When New Look announced, at the beginning of this month, its menswear was going online only, it solidified what we already knew; high-street fashion is struggling, badly. It was only a few years ago, when the ‘dapper’ three-piece skinny suit was at its zenith and pocket squares were furnishing top pockets, that the good times were rolling and Britain’s high-street menswear retailers were expanding.
Left - Momager Kris Jenner loving an adidas tracksuit but with a Gucci bag or Fendi keyring
Back in 2016, New Look was busy rolling out menswear stores in university towns, appealing to those on a budget wanting fast fashion. New Look was fairly late to the menswear party, following in the footsteps of brands like Topman, River Island and Moss Bros, but it had lofty ambitions. They opened 22 menswear stores in places such as Shrewsbury, Exeter, Maidstone, Derby and Nottingham. They are all now closed, wth New Look saying in a recent statement, “New Look is removing menswear from its UK and Ireland stores but will continue to sell the range online and on third party platforms,” such as ASOS and Zalando.
So, what happened? Sportswear happened. Branded sportswear has been the main fashion story for the past few years. From trainers to tracksuits, sportswear is everywhere and on everybody.
Recent results from sportswear behemoth, JD Sports, illustrates its growth and dominance. JD Sports, which is now more than three times bigger than arch rival Sports Direct, almost-doubled revenue in its latest results for the 52 weeks to February 2, 2019. Revenue was up an incredible 49.2 percent to £4.7 billion for the period compared to the year before, with profit before tax increasing by 15.4 percent to £339.9 million pounds.
JD Sports’ results includes its acquisition of the Finish Line business in America. The brand was bought for around £400 million in June 2018, and saw JD Sports take ownership of Finish Line’s 600 stores in the US.
JD Sports executive chairman, Peter Cowgill, said in a statement: "We believe that our acquisition of the Finish Line business in the United States, the largest market for sport lifestyle footwear and apparel and the home to many of the global sportswear brands, will have positive consequences for our long-term brand engagement whilst significantly extending the group's global reach. We maintain our belief that Finish Line is capable of delivering improved levels of profitability.” JD Sports said it stayed clear of reactive discounting while offering a point of difference in the goods it sold.
This American dominance, particularly of the internet and social media channels, has helped grow this market. When American football is coming to Wembley and there’s even talk of baseball making inroads into this country, then you know the power of the American online world we now live in. When you see Kris Jenner wearing a full adidas tracksuit on multiple episodes of the Kardashians, instead of the luxury labels she used to be wearing, it really illustrates how far this trend has come and it’s global.
JD Sports is now in 10 countries in mainland Europe with its first store in Austria at Mariahilfer Strasse in Vienna opening in the next few months. The JD fascia saw a net increase of 39 stores in the period with new stores in all of the retailer’s existing territories as well as its first two stores in Finland. In Asia, JD Sports has opened its first stores in Singapore, Thailand and South Korea with its local partner Shoemarker Inc, and now has 16 JD stores, including 14 conversions of the multibrand Hot-T fascia which was acquired in the previous year.
New Look recently closed all of their stores in China, Belgium and Poland, 85 stores in the UK and, potentially, those in France and Portugal too. It has returned to profit after its underlying operating profit came in at £38.5 million to Dec 2018, compared to an underlying operating loss of £5.1 million for the same year-to-date period the year prior, but like-for-like sales are still falling, they’ve just slowed.
These woes aren't just restricted to New Look. The fall in the value of these high-street companies is illustrated by Arcadia recently buying a 25 per cent stake in retailers Topshop and Topman back from US investor Leonard Green for $1 or 76p. It was rumoured the US private equity firm bought the 25 per cent stake from Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia in 2012 for £350 million. That’s some devaluation.
Another British high-street brand suffering from the dominance of sportswear is Moss Bros. The menswear retailer recorded a £4.2 million loss for the 52-week period ending January 26, 2019, compared to a profit of £6.7 million the year prior. Revenues were down 2.1 per cent to £129 million and like-for-like sales dropped 4.3 per cent. Interestingly, full-year figures showed that like-for-like hire sales plummeted by 9.3 per cent. People aren’t even renting formalwear now?! Moss Bros chief executive, Brian Brick, said it was an “extremely challenging” year. “We suffered from a combination of a significant stock shortage and extremes of weather, alongside sporting distraction in the first half, which impacted footfall into our stores,” he said. That “sporting distraction” was the World Cup with people no doubt wearing yet more sportswear.
