Friday, 17 August 2018 14:36

ChicGeek Comment Generation Zzz?

Understanding Generation Z

As this year’s A Level and GSCE students collect their results I’m going to look at the reasons behind the death of the Saturday job amongst this demographic - Generation Z or iGen - why they seem to need less money and whether this will make them less attractive as a target market to marketeers, brands and retailers.

According to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) some 42% of 16- and 17-year-old students were studying and working simultaneously in 1997. This had dropped to just 18% in 2014.

Post-millennial youth - those born after 1996 - have been labelled as ‘Generation Boring’ or ‘Generation Sensible’. A recent survey by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service showed teenagers are becoming less likely to have sex, preferring to spend time with their families and having romantic relationships online. Teenage pregnancy rates have fallen by 55% in the last decade to their lowest ever level (July 2018). Add this to the rates of smoking, arrests, drug taking and drinking all falling and you can see why older generations are perplexed at this conservative and law abiding wave of youngsters.

Hannah Elderfield, Consumer Behavioural Analyst, Canvas8, says, “From paper-rounds to sweeping up at the hairdressers, Saturday jobs can give a first taste of independence and provide useful future skills. But, data shows that less British teens are taking on part time work, with pressure to get good academic results partly the reason."

“Research conducted by the BBC found that the number of young teens working part time jobs after school or at the weekend has declined steadily since 2013. Businesses employing kids aged between 13 and 15 are required to apply for a permit, and the number of permits issued in 140 local authorities across the country fell by a fifth – dropping from 29,498 in 2012, to 23,071 in 2016.” says Elderfield.

“When looking at dropping levels of Gen-Z taking up weekend jobs in general, it’s important to recognise the pressure teens today feel to do well in exams. 61% of 15- to 17-year-olds believe that good grades are more important than happiness! As a result, they’re channelling their focus into a different type of work, the hard work of studying.” she says.

Leila Willingham, Founder @Digipigz, which targets this demographic and offers ‘market research and insights supplemented by their community of industry astute 16-24 year olds’, says, “We think that statistics like that will mean marketing professionals label Gen Z as 'lazy' and what they won’t be interpreting is that Gen Z are very future focused and these statistics could be off the back of their dedication to learning and prioritising their studies over a job at that age. It may even be that they are doing work experience as opposed to paid work.”

Today’s teenagers don’t seem to be so driven to get themselves a part-time job, like previous generations, and it’s not because of a lack of opportunities. The number of jobseekers per vacancy has fallen to a record low despite a drop in the number of posts on offer. There was less than one person for each vacancy in June 2018 even though the number of advertised jobs fell by 5 per cent to 1.1million compared with a year ago, according to job site, Adzuna. Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics showed there are 32.4million people in work in the UK, a record high, and 388,000 more than a year earlier. The National Minimum Wage for people under 18 is £4.20, compared to £7.83 for those over 25. But, you would think this would make them more attractive to low-skilled employers? But, Generation Z seem to be set on concentrating on their studies. 

Mia, 15, from London, says, “I don't have a Saturday job because I spend most of the day at a Dance School, which is my exercise and release from the pressures of school.  I also have an absurd amount of homework which can take on average 2-3 hours a night/day, leaving little time to work or socialise. I also need some time to relax and recuperate.”

Her father, Darren, says, “I feel that the amount of homework received certainly affects the possibilities of part time work.  The kids, today, are under a huge amount of pressure to live up to an adult role model, living a fantasy lifestyle.  To be able to do this they know they need to succeed at school to achieve a high paying job.  I also believe that parents are being lent on more to assist with these social lifestyles. I had a part time job from the age of 12 to 17 and didn't rely on my parents much.  But, at the same time I received a fraction of the workload from school that children seem to receive today.”

“Many people think it’s better to get qualifications before leaving education to work straight away as many believe it is the best way to achieve a high income.” says Rhianna, 16, from Hounslow. 

It’s not ‘cool’ to be seen flipping burgers or stacking shelves when you’re living ‘your best life’ on social media. If Generation Z are too busy studying and doing their homework then they aren’t spending money on going out, drinking and maybe the knock on effects of needing new clothes to go out in etc. But, this doesn’t take into account teens documenting their lives through social media and the tendency towards materialism and showing off what they have.

Rihanna, 16, says, ““Some people get their money from 'cool' jobs like modelling or Saturday jobs, but many people use other illegal ways to allow them to quickly achieve the 'lavish lifestyle'. I get my money from my Mum and Dad and my grandparents, but I have to do jobs around the house. People want money and usually don’t mind sharing the fact that they have a job if it enables them to flaunt the expensive things they have bought on Instagram.” 

