They say the Chinese only buy the cheapest or the best. It’s simplistic, but it is the direction all retail markets seem to be headed in. The British market has been evolving into this for a while, now, and those stuck or stranded in the middle are suffering or dying.
The middle has been squeezed or forced to choose their direction of travel as we all race to the bottom or top.
The cheapest often requires huge volumes and multinationals and the best requires a perception of quality, luxury and good service.
As a brand or retailer, you have two questions to ask yourself, today: are we the cheapest? This can be split into different categories depending on where the brand sits and, are we the best? This is more complex and can mean many different things and is subjective. If you can’t say yes to both or either, they you need to start making some serious changes.
Imagine a Venn diagram: two circles, one the cheapest, one the best and price running up and the down the side axis. Any brand coming into the area where the two circles overlap is in a safer and strong position. Those within one of the circles has a focus, while those floating somewhere out of either need to work out which one they want to be in, and fast.
Let’s look at the cheapest option. This is why Sainsbury’s is getting into bed with Asda. The larger scale promises savings of around 10% to the consumer, and will help them compete with Booker/Tesco and the German food retailers, Aldi and Lidl. It’s an example of mid-market retailers needing to pair up or die.
In fashion, New Look revenue to the year 24th March 2018 was down -7.3% to £1,347.8m. New Look has not only announced store closures, but it’s also just said in its recent financial report and turnaround plan, that ‘Pricing (will be) lowered to offer significantly better value with 80% of product to retail under £20’.
Eighty percent of product under £20 will really put the brand toe-to-toe with Primark and, I think, it’s the right move for them. You have to go down fighting, but they’ll going to have to shift more product at these cheaper prices. Before, New Look wasn’t the cheapest, and it wasn’t the best in terms of being the most fashionable or desirable fast-fashion retailer. It used to be one of the cheapest, but then Primark came along.
It tried to be more fashionable, but at a time Boohoo, ASOS were growing and offering high fashionability at ridiculously low prices.
New Look says it wants to 'return to (a) value-led fast fashion and wardrobe basics offer with full price focus’. The margins will be so small they’ll need all the full price they can get.
H&M, long one of the darlings of fast retail, has seen its shares down nearly 20% this year and the company has said it will need to slash prices to reduce inventories, damaging profit margins. It has an $4.3 Billion in unsold stock and needs to be careful that its size won’t be its downfall.
It also explains its focus on different, ‘best’ sister brands like Arket and COS. H&M isn’t in the same position as New Look, yet, but they need to make sure it’s still seen as one of the best in terms of affordable fashionability and also offering value.
Marks & Spencer is another one trying this new best and cheapest approach. The clothes have arguably got much cheaper and the food is still perceived as the best, but it’s this balance that is hard to achieve within the same brand, especially knowing what consumers come to you for.
House of Fraser’s recent announcement to close 31 stores is a reflection of the growth of John Lewis both offline and online. John Lewis has continued to open in towns, in or near those House of Frasers, and House of Fraser isn’t cheaper or better. It probably explains the closure of the huge Birmingham store as John Lewis opened a shiny new shop at the railway station just a couple of years ago.
House of Fraser will need to pair up with somebody (maybe Debenhams?) or disappear altogether. Sports Direct, Mike Ashley, has shares in both and will no doubt be pushing for it and then they really can compete on price and dominate their local markets.
So, who is getting it right? Zara, for the best in fashionability and speed and John Lewis in customer service and being ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’. But, like a game of musical chairs, it’s changing all the time.
As for the ‘best’, this is what many luxury brands rely upon. This could be quality, use of materials, origin etc. Many ‘luxury’ brands have lost control of these in the race for large quantities and bigger margins. They have to be careful because a few poorly made, overpriced products will ruin the perception of any brand.
But, you can also find the cheapest within this market. For example, Johnstons of Elgin, one of the best Scottish producers of scarves and blankets. It makes for everybody from Hermès to Burberry. While a scarf from them is not cheap, say £100, it’s far cheaper than one with a designer name on. They are also the best at what they do and the reason why these brands use them.
Or, a brand like Paul Smith. When looking at a multi brand website like Mr Porter, it feels like one of the most affordable brands on there. I think its recent troubles has seen it get more competitive and tread that fine line between affordable and exclusivity. They are also the best at colour.
Or, you could can look at the total top, at the most expensive and exclusive. This is the pinnacle of the market and to be true to both would only be made in very limited numbers. This is chasing a very small number of big-fish consumers and, as such, it limits the size of the business. But, this can also to used to sell ranges of cheaper products, such as perfume or sunglasses, but even these categories are harder, now that people aren’t so hung up on brands.
This simplistic approach to the market cuts through some of the wood to see the trees in a highly competitive and changing retail landscape. So, the next time you look at your own brand or somebody else’s, you know which two questions to ask.
Judging by the queue, Jeffrey, and his gang of club kids, is still the golden ticket for East London menswear. The status even matches his yellow hair job.
The catwalk featured dancers and props, which looked like they were there for the marriage of Sarah Brightman to that Starship Trooper she fell in love with.