“Looking forward, in common with many UK retailers, we continue to anticipate an extremely challenging retail landscape, particularly within our physical stores, as a result of reduced footfall and rising costs.” he said.
This sportswear as a fashion trend is slowing, but sportswear is beyond a trend, now, and it’s a lifestyle and ease of dressing that is resonating around the world and to every age group. These once dominant British high-street stars are contracting and they are cutting off limbs (menswear) to save the vital organs. Karl Lagerfeld once said, “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.” He couldn't be more wrong.
When Virgil Abloh devoted his latest AW19 Louis Vuitton men’s collection to Michael Jackson he never could have thought that the whole thing was going to disappear so quickly. Paying homage to the ‘King of Pop’, the entire show was inspired by his Billie Jean video with its light-up paving stones and litter-strewn New York street.
Left - Those famous Jacko sequinned gloves reimagined for the, now, cancelled AW19 Louis Vuitton men's collection
The designer and brand presumed that it would be as uncontroversial as the icon from the first collection, under his creative direction, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz: her glittery red shoes being replaced by his glittery gloves. In a collection brimming with references to Michael Jackson, it was a celebration of Jackson the stage performer and musician.
All good, until the release of the recent documentary, ‘Leaving Neverland’, which focussed on the allegations made by two men who say Jackson had abused them as children. The energy around this film reignited the controversy surrounding Jackson, reminding people of his potential darker side.
The Louis Vuitton damage limitation machine kicked in and released the following statement: The documentary ‘Leaving Neverland’ featuring two men who allege they were sexually abused as children by Michael Jackson has caused us the greatest pain. It is important to mention that we were unaware of this documentary at the time of the last LV FW19 Men’s Show. “My intention for this show was to refer to Michael Jackson as a pop culture artist. It referred only to his public life that we all know and to his legacy that has influenced a whole generation of artists and designers." said Virgil Abloh, Men’s Artistic Director.
Right - Billie Jean trash can
“I am aware that in the light of this documentary the show has caused emotional reactions. I strictly condemn any form of child abuse, violence or infringement against any human rights.” added Abloh.
The collection, due to hit stores in July, has been stripped of any of the Jackson references and the label confirms that it will not produce any of the pieces that include Michael Jackson. Fortunately for Louis Vuitton, it was easier to cancel the collection in March, before too much had been expensively manufactured, and they were left with product they couldn’t sell. To cancel it before production was the safest option in a environment where brands are frightened to upset people or be controversial.
So, where does this leave us as an industry in relation to references?
The fashion industry is a huge business with a never ending conveyor belt of ideas and products needing copious amounts of references and inspirations. One minute it’s rainbows, then unicorns, then llamas, and whatever next, and who knows where these images come from and what they mean to different people.
In an era of ‘Cultural Appropriation’ and ‘Blackface’ controversies, brands will, now, always err on the side of guilty. This is guilty until proven innocent and a way of limiting the social media outcry and killing the thing stone dead. It’s just not worth the hassle.
From Katy Perry’s shoes to Prada’s figurines to Gucci’s roll-neck, we’re now clear on what should definitely be erased from the design vocabulary. But, won’t this limit the scope of references at the disposal of brands and designers and lead to boring collections frightened to reference motifs and cultural imagery? Won’t it be a case of collections designed by lawyers to satisfy the small print and devoid of anything challenging or different? Every moodboarded person will be researched and investigated in a Stasi-like, 1984 approach into finding anything controversial in their background. You just wonder how Coco Chanel gets away with it.
Dries Van Noten, the Belgian designer, famous for this Indian embroidery and ethnic motifs, told Business of Fashion in 2017, “For me, other cultures have always been a starting point. But I never took things very literal. Quite often, we take one element that we like...and mix it to be something very personal,” he said. “It’s like layering. Indian- or African-inspired or ethnic-inspired...it has to be clothes people want to wear now. Clothes that are used to express who they are. To me, that’s the final goal.”