Mia, 15, says, “There is definitely a truth in not wanting to do 'uncool' jobs.  On Social Media you don't really see people working Saturday jobs and most of what you do see is a glamorous lifestyle. This creates a false impression of what you should be aspiring to.”

Teenagers are more reliant than ever on their parents for money. Liliah Zion, 14, from London, says, “My Mum gives me £40 a month to my account for which I am supposed to help with household chores, but, then I get more on top. Everyone just relies on their parents or sells clothing/stuff on depop.”

Her mother, Caroline, says, “I want my 14 year old daughter to work, as does she, however, I think she in the minority, and I recently asked a friend, who owns a long established West London clothing store, if she could work. He was dubious, but said "yes if she was genuinely into it” so that’s on the cards. She has been babysitting to earn money for herself . One of her friend’s Mum’s recently told me her daughter couldn’t even comprehend that she needed to work… ever and her fear was that because she doesn’t.”

But, not all of this generation are studiously just looking at their books or screens. There is a group of young entrepreneurs using their skill set and talents to make extra income. Jenk Oz, the 13-year old CEO of iCoolKid Ltd. a website highlighting ‘cool’ hobbies and activities for the younger generation, says, “We are definitely witnessing a trend of teenagers moving away from the traditional ‘Saturday job’. However, the truth is that the idea of young people seeking part time work, and starting their own businesses is thriving more than ever before. Young people want jobs that help to enhance their CV for university applications - as it’s so competitive - and they want to feel like their employers and job contributes in some way to their interests and hobbies. Gone are the days when a dish washing job in the local restaurant or a paper round are the only options. Now, with the rise and influence of social media and the internet, young people are open to a whole range of money making opportunities which just weren’t possible previously.” 

“For example, there’s so many digital orientated jobs which kids can get involved in today, and carry out remotely. From slime manufacturing and selling via Instagram, to writing social media copy for brands during their lunch break (so they can market better to teens), to personalising badges and selling them on Etsy – there’s so many creative activities that young people can try.” says Oz.

“These types of jobs work better with school schedules and present more opportunities for individuals with entrepreneurial flair, a key attribute of Gen Z’ers today. As most of these jobs are done remotely from a bedroom or garage, the wider public don’t see young people doing them – which makes their part time jobs less obvious. Today’s teens and tweens are starting their own businesses that suit their schedules and personal interests – rather than opting for the traditional weekend jobs.” he says.

Hannah Elderfield, says, “Embracing a long term view, they’re using every opportunity to give their careers a head start by swapping would-be weekend shifts at supermarkets for study and experiences. That's not to say they're abandoning work completely – many are finding ‘side hustles’ using tools like Pickle or launching entrepreneurial projects early on, on resale platforms such as Depop."

“Gen-Z’s disposable income is dropping, which has a knock-on effect on the brands they buy from. While they might not be buying into their favourite brands as often as they’d like, they’re still engaging with them, which is important for marketers to consider in the long run. More often than not, that engagement is happening online via social media channels. Eight out of ten Gen-Zers say that their purchases are influenced by social media and over half of 13- to 17-year-olds say they would rather their favourite brand be advertised via influencers.” she says.

Leila Willingham says, “These statistics paint Gen Z in a bad light and if marketing teams aren’t careful, and don’t take time to understand this complex generation, there’s a danger they’ll disregard this generation and later loose out when Gen Z have huge spending power and will look to brands that align with their values/beliefs and have a track record of being good on social, innovative with tech and accepting of diversity, for example.”

Brands need think long term about this generation. It's about raising awareness and desire in the hope of reaping the benefits when they can afford to make larger purchases and buying decisions in the future. This is especially true for luxury brands.

If these teenagers aren’t going out clubbing and drinking like previous generations, then what are they doing with their spare time? “Nothing most of the time. They might play Xbox (mainly boys), go to the park. Go shopping. Meet at friend’s house.”  says Rhianna, 16. “See friends, actually and digitally, and pursue hobbies like dancing, exercising, for boys football or skating or mates’ time.” says Liliah Zion, 14. Mia, 15, says, “I don't go out as much, but generally split costs with parents, depending on what I am doing.  There is also an expectation as a teenager to dress or act in a certain way (thanks to social media and peer group pressure) and this can be expensive. I generally save up for something special or ask my parents.”