Metres of tin foil and oxygen pipes mingled with men’s, women’s and anything-in-between wear in a collection which looked more accomplished and retail than ever before.
A standout was a denim jacket and matching jeans and also his tailoring for the contemporary Westwood-type customer.
Jeffrey just needs to be careful the amateurish elements don’t take the focus away from the important stuff, but the new push to way-out-there commercial certainly suits his design sensibilities.
What did TheChicGeek wear? Credits - Coat - Gloverall, Sweater - Kent & Curwen, Sunglasses - Retrosuperfuture, Watch - Kronaby, Shirt - Jigsaw, Shoes - Sperry, Belt - Coach
See LFWM Day 1 - here
See LFWM Day 2 - here
Part of the Topman sponsored ‘MAN’ show, Stefan Cooke, in his second outing here, went from his super-tight, Gaultier style AW18 season to something, while still fitted, that played with hype-colour tartans, half ruffs on the necks and small mirrors dotted randomly across the pieces. Winner of the H&M designer prize in 2017, Cooke, from the UK, is a designer to continue watching.
Part of the BFC showrooms and also with a presentation at Charing Cross Library, Bethany Williams took inspiration from all those books and book binding and managed to thread real, physical paperbacks into her SS19 collection. Working with The Quaker Mobile Library, which lend books to people with no fixed address, her collection showed the hand-ons, painstaking craft element to fashion.
Mullins is on a roll. His AW18 collection was one of the best of the season and, this, the new SS19, had plenty of ideas to keep you wanting more. Standouts include rock shaped portfolio bags and asymmetric slashed shirts showing just a glimpse of the shoulder. 2019, the year of the male shoulder, maybe?!
Day - What Did TheChicGeek wear? Credits - Suit - Arket, T-Shirt - Oiboy, Cap - Arc'Teryx, Sunglasses - Illesteva
If expensive looking black bin bags are your thing, then Berthold could be the place to look. I’m just joking, but the fascination with anything black and shiny seems to be taking hold within menswear and Raimund Berthold is running with it. He showed plenty for AW18 and, now, this was the summer version. Think parachute light black coats and matching accessorises in a sport-luxe - there, I said it! - collection for those who like fashion as uniform.
Martine Rose took us to Norf London, St Leonards Square in NW5 to be exact, which looked perfect for street parties and carnivals. This was working class Victorian square with no fancy greenery in the middle, no even Albert Square sized.
The catwalk was the road and the neighbours looked on, perched on their front garden walls or down quizzically from an upstairs window while doing the tea-time washing up.
This was the show of the week for a designer that waited for fashion to come to them. Now, with her own label and working on Balenciaga’s menswear, Rose has become a chief exponent of fashion’s obsession with bad taste.
There was plenty here, but it’s done in a way that’s still desirable. How much it has left to run is anybody’s guess, but I don’t think the retailers are getting bored. I saw a new ‘hybrid’ - because we all love one of those - a half-jean, half-trackie trouser - rodeo at the front, scally at the back!
Rose’s 90s ‘Geezer’ was going out, out; clear plastic trousers, squared-toed snakeskin chain loafers with no backs and Motorcross trousers with loud taping will definitely get you noticed. This was ‘Out-On-The-Tann’ man, probably down to his local boozer, looking to impress and living it up with gold chains, tucked in shirts and smart-ish shoes. I still want in.
Evening - What Did TheChicGeek wear? Credits - Suit - Pretty Green, Shirt - ASOS, Sunglasses - Kaleos, Shoes - Vintage Alexander McQueen
See LFWM Day 1 - here
See LFWM Day 2 - here
Daniel Fletcher had a play with short, tailored jackets and long, side-poppered trousers ending in open flares which made the models look about 7ft tall. It was almost freakish proportions and lost some of its elegance, especially at a time when shorter jackets are starting to look a little dated. Standout items included silk shirts - or maybe they were very sheer cotton - featuring breasts and rope designs, while in accessorises briefcases were emblazoned with ‘Danny’, from a designer who has the potential to give us more desirable pieces.
This was Sharon Wauchob’s first men’s collection and she’d teamed up with Savile Row tailors, Norton & Sons, owned by E Tautz’s Patrick Grant, to finesse the tailoring.
The Irish designer showed, in ethereal surroundings, All Saints, just off Oxford Street, a collection that perfectly complemented the backdrop. This was one of the highlights of the entire week and the most grown up, yet it felt contemporary, desirable and luxurious, in the old fashion sense of the word.
Standouts were the super-creased shirts with silver threading and a sheer evening shirt showing off this season’s new erogenous zone, the male back.
A sea of ugly trainers sat down to watch the Liam Hodges collection. Feeling ‘Crapped Out’, it was a play with bad taste - British roast pork tan lines and tribal face tattoos, anyone? - but, there was plenty to buy into - the sports socks and badges - and even a Gucci-type hibiscus homage which was decidedly less polished and more interesting. Best thing I’ve seen from him.
