It’s subjective, I know, but if you’ve bought something from a ‘luxury’ brand, recently, you will probably notice the quality isn’t quite what it once was. On the unstoppable growth trajectory of higher prices and sales, the quality hasn’t stayed consistent: no doubt increasing already inflated margins.
I’m not naive, I understand you pay a premium for a designer name or brand, but there was always a minimum quality to the product, leaving you, the customer, satisfied and at least without the feeling of being ripped off.
I’ll give you an example. I bought one of those new GG buckle Gucci belts online, 18 months ago. I hadn’t felt it, or seen it, I just ordered it online. It was a simple black belt after all. You think you know what will arrive.
What turned up felt like a free pleather school belt. I’m not being facetious, but there was no quality there. When you’re charging £250 and you can’t even offer a decent strip of leather to take the strain of holding your trousers up, there’s clearly something wrong.
Why didn’t I send it back? When it arrived at home, in insolation, seduced by the packaging, and Gucci was so-hot-right-now, you just shrug your shoulders and think, "okay, so it’s not the best, but it’s what I wanted and it’s cool ATM". (Damn you hype!)
It’s when I look back, and think about that belt, I feel, that if I’d handled and seen it in the shop, I probably wouldn’t have bought it in the first place. I would have felt the quality and moved on.
And, so to my theory - the growth of online is allowing mainstream luxury brands to get away with lower quality products. Consumers are more accepting in their own homes, they have nothing to compare it to at the time and the thought and hassle of sending something back is making people keep things they wouldn’t have necessarily bought in a physical store.
“Shopping is very much a human multi-sensory experience so it follows that we want to use as many of our senses. Emotion plays the dominant role in our buying decisions so the in-store experience will always be far superior to the online experience. As Boxpark MD Roger Wade put it ‘Shopping online is like watching fireworks on TV’ says Andrew Busby, Founder & CEO of Retail Reflections.
There’s no doubt online has contributed to the massive growth of these brands, whether on their own websites or third parties. Last year Gucci’s online sales posted triple-digit growth on their branded website and that’s without all the other online retailers. Gucci didn’t hit €6.2 billion turnover in 2017 on physical stores alone.
“This all depends on your definition of ‘Mainstream Luxury’. The word ‘Luxury’ is banded around all too often. True luxury is confined, generally, to bricks and mortar shopping, hence the resistance of major houses to enter the online market. When I consider ‘Luxury’ I think of brands such as LV, Chanel, Loewe etc,” says Darren Skey, Founder/Director of Nieuway Limited, and former Head of Menswear at Harvey Nichols.
“I wouldn’t class brands such as Off White, Amiri, Vetements as ‘Luxury’. What we are seeing is the luxury brands such as Loewe and LV seeing the growth potential of hype products and as such are designing products with this in mind. This leads to more quantity produced and a lower quality, compared to their main ranges, Fashion details are hard to produce on a large scale. Unfortunately, there is no correlation in price reductions, as you would expect with economies of scale,” says Skey.
It’s hard to prove this point, but it’s an interesting factor to think about. Net-a-Porter group recently introduced a new service for their “Extremely Important People”, where the delivery person waits to see whether you want the item or not, after they deliver it. It’s an instant reaction to the item(s) and it would be interesting to know whether this has increased or decreased returns. Obviously, they want the latter.
Quality is subjective and brands vary. But I think we’re seeing an overarching trend towards higher margins and lower quality from brands trying to still offer ‘luxury’ and compete with other brands’ stratospheric growth in turnovers.
There’s also a generational shift to think about. Since 2016, the global luxury market has grown by 5%, with 85% of this growth generated by Millennials according to a report by A LINE, a global branding & design studio. These younger consumers don't have as much experience and product to compare the quality to and brands are taking advantage of this.
“The expectation of the younger consumer is also changing and I think this is an interesting observation. For the younger consumers it is more important to have the latest hype piece regardless of the quality. And, as we know, the majority of the Millennials shop online,” says Skey.
Brands have made it easier to return products, but unless it’s the wrong size or nothing like pictured, I think people are more accepting in terms of quality.
“I don't think that shoppers are unwilling to send things back once purchased online. Fashion is not cheap and I don't believe we are in an economy where this can be an option. I also think retailers are making the process of sending product back easier,” says Skey.
‘I am predicting a backlash to the returns culture we are currently witnessing - both from retailers and environmentalists. The average returned purchase in the UK passes through seven pairs of hands before it is listed for resale. According to Iain Prince, supply chain director at KPMG, "It can cost double the amount for a product to be returned into the supply chain as it does to deliver it”.’ says Busby.