When not online with each other, it feels like teenagers are spending a lot of time in each other’s houses with their activities watched over or supervised by parents. Because they have less disposable income, they are going out less to places involving drinking, smoking and drugs and probably a reason why many of these night time economy places have closed or are struggling to survive, giving even more reasons not to go out. It’s also an element of peer pressure in reverse. If your friends don’t have part-time jobs then, maybe, you don’t feel as much pressure to get one. You also don’t feel left out by having less money. As long as you can afford your phone and you have the internet and social media, then you have a satisfied social life. Is it all ‘Netflix & Chill” without the sex, or is that already yesterday’s news?

Life, it seems, gets very serious from an early age today and Generation Z is a reflection of this. Growing up through the age of austerity, they are very focussed on their futures. “Today, we know how important it is to achieve good grades to allow us to follow the career we eventually want to succeed in.  I feel that paid work can be delayed for now until we begin to work professionally and if I study hard enough the results will come in time.” says Mia, 15.

The pressures and time constraints of studying is weighing heavy on the ability and motivation to get part-time work. This is probably why the country’s exam results have got steadily better over the past few years. There are over 7 million 16-24 year olds living in the UK and the number of full-time students rose from 2.16 million in 1996 to 3.24 million in 2014. 

But these young people are missing out on valuable experiences. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) report also stated 'earners and learners' are likely to perform better and earn more than those students who focus only on their studies in the longer term. They are also likely to earn more than those just in full-time education, with a premium of 12-15 per cent. Part-time jobs are also excellent ways for young people to gain experience of the working world, a factor which 66% of employers say is important when recruiting. 

It’s clear Generation Z aren’t being lazy. On the one hand we have a very diligent, healthy and focussed generation which seems to be putting education before anything else, but, on the other, a generation without as much life experience and rebellious streak as previous ones. This generation is concentrating on learning and their revolution will just have to wait.

Published in Fashion

Mike Ashley House of Fraser Harrods of the high street

Mike Ashley is a retail predator. Much like a lion watching his prey out on the savannah, he waits until the wildebeest looks weak and separated from the herd and then bides his time. Pouncing only when it suits him and he’s certain of a tasty and easy meal.

This week he pounced and was rewarded with House of Fraser for £90m. He already had a 11% stake in HOF, bought in 2014, so he had an interest. 

Left - Harrods of the High-Street?

This price was drastically down from the £480m the Chinese owners, Sanpower, paid for it. The brand is weak and damaged, but not dead, but it will need investment in order to survive. They didn’t seem to have a strategy and they didn’t define why you would go to House of Fraser over another store. 

Ashley needs to work on making it clear why you’d return to House of Fraser. While John Lewis is offers mostly necessity, and can be bought online, Ashley would be better at targeting ‘treats’, relating to fashion and dressing up to seduce a higher spending customer to leave the house. 

This needs to be the store for birthdays, for Christmas, for anniversaries, or anything that requires fancy packaging and that feel good, swinging bag feeling. Fewer visits, but more money out of people’s pockets. At the moment the nicest thing they sell is a Mulberry handbag, but they need more excitement to keep people interested.

Promising to turn the struggling chain into “the Harrods of the high street”, could be Ashley’s flippant words, but if he focuses on that idea, he could be onto something. You don’t go to Harrods for the mundane or ordinary. Admittedly, the prices will have to be different, but you can still package everything nicely and tie-in exclusive product and brands.

Reading about his ‘elevation’ and expansion plans for his other brands, recently, what’s left of House of Fraser will be in prime locations such as Bluewater, Westfield White City and Glasgow, if he decides to stick to closing the other 31 struggling stores, and would fit nicely into this expansion plan. He could easily use his premium Flannels brands to insert much higher end product, something House of Fraser always aspired to be, but never quite got there.

He’s realised that it’s important to have product and brands for each level of customer. The bargain end is fickle and requires huge volumes, while the growth in luxury brands offers lower volumes, but much higher profits. Flannels is expanding rapidly and this acquisition will help create a larger scale.

Flannels is opening new stores at Glasgow Fort shopping centre, Hull and Leicester as part of its ongoing expansion drive. The retailer announced, recently, it expects to open between 6 and 12 new Flannels stores before its financial year end next April 2019. In its premium lifestyle division, Sports Direct currently operates 21 Flannels stores, 10 Cruise stores and three Van Mildert stores, so its premium designer business is really growing. Even Oxford Street is getting a Flannels next year.

He could introduce his underwear brand, Agent Provocateur, into HOF stores and work on their strong existing brands like Biba.

It’s inevitable, if Debenhams continues to struggle, that he’ll merge the two, already owning 29.7% of Debenhams. He’s probably waiting for his moment to strike on this one too and get it at a knocked down price. The high street will plateau soon and even go back into a growth mode and, if in the right locations, in the right cities, House of Fraser will be smaller, but much stronger. 

