - Secure and cheap deliveries without the human
Fashion will become a service. We’ve seen the idea start this year with the rental and secondhand markets growing recently, but it will be with automation when the business model will make sense. Fashion companies will sell ideas and consumers will buy or borrow those ideas. At the end of life, these items will be returned and disposed or recycled responsibly. The new affordability automation allows will make it cheaper than buying regular clothes. This is when the idea will reach a tipping point.
Having large fulfilment centres servicing larger numbers of people will also be more efficient and reduce wastage, particularly in food. The idea that every supermarket has to guess what that individual store will sell that day or week and it doesn’t leave that store unless it is sold, reduced or thrown away makes no sense in the 21st century. Retailers and brands will like this reduced wastage and more full price sales. Consumers will get fresher items and greater convenience.
The environment will become increasingly important and efficiencies will be driven by green ideas. I think it’s naive to expect consumers to buy less and retailers don’t want that either, it’s going to be about cycles and closing the loop on goods and services.
It will be about knowing more with regards to what to make and when, with fewer sales and less wastage. When The H&M Group is estimated to sell three billion articles of clothing per year, made in 40 countries, using 275 factories in Bangladesh alone, the scale and potentials for efficiencies is huge. Consumers being able to order exactly what they want and it will be a boon for retailers as well as the environment.
Left - What will the first automated vehicles look like?
How fashion dictates how we look throughout all this will be anyone’s guess, but luxury brands are getting bigger and more dominant, though never underestimate consumer’s desire for change and the human characteristic of becoming bored and moving on relatively quickly.
Whether we will still be wearing sportswear in 2029 is yet to be seen…but the future will definitely involve less humans.
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Without doubt the most famous menswear street in the world, for the uninitiated, Savile Row could be something of an anti-climax. While the name is known the world over as the home of male sartorial elegance, the reality of the street is something quite small, higgledy piggledy and with little on show to inspire or buy. It’s a mishmash of designer brands, traditional tailors and workshops, and empty shop units.
Left - Drake's new Savile Row store
A small side street behind elegant Regent Street, Savile Row has become much bigger than the place itself, and while brands desire to be able to put Savile Row in their addresses and on the sides of their bags, it can a difficult place to make money. There just isn’t that much traffic.
While nothing new, the street has seen something of a brand churn of late. Chester Barrie is closing down, Hardy Amies disappeared and the short lived Abercombie Kids store in the old Beatles’ Apple building is being pushed back into the larger Burlington Gardens store over the road while it turns itself back into offices for their European business.
I was recently invited to drinks at the Kilgour store on Savile Row and while on the way over I wanted to check out the new Drake’s store which had taken over from Alexander McQueen’s menswear store.
One of the bright spots of British menswear, Drake’s, the colourful accessories and preppy menswear business, has just moved around the corner from Clifford Street to a larger space and has built up a strong brand with locations from New York to Tokyo. Here, the new store has cosy striped window-type seats and an entire library of books. It looked like the kind of place you’d want to hang out in, or, heaven forbid, want to spend time in. It's welcoming. The product isn’t cheap, but it’s done properly.
Contrast this with the Kilgour store, which looks like a designer Swiss morgue, and these two juxtapositions perfectly illustrate the new mood in retail design. One reeks of personality and is overflowing with the owner’s touches, while the other is strict to the point of being a retail vacuum.
There was a time, a few year’s ago, when the majority of Savile Row brands were being snapped up by Chinese conglomerates. Fung Capital, the private investment vehicle of the Fung family that controls Hong Kong sourcing and apparel mega-corporation Li & Fung, bought the most including Gieves & Hawkes, Kilgour, Hardy Amies and Kent & Curwen. While they splashed the cash and moulded each for a particular type of customer at the beginning, things have become tougher and they show a tiring of interest. They placed Hardy Amies into administration in January, while selling to Trinity, another Chinese group, the Italian/French tailoring house Cerruti who cancelled their catwalk show and stopped the designer collection’s entire production.
What looked like little, individual outfits on London’s Savile Row often had hundreds of branded stores in China, invisible to outsiders, but they’ve all become quite bland and lacking personality with no clear direction with a continual revolving door of creative directors or in-house design teams. All these brands have become faceless.