What brands have to remember: when you’re not cool or hot anymore, the thing that will keep consumers returning is quality. This lowering of quality is short-termism and greedy and will ultimately be a big factor is diminishing future sales and brand loyalty.
I’ve also written about brands which offer great value, like Fiorucci. 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
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
Happy New Year, Chic Geeks. What a year. Fashion years are a bit like dog years, so much happens and so much is forgotten about, while other things, unpredictably, have such an impact and filter out into the mainstream. Here's what I can remember from 2016. Tweet me your thoughts on #TheChicGeekAwards
Best Label of 2016 - Loewe
There weren’t many labels to rival Gucci this year, and while I (still) love it, I wanted to recognise something else. J W Anderson creates ‘fashion’ which is becoming harder and harder to find these days. Being the head of the Spanish label, Loewe, pronounced Loo-wavay, it has allowed his ideas to be polished with their skills in leather goods and skins.
He has created a clean high-fashion label out of Loewe, it’s almost like a male Celine, but with touches of humour and seasonal difference which gives it life without being too gimmicky and themed. If only we could afford it. He’s done such a good job here it wouldn’t be a surprise if he got the top job at Louis Vuitton, eventually.
Best New Label of 2016 - Gosha Rubchinskiy
‘Designing’ since 2008, this Russian designer is part of the non-fashion, sportswear trend that infiltrated the po-faced - read East London - side of fashion, this year. While he didn’t create anything new, he subverted like a professional and hit the sweet spot when it came to pricing the designer market. There’s a real market for affordable designer clothes and the Comme backed Gosha is cleaning up with his sweatshirts and skater style pieces. We’re spending more time in the gym and this is being reflected in our clothes and this is where it meets high-fashion with a side order of 80s charity shop.
Best High Street of 2016 - ASOS
With annual sales now standing at £1.4bn, ASOS is the ‘high-street’ giant of the internet. It’s obviously doing something right and it wins TheChicGeek Award for best high-street for its pure experimentation and ridiculousness. From Yeezy inspired Mad Max looking outfits to Gucci pussy-bow shirts, ASOS has the depth of choice at a price everybody can afford.
Where once the high-street copied designers, now, due to the sheer volume of product needed, they come up with their own ideas and run with it. Just don’t buy the ‘Super Skinny Fit’. Sequinned trousers, anybody?
Best Grooming Product 2016 - Boldking Razor
The razor market is dominated by the big players who out discount each other to monopolise the supermarket and pharmacy. They do innovate, but slowly, so it was nice to hear of a small player thinking differently.
The big difference here is the blades are further apart to prevent clogging, which, if you have thick, coarse hair, will happen a lot. Plus the razor comes with a suction cup to put on your mirror or sink, out of the way. Simply yet effective.
The branding is really good. Gone are the muscles and steamed up mirrors: replaced by cute graphics and chatty instructions. This feels modern, it feels like there’s no pressure to be a certain type of man, it’s simply about shaving and doing a good job. Time to start shaving again. Hello, Boldking. More here
Best Grooming Brand 2016 - Buly
Parisian brand, Buly, takes you back to a fantasy time of apothecaries and Renaissance snake oil salesmen where there’s a tortoiseshell comb for every part of your body. Where things have more meaning than is obvious, at first, and time-honoured traditions are bottled and squeezed into metal tubes and glass jars. This brand is all about the packaging which is always a big thing when it comes to grooming and beauty products.
I’ve tried the toothpaste - orange, clove and ginger - and the shaving cream - read more here
They add a difference and excitement to the grooming routine and the products work. They’re not cheap, but they’re special and feel like a historical treat.
Fragrance of the Year 2016 - Dunhill Icon Absolute
2016 was a bit of a disappointment from mainstream fragrance brands. The power of the fashion brand has waned and their offerings don’t feel as special or as premium as they once did. People are moving towards niche and specialised fragrance houses which offer something of quality, but at a higher price, usually.
Fashion brands and their licensees are too quick to release and they don’t commit to the fragrances they produce and thus fall by the wayside very quickly. I wanted to choose something more mainstream. Technically, this came out in 2015, but I only discovered it, this year. Even though Dunhill Icon won TheChicGeek Award last year, this Absolute version is completely different in a good way.
The top notes are bergamot and black pepper, middle notes are saffron, black rose and jasmine and base notes are agarwood (oud), tobacco leaf and leather. It smells really exotic and rich and warm and keeps you coming back for more. It doesn’t really last, but that’s okay, it’s not ridiculously expensive. I’ve smelt this on a few people over the year and it’s instantly recognisable. This really is rather good if you like something rich and intoxicating.