Left - Louis Vuitton menswear referencing The Wiz, the sequel to the Wizard of Oz, which starred Michael Jackson and followed Abloh's first collection with Dorothy was the main inspiration
“I look now more to the art world, for several reasons, I still make elements and references to ethnic things, but it has become more difficult now.” In response to Cultural Appropriation he said, “The only ethnicity I could look at is Belgian folklore.… It’s not that I exactly copy them and it's not that I want to hurt people by using certain things,” he said. “It’s the alphabet of fashion, which I use to create my own things. Sometimes, especially with menswear, you have to work with recognisable things. You have to make things that men know.”
His latest collection references the Danish designer Verner Panton, but what if Panton turns out to a few skeletons in his closet? For example, imagine you created a collection around the much loved Beatles’ song, Penny Lane. Referencing the fireman, the banker and nurse selling poppies from a tray, but then somebody points out the famous street in Liverpool is named after James Penny, an eighteenth-century slave trader. It’s knowing when the line of history needs to be drawn or how far back you investigate the reference. Rather than seeing people celebrating these things, many are seeing it as a hijacking, and limit people to only use the culture they identify with; making a very boring and restrictive design vocabulary.
The world moves forward and things change. Everything needs to be judged on an individual case-by-case basis and the decision is an informed and instinctive knowing when something isn’t right, appropriate or we’ve moved on as a society. We’re all learning this, all of the time.
Different cultures think differently about things and being frivolous or decorative about things with deeper meanings should be used with caution.
Right - Pixelated Michael Jackson on Louis Vuitton accessorises
Brands make things to sell, not to upset anybody, but won’t our oversensitivity limit the references we have at our disposal. We’re in an era of seeing the negative in everything and blowing it up on social media and it could lead to a very bland and beige period of fashion.
It was while watching the Alexander McQueen documentary at the beginning of the summer - Read TheChicGeek Review here - when I wondered where the subsequent crop of young designer brands were.
The British based designers who were the generation after McQueen and showed so much promise - Christopher Kane, Jonathan Saunders, Mary Katranzhou, J.W. Anderson etc. - and despite some investment, just haven’t been able to scale up their brands in the same way McQueen and Stella McCartney were able to.
Left - Christopher Kane's only permanent store on London's Mount Street
I realised that this was a signifier of how the luxury market has changed and the days of nurturing fledgling brands into ‘Mega Brands’ are over. It illustrates the saturation in the market and it’s all about making big brands even bigger, today. “If you’re not going to be a billion dollar brand, then it’s probably not worth our time", is the new attitude. It probably explains the reason why Michael Kors recently bought Versace. Read more ChicGeek Comment here
David Watts, Founder, Watts What Magazine, says, “I suspect that this is more to do with the parent company realising that these businesses are not scaleable - or to the extent of other portfolio brands and cutting their losses.”
“In the current very challenging retail market and designer wholesale model not being as robust as it used to be, brands need to shore up cash and also give themselves a buffer,” says Watts.
“For the larger groups though, bigger really is better,” says Sandra Halliday, Editor-in-chief (UK), Fashionnetwork.com. “When they take on a brand, they want it to have billion dollar potential, or at least to occupy a strong niche that will guarantee high profit margins. The stakes these days are too high to do anything else,” she says.
When the Gucci Group invested in McQueen, Stella McCartney, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga in 2001, it signalled the moment the luxury fashion industry was in full expansion mode and opening stores all over the globe. Following that, there was a raft of investment in the generation after, with Kering - formally Gucci Group - investing in Christopher Kane in 2013 and LVMH investing in Nicholas Kirkwood and J.W. Anderson in the same year. Everybody was billed “as the next…” but it just hasn’t materialised. Well, not in consumers’ heads anyway.
Now, brands are going into reverse; fashion’s answer to “Conscious Uncoupling”. Stella McCartney just bought back the 50 per cent she didn’t own from Kering and rumour has it, Christopher Kane, is in talks to buy back the 51 percent stake from the French group after a 5-year partnership.
Right - J.W. Anderson single store in East London
Halliday says, “I think in Stella McCartney’s case there was a genuine desire to run her own show and given the strength of her brand, that’s understandable.”
“For Christopher Kane it’s probably more about Kering focusing its resources and its time on its big winners, and that makes sense with Gucci, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga doing so well and Bottega Veneta needing lots of TLC,” she says.
“It give them a certain freedom and with the knowledge and experience learned (hopefully) as being part of a large group that they know how to be more careful with finances and astute with merchandising and keeping overheads down,” says Watts.
