Fashion weeks’ viability are continually being questioned. It’s the same conversation every time on the front row - the fashion industry’s twice yearly deja vecu - What is the point? And, how do fashion brands and designers justify the expense and time?
There’s no doubt the major fashion weeks - New York, London, Milan & Paris - have suffered recently as the industry has contracted, brands have merged men’s and women’s shows together and others have opted out entirely, reducing both the quality and quantity of many fashion weeks. Yet, many brands are still willing to spend millions on a few short minutes of exposure.
Ready-to-wear fashion weeks’ last hoped for raison d’être trend was ‘See Now, Buy Now’, which didn’t really work. It was too restrictive in a creative capacity for brands whose collections are often pulled together and styled a few weeks before each show.
It’s time to try something else, so could ‘public-facing shows’ be the solution and create a much needed source of income for these trade organisations?
Left - Will the BFC's idea for 'Public Facing' Shows' revive fashion weeks raison d'être?
The British Fashion Council has announced public-facing shows at the forthcoming London Fashion Week in September. Designers ‘House Of Holland’ and ‘self-portrait’, the first to be announced, will be taking part in the new London Fashion Week format which sees the internationally recognised event open its doors to the public.
Unlike the ‘London Fashion Weekend’ which is tagged onto the end of fashion week, and is more a exhibition-type event, this will take place during the main fashion week. There are public shows on the Saturday and Sunday with ticket holders choosing from three different time slots; 10am, 1pm and 4pm. The public audience is able to purchase tickets to “an immersive London Fashion Week experience” taking place at the official London Fashion Week Hub where Standard tickets are priced at £135 and Front Row tickets at £245.
The British Fashion Council says, “The experience includes catwalk shows, on Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th September 2019; creative installations, industry-led talk panels from experts offering unparalleled insights to the fashion industry, the DiscoveryLAB, an experiential space where fashion meets art, technology and music and a newly relaunched Designer Exhibition, which will fully embrace #PositiveFashion, the BFC’s initiative designed to celebrate industry best practice and encourage future business decisions to create positive change.”
Fashion Writer, Dal Chodha, @dalchodha says, “Fashion shows are already ‘public facing’ so I don’t think this initiative is necessarily a bad thing. “What is increasingly obvious is that the industry has tried to maintain its aloofness whilst still courting attention from anyone and everyone for too long. There has been no clear welcome of the general public into the fashion conversation, despite all of the hot air about the ‘democratisation’ of fashion. I haven’t seen it.” he says. “There is nothing democratic about showing people clothes they cannot get, or streaming experiences they cannot feel.”
Dan Hasby-Oliver, Blogger, Last Style of Defense, says, “I do think this opens up crucial funding for both designers and the BFC, as well as making an industry more transparent, given the convo. around sustainability - it all goes hand-in-hand. However, I do fear it could become a circus of phone toting teens…”
“I think it’s a great idea. The designers need customers. If we can get #shoptherunway technology and eventually solve the fit issue using technology, we’ll have a seemless way for designers to make money from a runway show. The old model is dead. Off with its head!” says Melissa Shea, Cofounder of Fashion Mingle, the first nationwide platform designed exclusively for fashion professionals.
The full line-up of catwalk shows, talks and designers taking part in the London Fashion Week “Designer Exhibition” will be announced in the next few weeks. London isn’t the first fashion week to try to tap into this enthusiasm from the public.
"I have visited Seoul Fashion Week four times to report on it for Wallpaper and I was most struck by the energy, the excitement in the room!” says Chodha. “I believe they operate on a lottery system, but I don’t think people pay money for tickets. The first show I went to was bizarre because people were screaming and smiling and laughing each time they saw a celebrity or a look they liked. It felt like the photographs of 1980s shows coming to life. People were ENJOYING them – in contrast to the glum faces you see in Paris, Milan and London. Most of us are too busy trying to process what we are seeing to really enjoy it. No one applauds at shows anymore because each of us is wielding a phone, ‘gramming the moment. So if people are avidly watching and enjoying the stories, why not free up a few seats and invite them to the show? I don’t see the harm in it, as long as we are still allowed to do our job. Fashion is a tricky industry because it is so seductive. I just wish that more young people were encouraged to go and see scientists or surgeons at work too, rather than just designers!” he says.
With ticket prices to rival a rock concert, the BFC is clearly hoping to make serious revenue from this. They’ve previously sold tickets to the British Fashion Awards, and sponsors have always been given tickets to London Fashion Week in exchange for money.
“I agree that the pricing is an issue as it pits itself as a ‘luxury’ experience - also in terms of broadening out the kinds of people who have access to fashion, the price of the tickets will foster no new ways of thinking.” says Chodha. “The move from the BFC just confirms fashion’s new role as a type of theatre. It is a spectacle (even when it is bad). Just like traipsing around an art gallery or squeezing yourself into a concert, fashion is entertainment.
“‘Outsiders’ have been going to fashion shows for a long time under the guise of ‘sponsors friends’. Is this the future? It is the here and now. To be snobbish about it is to refuse evolution. Something has to change, that’s for sure.” he says.
“Fashion week is a working environment, and to perhaps make it a free for all could make professionals reconsider their place during the week, thus transitioning the event to a redundant, consumer facing replacement for See Now, Buy Now.” says Hasby-Oliver. “Perhaps more work-place/open days/industry support would benefit keen outsiders looking to the industry instead. I do think, the current price package is prohibitive to the less privileged. Concl: Yes for transparency and education for the few, No to making it a frenzied free for all.” he says.
Traditionally, Haute Couture fashion shows have always been about the consumer with the hope these ridiculously expensive clothes are ordered off the back of the show. But, it was a model only for the mega-monied who could buy entry by becoming a customer. These shows will be separate from the press/buyer shows, but should give attendees a feel of going to a full fledged fashion show. Many people want to attend a fashion show once in their lifetime and if the BFC get the designers, music and models right they should satisfy those with the desire to stump up this sort of cash to go. Unfortunately, the best designers will probably decline to take part.
Fashion and fashion weeks’ exclusivity is one of the attractions of the industry. The desire for tickets, the scrum at the door and the hysteria are all part of the fun. To sell out 6 catwalk shows for these prices will be a challenge, but will certainly generate some income. These shows need to be buzzy and full to give the full LFW experience. If successful, other brands could look at offering another public show after their main one and possibly give the tickets away in a ballot or to VIP customers. The industry will be watching.
Mention Croydon and the first thing the majority of people say is ‘Boxpark’. That, and the fact the place is a bit run down, is all people seem to know about this outer South London suburb. The metal shipping container type concept of Boxpark has become the ‘up and coming’ stamp of hipster approval and many councils and developers see it as an opportunity to regenerate their town centres, drive footfall and appeal to a younger audience.
