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.
Sometimes in danger of believing his own hype, Jeff Goldblum, is a cool customer. On a recent Graham Norton Show, Goldblum totally nailed this year’s evening look. A snakeskin jacket was teamed with a lurex shirt and tie combo and striking zebra socks and matching shoes.
Left - Jeff on Graham's sofa showing the zebra shoes and matching socks
What, on paper, shouldn’t work, totally does and shows it’s all about the sparkle and animal prints, this party season. This is confident evening wear and shows everybody at the office party what a lounge lizard you are.
Get the look below:
Right - Smart evening wear with character
Left - River Island - Black Snakeskin Print Skinny Fit Blazer - £85
Left - Saint Laurent - Damier Lurex Shirt - £685
Left - Moss London - Black & Silver Knitted Tie - £20
Left - Dr Martens Core Fusion Zebra Creepers In Black - £112 from ASOS
Left - Saint Laurent - Men’s Deck 20 Loafers In Black Suede And Black And White Zebra-look Calfskin - £795
It’s time to shine! You’ve probably noticed menswear getting bigger, brighter and sparklier, recently. It can probably be pinpointed to social media - how much black do you ever see over there? - but menswear has never been more experimental - I wrote about it here - High Street Peacocks
Left - Gucci - Sequin Bomber Jacket - £4040 from Farfetch
Well, it’s time to get the sequins on and not in the traditional night time/office Chrimbo party type way. This is sequins everyday, down the shops and out for coffee.
The most versatile shapes are the bomber jackets, which give you a Michael Jackson quality, and festival type T-shirts or shirts, which look great as the nights before longer and our days need some magic and sparkle. Don't be scared, shine bright like a diamond!
Left - ASOS DESIGN - Skater Trousers In Silver Sequins With Red Side Taping - £40
Below - ASOS DESIGN Festival Oversized Sequin Chevron Stripe Shirt In Silver - £40
Left - Valentino - Sequinned Bomber Jacket - £6250 from Farfetch
Left - Christian Louboutin - Huston Sequin-Embellished Ankle Boots - £995 from matchesfashion.com
Below - Jaded - Black, Green & Red Sequin T-Shirt - £50 from Topman
Left -River Island - Men’s Jaded Red Sequin Bomber Jacket - £130
Want sparkly feet? Read more here
Need more inspiration? See Best Dressed Chic Geek Jeff Goldblum rocking party season
Fendi taste, River Island budget?! Worry no more, as the logo trend needn’t pass you buy just because your pockets aren’t deep enough. Fendi is probably the strongest of the logo brands, right now, and River Island has a clever rift on their own RI initials that look strikingly like those of the famous Rome fur house. Get involved.
Far Left & Left - River Island - Brown Slim Fit RI Monogram T-Shirt - £20
Below - Fendi - Logo-Print Raincoat - £1550 from matchesfashion.com
Forget being a lounge lizard, this season, it’s all about falling for the temptation of snakeskin. Much like Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden, that slippy serpent is seductive and looks right for Autumn/Winter 2018. This is your new going out shirt. Take inspiration from Tom Ford's catwalk and team it with typical menswear fabrics such as pinstripes and Prince of Wales check and a neck tie.
Left - Tom Ford - Black Snake Printed Slim Fit Shirt - $980
Below - River Island - Pink Snake Print Short Sleeve Revere Shirt £28
Need more inspiration? See Best Dressed Chic Geek Jeff Goldblum rocking party season
Menswear is often viewed in isolation. Many designers or brands who produce both men’s and women’s clothes often keep them apart when showing them to the press. The times they are together, the menswear often looks conservative and dowdy compared to its feminine counterpart.
Left - Topman AW18
So, it was with some excitement, when I attended the newly merged Topman/Topshop AW18 preview a few months ago, that the menswear was louder than the women’s. Looking across the room I thought I'd stepped to the wrong side. And, let’s be honest, Topshop womenswear isn’t exactly for shy wallflowers.