“Staying small, focussed and niche with a direct to consumer model could work for some brands, but it’s also very tough to make serious money at that scale,” says Watts. “Of course, there are possibly different and extenuating circumstances for why these brands find themselves in their current predicament. What does it tell you that LVMH and Kering cannot make Stella McCartney, Christopher Kane, Edun and Tomas Maier work…..gonna be tough for them as independents however the chips may fall,” he says.
Announced this year, LVMH has severed ties with Edun, Bono’s ethical fashion brand, and Kering has closed Tomas Maier, previously the Creative Director at their other brand, Bottega Veneta. These brands will have to regress back to start-up mode and think small again if they are to survive.
“In many ways, the future prospects of small designers hoping to break into the big time are quite depressing as the barriers to doing that are very high.” says Halliday. “But, on another level, the internet offers opportunities that didn’t exist just 20 years ago. The combination of a well-run e-store and a physical flagship can actually be a very cost-effective way of reaching the maximum number of consumers.” she says.
“Even if smaller labels can build profitable businesses, the chances are that the end result will be a hoped-for takeover by a bigger group, or by private equity investors, as that’s the kind of investment that’s really needed to make the transition into bona fide big-name brand,” says Halliday. “And all of that doesn’t even factor in what might happen if the luxury boom runs out of steam at any point,” she says.
Those brands fitting somewhere between these smaller designers and the giant groups are making their play for their futures too. Versace has already taken shelter in a bigger American group and other Italian family brands are sensing this shift and deciding on which side of the billion dollar divide they aspire to be on. Missoni opened its ownership up to Italian state-backed investment fund FSI for a cash injection of €70 million, in exchange for a 41.5 percent stake and rumours continually circle around Ferragamo suggesting they are looking for investment or a new owner.
Belgian designer, Dries Van Noten, recently sold a majority stake in his eponymous fashion brand to Spanish cosmetics group Puig.
“Dries Van Noten is 60 and after 30 years if he keeps creative control and remains chairman of his brand, then cashing in a huge stake gives him financial security, and also Puig brings cosmetics, beauty and fragrance know-how,” says Watts. “It could be huge for a brand such as Dries Van Noten - it’s a win win for him on paper.”
“Most people who are outside of the fashion (production) industry really have no idea both how complicated it as and how hard it is to make money,” says Watts. “Fashion wholesale is broken and fashion retail is in freefall,” he says.
Disappointingly, the focus has moved away from talent to bankability. Young designers who were previously given a leg-up with investment look too high a risk and expensive for today’s investors. It seems that only those brands breaking that billon dollar turnover ceiling are worth focussing on. You can increase profit margins by making less, but in larger volumes and become a more dominant force. It is more of a risk having fewer brands, but you can win bigger and Kering is clearly taking pole position right now.
Read more ChicGeek Comments - here
When party season hits - it won’t be long - we often forget about our dancing feet. For something simple and fashionable opt for a dose of sparkle in the sock department. Lurex or ‘Glitter’ socks add a Michael Jackson element to your shoe and look great particularly with slip on loafers and cropped trousers. Gucci pioneered the look with their logo lurex socks and while there are a few styles for men, the majority are women’s, so just buy the largest size and they’ll stretch.
Left - Gucci lurex logo socks - Chintz optional!
Below - Gucci - Lurex Interlocking G Socks - £100
Left - Ignore the high-heels - Leg Avenue Xmas Lurex Glitter/Shiny Ankle Pop Socks/Anklets - £9.25 from eBay.co.uk
Left - ASOS DESIGN - Sports Style Socks in Glitter - £4
Below - ASOS DESIGN party socks in glitter zebra design - £4
Need some more sparkle in your life? - Read Menswear Trends Daytime Sequins
Need more inspiration? See Best Dressed Chic Geek Jeff Goldblum rocking party season
I spotted this coat on the Gucci catwalk in February. It is the type of coat people bought in the 1950s and 1960s and came with a matching hat, usually a Baker Boy style. It's the same coat grannies were wearing 40 years later and has that vintage feel that I'm always looking for.
Looking like a walking pub carpet or wallpaper is the look for AW18. Even though it's fairly loud, you could pretty much wear this coat with anything and it would take centre stage while making it look like you'd pilfered your grandmother's wardrobe. You'd probably have to sell her to pay for it anyway!
