In an age of increasing competition and saturation, anonymity is the death of any brand. People like to know the person or people behind the things they are buying. Ultimately, at all price levels, we are buying somebody’s taste, so, call it nosy, if you will, but we want to know who is making the decisions.
At the recent Marks & Spencer menswear fashion show previewing their AW17 collection, and by chance, I met their Head of Design, Menswear, James Doidge. Impressed by his relaxed and honest approach, I wanted to find out more, so I sent him a few ChicGeek questions:
Left - Marks & Spencer, Head of Design, Menswear, James Doidge
CG: Where are you from originally?
JD: I’m from Aldridge, a small town in the Midlands
CG: How old are you?
CG: You studied at Central St Martin’s, what did you study & when?
JD: I studied Menswear on the BA course, at Central St Martin's from 1997-2000. Before that I completed a Foundation Course at Chelsea College of Art & Design
CG: You’ve previously worked at Paul Smith, Versace, Asprey & Calvin Klein, what was your favourite brand and why?
JD: Each brand was exciting to work for as they have their own strong aesthetic. Versace and Calvin Klein may seem quite opposite – gold baroque to minimalist, pure simplicity, however, a designer can help to evolve the brand and create a product that is relevant to their customer.
CG: You spent over 11 years at Calvin Klein, what was that like? What do you think about what Raf Simons is doing there now?
JD: When I started at CK, Calvin was still working there and it was great to understand how he worked – to learn from him and understand his founding principles. He taught the world how to advertise in a modern, aspirational way – how to make clothing desirable and sexy - even a pair of jeans or white T-shirt.
I love what Raf is doing and am really excited to see the next few collections and understand his complete vision, and I’ve been a lifelong fan of his own label.
Right - My favourite image from Marks & Spencer's forthcoming AW17 season
CG: How have you seen menswear change over your career?
JD: Menswear has become a much bigger market over the past few years and continues to grow. Men want to have fun with clothes and enjoy what they are wearing, they want to express themselves, in subtle ways, through the clothes they wear – no matter where they are shopping.
CG: Was it an adjustment going to M&S from Calvin Klein?
JD: Both are huge and very distinct brands, with their own heritage and handwriting. A big focus for me has always been fabric and quality, which is extremely important for both brands.
CG: What are the strengths of M&S menswear?
JD: The quality of the clothing is key when designing for M&S, we have a rigorous testing and trialling process.
We travel the world for seasonal style inspiration and edit those findings down into concise stories that deliver a broad choice of colour and fit that works for everyone.
CG: What made you want to take the job?
JD: I’ve always wanted to work at M&S, as it’s such an iconic British brand, so when the opportunity arose I moved back to London to take on the role. It's like the BBC of the clothing world, an incredible British institution – everyone in the UK has grown up with M&S and has a point of view of what it means to them. M&S has a unique place both on the High Street and in our customers’ lives.
CG: What were the first things you did there?
JD: Visited the incredible archives in Leeds, which has a huge selection of clothes, packaging, advertising and photographs from the 133 year history of M&S.
CG: What is your favourite piece from the new AW17 collection?
CG: How does M&S compete in the 21st century?
JD: Firstly and most importantly, we listen to our customers - 18,000 per week (to be precise!), which informs how we design, create and displayed our collections. We create quality essentials that fit into our customers’ lifestyles and act as staples to shape our customers’ wardrobes.
Left - Limited Edition Parka Jacket - £129
CG: Are there any other men’s brands/designers/retailers you look to or admire?
JD: I love Tokyo Hands, in Tokyo, it has the best stationary selection in the world and things that you could only find in Japan, and Virgil Normal in Los Angeles has a great mix of brands.
CG: Where do you find your inspiration?
JD: As part of our inspiration at M&S, we visit various global cities to understand the different markets and trends to see how, globally, people’s lives are changing and evolving – what they are wearing, eating, experiencing and watching all contribute to our research process. We usually visit Tokyo, Seoul, NY and LA. Also Stockholm, Munich, Cape Town, Sydney and Rio are also fascinating cities for inspiration.
CG: Where do you see M&S menswear in 5 years’ time?
JD: Still as the UK’s number 1 retailer.
CG: What book are you currently reading?
JD: Eduardo Paolozzi by Hal Foster. He’s one of my favourite British artists who produced amazing work from the 50s through to the 90s
Right - Marks & Spencer - Autograph - Navy Leather Trainers - £39.50
CG: The last film you watched?
JD: The Genius and The Opera Singer – an amazing documentary about a mother/daughter relationship that also features a chihuahua called Angelina Jolie!
CG: The last piece of menswear you bought?
JD: Autograph navy trainers - here
CG: Favourite city, and why?
JD: London, it has the perfect mix – people, culture, museums, music, art, restaurants, parks and great shops.