Most Stylish Programme 2016 - Deutschland ‘83
Forget the shoulder pads and power dressing, Deutschland ’83, was a lesson in Eastern European sportswear and military dressing. It was the great pop soundtrack of 80s classics that got us channelling our East Berlin realness and Vetements irony that made us want to stay firmly behind the wall.
Best Menswear Collaboration 2016 - Craig Green X Bjorn Borg
Affordability seems to be the word of 2016. Collaborations needs to tap a new market or appeal to those priced out. That’s why H&M always seem to do so well. Craig Green teamed up with Bjorn Borg this year to produce a collection that didn’t meet in the middle, it just gave the great unwashed Craig Green at a price they could afford. His samurai favourites were here in a capsule collection of unisex pieces. Doubles your market, natch!
Special ChicGeek Award 2016 - Dover Street Market
While the world tipped towards online, and the high-street continued to try to pile it high and sell it cheap, Dover Street Market moved.
It became what it should have always been. It got a proper retail space and had a flow and order to it. It’s dedication to designers and their visions will make Dover Street Market the hardcore venue and destination for devotees of the catwalk and its silliness. This is serious fashion for those who can’t see the humour in it all, but mock what you will, it’s nice that a Dover Street Market as good as this one exists in London.
Most Stylish Man of 2016 - Jared Leto
If you’re going to be a ‘style icon’ you need to take risks. We can all do a Thom Sweeney three piece suit with a horseshoe waistcoat and look the part, but it’s those little touches and breaking-out-of-the-mould outfits that gets TheChicGeek nod.
I’ve never been a fan of Jared Leto, not really sure why, but since he became Alessandro Michele’s dress-up doll, he’s really committed, with both GG logoed feet, to the Gucci renaissance. Some have been hits, other misses, but it’s definitely not safe and hats off to him.
Turkey of 2016
We got a lesson in how not to launch a website this year with Condé Nast’s style.com. The much delayed and anticipated site was supposed to use their expertise and kudos in the luxury market to rival Net-a-Porter and matchesfashion.com by using the power of their magazine brands and offering a new take on curated commerce. What we got was a quiet launch of something that didn’t have much content, was a shopping portal and didn’t offer anything new in a saturated luxury market. It will be interesting to see whether they further commit to this or quietly shelve it and put it down to experience. Read more here
What are your thoughts? #TheChicGeekAwards
Damien Paul, Head of Menswear at MATCHESFASHION.COM
"A techy, functional coat is near the top of the list of pieces I'm after for the new season - the best collections all had a utilitarian feeling to them. This nylon parka buy Raey is a favourite, and would look brilliant layered over heavy-duty knitwear."
Left - Raey - Hooded Nylon Parka - £450
"Everyone on the team here is excited about Longjourney, one of the most interesting new brands we've seen. They are based in Los Angeles, where they transform vintage denim and military surplus into new, unique garments. This is a label to watch."
Left - Longjourney - Patchworked Denim Shirt - £535
"The Parisian footwear brand Adieu has branched into sneakers for AW15, and they perfectly capture the minimal, no-nonsense aesthetic of the season. I'll be wearing them with rolled-up denim."
Left - Adieu - Leather Low-Top Trainers - £278
"There's a retro feeling coming back into menswear, and this cardigan has a "70's-by-way-of-the-90's" attitude which feels totally right for now. Though, thankfully, it's rendered in an ultra-soft merino instead of the scratchy fibres of most vintage knitwear…"
Left - Orley - Dexter Chevron Striped Cardigan - £475
"Under the stewardship of J.W. Anderson, Loewe has become one of the most exciting brand revivals around. Their luxurious yet offbeat clothing is covetable enough, but I'm obsessing over the bags - this structural suede backpack is just unsual enough to be irresistible."
Left - Loewe - Anton Suede Backpack - £1795
One of the best and most directional collections of the season, Loewe’s menswear is overseen by the inventive eye of Irish designer J.W. Anderson.
This, his second menswear collection for Loewe, sees a creative rebrand of this traditional Spanish luxury goods company while respecting and using its expertise in leather goods.
This suede coat is one of the menswear highlights of the AW15 collection. Featuring bold red piped details on generous pockets it continues the exaggerated and retro details many menswear designers are pushing this season. At nearly £5,000 it is a major investment, but oh, what a beauty!
Left & Below - Loewe - Contrast Trim Suede Trench Coat - £4990
Available at Selfridges