Published in Fashion
Friday, 10 August 2018 13:12

ChicGeek Comment Pricing Transparency

Pricing Transparency Priavte White VC explaining fashion mark ups

Why do things cost what they do? This is a question few ask when items are cheap, but, move up the pricing scale, and we feel like we need some explanation. Many brands cite the ‘luxurious’ materials and use the ‘made in…’ tags, and, think that is sufficient to justify higher and higher prices. But, some brands are going a lot further and not just explaining, but dissecting their costs and offering ‘Pricing Transparency’.

Left - Private White V.C. - Ventile Raincoat - £495

One of the pioneers is Manchester’s Private White V.C., known for its selection of premium outerwear. Made in ‘Cottonopolis’, Private White V.C.’s product isn’t cheap and they feel the need to tell you why. Calling it their ‘Pricing Manifesto’, it sets out how many minutes each garment takes to make and even down to how much thread is used.

Pricing Transparency Priavte White VC explaining fashion mark ups

Co-Founder and CEO, James Eden, says, “With the advent of the internet there is so much access to information now. It’s at the tips of people’s fingers and customers are more inquisitive and curious about how and where things are made. Country of origin has become county of origin and, now, factory of origin. People are interested in who makes their Private White V.C. coat, and for many years we have celebrated our workforce and their craft. The next step is to show people, our customer exactly how much that craftmanship is worth in pounds and pence.”

Certain brands are expensive because they can’t make their products any cheaper. They want to prove they’re not being greedy by taking huge mark-ups and margins, and that their goods are worth paying the price for.

Right - Explaining what goes into your Private White raincoat

“As a brand the most important thing is retaining, fostering and maximising the trust and confidence of our customers. This is done by offering great products, tremendous customer service and being honest and transparent in our approach – there is no room for smoke and mirrors!

“Our customers know they are not being misled or charged what we would consider to be an unfair price for a product. The economics of a direct to consumer business means it is far more contemporary and a much leaner model; and we think those benefits should be passed onto the customer.” says Eden.

This is a reaction against wholesaling and discounting too, which has become tougher and tougher for smaller manufacturers and brands. Private White V.C. is at that point where the brand is recognised and can, therefore, pull back on wholesale and take it direct to consumers. Smaller brands, like pilot fish with a whale, need a vehicle to be presented to people, particularly online.

“So far I am happy to say the response has been extremely positive. We all acknowledge it is a bold move, but we think it is essential for businesses, like ours, in such a crowded market place, to differentiate ourselves first and foremost by quality, but also in our philosophy which champions: transparency of sourcing and price transparency. 

“We are striving for a full price policy, so there are no inflated prices prior to an ad-hoc sale for example;  I just don’t think this is sustainable. It is very much educating the customer to never to pay full price. There is so much investment in the quality of our people, the materials and the process, we want our prices to properly reflect that - we want our customers to know that we have made this fair and correct. No discounts or promotions also gives people confidence that the product that they buy today will be sold for the same price in 6 months’ time.” he says.

This is fashion’s reaction to field to fork labelling. Many supermarkets, now, tell you the name of the farmer or even the number of the animal. It’s about traceability and re-educating the consumer into buying better and feeling good about paying more.

Private White V.C. has the luxury of owning its factory and not making anything anywhere else and you're not paying for a 'name'. It’s a simple formula.

Alessandro Agazzi, fashion business expert and blogger at www.thestyleism.com says, “I think it's a smart move. People/consumers want to know more about what they are buying. And with that, many people are like ‘look how good they are, they show want to show us that they are very fair’”.

“They are not the first ones to do it. Again, I think their move is to create a stronger engagement with existing and new clients. You can't compare the costs of a luxury/designer brand to the ones of a manufacturer. But, yes, people are more and more price-conscious and this is a fact.” says Agazzi.

“I think this is mainly a marketing thing from them; and their consumers seem to like it - from the comments on their IG feed. I’m not sure others will follow. It is a delicate move to do it. I asked Private White a couple of questions, the answers were very polite, but, again I am not too convinced how they calculate the costs of the garment. They have not considered costs that they're bearing - retail, logisitcs, PR, photography. And their 2x is even lower when you deduct the VAT from the SRP.” he says.

It’s important to be fair, but it’s also important to make a healthy profit. If you’re working on very small margins it doesn’t take much to tip the whole thing over. I think the majority of people outside of the fashion business don’t know the typical mark-ups on luxury goods and it's often a closely guarded secret.

Will other British brands following suit? I asked, Alice Made This, a British jewellery company specialising in artisan techniques and precious metals, their thoughts.