To me this signified the new confidence in high-street menswear and menswear in general. Topman has had a rocky patch of late and could have easily played safe and opted for simple basics and proven product. But, no, this was like a wardrobe for Harry Styles’ global world tour! A new Global Design Director, overseeing both Topman and Topshop, Anthony Cuthbertson, had arrived from Just Cavalli.
It’s as though Gucci has pushed the door open for this type of exhibitionist menswear and the British high-street has, literally, kicked it open. I don’t think menswear has been this colourful and bold since Tommy Nutter was a leading figure.
Right - Versace taste, lemonade budget?! AW18 River Island
And, it’s not just Topman. It’s River Island, ASOS, boohoo and many others who are reacting to an experimental male consumer who isn’t constrained by gender or the feeling of conforming.
Victoria Hunt, Senior Designer, River Island, says, “Menswear trends have been bolder of late, so there’s been a natural progression towards more adventurous clothing; not just at River Island, but across the entire industry. Catwalks are pushing the limits and this trickles down to make standout fashion more readily available."
“The trend for loud prints and statement pieces seems to be a natural fit for our men’s consumer, so we’ve really embraced it. We are also consciously driving the brand to be more cohesive across all of our departments, although our menswear, womenswear and kidswear customers are all different our collections should be instantly recognisable as River Island.” says Hunt.
Shane Chin, Menswear Design Manager, boohooMAN, says,“At boohooMAN we listen and learn from our customer and grow our collections to suit our guy. It’s a really exciting time for boohooMAN and we’re lucky to have a broad customer base that isn’t afraid to go after new trends and styles.”
“Ideas have been taken mainly from street style and considering how our guy will ultimately wear and style the garments we design. I think the resurgence of Gucci has put a real focus on bringing the fun side back to fashion and by mixing this with the current focus on streetwear, we’ve been able to push the boundaries further in the collections.” says Chin
Street style, influencers and social media seems to be playing a massive part of this growth in experimentation. One is feeding the other and so the cycle continues. These are items made for Instagram and the frenzy to standout on the platform. These are the type of clothes that make better pictures.
Left - Sequin trackies? Topman AW18 Like sequins? See TheChicGeek's picks here
“We gather ideas from all areas as inspiration for our designs: street style, editorials, art and travel to name a few. There are a lot of the big fashion houses pushing bold florals and baroques, but we’re seeing this a lot on the street too. We are always on the look out for new and exciting fashion.” says Hunt.
“Social media has given rise to this in a big way, trends are able to gain momentum so much faster now. Look at the bumbag/cross body bag – who could have predicted that was going to be so huge?” she says.
Designer fashion has become so expensive and, with the younger generation having less money or earning less, these retailers and brands are allowing guys to look as baroque as a Versace model for pocket money prices. I think the affordable prices are encouraging men to be more experimental knowing they haven’t committed as much when it doesn’t cost a month’s rent.
“Menswear is adapting to the growth of social media and the way that style inspo. is so readily available. There’s a real buzz around menswear and it’s exciting to see menswear have more of a focus at fashion weeks around the world, each season. I think the range of brands showing menswear and womenswear in the same shows has also had an effect on people being more inspired by menswear and menswear styling.” says Chin.
It’s interesting that something that was seen as a step back for menswear - the merging of designer catwalk collections - has actually made menswear step up to mirror the womenswear in its distinctive and look-at-me aesthetic and raise its awareness.
Hunt says, “The growth of menswear in general has made high end fashion so much more accessible and relevant to the customer. All over the world, menswear fashion weeks gets so much coverage on social media that men are seeing celebrities and influencers in more experimental trends and dressings and that’s something that they aspire to.
“Just yesterday I was at graduate fashion week and the amount of students choosing to study menswear has grown hugely over the past few years, so there is definitely more to come. It’s also a rebellion in part to the button-down sartorial looks of a few years back. Now, guys want to break and bend the rules, throwing prints, sportswear, tailoring and streetwear together effortlessly.” she says.
