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
A mysterious style icon has suddenly appeared. Inhabiting the hallowed halls of Tate Britain, this new character looks like a badger from a Shakespearean fantasy. Called ‘The Squash’, it is an immersive installation combining performance and sculpture by 2016 Turner Prize nominee Anthea Hamilton.
The Squash has been created for the annual Tate Britain Commission, supported by Sotheby’s, which invites contemporary British artists to create new artwork in response to the grand space of the Duveen Galleries.
Left - All about the stripey Squash
Right - Loewe - Striped Asymmetric Cotton-Canvas Shirt - £795 from matchesfashion.com
Anthea Hamilton has transformed the heart of Tate Britain into an elaborate stage for a continuous 6-month performance of a single character, dressed in a colourful squash-like costume. Over 7,000 white floor tiles have been laid to span the length of the galleries encasing a series of large structures that serve as podiums for a number of works of art from Tate’s collection, chosen by Hamilton.
Right - The Squash has seven costumes designed in collaboration with Creative Director Jonathan Anderson at the fashion house Loewe
The artist is influenced by the early 20th century French writer and dramatist Antonin Artaud and his call for the ‘physical knowledge of images’, it is this bodily response to an idea or an image that she wishes to examine in The Squash.
Hamilton has designed seven costumes in collaboration with Creative Director Jonathan Anderson at the fashion house Loewe, that incorporate the colours and shapes of varieties of squash or pumpkin. The performers get to select a costume each day, informing and reflecting their individual presentation of the character as they inhabit the space.
On trend, The Squash is rocking vertical stripes and ruffled shirts in his clinically tiled play area. Get the look with a striped shirt or go for white ruffles; the bigger, the better.
Right - Burberry - Herringbone Cotton Tie-Neck Riding Shirt - £495
Left & Below - The Squash gets to play in Tate Britain's Duveen Galleries
Like Stripes? See The Beetlejuice Striped Suit
Damien Paul, Head of Menswear, MATCHESFASHION.COM
“JW Anderson and MATCHESFASHION.COM have teamed up to launch a ten-piece capsule collection and the London based designer has taken iconic pieces from the main collection and reinvented them with new graphics and colourways. This beige bomber jacket features distinctive branding emblazoned across the back. It is crafted from cotton with a zip front and framed with a ribbed-knit collar, cuffs, and hem.”
Left - JW Anderson – Ribbed-Trimmed Bomber Jacket - £840
“New on site for SS18, Austrian brand Andy Wolf develops its signature clean and modern frames, taking into consideration every aspect, from design to prototyping and distribution. Every part of the frame undergoes rigorous quality control and uses the highest quality materials across its impressive array of designs. The Hazel sunglasses present an update of the classic aviator style, deploying a thicker frame and brown tinted lenses.”
Below - Andy Wolf – Aviator Sunglasses - £320
“Men’s fashion continues to break convention as it moves into an exciting new era. With this season’s Parisian-based label Y/Project, references that include gothic grandeur and simple streetwear, they offer up detail like this grey-marl sweatshirt with an attached second panel with sleeves that can be tied around the body or left to hang loose.”
Left - Y/Project – Overlay Detail Sweatshirt - £480
"For Spring Summer 18 sandals are an increasingly interesting category, and we have bought over 100 new styles at MATCHESFASHION.COM. Brands such as Marni provide an artful aesthetic with these sandals. Made from navy and red striped grosgrain cross-over straps and finished with nude-beige leather insoles and natural jute soles this style has the quirky flourish you’d expect from this Italian designer.
Above - Marni – Grosgrain Sandals - £370
“Thom Browne offers a refreshing update on tailoring in this season’s wardrobe. This grey and white pin-striped, wool-blend trousers combine classic tailoring with a sartorial twist.”
Left - Thom Browne – Backstrap Straight-Leg Pinstriped Trousers - £590
These vintage postcard intarsia knits just don’t get old. JW Anderson did them ages ago in tank top form and Hermès has done a few similar styles for AW18 see here
This is TheChicGeek on one of his Famous Five adventures. All I need is a steam train and a canvas rucksack. Somebody pass the ginger beer!
Left & Below - Not sure where they got the model! But I like the jumper - Pringle of Scotland - Postcard Landscape Jumper in Black/Vintage Cream - £550
The first ever UK exhibition on the Spanish fashion designer, Cristóbal Balenciaga, and his continuing influence on modern fashion opens at the V&A. The exhibition marks the centenary of the opening of Balenciaga’s first fashion house in San Sebastian, Spain and the 80th anniversary of the opening of his famous fashion house in Paris.
Left - The man himself, Cristóbal Balenciaga
TheChicGeek says, “While I love the V&A’s Fashion Gallery, the big exhibition space, where Pink Floyd currently is, is usually larger and something to get more excited about. But, this exhibition feels less cramped than previous exhibitions in the space - see Underwear here - and upstairs has a nice, spacious flow.
