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.
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
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
Summer isn't all shorts and sandals, it can also be a time for formal occasions and those days when you just feel like making an effort. Putting on a suit, after a break, can be, almost, liberating. It's that old feeling of a uniform that runs throughout British menswear and that comfort in feeling 'dressed'.
A checked suit adds more interest, a waistcoat adds more formality and a black vinyl raincoat adds, well, it just ADDS! See more of the vinyl trend - here
Credits - Coat - ASOS, Suit - Remus Uomo, Shirt - Simon Carter, Shoes - Base London
Rolls Royce’s best customer, the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was the compelling, albeit fairly silent, star of the recent Netflix documentary, Wild Wild Country.
Dressed in his long-flowing finery he was surrounded by his adoring followers all wearing a spectrum of reds.
Left - The cult's followers wearing their red colour palette
Also known as Osho, the story followers the Bhagwan, his one-time personal assistant Ma Anand Sheela and their community of followers in Rajneeshpuram, aka Antelope, located in Wasco County, Oregon during the 1980s.
Right - The Bhagwan
This commune was a place of free love and followed the teachings of the Bhagwan. His taste for the finer things in life - 93 Roll Royces! - is part of the madness of it all.
Left - Uniqlo - Men Supima Cotton Crew Neck Short Sleeve T-Shirt - £9.90
The reason they wore reds was to represent “the colours of the rising or setting sun”, as well as beaded necklaces with a locket containing a picture of the Bhagwan's face. It’s fascinating how everybody is wearing something different while conforming to the same colour chart.
I’m expecting Pantone to release a ‘Bhagwan Red’ next year, which would be a crimson/berry red. But you can get in early by buying anything on this colour chart with no logos or branding.
Left - Berska - Bomber Jacket - £19.99
The community imploded, but I won’t spoil it. Let’s just say it makes me rethink about eating from the salad cart at the local Harvester!
Left - American Apparel - Cranberry Hoodie - £34
Left - Spoke - Coral - £89
Left - ASOS - Skinny Smart Trousers In Strawberry Red - £20
Left - YOURTURN - Dip Dye T-Shirt In Red - £12 from ASOS
Left - Ted Baker - Proshor Chino Short - £69 from House of Fraser
Left - Rivieras - Classic 10 Canvas Loafers - £50 from matchesfashion.com
Left - Buscemi - 100mm Guts Red Leather Hi-Top Trainers -£670 from Harvey Nichols
More Get The Looks - The Assassination of Gianni Versace - here
You've probably got the idea - I've been banging on about them for months - that this season is all about vertical stripes.
Left - SS18 Marni, Balmain, Etudes
Every designer and brand worth their stripes showed multiple variations of them. There are many ways to wear the trend - matching and mixed. Clash, contrast or complement, the choice is yours!
Credits - Jacket - Scotch & Soda, Short-Sleeved Shirt - ASOS - Trousers - Scotch & Soda, Slip-Ons - Base London
TheChicGeek took Vertical Stripes to Marrakech, see more here
The first episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story premiered last night, and, while we already who know whodunnit, we don’t know why? Will we ever know? Andrew Cunanan killed himself shortly afterwards.
Left - The Andrew Cunanan character in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
One of the highlight looks from the first episode was a Sara Lee yellow, full look of slouchy 80s-style trousers, polo shirt and matching cap. Yellow can frighten many guys and is therefore quite difficult to find in the shops. This is a softer, more pastel hue.
Right - All about Sara Lee yellow this Summer
Look at it like a dose of wardrobe vitamin D. Okay, so this did have the backdrop of Art Deco Miami, but just imagine the palm trees when you’re rolling down your local high-street with your jacket slung over your shoulder and your big serial killer shades on.