Since its launch in 2011, Boxpark has morphed from retail to food outlets, and, now, work places. Just announced, Boxpark has nationwide expansion plans alongside two brand new concepts; BoxOffice and BoxHall. They currently have 3 sites in Shoreditch, Croydon and Wembley. and there are plans to expand with a further ten new sites over the next five years.
Left - Boxparks new concepts; BoxOffice & BoxHall
The new concept, BoxOffice, is a co-working space which will be incorporated into brand new Boxpark sites. The Boxpark and BoxOffice schemes will be a 50,000 - 150,000 sq ft. in size with developments featuring the Boxpark streetfood and bars set up on the ground floor and leisure operators such as virtual reality, cinemas, crazy golf and karaoke on the first floor and between two to four floors of co-working space above. Boxpark will work along alongside existing co-working companies on the launch and operation of the new BoxOffice concept.
BoxHall is a new food hall concept. These smaller, 10,000-20,000 sq ft, food and beverage destinations will be based on existing sites within city centres across the UK, featuring between six and twelve street food vendors at each site. Boxpark’s turnover is reported to be currently in the region of £10 million a year.
Boxpark founder and CEO Roger Wade said, “I’m really excited to announce our plans for our brand new BoxOffice and BoxHall concepts. Boxpark has always been an innovator in the retail and leisure sector and these brand new formats demonstrate our investment in continuing to evolve both the brand and the sites we build and operate. These two major new innovations will help us secure a further 10 sites across the UK over the next five years.”
They haven’t named the sites, but proposals were submitted to Brighton & Hove City Council to revive the crumbling Victorian arches on the seafront, and will incorporate a new premium hotel operator alongside a Boxpark.
Founder Roger Wade’s background is retail and he was the founder of footwear brand, Boxfresh. The pop-up Boxpark idea has been successful because it has mirrored Generation Rent. The temporary nature and its choice of more ‘edgy’ locations needs less investment and has less local competition. It’s the opposite of chainy, while still being a chain and situated at travel hotspots for a generation who aren’t learning to drive. Read ChicGeek Comment Neighbourhood Shops - here
Councils are also encouraging them too. Croydon Council gave Boxpark a £3million loan, plus another £180,000 grant of public cash towards its launch party. Croydon Boxpark has 40 traders from around the world, both established and start-up, set in over 90 shipping containers. With Croydon as a further example, while the Boxpark seems to be thriving near the main East Croydon station with direct trains to London and Brighton, Westfield’s much feted shopping centre in the middle of the town seems to be wobbling and being pushed back further and further. Bricks and mortar is expensive and these easily converted containers are ripe for small start ups, offer more customer choice and can be moved easily if a location doesn't work.
Right - Time Out Market London opening at Waterloo Station in 2021
When Boxpark first opened in Shoreditch it was retail focussed with brands such as Calvin Klein Underwear and Nike. It quickly moved more into food when it realised young people wanted experience over stuff. The two further Boxparks were purely food focussed. Now, they’ve realised there is potential to develop further and make ‘Box’ the ‘Easy’ brand for younger generations.
Eating at these places is cheaper and cooler than eating in standard restaurants. It has spawned imitators such as Pop in Brixton and GRUB in Manchester while chains like Byron Burgers and Jamie’s Italian have all suffered. Shopping centres and town centres are seeing that these hipster concepts appeal to Millennials and Generation Z who want authenticity, and, while a similar idea, they feel like the antithesis of the traditional American mall type food courts.
Food is the fulcrum for all these developments, and it's the theatre of food that creates the buzz and energy missing from many modern retail locations. People need to eat, it brings people together and makes them leave the house.
These mini-food halls are seeing a boon ATM. ‘Market Hall’ opened at Victoria Station and Fulham with a third opening, the flagship, ‘Market Hall West End’, opening late 2019 in the old BHS building off Oxford Street and will become the largest food hall in the UK. Covering 37,500 sq ft over three floors, with over 800 covers, "this impressive space will feature twelve independent food vendors made up of crowd favourites in Fulham and Victoria as well as some new faces, four bars, a children’s play area, three dedicated events spaces and TV recording studio including a demo kitchen". Market Hall founder, Simon Anderson, told the Big Hospitality website in April 2019, “We are concentrating our attention for the next year and a half within the M25 as we know the London audience well. When we go further afield we’ll go to the north first as half our management team is based in Yorkshire and has a good understanding of that marketplace. Within the next few years we hope to have three or four more sites in London and three or four out of London.”
These modern food halls are like an internet portal or host. The umbrella brand hosts numerous smaller and unknown brands offering more choice and novelty while charging a fee and not getting their hands too dirty. Shopping centre owner intu asked Market Hall to open at their Lakeside centre in Thurrock this Spring. I wrote this last year, ChicGeek Comment Returning Malls To Markets
'The Hall’ “brings together dynamic and independent food traders from across the south east and use the big-city energy, theatre and excitement of street-food to create a compelling dining experience for intu Lakeside’s 20 million annual footfall” says the blurb.
The Hall at intu Lakeside is 14,500 sq ft and includes seven kitchens, a coffee shop, pop-up areas for food trucks, two bars and seating for 680 people.
Other examples include the Time Out Market London, opening at Waterloo station in 2021 - Read more ChicGeek Comment Investors Letting The Train Take The Strain and Eataly, opening on Broadgate, next to Liverpool Street station, in 2020.
Left - Eataly opening on Broadgate in 2020
This global Italian food “marketplaces” operator, which combines retail and restaurant concessions, already has locations in New York City, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles, as well as in Japan and Brazil. It promises a selection of “the best Italian products, restaurants, bars, quick services, exciting on-site production laboratories, and a cooking school.”
The Boxpark brand is the leader in this area of pop-up food malls and developers and towns are seeing this as a worthy replacement for the contraction in retail demand. The new BoxOffice and BoxHall concepts seem like logically growth of a popular brand.
Umbrella brands like Boxpark also know councils and shopping centre owners will offer financial incentives for them to bring these currently cool concepts to their locations. The only difficulty I see is expecting an unlimited supply of authentic, ambitious and quality start-ups to fill them. These concepts are only as strong as their groups of operators and it will be a fine balance of supporting them while profiting from them.
You’re joking, not another one!! - said in a Bristolian accent - when news came in that Sports Direct’s, Mike Ashley had snapped up Jack Wills. Yet another brand to be gobbled up by the Pac-Man of the British high street.
Left - Jack Wills was just gobbled by the high street Pac-Man, Mike Ashley
The preppy retailer had been on the block after private equity owner, BlueGem Capital, lost interest. Things were obviously worse than was thought with Jack Wills being put into administration and immediately sold pre-pack to Sports Direct for £12.75 million. The deal includes all 100 UK and Ireland stores and stock, as well as a distribution centre, but not the international business.