Left & Below - Gucci - GG Diamond Wool Coat - £2660
See more picks from TheChicGeek's Milan Scrapbook here
For those of us who want to express our taste, get something different and also, possibly, invest, vintage is the place to be, right now. I love a rummage around a vintage store or on eBay, but finding something decent, that fits, is tough, but that’s part of the fun and makes something good all that more special. Book -
One of the easiest ways of finding something special is to look at a specialist online auction and Kerry Taylor Auctions in Bermondsey is probably the best specialist fashion seller in the UK. Admittedly, it is reflected in the prices, but they aren't crazy, especially when you compare them to today's designer prices. I always have a look at their online catalogue, not only to look at what is in the sale, but also for style ideas from the past.
Here are TheChicGeek’s picks of the sale and why:
TheChicGeek says, “While I probably wouldn’t get into this dress… it’s the 1960s & 1970s optical prints that are all the rage at the moment. Just look at Dries Van Noten’s Verner Panton inspired collection for SS19 to understand how fresh these are looking right now. I'd love this print in a shirt.” See Thom Yorke in Dries Van Noten SS19 it here
Lot 202 : A Pierre Balmain couture printed organza evening dress, 1972
A Pierre Balmain couture printed organza evening dress, 1972. labelled and numbered 154665, boldly printed with 'target' medallions.
Estimate: £300 - £500
TheChicGeek says, “Vintage Tommy Nutter is very hard to come by. These aren’t particularly exciting, but, it’s the shapes you’re buying into: huge, exaggerated lapels and flared trousers. I particularly like the multiple vents on the back.”
Book - You need to read the House of Nutter here
Lot 252 : Two Tommy Nutter gentleman's wool suits, 1975-76
Two Tommy Nutter gentleman's wool suits, 1975-76. un-labelled, of similar design, the first in sage-green, the second beige, both jackets with exaggerated lapels, inverted pleat detailing to front pockets and rear; together with an original 'Nutters' hanger and photocopy showing the original owner.
Estimate: £300 - £500
TheChicGeek says, “These are a fashion museum piece, so I’d expect them to go for much more than the estimate. The late 1960s sci-fi/retro-future styles still fascinate and these are one of the iconic eyewear styles of that era.”
See more inspiration from 2001 Space Odyssey here
Lot 267 : A pair of Courrèges cream plastic 'eskimo' sunglasses, 1964
A pair of Courrèges cream plastic 'eskimo' sunglasses, 1964. signed along one arm, the solid lenses with horizontal slits, in a Courrèges plastic glasses case.
Estimate: £200 - £300
TheChicGeek says, “While this isn’t an original Pearly King outfit, and more a stage costume, the allure is the style’s place in London’s working class street culture. While an original East London ‘Pearly’ suit would be the dream, it would be hard to find one in as good condition as this one.”
Lot 381 : A good 'Pearly King' outfit for 'The Yorkshire Coster', English, circa 1910
A good 'Pearly King' outfit for 'The Yorkshire Coster', English, circa 1910. of dark grey herringbone tweed and covered entirely with pearlised buttons, comprising jacket, waistcoat and trousers with buttons by 'Scarboro Etches'; together with an original photograph and pocket map of London. Provenance: The Castle Howard Collection, ex lot 210, Sotheby's, 7th October 2003. This suit belonged to William Wedgwood Fenwick (1886-1960) who was born in Scarborough to Methodist parents. He wanted a stage career and went to London where he trained as understudy to the performer Albert Chevalier. Eventually due to pressure from his family he returned to Scarborough where he opened a draper's shop. He used to entertain friends wearing this suit.
Estimate: £350 - £500
TheChicGeek says, “Pre-20th century items have a preciousness knowing that the majority of clothing or accessorises fell apart through wear and never made it through the decades of time. These pairs of braces are really cute and show the whimsy in menswear going way back into history. These are pure dandy and would be fun to wear, if the condition allows.”
Lot 419 : Three pairs of men's braces, mid-late 19th century
Three pairs of men's braces, mid-late 19th century. comprising: petit point pair with motifs including matadors, galleons, native figures with feathers; another pair embroidered with forget me knots, both with elasticated and leather straps; a woven blue and white Edelweiss patterned pair; and a single poor condition petit point panel.
Estimate: £250 - £400
TheChicGeek says, “This is giving me pure Gucci vibes, especially the yellow one. Saying that, Michele’s probably already ticked these off his list of references and he’s already ransacked Northern India from the first half of the 20th century for SS17!!!!”