“Private White V.C. are fortunate, in this instance, that they are a factory and a retailer in terms of transparency. This allows them to disclose costs and stick to prices to allow these stats to remain true for a long period of time. We use a variety of British factories and, for us, to disclose our factories prices in such a granular way may be a breach of their confidential information. Our pricing varies per batch as metal prices fluctuate daily and our factories have to pass these onto us as their customer.” says Alice Walsh, Co-Founder, Alice Made This.

“I think it is interesting, but difficult for us to be accurate, therefore I feel it becomes not as transparent as it may appear! I believe customers expect honesty, integrity and transparency. This can be offered to them in a number of ways.” she says.

There is an element of marketing here and you don't get exact figures, but I also think the attitude is, why not try it? In this fast changing retail landscape you want to shout about your product and this is a way of standing behind it. It builds trust and creates an honest halo over the brand. ‘Pricing Transparency’ only works if you have nothing to hide. Very few brands can do this, but, the ones that can, should.

Below - Private White V.C. comparing its model and 'Traditional Luxury'

 

Pricing Transparency Priavte White VC explaining fashion mark ups

Published in Fashion
Tuesday, 31 July 2018 16:16

ChicGeek Comment The Rise of Sliders

The rise of the sliders footwear category

It wasn’t so long ago a ‘slider’ was something containing pulled pork and came in a mini brioche bun. Today, it’s one of the biggest categories in casual footwear.

It was our obsession with everything sportswear and retro that saw the return of Adidas’ ‘Adilette Slides’ which, arguably, started the whole mainstream trend. Teamed with white sports socks it became the default cool and comfortable warm weather shoe for fashionable geeks.

Slydes - 'Flint' AW18 - £25 

Fast forward a couple of summers and ‘Sliders’ has become a footwear category in its own right. Much more ‘on-brand’ than flip-flops, luxury brands have piled into the market attracted by the volumes and margins. This is their cool entry shoe and shows no signs of going anywhere and will, no doubt, be one of their biggest selling footwear categories this year.

“I love how fashion works in mysterious ways and the pool slide is a great example - five years ago it would have been a faux-pas and, now, it’s a must have summer shoe, trending globally. Since this humble shoe’s luxury makeover, at the hands of brands such as Bottega Veneta, Gucci and Prada to name a few, it has grown in popularity becoming a style to not only wear on holiday, but in everyday city life too. It’s also been a great platform for brands embracing the logo mania trend to position their logo.” says David Morris, Senior Shoes Buyer at MR PORTER.

The rise of the sliders footwear category Balenciaga leather sliders

Ben Carr, Buyer at MATCHESFASHION.COM, says, “Sliders can be a great way to buy into a designer brand because of their competitive price point and with celebrities like A$AP Rocky and Justin Bieber often wearing these styles we’ve definitely noticed an uplift in their popularity.”

“Sliders and sandals have become one of our biggest growth areas, the biggest fashion houses have made it their focus on runways and within their collections. Prada champion the sandal and have reintroduced a range of sliders. The competitive price point enables increased accessibility for a wider audience.” says Carr.

Right - Balenciaga - Logo-debossed Leather Slides - £435 from matchesfashion.com

The slider is the cheapest shoe for many luxury brands. The margin on a pair of £435 Balenciaga logo-embossed leather slides would be significant. That’s an understatement, I know. Just imagine how many £225 sliders Gucci has sold this summer to the Love Island wannabes. This is big business.

On the more affordable spectrum, and founded in 2014,  the footwear brand ‘Slydes’ specialises in, well, slides. Brand Owner, Juls Dawson, says, “Four years ago the founders spotted the trend as to was coming up over the horizon and jumped all over it. The rest, they say is history.”

He won’t reveal how many pairs of £16 sliders he is, now, selling, but says, “we can say sales are doubling year on year.”

Dawson highlights the versatility of the slider for its growth and popularity. “They are so versatile, worn from gym to pool and from beach to club, spanning not just most age groups and demographics, but the globe. They have been embraced across all genres of music, Influencers, clubbers, Millennials, keep fit fanatics, to name but a few,” he says.

The slider is part of the dominant sportswear trend and, of all the summer styles, the flip flop has probably taken the biggest hit from the slider. The slicker slider has managed to upstage the flimsy flip flop, which still looks somewhat underdressed, dirty and cheap.

“The flip flop, albeit a classic open toed sandal doesn’t have the scale of a slider. Limited to a narrow thong and a thin rubber outsole, where as the slider’s outsole can be raised, coloured, embellished and re-designed the upper of a slider. By its very definition, as long as you can slide you foot, it’s a slider, and, you can do pretty much anything with the silhouette.” says Dawson.