This is just another brand in a long list of troubled retailers snapped up by Ashley in his buying spree over the last few years. While many of these retailers have been snapped up for bargain prices, inspired by his Sports Direct marketing no doubt, they were in trouble for a reason, and, there’s only so many brands you can give the attention and TLC they need to nurse them back to health.
Ashley has also been distracted with his failed bid for Debenhams and his shareholding being wiped out, and in his recent, disastrously handled, release of Sports Direct’s latest set of results he started to lament his purchase of House of Fraser. He’s realised that House of Fraser is a serious money pit. So, why does he want even more? Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Every time a brand gets into trouble, Ashley is named as a potential suitor and it’s almost becoming a joke. It’s as though he’s some magic man that knows something we don’t and while we’ve been waiting, with some scepticism, on some of the ‘Harrods of the high street’ rhetoric to be followed through on, he needs to hurry up before it all becomes too late to repair.
Social media has become a running commentary of people saying how bad their local House of Fraser has become and how it is slowing turning into another branch of Sports Direct with its Lonsdale pants and Slazenger joggers.
Maybe a sign of intention, he paid £95 million - more than for the entire chain - for the freehold of the original House of Fraser in Glasgow promising to turn it into the ‘Harrods of the north’. (Harrods must be loving all this free publicity btw). There are plans to create a mini, higher end chain of stores - around 7, including Glasgow - within the House of Fraser group, called ‘Frasers’ with the remaining stores stocking more mainstream options.
Ashley said in the recent set of results, “On a scale out of 5, with 1 being very bad and 5 being very good, House of Fraser is a 1, albeit we are trying very hard to turn the business around this will not be quick and it will not be easy. Even though we do believe there could be a bright future for House of Fraser, and indeed have publicised our Frasers vision which we are very excited about, if we had the gift of hindsight we might have made a different decision in August 2018.
“We have continued to look under the bonnet as we integrate the business, we have found that the problems are nothing short of terminal in nature,” he said. “We are continuing to review the longer-term portfolio and would expect the number of retained stores to reduce in the next 12 months.”
He needs to start with the Glasgow store, which is already one of its premium branches, and show the industry and consumers what the plans for the roll out are.
As well as House of Fraser and Evans Cycles, he added online retailer, sofa.com, this year, and then said the overall retail industry is in “dire straits”.
If this wasn’t a big enough headache, the Belgian tax authorities has just sent a payment demand for a whopping £605 million. Sports Direct has entered into a mediation process and the demand relates to the tax treatment of goods being moved intra-group throughout the EU via Belgium. Even if reduced, it’s likely to be a huge bill regardless.
As for the core Sports Direct business, profits slipped by 4.7% to £264.7 million according to the latest financial figures. The company said it will not be issuing any profit guidance for next year, but some guidance may be issued with the company’s half-year results.
They also said, “We remain very focused on delivering our elevated proposition. We will see some great milestones achieved in the year ahead, with the Flannels flagship store opening and we will commence the work to shape the Frasers Glasgow store into what we believe will be a fantastic shopping experience for our customers and showcase our intentions for the remaining portfolio of stores.”
Flannels is the bright spark within the group and the most believable part when it talks of ‘elevation’. Selling premium brands such as Valentino and Gucci and expanding rapidly, it would fit into this vision. As part of the Premium Lifestyle division, which also includes Cruise and van Mildert stores, it has grown from sales of £60.4m in FY17 to £173.9 in FY19.
Right - Inside the 'Harrods of the north' - Glasgow House of Fraser
The company told Drapers, Flannels had an ambition to open 15 to 20 stores per year until it reaches its target of 100. There are currently 43 shops with new openings in Chester, Newcastle, Watford, Sutton and York as well as the huge and much anticipated Oxford Street branch.
Sports Direct Group’s head of elevation Mike Murray said, “We are focusing on key cities that haven’t had exposure to luxury or a well-executed luxury environment. Our stores aren’t the typical size of 2,500 sq ft or 3,000 sq ft. We are focusing on big destination stores so it is worth people’s while coming.”
The new House of Frasers or ‘Frasers’ could just be an enlarged version of this, but there are only so many £800 designer hoodies they’ll be able to sell and will need incorporate more experiential services and novelties. The House of Fraser brand has been damaged and will take a lot of time and money if it’s to compete with the regional Selfridges and Harvey Nichols of the world.
The prediction is the entire brand will be binned and disappear along with the majority of the stores and the new Frasers brand will live on in a handful of larger cities. But, this is still going to take a lot of money.
The Sports Direct Group currently operates 367 stores in England, 37 in Scotland, 28 in Wales and 17 in Northern Ireland, along with 35 other fascias including USC. This represents a net reduction of 9 stores over the period as a result of 13 openings and 22 closures. Despite the net reduction in stores the total sales area has increased to approx. 5.6m sq. ft. so it is very exposed to the current state of the high-street.
Lord Stuart Rose has warned Mike Ashley over his ambitions for a retail ‘oligopoly’, saying, “My view in retail is to stay nimble, lean and mean. You need to be able to turn on a sixpence,” he said.
This shopaholic nature of brand buying and lack of investment in what he already owns is a confusing and dangerous combination. He needs to slim everything down, keep what’s working and be ruthless. (That last bit shouldn’t be a problem).
We’re all hoping Ashley’s game plan, whatever it is, is successful because he now owns a huge slice of the British high street. FYI - Spud-U-Like is still available… #harrodsofthehighstreet
Read more ChicGeek expert comment - here
Gucci has been a fashion phenomenon over the last few years. It’s quirky, geek-chic and eccentric aesthetic has caught the world’s imagination and the sales have reflected that. When creative director, Alessandro Michele, arrived in January 2015 yearly sales were around the €4billion mark. In 2017, they had grown to €6.2billion, and last year it topped €8billion. It is forecast to smash the €10billion threshold in 2020 and is the star amongst Kering’s stable of brands.
But, growth is slowing, and while the Gucci look has been a barn-storming success, the reality of the product and its quality issues could be the reason for turning off many consumers. People talk, especially when things go wrong.
Left - Gucci's sales growth is slowing. Is the quality making consumers get outta here?
Though Gucci’s revenue was still up a healthy 16.3% to €4.61bn in the first half of this year, it is far below the 30%-plus growth levels the market had become used to. Gucci now accounts for 40% of Kering’s revenue and has ambitious aims to overtake Chanel and Louis Vuitton as the world’s number one luxury house in terms of turnover.
This huge growth has seen queues outside stores on streets like Bond Street and GG belts all over social media, but many consumers have been disappointed by the quality of the product and won’t be burnt twice.
Speak to buyers or sales assistants at luxury stores about their thoughts on Gucci’s quality issues and they simply nod and shrug their shoulders, acknowledging what a growing numbers of consumers are realising. Gucci’s product is complicated and in order to make it at a price they can sell it at, they have, arguably, lowered the quality. Though the margins must also be huge.
