The fashion business likes a ‘category’. The more categories the more product and the more money, hopefully. If only it was that easy.
Designers and brands like to enter a category, be it jeans, underwear or sunglasses, usually partnering with a manufacturing expert in that field, and expand their businesses one category at a time. Take Tom Ford for example, he is just about to go into underwear after mastering jeans, sunglasses, beauty and trainers, in no particular order.
Left - N/A Necessary Anywhere socks available at Oki-Ni & Harvey Nichols
Underwear is one of the biggest money spinners for brands. People will pay a premium for somebody else’s name on their waistband - not really sure why - and entire brands like Calvin Klein and Versace are built on their underwear categories. They can charge a premium for something that is cheap to make.
And while the underwear category has matured into a reliable cash cow for many, the sock business seems so much trickier. There aren’t many designers or brands who have owned the category. With the exception of Paul Smith, designers produce the odd sock for collections, but don’t fully enter or develop the category. It wasn't that long ago that Burberry pulled out of the category and they make everything.
It’s interesting how people are willing to spend on underwear, but not on socks. We do have quality sock brands such as the German Falke and the British Panterella and Corgi, but there seems to be a ceiling on the pricing. People think socks should be cheap and when brands like Vetements and Gucci do socks at high prices - think nearing three figures - they seem like one of the most frivolouss purchases you can make and are usually a one-off show piece rather than entering the category.
The branded sock market seems to fall into two categories: sports and colourful office-type socks. There’s definitely a gap for something in between. So, it was at the recent CIFF fashion trade show in Copenhagen that I found N/A from New York.
When I searched ’N/A New York’ I got plenty of Narcotics Anonymous meetings, but it actually stands for ‘Necessary Anywhere’ and is influenced by the ‘everyday grind’. To the British that's walking (thought Americans didn't do that anyway!). They believe it’s vital to get up every day with the aspiration to move ourselves forward.
Founded in 2015 by Nick Lewis with six socks, these premium knit socks marry innovative textures with classic colours and patterns. When people pay for socks they usually go for something colourful and playful, N/A seems to have produced a cool sock which marries sports and fashion. They’re about £15, which, while more than your average three pack, aren’t extortionate. They fit somewhere between your smart socks and your sports socks and could, potentially, signal a new category within this difficult category.
You walk into the new Coach store on Regent Street and the first thing to confront you is Rexy, Coach’s T-Rex dinosaur. This isn’t the replacement for Dippy the Diplodocus, the Natural History Museum’s famous dinosaur, which is going on a regional tour, but it’s just as magnetic.
Left - Putting the sexy into Rexy!
The new store is impressive. It feels like a one-off. Coach has always been a perfectly acceptable, mid-market and luxury with a small l, brand.
Right - The handbags move around the Heath Robinson-type contraption
But, with this new store they’ve really stepped it up a gear. It shows a Creative Director - Stuart Vevers - putting himself into the brand and being allowed to do so. What they’ve done is thought about injecting personality and identity rather than focus solely on ‘luxury’.
So many brands get fixated on luxury and forget about identity and personality. For some, it’s all about the Carrara marble and shiny finishes and they’ve started to look soulless, empty and, ultimately, boring.
Left - Coach Regent Street's giant Rexy is going to be auctioned off
The new Coach store has a mechanical track with bags running along it, a giant pink neon dinosaur in the window and special product, downstairs, designed with British tourist badges and travel souvenir symbols. It’s fun without being gimmicky. It feels like somebody has thought about it rather than simply rolling out a format the world over. Yawn.
In contrast, I popped into the new handbag hall in Selfridges. The biggest in the world, when finished, it has all the usual suspects: Valentino, Celine, Balenciaga, Chanel, Burberry, all with their signature shop-fits. It all feels so predictable and formulaic. The only one of interest was Gucci with a mosaic floor featuring their, now, signature wasps.
Luxury needs personality. It needs a strong individual to lead with instinct and intuition. Brands need to create newness and not just consistency. Coach seems to not only made Rexy sexy, but also fun. It's approachable and welcoming. If brands are going to get us off our sofas, offline and outside, there needs to be something worthy of going out for.
There are two types of Britishness: urban London Britishness, which is too often clichéd and touristy, involving bowler hats, red telephone boxes and the like, and, then, there's the Britishness of the countryside, which comprises of green rolling hills, National Trust properties with colourful herbaceous borders all soundtracked by the theme of The Antiques Roadshow.