You also can’t wear flip flops with socks. So, what’s the future for the slider category?

“Every trend will reach a peak at some point, but Slydes have the capacity to move on and evolve as the uppers are like a blank canvas to add embellishment, print, texture, grahics, logos, materials…the possibilities are endless.” says Dawson.

“I think it will be less branded and graphic, moving into a more simple design. The rise of the logo focussed collections is down trending and we can see it already starting with footwear.” says Carr.

The slider looks set to become more subtle and lowkey. One brand introducing sliders for the first time is Grenson, which featured a couple of styles in their latest SS19 collection.

“I love looking at styles that are ‘on-trend’ and seeing if I can do a Grenson version, that makes sense. This was a challenge as most sliders are rubber with huge logos, but I found a way to do a leather version.” says Tim Little, Creative Director and Owner, Grenson.

“People needed a replacement for the flip flop for the summer, but also the ugly shoe trend made the slider the perfect choice. Added to that, of course, is comfort and convenience.” he says.

The rise of the sliders footwear category Tom Ford Churchill

Explaining the attraction to many premium footwear brands, Little, says, “The flip flop is very basic and cheaply made, whereas the slider allows more opportunity to create a crafted version. I can’t see us doing a flip flop as there isn’t much that we can bring to the party.”

While the slider is still cool, it’s grown to a size which makes it bigger than a fashion trend. The slider category will continue to grow and become more permanent as more and more people buy and wear them. Attracted by the branding, comfort and the infinite designs and finishes, the slider category will continue to see more brands enter the market. Much like the designer trainer trend before it, we’ll see more brands put their own DNA onto this simple shoe and happily price it to match. Even Tom Ford has done a dressy velvet pair named ‘Churchill’.

David Morris, from MRPORTER says,  “Slides have never been as relevant as they are now, especially as we’ve seen a shift in the market as men continue to embrace casualwear and sportswear as part of their everyday wardrobe. Luxury brands such as Prada and Balenciaga have seamlessly incorporated luxury slides into their collections giving credibility to the footwear style, so they are now an option to team with the ready-to-wear. This footwear category will continue to dominate over the summer seasons whilst this sportswear trend is still key.” 

Left - Tom Ford - Churchill Chain Trimmed Velvet Slides - £370 from MRPORTER.COM

 

Published in Fashion

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

“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.

Published in Fashion

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.

Published in Fashion

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 

Published in Fashion
Tuesday, 26 June 2018 13:15

ChicGeek Comment The Chinese Way

Retail Market The Cheapest of the best

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.

Published in Fashion
Thursday, 31 May 2018 14:55

ChicGeek Comment PrEPpy Style

PrEP influencing how men are looking

Let’s take a moment to step back and see how fashionable men are looking at this moment in time. You’ve probably noticed a proliferation of thick moustaches - well away from the month of Movember - alongside lean and toned bodies all clothed in fitted, retro sportswear. It’s hard not to see his counterpart mirrored from the late 70s or early 80s. An era of disco, gay liberation and pre-AIDS.

Left - How men are looking today - lean, toned and a hair top lip - Gone is the bearded and tattooed hipster

This isn’t just gay men either. Young straight men and homosexual men are almost indecipherable in how they look, today, bouncing the trends off one another and have the confidence to do as they please, rather than worry about being labelled either way.

Henry Cavill superman

Christopher Reeve superman

I was recently in a gay pub in East London. In walked three young guys all proudly sporting cropped hair and thick moustaches. I thought it was interesting how they looked like the same young men from nearly 40 years ago. I wondered why all these things: the clothes, the body shape and facial hair styles, had all collided back to this one point in time. And, then I thought, maybe it’s because we’re entering a Post-AIDS era? 

Right - Two Supermen, 40 years apart - Henry Cavill & Christopher Reeve

Thanks to medication, HIV can be prevented and people who do have it can no longer pass it on. Medication such as PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) can stop HIV from taking hold. It is highly effective for preventing HIV if used as prescribed and it recently became available on the NHS.

Consciously or unconsciously, it feels like we can finally celebrate this time because we’re no longer scared of it. Previously, looking at the images from that era had a heavy melancholy knowing what was to come and how many men  didn’t make it out of that decade. But, it feels like that has lifted. It’s a mental freedom that the fashion industry is clearly relishing and focusing on this hedonistic era and image of hyper-masculinity. 