When a brand is hot and hyped the quality isn’t questioned as much. But, the minute it starts to peak, these issues quickly become more noticeable and people aren’t afraid to tell their friends. This feels where Gucci is right now. While this isn’t particularly scientific, here are a few examples of Gucci’s quality issues from recent customers which could be slowing their growth.
Richard, 36, from London, says, “Like a mug I purchased the fluffy horsebit slippers when they first came out, they were lovely! Super cool, I was floating around fashion week in Milan like I owned the place! But, I was defo sucked in.
“After 7 wears, the fur started to fall out, so I took them back to Gucci to get a replacement or repaired and they said they wouldn’t and couldn’t. So, I now have half furry slippers that are just discarded as they look like they have mange…” he says.
These famous ‘Princetown’ loafers were one of Gucci’s first hit products and continues to retail for around £750. “I haven’t shopped there since, not even for the mega tailoring they do now. The quality for price just isn’t there for me. Yes it’s cool, as it’s Gucci, but you have to draw the line somewhere!” says Richard.
Jess, 38, from London, says, “The runway pieces and handbags look as good as ever but the high volume, lower entry price point items look and feel cheaper.
“I bought a scarf about 2 years ago. The print is amazing but it's paper thin - the wool is virtually transparent. Initially, I wanted to purchase a GG logo belt, but I could see the leather wasn't good quality and wouldn't last. I have an Hermes belt that's over 10 years old and going strong - the Gucci one wouldn't last a year in my opinion.” she says. “They seem to be using lower quality materials in some instances, I'm assuming this is to increase profits.” says Jess.
There was a story of a well known London department not being able to add security tags on to those white Gucci logo T-shirts because they were so thin it was putting holes in the fabric. They were retailing for well over £300.
One respondent, wishing to remain anonymous, says, “I mean the quality of their product is pretty much on a level with the high street. They produce those flimsy t-shirts that you can’t actually wash as the fabric is too delicate and you certainly can’t put a security tag or pin in it as it will mark/leave a hole.”
“The embroidery work on those sweatshirts they were pumping out at the start of the resurgence were hit and miss (they looked like a machine had done them to make it look like it was crafted by hand but obviously wasn’t). And threads just looked loose and unkept.” they says.
Right - While the ideas and imagery is fantastic, do the goods live up to expectations?
“But maybe the most disappointing scenario is their loafers. I’ve got a few pairs and all of them, after the first wear, the insoles become loose and started to peel away exposing a sticky glue like substance that you have to stand in if you want to wear them... there is nothing luxury about that at all.”
Lois Spencer-Tracey, 36, blogger, www.bunnipunch.co.uk says, “The quality of Gucci could definitely be better. Some brands that are seen as on par produce products that are quality, but for the same price.”
“I have bought a couple of pieces from Gucci.” she says. “I have bought one of their statement tee’s which was definitely not worth the £375 mark and I decided not to purchase on of their trademark trainers as the quality of the shoe was so bad for £600.
"I opted out of buying some Gucci trainers and bought the Balenciaga Triple S which I love and have worn so much. Lot better quality." she says.
“Gucci has gone down the more fashionable/trend route over the last 5 years and with that I think the quality has sadly taken a backseat. The collection has grown vastly too.” says Lois. “It has definitely made me rethink shopping there in the future.” she says.
While nobody is questioning Gucci’s creativity and design, it is disappointing that their ideas aren’t up to the standards many expect, especially when there is enough margin within the pricing to produce a decent product while keeping margins high.
Many consumers have been sucked in by the hype, but have been left with a bitter taste in their mouth due to the quality. This is something they could rectify, but could their race to become the number one luxury goods house in the world mean too many quality corners are being cut and is their recent slowing growth a sign of this quality backlash from consumers?
Below - Gucci Pre-Fall 2019
Seeing is believing, so in the case of toxic air it can be hard for many people to be motivated enough to protect themselves. Despite appalling figures for air quality in many UK cities, this invisible killer, which speeds up the end of life for many thousands of people each year, doesn’t feel like it is getting the attention it deserves.
Things are starting to change though with awareness growing and cities introducing steps to reduce air pollution. Fashion brands too are seeing an opportunity to tap into this desire for people to protect themselves, both inside and outside, from this silent killer.
During the famous London smogs of the 1950s, people could see how polluted their air was, today, things are very different with micro particles from traffic pollution being sucked into our lungs and causing long term damage.
The death rate for a lifetime of exposure to microscopic PM2.5 particles created by diesel engines, coal burning power stations, wood fires, agriculture and building sites is rising in almost three quarters of London boroughs. Scientists say that tiny particulate pollution is especially dangerous as the specks of dirt can be absorbed deep into the lungs, then seep into the bloodstream contributing to heart and lung disease, cancer and aggravating asthma. London’s air pollution is estimated to be responsible for 9,000 early deaths each year.
Left - Airinum - Urban Air Mask 2.0 - £55
In 2017, the worst locations in the UK for nitrogen dioxide pollution was Kensington and Chelsea, followed by Leeds and Doncaster. Globally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. It also estimates that seven million people die each year from exposure to such pollution with the majority in low and middle income countries in Asia and Africa, with India being one of the worst culprits.
When Alexander Hjertstrom visited India he was inspired to start his own company to tackle air pollution. ‘Airinum’ founded in 2015 and based in Sweden, specialises in stylish protective face masks. The name is a merger between ‘air’ and ‘inum’, taken from platinum, to signify the highest quality of pure air.
When Hjertstrom moved from Sweden to India his long-gone asthma had started to come back. He realised he was becoming another victim of air pollution. After searching for a means to protect himself, Alex found that wearing an anti-pollution breathing mask was the most effective way. To his surprise, the majority of the masks on the market were very basic and far from perfect in their construction. Their designs were primitive, reminiscent of the masks worn by dentists or miners. Not something you would want to wear everyday.
“The reason the topic has gained interest lately is due to increase knowledge and awareness fuelled by media highlighting some recent studies showing the detrimental impact that poor quality air has on health.” says Hjertstrom, CEO of Airinum.
“WHO listed air pollution as one of the largest health risks we face today, killing more people than Malaria and HIV combined. Once the public start to realise that this is a ticking health bomb, similar to the effect of when people realised the impact of smoking, new measures will be taken.” he says.
“The ‘Airinum Urban Air Mask’ is a high-quality mask designed to effectively clean the air for the wearer. The key thing is our masks offer very high filtration efficiency and thus protection, high comfort with dual exhalation valves and fully face-adjustable straps for a snug fit, and durable & high-quality design with washable & anti-bacterial treated skin and replaceable filters.” says Hjertstrom.
