As nearly as delayed as the Elizabeth Line, well, not quite, the new Flannels on the eastern side of Oxford Street has been the most anticipated addition to London’s busiest retail thoroughfare this year.
Sandwiched between Marks & Spencer’s Pantheon store and Matalan, this four storey, 18,000 sq ft store, selling designer clothes and accessorises, has been 3 years in the making. The entire building was purchased for £108 million in 2016 by a Sports Direct subsidiary and doubles as office space for its parent group. Part of Mike Ashley’s growing empire, it is the debut of Flannels in Central London.
Left - Veja display inside the new Oxford Street Flannels
This is Flannels' 44th store in the UK, after a lightning expansion, with a further 15 stores coming this year alone. In 2012, sportswear giant Sports Direct bought a majority 51% stake in Flannels and in September 2017 they acquired the brand in full and began investing in and opening stores.
It is worth noting Sports Direct also own other premium fashion chains such as USC, Cruise and Van Mildert, but, it is Flannels which has been chosen to lead the designer crusade to “elevate” the company. Sports Direct currently has an obsession with moving from discounted sports to full price branded.
Mike Ashley said at a recent shareholder meeting regarding Flannels, “I think they are better than any other stores in the market. Now, I might have rose-tinted glasses but one of the reasons is because I have absolutely nothing to do with it. I just sign off the money. It has nothing to do with Mike Ashley.
“It’s not just a few show stores. When you have a pipeline it takes time. I’m telling you – this is for real. The reality is, I’m telling you it is real and the proof of the pudding will be when they start to roll out. It’s happening, it’s coming. It’s just not as fast as I would like it.
“I’m going to do the same with House of Fraser and get around to elevating. The modern-day consumer – that’s what they want. It could be Stone Island, it could be Nike and Adidas – it’s all about the branded world.
“Maybe I was late to the party, I accept that. Maybe my son-in-law should’ve gone out with my daughter when she was 12, but now we’re on it, nothing’s going to get us off it.”
Oxford Street is their new flagship and is a physical testament to their ambitious intentions of becoming “the biggest global luxury retailer,”. This is what Sports Direct Group’s head of elevation, Mike Murray, Mike Ashley’s daughter’s boyfriend, told Drapers in March. He went on, “We’re in the early stages, but we have a clear vision for Flannels, we have ambition and we are willing to invest,”.
Right - Art on the second floor
The £10 million new store has been designed by Italian studio P con P, and you can see the Gucci influence in the rugs, over blown William Morris type screens, 1970s brass changing rooms and waiting areas and contrasting use of materials.
The store is split into women’s accessorises on ground, womenswear in the basement, men’s designer on first and men’s accessorise and sportswear on the second, though there wasn’t much difference between the latter two. The second-floor will also house the first ever UK retail space for US footwear brand Flight Club and the store offers services such as Click & Collect and personal styling.
One notable difference was the huge amount of staff, all dressed in black. I was told 50 members of staff currently work there. I visited on a late Tuesday afternoon and the only people seriously buying were a group of Asian tourists in the Gucci men’s section. They’d probably never heard of Flannels before.
I expected to see the usual chav labels such as Off-White and Burberry, which were there, but, interestingly, there were also brands such as Barena, Brioni, Alanui and JW Anderson. There was even a diamond necklace for nearly £60,000. I did ask how many they’d sold that week?!
Cire Trudon candles, Acqua Di Parma fragrances and Ganni dresses were also spied, and while nothing particularly revolutionary, it is difficult to pick holes in.
“His whole plan for 100 Flannels stores is bonkers. Knock a nought off, mate!” says Eric Musgrave, former editor of Drapers and fashion industry consultant. “It will be a ghost town for 5 or 6 days a week. Wrong location. Too big. Offering nothing you can't get in the West End or Knightsbridge already.” he says.
“My guess is that they will leave it as it is for two or three years, then reorganise it, making the Flannels area smaller and bringing in USC and SD. But, I believe Ashley owns the building, so he can run it as a vanity project.” says Musgrave.
Left - Display in collaboration with artist, Alec Monopoly
The simile I would use is, it’s like an Essex nightclub, which, if playing the right music, you’d have a good time in. And that’s what the clothes and buy is, the music.
(The security guards do look a bit like bouncers though, and one made me delete a picture I took on my phone of the new store *eyeroll*).
There’s nothing to fault in the design and money spent, it feels premium and everything is nicely presented, but Flannels has a problem with the snobby stigma London has towards Mike Ashley. He needs to distance himself like he says above.