PrEP influencing how men are looking Fire Island Pines

Popular Instagram accounts such as ‘TheAidsMemorial’ celebrates the lives of men who lost their lives and it’s interesting how contemporary these images look. Publications such as ‘Gayletter’ play with retro homoerotic imagery and books such as ‘Fire Island Pines’ , is a collection of Polaroids from 1975-1983 of men holidaying in Fire Island in Long Island, New York, and they look like a contemporary men's swimwear shoot. Recent films like ‘Tom of Finland’ focuses on the illustrator who drew the fetish/leather side of gay men and can be seen throughout the recent AW18 collection from Moschino.

Left - Photography book - Fire Island Pines by Tom Bianchi

PrEP influencing how men are looking Moschino menswear AW18

This is obviously centred on the gay community, but gay men influence straight men, so quickly now, and vice versa. 

“In the inimitable words of power PR Samantha Jones of TV show ‘Sex and the City’ (fictional, of course) "First comes the Gays, then the girls and then the industry"!says David M Watts, Editor & Publisher, Wattswhat Magazine.

"Gay men have historically been regarded as trend setters when it comes to fashion and style. However, the resurgence of male erotica imagery making its way into mainstream fashion has more to do with lazy millennial designers looking back and copying 80s and 90s imagery rather than using it as inspiration to create something new,” says Watts.

Right - Moschino AW18

Contemporary films, documentaries and TV shows such as Ready Player One, Stranger Things, The Assassination of Gianni Versace and Antonio Lopez: Sex, Fashion & Disco - Read TheChicGeek review here, keep us continually coming back to the 70s and 80s. 

“I think nostalgia is a feeling which anchors us in a constantly-changing world, and that period between the late-Seventies and mid-Eighties, pre-AIDS crisis, pre-Section 28, and the birth of the Gay Liberation movement, is sometimes seen by gay men as a golden age of hedonism and queer sexual politics. Hence the continued popularity of the music and style from that period,” says Lee Clatworthy, Writer and Press and Media Officer for Sparkle - The National Transgender Charity.

"I think this style has filtered down to the mainstream because of the availability of cheap flights to cities like Berlin, which has a large queer art community, but is also a focal point for innovative electronic music and club culture at present.” says Clatworthy.

Gone is that built, steroid-fed and hairless muscular body of the 90s and in its place is a more natural yet Instagramable toned shape. It’s more youthful and suits the current fitted style of men's clothes.

PrEP influencing how men are looking GQ Style SS18

Trying not to fixate on the moustache too much, but it’s definitely one of the defining factors linking the two eras, one thing to know is, it’s not the twiddly gin-drinking Victorian type, but the solid Magnum PI style. The many years of Movember would have played a part in its return, but it’s most probably a reaction to the hipster beard.

Left - GQ Style SS18

PrEP influencing how men are looking

“I would say guys wearing the moustache are normally stylish and looking to stand out a bit more in a world of beards. It normally means they are confident in themselves too.” says Tom Chapman, Founder of the Lions Barber Collective.

“I think the obsession with facial hair as a whole has been with us for a few years now, but people are starting to feel confident with a furry face and beginning to experiment with different shapes. There are so many choices when it comes to the moustache which can be easily changeable and stylable.” says Chapman.

Right - Selfie from Pinterest

PrEP influencing how men are looking GQ Style SS18

“The thicker, denser looks with less styling have definitely come from those 70/80 icons such as Freddy Mercury and Hulk Hogan and I would say that young men are most definitely influenced by iconic TV and films. They have a powerful way of making something feel cool or stylish.” Chapman says.

While this ‘PrEPpy’ look has already been strong, particularly amongst East London gay men, it is definitely being pushed out into the wider male aesthetic. As we move further away from the bearded hipster, this seems to be its cool replacement. It is starting to influence straight males who won’t even know where it’s come from.

Or, it could simply be just a lot of young men with moustaches. It’s only a theory!

Left - Clearly influence by Tom of Finland, GQ Style SS18 showing the lean, toned and tached male look

Read more expert ChicGeek Comments - here

Published in Fashion

High street retail River Island

If the headlines were to be believed you’d think the high-street was in terminal decline and everybody was withdrawing at the speed of knots. Store closures across the board and brands shrinking to survive, it’s armageddon on the high-street, they scream!

The retail market has always seen brands or chains crash and burn over the years. It’s part of the retail renewal cycle and allows others to appear and grow.

Left - River Island's new expanded store at Milton Keynes' Centre:MK

"As consumers, we are becoming more and more demanding, each new level of service experienced serves to simply raise the bar even higher. In the UK in February 2018 online accounted for 17.2% of total sales (source ONS). Whilst this is still increasing (15.6% in February 2017) it is still a relatively small proportion of total sales meaning that over 80% is from the high-street. So, it is clear that the high-street is far from dead but it is evolving at a rapid rate - Darwinism on the high-street if you like, where the process of evolution naturally culls the weak whilst the strong prosper and survive,” says Andrew Busby, Founder & CEO Retail Reflections.