Another new bright spark on Savile Row is the new ‘J.P. Hackett No.14 Savile Row’ store in the elegant townhouse Hardy Amies restored. The new Hackett store is warm and welcoming, and is saying “come in”, “make yourself at home” and “relax” with its homely yet elegant interior by designer Ben Pentreath with input from Jeremy Hackett.
Right - Inside Kilgour Savile Row
What Drake’s and Hackett both have is a figure head who is involved and makes decisions and menswear has always latched on to these men who lead.
Michael Hill, the current creative director of Drake’s, who is responsible for the brand's full wardrobe offerings, has a great eye and taste, while Jeremy Hackett has nearly 40 years of experience in the vintage menswear trade and then creating his own eponymous label. And this is what it all comes down to, people. You need a singular, strong vision to offer direction and also a domestic homeliness.
Stark, cold and soulless retail spaces are being replaced by the perennial idea of a traditional shopkeeper welcoming customers into their worlds. Admittedly, Hackett previously had a store on Savile Row which didn’t work, but this new bespoke concept is hoping to elevate the standard Hackett product and, moving the wholesale showroom from Bond Street and combining it with retail, will probably see them save money while in a stunning Georgian townhouse which will look good the world over.
Savile Row can be so much better and it’s always worth remembering what you thought on your first visit there. These two recent additions are adding some colour and Britishness to a street which had become something neither designer nor tailored.
Savile Row needs to hold onto what is good, but also be open to try new things. In 2016, Westminster Council said only new stores will only be allowed to open if they do not replace “bespoke tailoring uses”; “sell bespoke, unique, limited-edition or one-of-a-kind products”; and are “complementary to the character and function” of the zone, but that doesn’t mean 'The Row' should be stuck in a timewarp.
Left - Inside the ‘J.P. Hackett No.14 Savile Row’ store
This isn’t about just preserving Savile Row, it’s about making it more successful. It should be welcoming to all British brands and not look down on commercialisation. The skills that have survived this long will continue to survive and these two new additions show its about individuals going back to the idea of being a nation of shopkeepers rather than anonymous 'brands'.
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Yesterday I saw a man in the Apple store on Regent Street with a Chanel Boy bag worn cross body with a puffer jacket. It looked chic and believable on a boy! It shows you how, sometimes, this smaller shape is useful for carrying a man’s essentials. Read more - Handbags At Brawn - from TheChicGeek archive.
There’s something elegant about the juxtaposition of a feminine bag and a masculine outfit. It shows confidence, but you may not want to invest too much by buying something like a Chanel. Small car, anybody?! You could get something fun and not too expensive, so this is where eBay always comes in.
If you’re going vintage, you can go luxe. Vintage crocodile is a snip - pun intended - and a fraction of modern prices. There was definitely more crocodiles in the past or they were more affordable to everyday consumers because there are so many vintage crocodile bags around.
Before you bid or buy, study the pictures, read the description and get an idea of size and style. Think about how and what you're going to wear it with and how much you're willing to spend. It also taps into the growing trend for vintage/secondhand items. New to you!
Around - £30 on eBay.
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I said it at the start of this year if you’re a brand or retailer and you can make it through 2019 and into 2020 then you’re probably going to be alright. This year has been tough, very tough, and we’re well into the most important segment of the year for some retailers. It’s do or die for many brands who are on their uppers while trying to flog customers theirs.
This period of physical retail contraction is more painful the larger you are and we’ve waved goodbye to some very well known retailers and brands this year which could no longer survive under the perfect storm of online competition, retail saturation and squeezed prices, increase in the minimum wage, Extinction Rebellion/consumption debate, Brexit uncertainty and a snap General Election, cost of returns, prolonged discounting and high business rates and rents.
Christmas has always been a crucial time for retailers, but if it’s your single focus and main time to make profits then you need to rethink your business model and marketing. Many businesses with this old fashioned idea are many of those disappearing or have disappeared. But, it still matters, and a bad Christmas period will see many more retail business announcing their demise come the new year.
The lead up hasn’t been good, but a lot of spend could be skewed by the juggernaut of Black Friday. Sales decreased by 1.3% in September 2019, the worst September since BRC (British Retail Consortium) records began in 1995.