See more about this AW18 season’s trend of Balaclavas here
Lot 464 : Two quilted hats, Ladakhi, Northern India, first half of the 20th century
Two quilted hats, Ladakhi, Northern India, first half of the 20th century. the first of golden-yellow silk damask; the second in black velvet with fauna stems stitched in gilt thread; both lined in red cotton. This style of hat is worn sitting high on the crown of the head, with the flaps curving outwards, during festivals.
Estimate: £100 - £150
It’s time to shine! You’ve probably noticed menswear getting bigger, brighter and sparklier, recently. It can probably be pinpointed to social media - how much black do you ever see over there? - but menswear has never been more experimental - I wrote about it here - High Street Peacocks
Left - Gucci - Sequin Bomber Jacket - £4040 from Farfetch
Well, it’s time to get the sequins on and not in the traditional night time/office Chrimbo party type way. This is sequins everyday, down the shops and out for coffee.
The most versatile shapes are the bomber jackets, which give you a Michael Jackson quality, and festival type T-shirts or shirts, which look great as the nights before longer and our days need some magic and sparkle. Don't be scared, shine bright like a diamond!
Left - ASOS DESIGN - Skater Trousers In Silver Sequins With Red Side Taping - £40
Below - ASOS DESIGN Festival Oversized Sequin Chevron Stripe Shirt In Silver - £40
Left - Valentino - Sequinned Bomber Jacket - £6250 from Farfetch
Left - Christian Louboutin - Huston Sequin-Embellished Ankle Boots - £995 from matchesfashion.com
Below - Jaded - Black, Green & Red Sequin T-Shirt - £50 from Topman
Left -River Island - Men’s Jaded Red Sequin Bomber Jacket - £130
Want sparkly feet? Read more here
Need more inspiration? See Best Dressed Chic Geek Jeff Goldblum rocking party season
Burberry has opted to put all its checked eggs into Riccardo Tisci’s basket. Before a single collection, except for a couple of teaser T-shirts, they’ve changed the logo - 2018 is the year of the bland, officially - found an old monogram in the archive - plastered London (& the world) with it - and really committed to this creative director before a single industry or customer reaction.
Unlike Gucci, who rushed out a quick collection with Michele, and tested the water, this has had a six month build up. Need I remind you what happened at Roberto Cavalli or Brioni when they changed everything for a new creative director.
Left - Burberry's new monogram from the archive
Following the departure of Christopher Bailey - more here - whose rainbow swan song ended an era when Burberry was a fashion leader. The winds of fashion changed, Burberry was no longer as relevant and it’s been playing catch up recently.
Control, alt, trenchcoat?! The new Chief Executive, Marco Gobbetti, previously at an accented Céline, inserted Tisci, whom he worked with at Givenchy. and proclaims to want to ‘elevate’ the brand and take it away from ‘accessible’ luxury. I’m not sure how accessible the current £1500 trench coats are, btw?
The stock market likes the idea - the share price is up 20% so far this year - and is salivating at the higher prices and bigger profits these more expensive items should generate. If only fashion was that simple.
Cut to Vauxhall, and the first show from Tisci’s new ‘B Series’ Burberry. You can shop his first pieces now – available for 24 hours, only on Instagram.
Right - New Burberry projected onto Global Harbor, Shanghai
First impressions is, it’s big - 133 looks (crazy) - but doesn’t have a clear viewpoint. I would have done a smaller collection - say 40 looks - and kept its message very focussed, strong and styled.
It looked like a Parisian’s take on Burberry, and maybe something Phoebe Philo would have done, if she’d got/wanted the job. It’s probably too tasteful for the current Burberry customer; they want more check and logos. People go to Zara for these types of clothes, these days. When people buy ‘designer’ they want a statement, they want a recognisable piece and there didn’t seem to be much of that here.
If Burberry wants to do clothes like this, at these prices, then the quality and cut needs to be flawless. There was a couple of nice takes on the trench. I liked the silk scarf details on one.
Brands need to highlight something they’re getting behind for that season, be it a bag or a type of coat, and really ram it home. I couldn’t see any key bag styles, and, if they’re going to elevate the brand, like they hope, then it will all be from accessorises to drive the revenue growth.