People in Asia, most notably Japan, have been wearing personal pollution masks for many years, but, will Airinum be able to get the rest of the world to?
“The rest of the world is slowly but steadily getting convinced.” says Hjertstrom. “We sell to NY, Paris, Milan and even Stockholm, today.” he says. “As the product become less ‘must use personal protection equipment’ and more of an lifestyle accessory (or necessity), the barrier gets lower and the acceptance level increases. With celebrities around the world using the Airinum masks of course helps, as it destigmatised the mask from ‘weird’ to something cool instead.”
Right - Airinum - 3 additional filters cost - £12 - The working life of a filter depends on many factors such as the pollution level in your surroundings. On average Airinum filters last 100 hours but they advise to change every second week for hygienic reasons
The Mayor of London has recently introduced his ULEZ - Ultra Low Emission Zone - clean air zone in Central London and the British government has put off the majority of urban drivers from buying diesel cars, but what can we do as individuals and will pollution masks become the latest fashion accessory?
“Recently catwalks in Tokyo, Seoul and Paris all had models wearing masks. This shows how this item is slowly becoming part of the everyday fashion outfit, just like a pair of sunglasses.” says Hjertstrom.
When Stella McCartney unveiled her new flagship Bond Street store, last year, it was the first to offer its customers and staff cleaned air. The first indoor commercial space to do so, the ‘Airlabs’ filter is designed to protect both shoppers and store workers from gas pollutants present inside and outside of the store, in particular nitrogen dioxide from diesel fumes on busy Bond Street.
A unique installation of custom-made filters into the store’s ventilation system cleans more than 1800 m3/h of air with very low energy consumption due to the filter’s innovative structure. it removes 95 per cent of the air pollutants and harmful gases and particulate matter inside through a hidden ventilation system with a nano carbon filter.
Sophie Power co-founded Airlabs in 2014 after realising the dangers of air pollution posed to babies and children when she was pregnant with her first child. Sophie became acutely aware of the fact that in the UK, especially in cities, we breathe high levels of nitrogen dioxide, primarily from diesel fumes, as well as other harmful pollutants. The levels we breathe here cause stunted growth of lungs in our children – a study in East London of 8 and 9 year olds showed their lungs were 5-10% permanently smaller when exposed to poor quality air. The younger the child, the more they are affected and most affected are those in the womb.
More than 2 million Londoners live in areas that exceed legal limits for NO2, including more than 400,000 children under the age of 18. More than 50 per cent of London’s toxic air is caused by vehicles. On realising the extent of pollution in London, Sophie left her job in finance to co-found Airlabs together with Professor Matthew Johnson, a Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry at the University of Copenhagen.
Today, Airlabs is comprised of a team of atmospheric chemists, airflow engineers and sensor developers based in London and Copenhagen dedicated to clean air solutions. They say better air quality can significantly increase workplace productivity as well as health outcomes, offering potentially revolutionary opportunities for hospitals, schools, office buildings, professional drivers and shops.
"Science is catching up with the reality, which is that the impact of air pollution on people's health is much worse than previously thought. Epidemiological studies take many years, in particular for health effects that develop over many years of exposure. More and more results from these studies are becoming available, feeding into the media news cycle. This has led to a growing public awareness of the issue. A challenge remains how to find out when you are exposed and at what level." says Marc Ottolini, CEO Airlabs.
"That's why we are working on small but highly accurate air quality sensors, with the aim of having one on every corner of the street. When you buy food, a label will tell you what's in it. We need something similar for the air that we breathe. People have the right to know.” says Ottolini.
"Our technology is generating a lot of interest within the retail sector and we have been approached by a number of retailers from shopping centres to stores looking for a clean air solution." he says.
Things are getting worse before they get better. The risk of dying from long-term exposure to London’s polluted air has risen for a second year running. The rate of fatalities linked to breathing in killer particles went up from 6.4 per cent to 6.5 per cent in 2017 according to computer modelled estimates from government body Public Health England. That followed a jump from 5.6 per cent the previous year.
The facts seem to be clearer than the majority of air most of us are forced to breathe in on a daily basis. There’s a helpless feeling of not knowing exactly what we are breathing in and when, and while we could wait for others to sort it out, it seems that we should be taking things into our own hands. Could anti-pollution masks become as common place as SPF and cycle helmets? People in Asia have been wearing masks for many years and we’ve often looked at them skeptically, but now it’s making more sense to follow their lead. If a brand or designer can make this a desirable and ‘cool’ trend, we could start to see many more masks on our streets.
“Hopefully, the more people that start masking up, the sooner our politicians can wake up and create policies that can speed up the cleaning of our air and ultimately our planet as a whole.” says Hjertstrom.
Below - Airlabs technology inside London's famous taxis
The next time you arrive at your local mainline railway station have a look at the retailers lining the concourse. Where once it was Boots, a few Upper Crusts and a plethora of deep-frying fast food outlets, is, today, being replaced by retailers who previously wouldn’t have been seen dead amongst the pigeon droppings and leaky roofs.
Following the huge success of retail rail developments such as Birmingham’s New Street and London’s Kings Cross/St Pancras, investors, who still want to invest in retail developments, are looking to where the people are and those symbols of the Victorian steam age are ripe for reinvention.
Rail travel is having a renaissance, in the last 20 years the number of people travelling on the UK rail network has doubled, and looks like it will continue to do so with its lower carbon impact and trends such as Sweden’s Flygskam - Read more here - making people think more about their travel decisions and the impact it has on the environment.
Left - Artist's impression of the new Waterloo development of the former Eurostar terminal
According to the Office of Rail and Road, rail passenger journeys in Great Britain in 2018-19 reached a record high of 1.759 billion. It increased by 3.0% compared to the previous year and was driven by a 3.9% increase in the London and South East sector.
London’s Waterloo is the busiest station in Britain for the 15th consecutive year, despite the total number of passenger entries and exits falling by five million to 94.4 million.This fall was in part due to a three-week closure for upgrade work in August 2017, which brought the former Eurostar platforms back into use after they were vacated in November 2007.
In the rest of the UK, Glasgow Central retained its position as the busiest station in Scotland and 11th in the overall list, with passengers using it 32.9million times this year, and Cardiff Central was top in Wales with more than 12.9 million entries and exits, making it 33rd overall.
We’re seeing a new golden age in rail travel and retail and property investors want in. Waterloo has unveiled plans to convert the former Eurostar terminal into a 135,000sq ft shopping mall to open in spring 2021. Called 'Waterloo.London', forty glass-fronted stores and restaurants will form a new “upmarket shopping destination to rival St Pancras International”. The new scheme is being developed by London and Continental Railways (LCR) – the UK government-owned property development firm and the company behind the redevelopment of St Pancras International train station. A mezzanine and public spaces will run along a new pedestrianised street called the 'Waterloo Curve’. Time Out Market will be an anchor tenant, consisting of 17 restaurants and three bars across two floors.