While the temperature on Floral Street for Qasimi’s show climbed, so did the colour palette on the catwalk. Lots of oranges in earthy and spice tones played with larger shapes and Arabic slogan hoodies referenced the designer’s background. There’s a growing momentum to the Qasimi brand.
What did TheChicGeek wear? Credits - Suit - Jigsaw, Bag - River Island, T-Shirt - Band Of Outsiders, Neckerchief - Etro, Woggle - eBay, Spectacles - Lunetterie Generale
See LFWM Day 1 - here
Okay, so nobody buys anything, but London is the city of ideas. It's the city of newness and also the historical home of menswear. It's the benchmark, it's the tradition and it's the craziness.
London Fashion Week Men's starts tonight.
ICEBERG: To describe British designer, James Long’s Iceberg collection as ‘commercial’ is to acknowledge the shift in fashion. Post-Gucci, anything bright, standout and clashing is commercial.
This had Long’s signature play with knitwear, but with Italian manufacturing polish. You can picture each and everyone of these clothes hanging on a rail in a store tomorrow.
The fascination with cartoon characters was there, there was a mash-up between F1 and Snoopy, and while the sportswear fashion cycle is finishing (soon!), there are plenty of takers for comfort still.
Iceberg, as a brand, hasn’t been over exposed in the logo/branding segment yet so much to play with. Lots of full look colour and, with a big name like 'Iceberg', it's not a brand to disappear into the background in.
ASOS - ASOS showed a teaser SS19 collection inspired by cult classics such as Blade Runner, Tron and Total Recall. Think shine, see-through and bold colours.
TOPMAN - While no clothes, it was a return to Soho of old with a party at the Phoenix Artist Club. You can picture Francis Bacon down here throwing a few drunken obscenities at the bar staff. I still have a lot of affection for Topman and I'm excited about their new AW18 collection.
What did TheChicGeek wear? Credits - Shirt - Paolo Pecora, Linen Trousers - Basic Rights, Shoes - Dune, Sunglasses - Kaleos
See LFWM Day 2 - here
I’m always fascinated with those World Cups during the 1960s and 1970s where the players sat around drinking and smoking like they were spending two weeks on the Costa Brava. Sunning themselves and taking the missus with them, this was World Cup as lad’s holiday. Today, it’s much more serious, and if all the bungs, corruption and violence hasn’t put you off, it’s still a spectacle bringing the world together.
Left - Bobby Moore with locals on the beach 1971 NPG
As well as a sporting contest it’s also a cultural and style moment, celebrated every four years. Recently, photographs of the footballer Bobby Moore were acquired by the National Portrait Gallery and have gone on display to mark this year’s World Cup and the 25th anniversary of his death. The photographs were acquired from the collection of Roberta Moore, his daughter, and show Bobby, the golden boy of British football, throughout his career both on and off the pitch.
Right - Nike Football - England Home Vapor Match Shirt In White - £90 from ASOS
Umbro has released the 'Unforgotten' collection. Back in 1966, Umbro did a deal with all 16 competing teams in the World Cup finals to wear Umbro kit. Everyone agreed, but, when the tournament started, one team didn't wear the kit: the Russians. The Unforgotten collection is inspired by what that missing kit could've looked like and the colours and iconography of the Soviet era. Part of the collection is inspired by Lev Yashin, Russia's goalkeeper in 1966 and arguably the greatest goalkeeper ever - still the only goalkeeper to ever win the Ballon d'Or. He was also famed for always wearing head-to-toe black when playing, hence the Lev pieces in the collection are predominately black.
Left - Umbro 'Unforgotten' Collection - Prices range from £35-80
Left - 'Saturday Night Fever Pitch' by Simon Doonan, read TheChicGeek's review here
Below - Bobby Moore & Family 1975 NPG
Louis Vuitton has released a FIFA World Cup official licensed product collection - they also make the travel case for the World Cup trophy. Available in 3 colour combinations - red, black and blue, and made with the Maison’s textured Epi leather, the pattern is inspired by the official ball of the 1970 FIFA World Cup. There will also be a range of 35 country name tags - 32 qualified teams of the FIFA World Cup competition + Italy, USA, and China. It is available from the Louis Vuitton boutiques in Harrods and Manchester.
Far Left - Louis Vuitton - Keepall 50 – Epi leather - £2970
Left - Wallet - Slender Epi Leather Wallet - £460
Vilebrequin’s signature turtle shares the spotlight, this time, with an especially clever cephalopod: the octopus. With eight tentacles to dribble, he represents the famous ‘Paul’ who captivated the football fans crowds with his predictions in the 2010 World Cup.
Left - Vilebrequin - Soccer Turtles - £175
The design is based around the footballs that made, well some of us, into Ronaldo or Messi in the playground. All for the price of £19.66 to celebrate the last time England did anything!
Left - OIBOY - Super Stars Made in Playgrounds White T-Shirt - £19.66
Below - New Balance + Paul Smith Signature Stripe Leather Football - £195
See what to wear while watching - TheChicGeek's OOTD World Cup Casual