The following month, high street shoppers bought 0.6 per cent more goods in October 2019, representing a drop from 1.3 per cent sales growth recorded in October 2018, but still representing the retail industry’s best performance since April, according to figures compiled by the BRC and KPMG. Looking at a three-month average, which allows for month-to-month fluctuations, total in-store sales of non-food items dropped 3.6 per cent, while food sales grew 1.6 per cent (or 0.5 per cent on a like-for-like basis).
According to Barclaycard, "consumer spending in November (2019) showed a muted 0.9% growth year-on-year as Brits plan for a frugal festive season”.
So far, so bad, but Black Friday was the biggest ever. According to retail intelligence firm Springboard, retail footfall on Black Friday was up 3.3% in comparison with the same day in 2018, with shoppers mostly hitting the shops after work. Black Friday spending rose 16.5% on 2018, Barclaycard said. They said spending was higher as of 10am that morning and “sustained” that high level throughout the day. They said the number of transactions then reached a “new peak” between 1pm and 2pm on Black Friday. Barclays, which has been monitoring real-time transaction data for Black Friday, processes almost £1 in every £3 spent in the UK.
“We recorded a new peak of 1,184 transactions per second between 1pm and 2pm, which is up on last year’s 1,087 by around nine per cent,” Rob Cameron, CEO of Barclaycard Payments told City A.M.
“The volume of transactions has been up all week and in terms of purchasing, we have seen a high level on spending from midnight all the way through.
“This is fantastic news for retailers, with our data showing that transactions have also been strong throughout the week,” says Cameron. “With many retailers spreading their deals out throughout the week, they will be encouraged to see this hasn’t cannibalised sales volumes on Black Friday itself.” he told City AM.
The volume of transactions on Black Friday rose 7.2% year-on-year, while the volume of transactions on Cyber Monday - the following Monday - was so far up 6.9%.
While this discounting could affect margins, it appears the hype of Black Friday and perceived discounts is something retailers are taking advantage of. The consumer title, Which? warned that few real deals were available, with most goods cheaper or available for the same price at other times. It found that just 4 of 83 products they studied last year were cheaper during the Black Friday promotions.
Black Friday benefited from falling on or just after payday this year with many people paid on 28th of the month. Black Friday has been big, but has is been big enough? The last few years saw many retailers see a wash of sales just before Christmas which allowed them to limp on into the next year. It appears that retailers are finally understanding how to play the Black Friday game; getting rid of unwanted stock while holding firm on in-demand products. It will be interesting to see the level of returns and this giant spike can be difficult to manage, especially for smaller retailers which less stock holdings.
The retail figures show a consumer holding tight until to Black Friday, and it will be interesting to see, now those purse strings have been loosened, whether it continues in the final few weeks until Christmas especially with the distraction of a General Election bang in the middle of that. See you in the next decade?
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Not to sound too much like Scrooge, though he is part of the problem, but have you noticed how all the Christmas adverts look the same this year?
Their nostalgic Dickensian approach of snow, jingle bells, street urchins and false bonhomie is strikingly similar and just doesn’t feel particularly fresh from retailers trying to smile through the pain of the current retail environment. It feels faker than a Trump press release and disappointing and safe from marketing departments crossing everything and hoping their brands make it through to the new year.
Left - More urchins? Sainsbury's 2019
What started with wise men offering up gifts was hijacked by retailers and brands over the past century to make all their year’s profits in a few short months. Today's Christmas is, arguably, an American creation of commercialisation. It was Coca-Cola after all who changed Father Christmas from green to red to suit their branding.
This isn’t about taking Christmas back to its meaning, whatever that is, it’s about reflecting contemporary times and stripping the crap out of Christmas, which sits alongside Halloween and Valentine’s as commercial ‘Festivals of Crap’ with our overindulgence reflected in the bulging brown bin the days after.
Christmas needs a reboot to take it from Victoriana fake-fest to a simpler and more sustainable pagan and friends and family focussed festival to get us through the longest nights.
“Most of Christmas ads look almost identical because agencies and brands start from the almost same brief: ‘Lets create a piece of heart-warming storytelling that people will share online, so avoid pushing a specific product. Make it pretty’. says Marcio Delgado – Influencer Marketing Campaign Manager and Producer, www.marciodelgado.com
"On paper, for the purpose of approving production budgets months before Mariah Carey’s ‘All I want for Christmas is you’ climbs back the charts – again – it seems the perfect deal. However, when customers start being bombarded by similar content, exhaustively promoted within their social media feeds and favourite TV shows, it all starts to look too much of the same.” says Delgado.