The male models, with their 80s gelled back hair, had touches of Tisci’s Givenchy in the baggy sweat shorts and luxury sportswear, but there was nothing here you couldn’t get at Boss or Louis Vuitton.
Left - Armed with an umbrella, but where was the Britishness? Burberry SS19 Menswear
I was expecting the new monogram to be on everything, it wasn’t. I feel like that’s a mistake, no matter how tacky it could be. It would be a major sales driver in the all important Asian market and I’m sure we’ll see more in these ‘drops’ of collections we keep hearing about. There could have easily have been a logo segment in this huge collection.
It was chic, at the beginning, with some nice detailing, then the men’s section arrived, and then it got all confused towards the end. Sadly, these aren’t the type of clothes you’ll be thinking about until they come out, there’s just too much good competition.
Walk into Selfridges’ new eyewear department and you’ll see a noticeable change in the eyewear market. Amongst the acres of grey terrazzo and perfectly lit vanity mirrors, you’ll discover 2,200 eyewear styles from 50 brands, some costing nearly £8000.
This is eyewear placed in equal importance to the other accessories in Selfridges’ refreshed accessory department - the largest in the world at 60,000 sq ft and costing in excess of £300m. Sitting alongside the luxury handbags and designer boutiques, it illustrates the new focus from luxury goods companies on their eyewear product. It is no longer the rather side-lined licensing cash-cow it once was and as such, is no longer taken for granted.
Left - Selfridges' new eyewear department on the ground floor
Much like the perfume business, niche players have entered the eyewear market, offering difference and quality. The designer brands are sitting up and taking notice and while Selfridges’ new eyewear department is run by the Luxottica, owner of Ray-Ban and many other designer licenses, it hasn’t completely monopolised it with its own brands.
New brands to Selfridges include Fak by Fak and Project Produkt, while others, such as Grey Ant, Retrosuperfuture and Thiery Lasry, have created exclusive styles for the space.
The eyewear market is actually experiencing the reverse of what is happening in other categories. Luxury brands are putting more focus and input into their product and increasing the quality and workmanship in order to compete. At the same time, thanks to brands like Gucci, eyewear has become an integral part of a look or outfit and it’s the bolder, the better ethos, right now, that is making eyewear sales rocket.
“The industry's certainly going through a time of flux. At one end you've got the old guard consolidating - Luxottica and Essilor being the obvious, gargantuan example. Then at the other, you've got a whole bunch of new own-branded entrants. And then in the middle, you've got the high street multiples (who still collectively control over 70% of the market in the UK).” says Tom Broughton, Founder of Cubitts.
It wasn’t long ago the branded eyewear market was a duopoly dominated by the Italian giants of Safilo and Luxottica. In 2014, the luxury conglomerate, Kering, eyeing the potential of cutting out of the middle man in their eyewear business, terminated the licenses with Safilo for brands including Gucci, Alexander McQueen and Saint Laurent.
Right - Gucci has really lead the way in pushing mainstream experimental styles
“To maximise the development of its brand portfolio, Kering decided to internalise the value chain for its eyewear activities, from product creation and development to supply chain management, sales and marketing.” says its press release.
“Through this project, Kering is putting in place an innovative way of managing its eyewear operations, which will lead to significant value-creation opportunities and enable the group to fully capture the sheer growth potential of its houses in this category, in a global market which is sizeable and in which the high-end segment is enjoying substantial growth.” it says.
Today, ‘Kering Eyewear’ designs, develops and distributes eyewear for Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, McQ, Boucheron, Pomellato, Brioni, Christopher Kane and Puma.
Kering understand the profits and growth to be seen in eyewear and by taking it in-house, it cuts out a cost plus adds control. The results have seen more distinctive styles imbued with the individual brands’ DNAs. It is lead by Roberto Vedovotto who was previously CEO of the Safilo Group.
“For the last couple of decades, 'designer' eyewear has really meant branded eyewear. And so those who controlled access to those brands - big players like Luxottica and Safilo - controlled much of the market. But I think there's a general change in consumer appetite for more independent brands, particularly those mono-brands who just try do thing one thing exceptionally well. Our old friend the internet has meant that it's also possible for small start up brands to sell directly to end consumers, rather than be encumbered by the traditional wholesale model.” says Broughton.