“Waterloo.London will set a new benchmark for progressive retail and transport destinations in the UK,” LCR development director Adrian Lee said. “Brands will have a truly unique opportunity to tap into a market of Waterloo’s 100 million passengers, the 20 million tourists that visit the South Bank every year, and its surrounding vibrant community and growing office population.” he said.
Over in West London, new plans have been unveiled for Victoria station, the UK’s second busiest station with almost 80 million passenger journeys a year, and said to be biggest overhaul in its 168-year history. Developers plan to take off the roof of the station, creating a giant concrete and steel box around the 19 platforms to allow the building of towers above. The Duke of Westminster’s property company, Grosvenor, developer Landsec and Victoria’s Business Improvement District, have held secret discussions over the past 18 months on developing London’s second busiest station. Details are still vague at this stage, but no doubt retail will feature heavily on the lower floors of the station. The current dated looking shopping centre at the back looks tired and isn’t integrated into the station design well enough.
Right - Waterloo.London will feature a TimeOut Market with 17 restaurants and 3 bars
Much needed modernisation of infrastructure has been a catalyst for cities to develop and reinvigorate themselves. Birmingham’s New Street station went from voted one of the worst buildings in the UK to a modern shopping centre with trains attached when it reopened in 2015. A huge John Lewis department crowned the mirrored steel exterior and has become a symbol of the regeneration of Britain’s second largest city.
These redeveloped train stations have quickly become favourites places where people choose their leisure time rather than simply travelling through. The top four UK stations for customer satisfaction according to Transport Focus data were London King’s Cross (96%), London St Pancras (95%), Birmingham New Street (92%) and Reading (92%), all having undergone major refurbishments in recent years.
The most successful rail retail development has to be St Pancras International, the glamourous home to the international Eurostar service. The station’s arcade area was built primarily as a beer store and 150 years later, and £800 million spent, it has, since its 2007 opening, continued to add premium retailers such as Fortnum and Mason, John Lewis, Godiva, Benugo, Nespresso, Fratelli, Chanel, GANT and Hamleys..
Today, it attracts approximately 50million visitors a year and 1 in 6 of those who visit the station do not catch a train. Total retail sales at St Pancras International during the Christmas trading period (22nd October to 31st December 2018) grew 6.3% year on year.
St Pancras International saw strong growth across all retail categories, including a 4.1% year-on-year growth in food sales, and an 8.7% growth in non-food categories. The station’s 6.3% like-for-like growth over the festive trading period, significantly outperformed the wider UK retail sales results, which were flat year-on-year and -0.7% on a like-for-like basis from December 2017.
People are time poor and combining a journey with a great shopping experience is one way to entice money out of people’s pockets. Consumers are increasingly lazy and no longer want to travel just to go shopping - Read more here - they want shopping integrated with the rest of their lives and their increasing desire to travel. Airports hold too many restrictions, so train stations are becoming an increasing focus. You rarely see empty retail units at stations. Developers need footfall and when yours in the tens of millions, it's difficult to see it not working. City centres will shift towards these rail hubs and they will no longer be the entry point but the destination.
Kicking off the recent round of SS20 men’s fashion weeks the luxury Italian giant, Prada, opted to show its men’s collection in Shanghai rather than Milan and Saint Laurent chose Malibu, California instead of Paris. The light-tactic Eiffel Tower was replaced by palm trees and Keanu Reeves - very Point Break - as the male models took to a catwalk that followed the lapping waves of the Pacific ocean.
These trips to far flung destinations, under the pretence of targeting that geographical audience, had become something of a signature of women’s Cruise shows over the past few years. A distraction from the rather boring clothes, brands such as Louis Vuitton, Dior and Chanel scoured the globe for the most glamourous and social media friendly backdrops and flew the fash-pack on one giant jolly in-between the usually rigid calendar of traditional global fashion weeks.
Left - Greta Thunberg, 2019's environmental superhero
Taking a brand and its audience to locations not usually set up for fashion’s extravagance is expensive and indulgent, not to mention costly to the environment. These people won’t be travelling economy. Add everybody from the brand, the models, the buyers and the press and the numbers start to drastically stack up and those carbon emissions multiple.
It seems to go against everything fashion is trying to be at the moment. Fashion is trying to show its less wasteful side and is jumping on the sustainable ‘we-really-care-you-know’ bandwagon and it will be interesting how they will be able to justify these types of extravagant shows in the future. Admittedly, there’s always been travel in fashion, and getting people to see things in one place is an important part of fashion, but it’s this travel for travel’s sake that seems to feel out of step.
The Scandinavians have lead the way on this and Sweden’s ‘flygskam’, or flight shame, movement first came to prominence in the summer of 2017 when the singer-songwriter Staffan Lindberg wrote an article co-signed by five of his famous friends, in which they announced their decision to give up flying. Among the famous Swedes opting for other forms of transport were ski commentator Björn Ferry, who said last year he would only travel to competitions by train, opera-singer Malena Ernman (the mother of climate activist Greta Thunberg), and Heidi Andersson, the eleven-times world champion arm-wrestler. Finland has spawned its own version of the expression, calling it ‘lentohapea’.
When the 16-year old Greta Thunberg joined London’s ‘Extinction Rebellion’ protest this Spring she took the train. She also travelled by rail to the World Economic Forum in Davos and the climate summit in Katowice, Poland.
This Swedish trend is having an impact. Passenger numbers at Sweden’s 10 busiest airports fell 8% from January to April this year, following a 3% fall in 2018, according to Swedavia, which operates them.
A survey by the World Wildlife Fund found 23% of Swedes have abstained from traveling by air in the past year to reduce their climate impact, up 6 percentage points from a year earlier. New words entering the Swedish language include ‘tagskryt’ (train bragging) and ‘smygflyga,’ or fly in secret, to describe those not quite over their budget airline addiction.
People are choosing to take the train for environmental reasons. The stats are clear with trains drastically reducing the levels of CO2 emissions. The average CO2 emissions of 285 grams per air kilometre, compare with 158 for cars and 14 for trains.
Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, in 2018, found that Swedes' per capita emissions from flying between 1990 and 2017 were five times the global average. Emissions from Swedes' international air travel have soared 61 per cent since 1990, the study said.
The number of journeys on Sweden’s national rail network increased by 5% last year and 8% in the first quarter of this year, according to Swedish Railways. Sales of Interrail tickets to Swedes increased by 45% in 2018 – and are expected to rise again this year. Passenger numbers at state train operator SJ jumped to a record 32 million in 2018 due to “the big interest in climate-smart travel,” they said.
Consumers are demanding that companies and brands lead by example. Klarna, the giant Swedish payment provider, has decided to have its global kick-off in Berlin for the year with all attendees travelling by train.