Left - adidas Originals - Trefoil Cap In Yellow - £15 from ASOS
Below - Don't want to be recognised? Go for serial killer sized shades
Below - Lacoste Live - Unisex Slim Fit Petit Piqué Polo - £85
Left - Versace - Sunglasses - £96
Left - DSquared2 - Light Yellow Suit - £521 from YOOX
See Get The Look - Call Me By Your Name
Get The Look - Wild, Wild Country
TheChicGeek took a trip to sunny Marrakech to see the new YSL Museum - read more here - while there, he thought it rude not to show you one of the big trends of the 2018 season - Vertical Stripes.
Think 'stylish deckchair', designers such as Marni, Balmain, Etudes, Haider Ackermann, Paul Smith, Cerruti 1881 and Ami all did their vertical variations on the trend.
With the Jardin Marjorelle as the backdrop, bold vertical stripes are not only a statement, but they elongate the wearer. Don't be scared, you can clash them, as seen here, just make sure they're wide and colourful.
This is perfect for holiday wardrobes in both shorts and T-shirts, as well as shirts and trousers, as seen here on TheChicGeek.
Credits - Trousers - Pretty Green, Shirt - ASOS - T-Shirt - Topman X Stranger Things, Bumbag - Eastpak, Watch - Swatch, Shoes - Dune London, Sunglasses - Vintage Gucci
See more SS18 Menswear Trends - here
Want more Vertical Stripes? here
TheChicGeek was a guest at Le Palais Paysan around 25 minutes from central Marrakech by car with stunning views of the Atlas Mountains and surrounding countryside. See more here
The silk pyjama shirt has become a fixture in our wardrobes - it was one of the most popular men’s items in the recent Erdem X H&M collaboration - Read 'The Return of The Sexy Shirt' - and it was inevitable, in all its louche, open-shirtedness, that we needed something extra to decorate our chests with. Enter the medallion.
Left - Fashion week street style
This look hasn’t been cool since the seventies with the combined stench of Brut aftershave and porn-star taches. But we're peacocking again and this overt masculinity is the reason why it is back. It’s very Burt Reynolds, very Magnum PI and has a musky, hirsute sexiness to it.
Right - Alex Orso - Disc - Gold - £125
I’m loving a silk shirt ATM, see one of my favourites of the season here and you wear it open with confidence. It could be the “Call Me By Your Name” effect, where the medallion necklace is an important signifier within the film - see more Call Me By Your Name style here or it's the effect of guys being more flamboyant and wearing printed silk shirts.
Team with silk trousers and a smile. Have you got the swagger for a medallion?
Left - Black Dakini - Disk Pendant Sterling Silver Necklace - £355 from Matchesfashion.com
Below - Vintage Bruce Weber Versace
Below Right - Steve McQueen
Far Left -Ryan Gosling
Middle - The medallion draws attention to your chest
Left - More McQueen
Left - Tom Selleck being Tom Selleck
Below Left - Call Me By Your Name - the older character shows his influence on the younger one when he starts to copy him and wear the same necklace
Below - Chained & Able - St. Christopher - £22 from ASOS
You're going to need a silk shirt to go with this - see more here The Return of 'The Sexy Shirt'
We’ve all heard about the revival in vinyl over the last few years. The hipster’s music medium of choice, vinyl records are now everywhere from Sainsbury’s to Tesco. Well, the revival continues, but into our wardrobes this time.
Think shiny, think black, think vinyl. There’s something slightly pervy and sexual about it. It is one part Berlin of the 1920s - have you seen Babylon Berlin? it’s very good - one part grungy/graffiti New York of the 80s. It adds a frisson of excitement to your wardrobe and shows your daring side. A walking oil slick, team with coloured lensed sunglasses and flared jeans.
Left - ASOS - Oversized Vinyl Trench Coat - £70
Left - Calvin Klein SS18
Below - 66 North - £670 www.66north.com
Left - Balenciaga - Wobble Leather Jacket - £1795 from matches fashion.com
Left - Topshop - Vinyl Bucket Hat - £16
Below - Moncler - Mancora - £900