At the last Paris men’s fashion week, in January, I visited the MAN tradeshow and discovered the Swedish menswear label PRLE. Pronounced par-lay, it’s part of that new experimental and romantic trend in menswear. I thought I’d ask Andreas Danielsson, the mind behind PRLE, a few more questions:
Left & Below - PRLE AW17 - Credits: Photo: Amanda Nilsson, Styling: Alice Lönnblad
CG :What do you do at PRLE?
AD: I’ve been running the brand myself since I started it in 2013. Basically I do everything myself: sourcing materials, pattern construction, design, sales, etc.
CG: Where are you from originally?
AD: I’m born and raised in Malmö, Sweden.
CG: Tell me more about PRLE? What does the name mean?
AD: It doesn’t have a special meaning, but it has been changed a lot.
It started out as PALE, which was picked up from a song I listened to at that time.
Then I changed to PARLE, which I had tattooed just to convince myself that was it, but then I had it tweaked again and removed the "a", so now its PRLE (still pronounced PARLE though).
CG: What is the influence of the AW17 collection?
AD: This season I wanted to aesthetically communicate the brands identity of the "modern hippie”. I always find great inspiration in eccentric people or characters and for the AW17 collection I eyed towards the 1970's hippies and the character "Billy" from the movie ‘Easy Rider’.
It’s their fearlessness that inspires me, and how they challenge what is expected in order to create something new, and something that is their own.
For this collection, I wanted to portray my "modern hippie" in an updated and more sophisticated and decadent way.
CG: Do you think men are being more daring in what they wear today?
AD: I hope so! This is one of the main objectives for PRLE, to provide diversity on the menswear market, and to keep challenging the boundaries for what ”menswear” is and can be.
CG: Where is it available to buy from?
AD: AW17 will be available in June/July at International gallery BEAMS (online and in-store) and also on the PRLE webshop (www.prle.eu)
CG: Will you be in Paris again?
AD: Yes, I’ll be exhibiting at Capsule in Paris in June 24-26.
Jeans are in flux. Okay, that is a bit dramatic, but upstaged by the style and comfort of tracksuit bottoms and the fact that many jeans styles have become way too tight and skinny, it’s time for a new direction.
The ‘Dad Jean’ is deliberately ill-fitting and unflattering and looks surprising fresh. Liberating and, so-bad-they’re-good type of thing, you need the most ill-fitting shape, in the worst wash you can find. You can thank me later!
Okay, these may take a while to get used to, but, ask yourself, how long did it take until you committed to your first pair of skinny jeans?
Think Kurt Cobain.
Left & Far Left - Topman - Blue Cropped Wide Leg Fit Jeans - £40
Weekday - Drift Loose Cropped Jeans Lagoon Blue Wash - £40 from ASOS
River Island - Light Blue Wash Cody Loose Fit Raw Edge Jeans - £45
Who knew Obama was the king of the dad jean?!
The results are in and the great British high-street has polarised. On the one side is the tired and cumbersome old guard with its offering still stuck in the past, trying to shift their stock through promotions and discounts and then the younger, faster, cheaper and ultimately, more fun retailers who are reporting record sales and profits, both on and offline.
From Left - ASOS, Boohoo
Boohoo just reported a doubling in annual profit, driven by growth in new customers, and said revenue should rise by about 50 percent in 2017-18 as it benefits from recent acquisitions. Revenue rose 51 percent to £294.6 million as Boohoo increased its active customer base to 5.2 million, up 29 percent, while international growth, particularly in the United States, exceeded management expectations.
ASOS The online fashion retailer said pre-tax profits rose 14 percent to £27.3m in the six months to 28 February, while revenue increased 37 percent to £911.5 million. ASOS has again upgraded its sales guidance for the full year, pencilling in growth in the 30-35 per cent range, up from 25-30 per cent.
This is growth, most brands, at this particularly point in time, can only dream about.
The pioneer of ridiculously cheap clothes, Primark, said total sales jumped 11 percent in the six months to 4 March. Sales at Primark, which has 329 stores globally, jumped by 21pc to £3.2bn on the back of new shops.
The UK also delivered an improved performance with a 2 percent lift in like-for-like sales, which meant the discount chain stole market share from suffering high street rivals.
Even sales of clothing at Sainsbury’s and Argos outperformed the market with growth of more than 4 percent in the year to 11 March, the supermarket reported.
What’s going on? This isn’t purely price driven. While it’s a factor, they’re making product that people want and the bigger they get and more product they make, the more people they can please. Lots and often seems to be the mantra to keep the novelty of fashion ticking over.
Too many old brands do these big annual ‘collections’, but people just want lots of individual items and fast. These fast brands do look to designers and trends, but they seem to play and experiment themselves. They acknowledge what is going on, but come up with their own things too. It's a buy it or it's gone attitude.