Left - The not-so-secret garden at the entrance of Burberry's pop-up Makers House
The British countryside is basically a giant garden dotted with the history of people aiming to perfect their little corner of it and that's why we all love to be tourists in it, regardless of where we are from.
And, it is this Britishness that Burberry has mined for its latest show and show space, which has been opened to the general public for a week afterwards and is called Makers House.
Right - Makers are gonna make. The day I went it was bookbinding
Located in the old Foyles book store on Charing Cross Road, on the edge of Soho, Burberry has teamed up with British craft collective, The New Craftsmen, showcasing their hand-working skills, making everything from tassels to keys to scissors. There are different people displaying different skills, on each day, creating theatre in the bottom of the space.
Just to be clear, these people didn’t produce anything for the new Burberry collection, but it’s an illustration of the type of skills involved. I guess Burberry needed huge volumes and a long lead time if they were able to be the first brand to fully deliver their new ‘See Now, Buy Now’ concept worldwide, all at the same time, both offline and online.
Left - One of the standout pieces of the menswear show
You can buy their products in a small shop here, but I think Burberry missed a trick by not including a few of their own products. Maybe a few of the classic pieces.
Right - A print taken from the V&A archive and used in the collection and on the show seating
Alongside them is a pop-up branch of Thomas’, the Burberry café from Regent Street, which has to be one of the best of the big brand versions of this type of thing, offering seasonal British fare all served on British made tables and chairs, and in this case, leading onto a garden of white busts and classical plaster casts contrasted with lush green planting that welcomes you at the entrance.
It’s like Daylesford Organic has comes to Soho, hostas and all, in this mix of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Nancy Lancaster’s decorating skills, (she was the owner of Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler), and a celebration of the great and good of British history all lined up like a friendly who’s, who. I feel like we may have been given a glimpse of Christopher Bailey’s Yorkshire lifestyle. He has to spend all those millions somewhere after all. This is the fantasy perfection of British country living that we never seem to tire of and one which Burberry has used as inspiration before such as Charleston in Sussex or gardening at Sissinghurst.
Left - TheChicGeek on the poetry staircase doing his best Rapunzel impression!
Upstairs, where the catwalk show was, 83 mannequins show off the full collection of men’s and women’s wear, 250 pieces in total, where you can look at the details and touch the fabrics. Everything is available now, if you can afford it, and the collection was Bailey’s usual strong balance of wearability and fashion. Think artist-like relaxed shirts with ruffled collars and cuffs interplayed with brocade and cropped shearlings and slouchy trousers. I particularly like the orange/biscuit coloured shearling and 30s style printed pyjama shirts. The green carpet design was taken from a garden print from the V&A.
Right - The Tudors are back! Taking the ruff with the smooth
Burberry took a risk on the ‘See Now, Buy Now’ concept, but I think they’ve pulled it off. Unlike other brands, this show season, who have made it a token gesture to gain attention and PR, this is full on and took some organisation. I guess many items had to be comprised or changed to fulfil the tight delivery dates, but it doesn't show.
Left - Pieces of Michelangelo's David looking over his shoulder while a sculptor builds up his clay maquette
I like the way it’s been opened up to the public. You spend all that money on the show space, you may as well as justify it by making it customer facing, especially now they’re selling the items straight away. I can’t wait to see how they will top this in February.
Many other luxury brands will be watching this enviously and wondering whether they could or should do the same.
Right - Nancy Lancaster's bed from her house, Ditchley Park
In a post-brexit world I think Burberry should take this whole concept on a world tour. Tokyo, Shanghai, and Mumbai would relish this little outpost of Britishness, pots plants and all. We have to remember there’s a big world outside of London.
Burberry Makers House Open Until 27th September 2016, 1 Manette Street, London, W1D 4AT
How many of these great British figures can you name?
New this month, TheChicGeek is giving you his personalised bottle of Burberry’s new men’s fragrance, Mr Burberry.
A sensual herbal woody eau de toilette, the new Mr Burberry fragrance opens with notes of crisp zesty grapefruit, cut with a seductive base of earthy vetiver and smokey guaiac wood.