Balenciaga, as a designer, was serious. Those black voluminous gowns seem to sum up his lack of fun. He feels strict in that Spanish Catholic way, manifesting itself in his designs using lace and the Spanish Mantilla. You don’t get much feel for the man or his personality, but I think that’s how he liked it. He only gave one interview in his life, and that was just before he died.
Left - Known for his elegant volumes, Balenciaga was one of the great couturiers of the 20th century
The name disappeared into the history books when he closed his house and only came back into common culture with its revival around 20 year's ago when Gucci’s parent company, Kering, bought it alongside Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen.
Downstairs is a collection of pieces, mostly coats and dresses, from his most prolific period the 1960s. These are sculptural clothes for pictures and striking as they are, when they become practical, to enter the real world, particularly the commissions by the rich Americans, they look dated and frumpy. His volumes work on their own, but on people they add bulk and often swallow the wearer. These aren't easy wearing pieces.
Some of his pieces aren’t practical either. The wearer couldn’t sit down or go to the toilet in 'Envelope' dress, for example, but this doesn't detract from its beauty.
This was the golden age of 20th century of couture and while he produced ready-to-wear with his 'Eisa' range, his heart was in his exacting standards and the fine fabrics he used.
Left - The 'Envelope' dress, 1967, a design you couldn't sit down or go to the toilet in
Balenciaga is more a collection of one-off greatest hits than themed seasons in the vain of Saint Laurent. These weren’t particularly well documented, even though they were huge, between 150 to 200 looks, as the press weren’t allowed into his shows, so the main imagery is striking black and white shoots in the magazines at the time which have entered in the common psyche of 20th century fashion images.
Upstairs is a large display with a varied selection of designers, both old and new, paying homage to the volumes that Balenciaga pioneered. There are a couple of men’s pieces by JW Anderson and Rory Parnell-Mooney to illustrate that his influence isn’t restricted solely to womenswear.
Left - JW Anderson paying homage to Balenciaga with his tulip trousers
There are a couple of pieces from the new Balenciaga, under Demna Gvasalia, who is producing great things and referencing the house while making it feel contemporary. Unfortunately, there isn't a blue Ikea bag in sight!
Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion until 18th February 2018. Admission £12
Pronounced ‘Loh-wev-eh’, Loewe, is Spain's premier luxury label. Designed by Northern Irish designer, JW Anderson, it is producing some of the most directional and top quality menswear ATM.
This season was inspired by the beach: shells, rope and boats decorated tops, jackets and accessories. Gold leaf on denim brings to mind the warmth of a summer sunset. This shell tote is stunning and a real standout piece. Who said life was a beach?!
Credits - Clothes - Loewe from Matchesfashion.com, Bag - Loewe from Matchesfashion.com, Trainers - Tim Little X Grenson, Fragrance - Bentley Momentum, Cooling Balancing Oil Concentrate - Aveda
Shot by Robin Forster on Olympus PEN
Video & more images below
Where was everybody? That could have been the final statement when it came to London’s latest round of men’s shows and presentations. Having dropped from 77 to 57, the number of brands showing was a reflection in the current oversupply of fashion brands and collections. LCM felt a little vacant and, unfortunately, what was left didn’t exactly set the menswear world on fire.
Here are a few trends TheChicGeek spied to take us into the new year:
It's 40 years since punk first burst on to the British streetwear scene and to celebrate designers have been getting creative with a bottle of Domestos.
From Left - Casely-Hayford, Mihara Yasuhiro (See how to make your own pair of bleachers - here)
Tracey Emin rang, she wants her spare bed back! Could it be a comment on generation rent and the nomad status of today’s young and creative generation or maybe it was simply the lazy option. Expect to see 'Dreams' as the headline sponsor of the next LCM or London Fashion Week Men’s as it is now called.
From Left - Per Götesson, Edward Crutchley
Nothing says 'playful' like Terry towelling. And while a playsuit maybe taking things too far, if you've got the legs...
From Left - Sibling, Topman Design
Flag To The Mast
Tie your sartorial flag to the mast and dress like a walking United Nations.
Both Craig Green
Colouring in is so 2015! Get that Sharpie out and start to doodle to your heart's content.
Below - Coach
Zips go man-sized, this season, and take centre stage.
From Left - Mihara Yasuhiro, JW Anderson, Mihara Yasuhiro
Large lapels yet streamlined shapes make this a contemporary seventies revival.
Fashion tribes take inspiration from ethnic jewellery and the play with masculinity and decoration.
Left - Casely-Hayford, Wales Bonner, Charles Jeffrey
The colour combo of the season. Bubblegum to fuchsia, lime to forest, these two colours work in every combination.
Both JW Anderson (See more from this trend in Milan)