While Next and Marks & Spencer’s languish, I think a lot of men are trading down, happy with the product and choice. I’ve never seen so many fun things for guys. ASOS and Boohoo are producing the kind of menswear once reserved for girls and the boys seem to be loving it. Ombre fringed sweaters, lace shirts and sequinned leggings are just a few of the crazy things that are coming out of these retailers, and while they wont sell in the thousands, it keeps the cool guys coming back for more.
The young guy, today, has the confidence to have fun with how he looks and he doesn’t want to invest big money in fun or one-off items that are part of a look, or something he feels he’s taking a risk on. The fact is it’s the cheapness that makes it more fun and less pressure to look like anything in particular. It also is a way of showing off, this only cost me…
I’m going to call it the ‘Harry Styles Effect’ - trying something different yet being cool enough to carry it off. Okay, he’s wearing Gucci dragons, but you get the idea.
Only a few guys can get away with it, but it receives admiration from the rest of their peer group. It’s basically about looking like a ‘cool dick’ and when you turn up in a white, see-through lace shirt and your friends ask you what you’re wearing, you secretly know they think you’re cool and it’s the buzz you get from trying something different or new. They then look to see where you've bought your items and, while maybe not getting the same things, it creates a halo for the brand.
It’s about having a sense of humour and this is why the British are so good at style: we can laugh at ourselves, while still looking cool. We can be experimental while not worrying too much about convention or others. It’s what makes us leaders and, also, why some of our retailers are so good at this too and internationally.
Another reason is young men aren’t so hung up on logos and branding anymore. They also don't have the money to spend and want something fresh and often, if only for their Instagram account. They want to go out and wear new clothes and with limited disposable incomes they have to buy cheaper. It’s FUN with a capital F and in a world that seems to be harder and harder to get by in, it’s an outlet of escapism for the young guy.
My only message is enough ‘super skinny’.
The Met Gala - you may have seen the film, The First Monday in May - is the opening night of the annual fashion exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
This year’s exhibition is a retrospective of Japanese designer Res Kawakubo, the brains behind Comme des Garcons. As per, the opening party is the most fashion night of the year with celebrities and designers making a statement, both good and bad.
Here are the 12 menswear things TheChicGeek learnt from last night:
Left - Bow ties - the floppier the better. Future in custom H&M & Matt Smith in Burberry
If the Met Gala can make Mr Safe, Roger Federer, try something different then that’s inspiration enough. A Gucci cobra on your back, anyone? Asp-leisure?!
Go conceptual. If your hair looks like wheat-sheafs then take them with you. Jaden Smith in Louis Vuitton
The Met Gala red carpet is not an audition for Star Wars. Puff Daddy in Rick Owens
When your parents don’t want to buy you a suit you’ll grow out of. Frank Ocean in Balmain
Below - Dress for the city, not the designer. Nick Jonas in Ralph Lauren
Bad taste Claire’s Accessories. Let the whole jewellery shop fall out. Migos
Below - Red was the colour of the night. When a suit fits this well it works. Rami Malek in Dior Homme.
Leave the Thom Browne to Thom Browne. Wiz Khalifa & Diplo in Thom Browne.
When you’re tall and thin, a la Alexander Skarsgard, in Ermengildo Zegna, you can wear anything.
When you try and do that cute-couple-colour thing and it doesn’t work. Ryan Reynolds
At Comme, anything goes, so dress down is the new dress-up. Teletubbie optional! Pharrell Williams in Comme des Garcons
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
So, Raf Simons unveiled his first full collection for Calvin Klein. As about exciting as New York fashion gets, it was an accomplished - of course it was, he's had plenty of experience - collection which, no doubt, Americans are breathlessly hailing as the 'New Look'. but it just looked like yet another Raf Simons collection. Where was the sex?
From Left - Bruce Weber advert for Calvin Klein underwear (1982), FW17 Calvin Klein Collection
Raf Simons showed his own eponymous menswear collection, the week before, with the same leg-warmers-as-sleeves idea he put on the catwalk here. This Calvin Klein Collection was wearably different, yet without any of the minimal sex appeal that Calvin Klein was built upon. Who could forget Kate Moss' nipples in that sheer, simple dress circa '93?
Raf Simons should have added athleticism to the collection in the casting of the models to differentiate between his and this collection. Maybe that'll be coming in future advertising, but if Raf Simons is going to connect and drive sales with the masses who have never heard of him and probably don't care about him, then it needs sex.
Fashion has a strange relationship with sex, but Calvin Klein pioneered the objectification of men and their bodies in advertising through the 80s and 90s. What looks quite tame, today, was revolutionary at the time and the first time men and women really looked at men's bodies.
But, whether it's the 80s or, as Instagram proves, today, people will never tire of looking at firm and worked out men's bodies. Ultimately, as always, sex sells and that's what the new Calvin Klein needs.