The budget airlines will be watching this trend, seeing whether it spreads beyond Scandinavia, is not it is lip service and whether younger people will really give up those cheap get aways for staycations or longer train journeys.
Fashion brands will start to acknowledge this trend and reduce unnecessary travel. I predict brands will start to do more things virtually and online.
While, in the UK, the Eurostar has made travelling by train cool - they’ve just added their third daily departure to Amsterdam - the rest of the British rolling stock is more hit and miss to say the least. While many people are trying to stop Britain’s second high-speed rail line, HS2, it could be the environmental argument that pushes it through to the end.
Time is money and with planes being faster, more direct and often cheaper, it’s going to take a seismic shift and a mental rethink to get everybody to feel the flying shame and get onboard - quite literally - with this new trend.
With Italy tip-toeing in and out of recession, Pitti Uomo felt a little skittish on confidence. It had an atmosphere of brands holding on by their finger nails, with many hoping for a strong SS20 season to help pull them through.
Sadly, it’s the quality makers who seem most susceptible to failure. Their high costs, lower margins and small quantities make it a difficult balancing act to continue to stay strong and produce quality product in Italy. These are the brands who are barely known yet sing through the quality on the hanger and all at a fair price. Today, you rarely get this kind of care and attention with a designer name. Here are five made-in-Italy menswear makers we should all be supporting:
Left - Pitti Uomo 96 soaking up the sunshine
Founded in 1957 by current creative director Guido Biondi’s grandfather as ‘7 Bell S.p.A’, a Tuscan atelier, it was the very first producer of Italian denim. Today, they make colourful and contemporary menswear instilled with the best made-in-Italy production.
Right - President's - For the SS20 season, there were bold minimal orange jackets, tie-dyed shirting and hand sketched T-shirts
Based in Venice, Barena, the Italian for ‘mudflat’, has been steadily making inroads into the UK with its stylish and original menswear. Inspired by the Venetian lagoon, Barena says it mimics the qualities of traditional workwear with a modern aesthetic. Loose shapes, quiet precise tailoring, exquisite fabrics, attention to detail and confident versatility are the pillars of their design philosophy.
The menswear designer is Massimo Pigozzo who has been with the Barena family for over twenty years. Trained as a tailor, for Pigozzo it is important to create designs that are simple, understated and easy to wear. Deep fabric research, pattern work and soft tailoring are key to his approach and he says it is not about reproductions or constant alterations.
Left - Barena - For the SS20 season, it was all about contrast with playful tailoring and short sleeved shirts with contrasting collars
Meaning double A in Italian and named after two friends, Alain and Albert, Doppiaa is designed for the whole family, for all ages and all occasions. Based in Milan, Doppiaa has two essential cornerstones: 100% Italian manufacturing, and the painstakingly executed pinpointing and selecting of the highest quality fabrics.
Right - Doppiaa - For the SS20 season, it was brightly coloured towelling tops, pyjama style piped printed shirts and strikingly striped trousers
This is everything the more famous Missoni should be; colourful, stylish and contemporary. Designed by Simonetta Bocelli and Franco Santarini and based in Florence, Sunhouse is a specialist in Italian made knitwear in a rainbow of colours in classic menswear shapes.
Sunhouse is one of the few companies in the world to use traditional 720-yarn looms to 'reinvent' the culture of knitwear. The production is carried out in their workshops in Montecosaro, in the Marche Region. Each individual jacket is cut and sewn by hand.
Left - Sunhouse - For the SS20 season, it was about bold colour stories in signature zig-zagged blazers and delicate polo shirts
BOB is an Italian sportswear brand created by two young Italian guys, Alessio Bonaiuti and Tommaso Bellini. They started their adventure 11 years ago in Prato, with the idea developing from going around vintage warehouses where huge quantities of second hand clothes were divided by colours and then recycled. Going through these warehouses was like being absorbed in a spectacular coloured market that resembled a field of flowers they thought and it was this image was the starting idea to develop a new concept of eclectic and colourful menswear.
Right - BOB - For the SS20 season, it was all about bold, pattern blazers and colourful separates
These are simply beautiful clothes made with care from great ingredients. While you are paying a premium, you are, in fact, getting great value when you consider the expertise and pedigree of these makers. These are the kind of clothes that are a joy to wear and will last you a very long time.
The idea of paying to have something made, passing it on to someone else to sell, who will then pay you in a few month’s time, sounds like the cashflow diagram from hell. Unless the profit margins are huge, and even then it’s not ideal, wholesaling in fashion is difficult. Small brands, especially, need the constant stream of cash, traditionally have tighter margins, and need the crucial feedback of information with regards to successful products that can inform future decisions and where to put their limited resources.
The fashion wholesale model is broken and, now, even the big boys are deciding to step back. Luxury brands are also realising, finally, that the true value of selling directly to consumers is growing a database of customers and understanding exactly what they want in a shorter amount of time and being more reactive to those needs. Realising something is or isn’t selling in 3 to 6 month’s time is pointless and is what will suffocate even the biggest of brands.
Many luxury brands sat back and twiddled their thumbs over the past two decades while huge fashion corporations like YOOX/Net-A-Porter and MatchesFashion.com have grown with enviable customer lists and used huge amounts of information to improve their offer and grow further.
Now, the wholesale middle man is being pushed back to a point where brands want more control, know they will make more money directly and won’t be at the whims of a fashion buyer every season as to whether they’ve made the cut or not.
Prada announced last month that is would reduce its wholesale network in Italy and Europe in a push to have uniform prices for its products across different outlets and reduce markdowns. Before that, in March, the Milan-based company said it also would stop offering end-of-season promotions at its own shops in a bid to boost margins and protect its brand. They’ve obviously been watching the success of Gucci’s no-sale model and product that continues over seasons and doesn’t seem to quickly date.
In a short filing with the Hong Kong stock exchange, where the company is listed, the company's chairman Carlo Mazzi stated, “The Prada Group considers it essential to ensure greater consistency in pricing policies across retail and digital channels. This strategic review is intended to further strengthen the Prada Group brands with the aim of supporting sustainable long-term growth.”
Prada said it would end relations with some Italian and European wholesale partners and gradually replace them with new digital and e-commerce players.
While they’ve tried to improve their website, added a broader selection and launched onto sites like Mr Porter, Prada is doing it at a time when the brand has lost momentum and isn’t quite as in demand as it once was. It said the leather goods category will be the most impacted with the changes and this is their biggest segment with the greatest margins.
This DTC (Direct To Consumer) approach is something born from the internet and social media. The brand owns the customer and has a direct relationship. It knows their e-mail and address. It also knows what they have bought before and, most likely, things that may interest them in the future. As personalisation increasingly becomes more sophisticated, this will also help to offer more choices and brands can follow their customers through their actions.