Lesley Stonier, brand storytelling and marketing strategist. Founder of We Mean Business, London - helping women and entrepreneurs find their authentic voice and share their story with confidence, says, “I think for the last 5 or so years we’ve seen John Lewis and even more recently Lidl/Aldi do very well from a certain style and format of ad. I believe the briefs the ad agencies are receiving from these companies and their competitors now will be something like, I want what they are doing, but make it ours.
Right - More snow? John Lewis 2019.
“It just all feels very same-y and therefore it becomes difficult to distinguish who the retailers actually are. There’s no stand out brand this year. The ads all blur into one Christmassy mass with no distinction. Food, kids, 18th century nostalgia, it’s difficult to tell them apart now.” says Stonier.
Stephanie Melodia, marketing specialist, founder of startup marketing agency, Bloom says, “Persuasion is at the root of successful advertising, and the mechanism to this is by appealing to people’s emotions. As a nation that has become less religious and traditional over time, Christmastime no longer bears the same connotations as before. Instead, the “Dickensian nostalgia” plays to the magic and joy one can only achieve over the holidays - whether its spending time with loved ones, exchanging gifts, enjoying good food & drink, or all of the above! It’s worth noting the generations that the Dickensian style will appeal to have quite a vast age range, from the grandparents to the millennials, (thanks to Mr. Dickens' literary genius in itself, as well as the modern remixes, like The Muppet Christmas Carol - for example).
What can brands do to differentiate themselves more and make their marketing campaigns feel more contemporary? “Firstly, they could focus on what their unique perspective is on Christmas. Although I think that’s where the challenge ultimately lies. When it comes to retail, we now have promotions for Christmas starting 2 wks before Black Friday so it’s very hard to differentiate except via price.” says Stonier.
“John Lewis, for example, could have led the pack by taking a more sustainable approach to Christmas. Encouraging less packaging waste for example. Or a supermarket encouraging less food waste. That would be a different approach and that would have much greater stand out because you’re changing the story people expect to hear, and giving them something different to mull over, giving them a reason to choose to do something different and make that choice with you.” she says.
“Behavioural changes, especially at a large scale, take a long time to kick in (whilst there is still lots of impactful work happening at the moment!)” says Melodia. “Hardwired social traditions like exchanging gifts at Christmastime won’t go away any time soon, but people are definitely thinking a lot more about how and what they buy than before. Retailers need to have sustainability at the heart of their businesses (if they don’t already) and beware of the PR risk in greenwashing while doing so.” she says.
Left - Tesco's 2019 Christmas table
Will this type of Christmas survive Extinction Rebellion and people rethinking over consumption?
“I think shoppers will always shop on price discounts. But it doesn’t drive loyalty so the retailers are just creating a vicious cycle that is then difficult to extract yourself from.
“There’s a risk to a different approach, but I’m surprised no one has capitalised on the consumer demand for more sustainable approach to life, and taken Christmas, the season of excess as the time to put a stake in the ground.” says Stonier.
What will Christmas look like in the future for brands and retailers?
“I don’t have a crystal ball, but I can see us ironically returning to a simpler, less extravagant time, much like the Dickensian era. Where gifts are made rather than bought, and that we focus on the meaning and act of giving rather then needing, wanting and buying.” says Stonier. “The reality is there is very little we “need” now days in first world countries. We’re saturated. So what comes next? People search for meaning and purpose, and brands are doing good in the world, will be leading our hearts, minds and wallets in the future.” she says.
“We’ve already moved so far away from the religious and familial traditions from a mere century ago, the rate of change is only accelerating faster and faster. I believe people coming together and enjoying shared experiences will be the core festive factor that will remain for the foreseeable future, with the consumerist side of the holidays on the down.” says Melodia.
These Christmas ads are looking as done as the designer Christmas tree. This isn't about taking out the fun and the coming together of Christmas, it's about a fresher approach that is more reflective of where we are right now as consumers. The Christmas future looks simpler and less wasteful. ’Please, sir, no more!’.
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