People will need persuading to part with their cash here, unless it is product they can’t get anywhere else. Flannels needs to change perceptions so people are happy to be seen swinging a Flannels bag when they leave. It’s just not cool right now. They need to turn into leaders rather than just flogging the same old mega brands to punters.
Right - That £60,000 necklace
They own the building here, so are here for the long haul, but it will be interesting to see how it develops and how long they stick to this initial format. Flannels recorded sales of £173.9 million in its latest financial year, up 12 per cent from 2018. It’s growing because it is rapidly expanding, it obviously wants to get to the point where is it more powerful than the brands, rather than the other way around currently. I can imagine many luxury brands, currently, being cautious about choosing them as a stockist, but watch this space as they grow.
Flannels will also struggle with some of the quality of the product, and disappointed consumers. Read Gucci Quality Is Rubbish - here - which isn’t their fault.
Left - Flannels Oxford Street exterior. Sports Direct own the entire building
Sports Direct want more elevation than the Wright brothers, but it’s going to be expensive and I can't help think that 100 stores is too many, especially when you’re trying to sell £900 Gucci hoodies. Even though this is on Oxford Street, it needs to become a destination. It feels like the kind of store going against the retail tide, but I certainly admire the ambition.
Below - Interior shot of the new Flannels Oxford Street store
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
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.
When I received an e-mail from the 'Jacket Maker', at the beginning of the year, offering me the opportunity of designing my own leather jacket, I jumped at the chance. I wanted something with lots of fringing. I was thinking Harry Styles meets Stevie Nicks (look just what happened at the recent Gucci Cruise show!) to wear to a festival. A few e-mails back and forth and a few months later, voila, here's my western style leather jacket in oxblood red with maximum fringing. Rock on!
I've teamed it with a vintage, dead-stock 1970s yellow blouse with beagle collars I found on eBay, my current favourite jeans from Raey at Matchesfashion.com and some practical hiking boots for all those hours flitting between the bar and the main stage. Bring on the music...
Credits - #Gifted - Fringed Leather Jacket - Jacket Maker, Jeans - Raey, Boots - Merrell, #Bought - Vintage Blouse - eBay, Vintage Neckace - eBay
Nobody came as a row of tents or Christmas, but the ‘Camp’ theme, to go along with the New York museum’s new exhibition, isn’t exactly new to the Met Gala. The Met Gala is Fashion Christmas and is definitely not for those who don’t want to stand out.
The more you think about camp, the most confusing and harder it is to define. But, we’ll probably all agree, it’s about colour, print and bigger-is-best outlandishness and there was plenty of competition for the craziest and most attention seeking outfits. Here are TheChicGeek takeaways from the men on the pink carpet:
The Boy With The Pearl Earring
With Gucci the main sponsor, their poster boy, Harry Styles, was the Co-Chair along with their Creative Director, Alessandro Michele. Harry’s become known for his bold Gucci looks and this didn’t really take it up a notch on the night. It was pretty standard Gucci uniform. But, it was the drop pearl earring that left a lasting impression. Vermeer in his ear, Harry’s pearly earring is a romantic renaissance addition to your jewellery box.
Left - Harry Styles in Gucci
For those a little nervous to embrace the full Liberace campness, it was all down to the shoes. Go for something striking in glitter, studs or sequins.
Right - Ezra Miller in Burberry, Far Right - Rami Malek in Saint Laurent
Still Obsessed With Pink
Pink has become the beige of our era, but it still looks fun and fresh. Especially when it perfectly matches the carpet.
Left - Anderson Paak in Gucci
This idea is straight from the Gucci catwalk, but to have your own version of a Madame Tussauds head tucked under your arm is really something. Jared Leto going out for a pint of milk is pretty camp, at the best of the times, but this stepped it up and added some Adams Family spookiness.
Right - Jared Leto in Gucci
The Mind Fuck
This make-up reminds me of the creepy Chemical Brothers video, Let Forever Be. While the outfit is meh, the artistry of this is full face look is technically brilliant. Look into my eyes…
Left - Ezra Miller in Burberry
All camp roads lead to Gucci and the king is Alessandro Michele, but this feels more sloppy Studio 54 reject than emperor of camp.
Right - Alessandro Michele in Gucci
The Party Poopers
Move over Normcore, this is Bore-core. I’m sure if you sliced these two in half they’d be a rainbow inside.
From Left - Frank Ocean in Prada, Kanye West in Dickies
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