Physical retail third party wholesale accounts allow you less control and inject potential disruption in your cherished luxury supply chain to the customer and, as Prada says, you can keep the prices constant and consistent (probably higher) throughout one geographical region.
Kering, owner of Gucci, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga, has announced it will take back control of its e-commerce operations, focusing on own branded sites where it can control its image and client data. Excluding Gucci, the YOOX/Net-A-Porter group operated e-commerce websites for most of the brands within the Kering group. The joint venture will now end in the second quarter of 2020. While not completely cutting off their nose to spite their face, Kering wants to turn more of its collaborations with third-party, multi-brand retailers such as Farfetch or Matchesfashion.com into what it calls ‘online concessions’, where it controls everything from the product assortment to their presentation. "Each time we move from wholesale to a concession we see our top line increase in a material way,” said Grégory Boutté, Kering’s Chief Client & Digital Officer, and former vice President of eBay. Kering has stated it was ‘not against wholesale,’ and did not plan to end its relationships with third parties altogether.
This is will be a play of power and something that I think will be difficult especially with the complexities of something like FarFetch coming from multiple retailers in different locations. This sounds like wanting your cake and eating it; we want your database, but in our own way. I’m not sure that many retailers will relinquish that amount of control, especially when you consider how many brands they sell and also the loyalty they now instil in these hard won customers.
Kering's total online sales — when including the business done through third party platforms, calculated at retail and not at lower wholesale prices — came to 9.4 percent of the group's 2018 revenue. Web sales through its own brand websites and online concessions made up 4.7 percent of revenue. This has huge room to grow.
Boutté has built up his digital team from 4 people upon his arrival at Kering in 2017 to over 80 people, today. He has realised the power of data. “The more data we have, the more precise our algorithm is and the better the experience is. The other thing is that it should lead us to excellence in terms of our operations.” he said.
Across the luxury goods industry as a whole, e-commerce accounts for around 10 percent of business today and should reach 25 percent of sales by 2025, consultancy Bain estimates.
This is about information and control. Controlling discount, controlling points of sale and controlling presentation. You can control more online, even with third parties. You can see it from anywhere. It's those pockets of physical wholesale boutiques or department stores in small towns that are harder to police and often unsold stock disappears into the grey market and ends up on discount sites and with other retailers.
Where once luxury retailers didn’t want to get their hands dirty, they are now rolling up their sleeves and have their eyes on the online prize; higher prices, more full price sell-throughs and control of that all important ‘data’. This will get more ferocious as the market becomes more saturated, growth slows and customers get increasingly more expensive to acquire.
I predict many brands will try to be exclusive to their mono-brand websites if they don’t get what they want with their third party partners, or possibly try the LVMH 24 Sèvres, now rebranded as 24S, route, but it will be hard. And expensive.
Retailers like FarFetch and MatchesFashion.com are decades ahead and thrive on new and small designers adding that colour and point of difference online. Luxury mono-brand websites often look boring, sterile and empty. People don’t shop in single brands, particularly when they are browsing. While the idea is logical and makes sense to reduce wholesale and take back more control, it will be far more complicated than that and add multiple costs to their business models.
As London’s men’s fashion week gets ever smaller it becomes even harder for designers to make an impact. The four day event is really only two days with a mix of established brands and young designers trying to pad out the schedule. Like a Summer pond retreating, due to lack of rain (funding), with LFWM's decreasing pull the audiences are smaller and less important. Under this handicap, designers have a few short minutes to grab people's attention and resonate further outside of the room. When you look at the expense, you do wonder why anybody is crazy enough to do it, but that’s what makes you love the ‘art’ of fashion even more. LFWM is as much about getting together and looking at each other as it is about trends and looking forward. It’s not really even about selling clothes anymore, it’s like a social event or festival.
Left - RCA Graduates Gráinne Walley, Right - Clara Chu
On London Fashion Week Men’s opening night, the Royal College of Art graduates held a show called ‘All at Once’. The 50 MA graduates each had one look each which gradually rotated around the room. Held at a new retail development on Cork Street in Mayfair, this new way of showing ever increasing volumes of students makes it increasingly hard to see a story in people’s ideas or only gives them one chance to grab your attention. They were saying it was a reflection of the cost it takes for students to produce these collections and, possibly, a reflection of the times of not making huge amounts of stuff with one student offering ‘Extinction Rebellion’ as a reason for not producing anything physical at all.
It’s a tough task to show this amount of students in a realistic amount of time, but it might be better to possibly break them up and give them 5 looks to show in differing categories. Unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the more stuff you produce, the more opportunity you have to mentally sell something to somebody. Desire triggers people sharing and buying things. Noted highlights were Irish graduate Gráinne Walley’s Game of Thrones type armour and Clara Chu’s food inspired accessories.
For the remainder of the fashion week, the front rows were still sprinkled with Burberry check and Balenciaga Triple S trainers, all seen this time last year, and a sign of the lack of hit replacements even though fashion giants continue to churn out incredible amounts of product and ideas.
Here are some brief highlights of LFWM SS20:
This South Korean label, established in 2013, and with creative direction by Hyun-Min Han, made its London catwalk debut. An alumni of Wooyoungmi, Han showed a sophisticated collection mixing pinstripe tailoring and sportswear with flourishes of ruching and ruffles with a finale of models all wearing branded Münn suit bags.
Following her first collection as part of Fashion East, last season, the Dublin-born returned with more of her stylish normcore. This time it was summer towelling mixed with traditional Irish knits and sports fabrics in her mono-coloured looks which are fast becoming her signature.
Nicholas Daley gave LFWM a tribal jazz happening in a 18th century church in the City of London. The ‘Sons Of Kemet’ band dressed in a warm, bold checks made from British fabrics created a crescendo of music and that quickly fell into a party atmosphere with looks referencing his Jamaican heritage.
McQueen came back to London town with its usual exquisite tailoring and its fashion as art raison d’être. As well as the all ultra smart evening wear, there was watercolour symmetry prints and bold fuchsia pink florals in the charming surroundings of the C1348 Charterhouse in Farringdon. I just wish McQueen’s accessorises were as elegant as the clothes. Those chunky trainers and boots just don’t sit right and aren’t the best of their type.
Hussein Chalayan celebrated 25 years with a walk on the street near his store in Mayfair. Lucky with the weather, and with the backdrop of a textured stone wall clean striped shirting - something that continues to look fresh - in simple shapes and a minimal palette was a reminder of this experienced technician of a designer.
For the past few seasons Lou Dalton’s collections have been dominated by her collaborations with British fine knit manufacturer, John Smedley. This season, she returned to a fuller offer with outerwear, shirting, tailoring and, of course, knitwear, but this time in fine rugby shapes, in a collection of easy and stylish clothes which don’t scream ‘designer’. A return to beautiful things?