CLOSING DATE: 22nd May 2016 at 11.59pm - Winner(s) will be informed by email!
“Mr. Burberry is our most significant men’s fragrance to date. Inspired by the iconic Burberry trench coat and by London, a city of great contrasts and contradictions. It is traditional yet irreverent, elegant without being pristine. It perfectly encapsulates a mood and an attitude that today’s Burberry man will recognise as his own.” says Christopher Bailey, Chief Creative and Chief Executive Officer, Burberry.
Left - Josh's Bottle! Burberry - Mr. Burberry Eau De Toilette - 100ml - £64
Inspired by Burberry’s iconic black trench coat and by London, the Mr. Burberry fragrance was created by Christopher Bailey, working in collaboration with renowned perfumer Francis Kurkdjian. A sensual herbal woody eau de toilette, the fragrance opens with notes of crisp zesty grapefruit, cut with a seductive base of earthy vetiver and smokey guaiac wood.
Right - The full Mr Burberry range includes a beard oil
The Mr. Burberry campaign was shot in London by Oscar and Turner Prize-winning British director Steve McQueen in his first commercial film, and features British actor and musician Josh Whitehouse and British model and actress Amber Anderson. The soundtrack was created by British singer-songwriter Benjamin Clementine.
TheChicGeek says, “This is a big deal for Burberry. After buying back their fragrance license they are now in full control of this side of the business and see this as one of their growth areas. They need this to be a hit.
They’re one of the few mega-brands in fashion with a creative director overseeing every little detail of the business and you can feel the consistency here.
As for the fragrance, it’s nice, but not distinctive. The refreshing grapefruit of the top soon gives way to a soft and warm wood. The main negative is that it doesn’t last. You’d be better off using this as a type of cologne and applying lots and often to keep it with you. There’s also a full range of products to go with this, including a beard oil, which, while not revolutionary, at least shows they’ve thought about the men’s market and offered some difference.
I like the touch of gabardine, the original trench-coat fabric invented by Thomas Burberry, made in Burberry’s own factory in Yorkshire and tied around the neck of the bottle. This is as close as the majority of people will get to owning one of their expensive trench-coats. You can also have each bottle personalised with up to three initials.
The campaign feels a bit more risqué than the average perfume commercial, think quite a bit of nudity, but you do wonder how much will be cut to please different markets and advertisers.”
Below - Face of the fragrance, British actor & musician - Josh Whitehouse
From the frow to standing at the back! TheChicGeek was all over the recent menswear shows at London Collections: Men. Here are the trends that caught his eye:
Copper - That highlight orange has become slightly dirtier and more grown up.
From Far Left - Craig Green, Katie Eary, Hopman Design, Oliver Spencer
Grunge - Nobody’s ever made money from selling grunge, it’s kind of the point, no?
From Far Left - Topman Design, Burberry, J.W. Anderson
Neck Scarves - Double knot it for accessory impact.
Both Margaret Howell
Soft 70s Teddy Bear Hair - Layers, Bowl Cut, or simply ask for an 'Abigail's Party' next time you're at the barbers.
Below From Left - Lou Dalton, Burberry
Cropped Mid-Driff - Not since Mark Owen in the Relight My Fire Video have I been this excited about the male midriff. AW16's new, chilly erogenous zone!
From Far Left - Agi & Sam, Astrid Andersen
Inside Out Sheepskins - You could just turn last year's inside out, but it probably won't look as good!
From Far Left - Coach, James Long, 1205
Sequins - These were dress-down sequins on sportswear and simple tops.
Burberry, James Long
Silk - Menswear bedroom eyes with luxurious plain or printed silks in bedroom shapes.
Below - Katie Eary, Topman Design
Never one to stop himself bagging a bargain, TheChicGeek ventures into the ladies department at New Look for this one.
It's not just Edinburgh that is crazy about the fringe, fringing is a big trend for the forthcoming #AW15 season, particularly in suede (another trend!).
TheChicGeek says "Fringing is a bit too feminine, unless accessorised with a Stetson, on clothes and shoes, but it works well on men's bags, particularly totes. Burberry showed this tiered fringed shopper on their catwalk while New Look has a slightly longer fringed version in rich-looking brown suede at a fraction of the price".
Left - Burberry - Dark Chocolate 'Carryall' - £1895
Below - New Look - £24.99