Alistair Benson, Managing Director Eyesite Opticians, says “The big fashion houses are, now, more concerned with producing distinctive eyewear with better quality that adds to the success of their other product lines. We saw Céline remodel their already best selling ‘Shadow’ piece, introducing new and improved hinges and additional colours. An example of an already proven and successful formula being upgraded just to ensure it stays at the front of the pack.
“As competition grows, fashion houses inevitably need to ensure they are producing more innovative products to stand out. Another reason for this is the rise of niche/cult brands and start-ups; take the jazz inspired Black Eyewear for example. All-in-all, it makes for a much more stimulating market that benefits today’s highly engaged consumer, who now have more choice than ever before. From our own perspective, as a retailer, we have had to adapt to this change, responding quickly to shifts in certain trends and the overnight rise of new cult brands to ensure our own customers have everything they need and more.”
Left - One of the most famous eyewear wearers - Elton John inspiring the Gucci catwalk
Gordon Ritchie, MD of Kirk Originals, says “Recent years has seen the emergence of smaller niche eyewear labels appearing that offer handmade, up to bespoke quality, eyewear collections and a number of people like ourselves are making in England.
“It is driven by smaller niche players and I think this is a reaction against the handful of huge corporations that now dominate the global eyewear business and between them actually produce pretty much everything with a "big" brand name on it.” he says.
Niche brands are offering more artisan and limited product, but the big boys have recognised this and are moving into this area. The margins on eyewear are large and there’s everything to play for. Luxottica, reported a 2 percent rise in 2017’s sales to 9.16 billion euros and Safilo had full-year sales totalling 1.05 billion euros.
Designer fashion brands have made eyewear an integral part of their fashion collections. These flamboyant styles have resonated with consumers especially with its entry price points. But, smaller, niche players are offering individuality which attracts many consumers to well designed and made eyewear.
“I think this is a result of people growing in confidence in expressing themselves, probably helped along by them being exposed to so many images on a daily basis on Instagram. Instagram can be inspiring but also allows you to feel you’re not the only one pushing the boundaries a little bit by being bold in your choices in colours and styles.” says Ritchie.
“I think people will increasing see a pair of spectacles or sunglasses as a defining piece of their wardrobe, rather than merely a medical accoutrement to help them see.” says Broughton.
People are buying many more pairs to suit different outfits and moods. Add in the recent fashion of coloured lenses and it broadens the scope of choice. “We believe that people will continue to look for more individuality in their eyewear, too. Much like other countries in Europe, we expect increasing numbers of customers to buy 3–5 sets of frames each year in order to mix it up and achieve a different look whenever they want.” says Mary-Frances Kelly, Marketing Manager at Optical Express.
“Fashion in general has become more experimental, and people are realising that they can achieve a different look with a certain style or colour of frame. And it’s not just the under-30’s who are fashion conscious – across the generations, we’re more style-aware about everything, including glasses, than ever before.” says Kelly.
This is something really positive. It reflects a thriving market. The big brands have recognised the threat and, wanting to hold onto the many hundreds of million of dollars involved, are focussing on directional styles and quality. This leads to better product and choice for everybody. They have, thankfully, realised that simply putting different names on the same glasses just isn’t enough anymore. Add the maximalist mood in fashion and everybody wanting to be an Elton John or Iris Apfel, then you have a very bold, experimental and receptive market. Let’s hope this type of thinking enters other sectors of the luxury business.
Once the preserve of bank robbers and Mexican wrestlers, the balaclava is AW18's biggest headwear - or should that be facewear? - trend. Seen on the catwalks of Calvin Klein and Gucci, the balaclava is a literal disguise from the cold weather.
Left - Calvin Klein 205W39NYC AW18
Right - Calvin Klein 205W39NYC - Striped Wool Knit Balaclava £232 from luisaviaroma.com
The name comes from their use at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War, referring to the town near Sevastopol in the Crimea. British troops wore them to keep warm.
The designer brands have produced their own versions, as seen in their latest ad. campaigns, but you could easily pick a cheaper one up on Ebay or find somebody's grandmother to knit you one. Go bright and fun. You don't want to scare anybody.
An item of clothing that only shows your eyes? Now, what would Boris Johnson say?!
Left - Calvin Klein 205W39NYC AW18 catwalk
Below - Knitting Patten
Right - Gucci - Mirrored GG Jacquard Wool Balaclava - £175
Left - Mexican wrestler inspiration
Above - Gucci AW18 advertising campaign