Left - Calvin Klein Obsession advertising (1987)
It all started with Raf Simons with his AW16 collection and, now, it’s the knitwear neckline du jour. The quintessentially British cricket jumper has been grunged up and distressed and become less gentleman's summer sport and more urban and edgy thanks to designers such as Alessandro Michele at Gucci. Brands such as Stella McCartney and Kent & Curwen have all done their interpretation of the cricket V and there's plenty of mileage in this style as many brands such as the Spanish knitwear brand, Sweaterhouse, is showing them for AW17. If you don't want to pay designer prices then pop to your local sports store, university or school shop and buy the largest size they have.
Left - Raf Simons AW16
Left - AMI - £225 - matchesfashion.com
Below - Prada SS17
Left - Stella McCartney - £570 MRPORTER.COM
Left - Gucci - £560 - MRPORTER.COM
Below - Kent & Curwen - £495 - MRPORTER.COM
Left - Raf Simons AW16
Left - Smart Turnout - £149
Below - Cambridge University - Magdalene College Cricket Sweater - Ryder & Amies - £110
It’s hard and premature to judge a brand on their first collection. It takes around 2 or 3, ideally, to be able to assess properly and get a median point of view or an idea on whether you like it or not and want to commit, i.e. buy. The fashion set usually rush to rave, if it's good, or sit back, offer non-committal politeness and hope they advertise, if it isn't.
Far Left - Stella McCartney swallow print shirt - £485, Left - Twisting her melons! Chloe, circa Spring 2001, when Stella McCartney was the chief designer
I, unfortunately, couldn’t make the launch of Stella McCartney’s new menswear collection, so I’m judging on the SS17 lookbook and the couple of pieces they had at the recent matchesfashion.com press day.
Stella McCartney is a feminine label and because I’ve known this has been coming for a while, I’ve got my head around that being in the neck of the garment.
If you had asked me a few months ago what this was going to look like, I would have said something like Roland Mouret’s now defunct Mr. men’s collection: all dark, navy suits, safe and quality basics modelled on Stella's very stylish husband, Alasdhair Willis, who is in charge at Hunter.
Surprisingly, it’s a big collection that isn’t playing safe and is offering something for ‘members’ and ‘non-members’. It's just the entrance fee that many may have a problem with!
It’s expensive, which makes sense because of the womenswear positioning. Is the target customer the male to the female customer or the partner of the female Stella customer? If he's the male equivalent, he'll want to buy his own clothes. If he's the partner, you'd be a confident woman taking quite a risk taking this lot home. Zipper trousers, anybody?!
What we have is something that looks like West London’s version of East London. It's all a bit 'popping out for a pint of milk and a packet of fags on Primrose Hill', which is Stella McCartney's set. When I saw the swallow shirt, pictured, it brought to mind one of Stella McCartney's Chloe tops with bananas on from her time at the French fashion house.
It's a tough time to launch menswear. Many well established brands are finding it difficult to shift fashion at these prices. It needs to be the best or special, or both. Kering, McCartney's parent company, obviously want her to expand. First kid's, now men's.
This could falter by falling in the gap between not being fashion enough for those who want serious, standout pieces and not being wearable enough for those men with deep enough pockets to afford it. Let's see how this develops.
You can pre-order the SS17 collection now.
Left - Stella McCartney - Bonded technical trench coat - £1605
Right - Will you join Stella McCartney's menswear club?
Right - The kind of bag most brands giveaway for free. Yours for £290 - Stella McCartney - Tomorrow Print Backpack
Below - Stella recreated the famous Beatles crossing at Abbey Road, London for the launch of her new men's collection. Grooming by Aveda
TheChicGeek says ‘YAY!’ to Jaeger’s new home on Marylebone High Street. Situated on one of the smartest shopping streets in London, the new two-storey Jaeger store stocks the full menswear collection.
Jaeger asked TheChicGeek to pick his favourite pieces from the new store and their latest AW16 collection.
Right - A palette of navy, with highlights of orange, show Jaeger's expertise in knitwear and ease of dressing with a comfortable buttoned cardigan and large pocketed cargo trousers
TheChicGeek took to the streets of Marylebone to showcase his new look featuring a pair of Lou Dalton X Jaeger wool cargo trousers, a ginger coloured T-shirt (Obvs!) and soft wool cardigan.
It seems ginger and navy are the colours of the season as he bumped into his doppelgänger over at the Chiltern Firehouse! Twinning is most definitely winning.
Find out more here
Open now - 12 Marylebone High Street
Get involved #JaegerStyle
Left - Twinning is winning when TheChicGeek met the doorman at Marylebone local, Chiltern Firehouse
Below - TheChicGeek doing his best Gene Kelly impression - minus the rain - in new season Jaeger menswear