Continuing to grow, online retail sales leapt to 18.8% last month - April 2018 - and it won’t be long before it hits 20% and maybe even 30%. For the offline retail optimist, though, it means 80% is left for the taking offline in physical stores.

But, while the focus has been on chains closing stores - M&S announced 100 stores closing by 2022 - there are a few strong and growing brands stealthily tightening their hold and grip on the high-street. The focus is on bigger and better stores in premium locations: less stores but better.

As brands vacate premium sites other brands can cherry-pick and expand into the gaps, but only in the top tier of shopping centres and cities.

For example, both Zara and River Island are carrying out major expansions of their stores at Intu Lakeside. River Island will be doubling the size of its store to 21,000 sq ft while Zara will treble its store size to 35,000 sq ft making the stores among the largest in the retailers’ portfolios. They are the latest retailers to invest in flagship stores at Intu Lakeside since H&M doubled the size of its store to 36,000 sq ft and Next opened an expanded 70,000 sq ft store in Spring 2017. 

When Banana Republic vacated Westfield White City, Zara took the opportunity to create the biggest branch in the UK. River Island recently doubled the size of its store in Centre:MK in Milton Keynes. The retailer doubled its existing unit to 20,000 sq ft to accommodate the brand’s full range of womenswear, menswear and children’s fashion ranges.

Nick Tahir, River Island, Head of Menswear Buying says, “We have over 280 stores in the UK. In an increasingly competitive high street, it is important to keep River Island stores looking fresh, relevant and exciting. With 30 years heritage, naturally some stores will require a makeover and in some towns/cities and that has been a key focus for us, we have also been increasing our square footage, to accommodate the needs of our customer and our growing divisions (for example we launched RI Kids and RI Mini only a couple of years back and the demand is consistently growing).”

“Although retailers are seeing an impact on bricks and mortar due to mobile and online, retail is still the biggest mix of sales for us. With our heritage, stores will always play an important role. They are the heartbeat of the River Island. The challenge for us and our peers in the industry, is to keep our customers coming back again and again. We do this by enhancing their shopping experience – whether that’s through pop-ups and exclusive events, or through offering something that our customers can’t find with some of our competitors; take Style Studio for example, our complimentary Personal Shopping service. It is vital for us to keep revamping and improving our store aesthetic to draw footfall, creating theatre through VM and windows and of course constantly refreshing our product offering to stay relevant and exciting.” says Tahir.

As stores grow larger at key shopping hot spots, retailers can give fewer locations more attention and fine tune, update and invest in those locations. But, what this will also mean is many towns will lose their well known names and become secondary as the money is sucked into fewer, bigger places.

“Most retailers with a large store estate have too much space so what we're also seeing (landlord rent restrictions aside) is an expected re-sizing and in some cases re-purposing of space eg. Debenhams considering renting out space to WeWork.” says Busby.

“All this means that the stores which survive will need to be far better than those we currently experience. For example, the poor quality of the Toys R Us stores was a major factor in it collapsing into administration.” he says.

High street retail Zara

“But the fascinating dynamic is that quality and customer experience in store is largely dependent upon the particular shopping journey ie. if it's a distressed purchase then the customer just wants to get in, find what they need, pay and leave - as seamlessly as possible. However, if it's for say a luxury item they may well welcome, indeed, seek out engagement and advice; being quite happy to spend far longer. Both journeys will be judged by different criteria. The trick for retailers is to recognise what journey we're on and act accordingly. Facial recognition and AI is going a long way to be able to tell what mood we are in when we enter the store.” says Busby.

Right - Zara's new store at Westfield Stratford 

The shopping centre companies know this too. The recently abandoned £3.4bn tie-up between Hammerson and Intu failed, I think, because Hammerson were probably only interested in a handful of their top sites like Manchester’s Trafford Centre. Trying to offload or revive the others would be costly and a distraction and knowing where the market is heading, it knows it’ll probably be able to bid on what it wants individually if Intu starts to wobble in the foreseeable future. 

In order to survive it’s going to be about fewer players with less but stronger sites. As more close, it strengthens those which are left. If you believed the newspapers you’d think that every retailer had given up on physical stores, but the clever ones are only getting started. When the growth in online slows or plateaus, these proactive retailers will be positioned to take full advantage of the eventual return to the high-street.

Read more expert ChicGeek Comments - here

Published in Fashion
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