It would be silly to suggest that this guy was the majority of men, but it's growing and it’s a younger male consumer who will influence his social circle both on and off-line.
“It’s a really wide demographic – from the well-groomed Ibiza guy that likes to wear a matching twin set by the pool, to the fashionista that clashes three different prints in to one look!” says Hunt.
“The market continues to grow at more than double the rate of womenswear, so it’s not going to slow down any time soon. Men will continue to experiment and it will be exciting to see what’s next – gender is no longer a static thing, so guys don’t feel that they have to conform in the same way. We can be whoever we’d like to be and clothing is a great way of expressing that.” she says.
Right - The sequins keep coming - River Island AW18
Chin says, “I think people’s attitudes towards menswear are changing. Even in the last decade, and in my career to date, menswear trends and styles are becoming more adventurous each year. The lines are blurring and fashion is no longer a womenswear focused arena.”
Affordable menswear has never been produced in such volume and with such experimentation. Sequins, fringing, patches, badges, louder and louder patterns and prints, make this like a sweet shop for modern day Marc Bolans. This feels like a really exciting time for high-street menswear and the British are leading the charge. Where we lead, others will follow, and it’ll be interesting to see where this type of outlandish menswear can go.
I remember a few years ago, at a River Island press day where they were previewing their new summer collection, I spied a patterned short sleeved shirt and matching shorts in the same fabric. It was the first time I had seen a holiday suit like this and it looked fun and fresh.
Left - River Island - Jaded Red Tropical Short Sleeve Shirt - £45, Shorts - £35
I remember badgering them to let me know when it was released and it turned out the matching shorts never went into production. Damn. They did, thankfully, send me the sample, FYI. WIN!
Anyway, men’s holiday wardrobes have come a long way and, now, matchy-matchy ‘Co-Ord’ shirts and short combos sets are everywhere.
They’re a little bit like holiday pyjamas you can wear out and show a fun and confident side. Holidays are a time to experiment and these suits are a comfortable no-brainer. Get involved.
Left - Topman - Jaded Baroque Shirt & Shorts Co-Ord Set - £75
Left - Boohoo - Top - £15, Shorts - £12
Left - ASOS DESIGN - Retro Sports Print Co-Ord - £34
Left - Jaded London - Sliver Sequin Shorts - £50, Shirt - £60
It’s time to show chest - see also TheChicGeek’s obsession with silk shirts - here - and, so, we’ve seen the stealth rise of the camp collar shirt over the last couple of summers. What first arrived in classic Hawaiian styles and floral patterns has morphed into fashion shirts and smarter plain versions.
If you thought a camp shirt featured pink flamingoes, drank Pina Coladas and listened to ABBA, you’d be wrong. This is the shirt style of the summer and you need to get involved. It’ll continue over into summer 2019 too.
Also known as a Cuban, Cabin, Cabana, Bowling or Lounge shirt, it’s a square shaped, short-sleeved, simple placket shirt worn untucked. I’m not really sure where the camp bit is from the origins are from warmer climes and it suits a more relaxed yet dressed approach.
Left - Basic Rights - Short Sleeve Camp Collar Shirt Mustard - £99
Left - Neighbourhood - Camp-Collar Printed Voile Shirt - £185 from MRPORTER.COM
Below - Commas - Camp-Collar Cotton Short - £191 from matchesfashion.com
Left - Reiss - Haydon Cuban Collar Shirt - £85
Left - Orlebar Brown - Travis Towelling - £175
Below - Barena - Camp-Collar Mélange Linen-Blend Shirt - £215 from MRPORTER.COM
Left - Dunhill - Paisley Print Short-Sleeved Lounge Shirt - £250
Left - Gucci - Oxford Bowling Shirt With Patches - £700
Left - River Island - Green Stripe Short Sleeve Revere Shirt - £25
Left - Topman - Pink Sunset Short Sleeve Shirt - £30
Daniel Fletcher had a play with short, tailored jackets and long, side-poppered trousers ending in open flares which made the models look about 7ft tall. It was almost freakish proportions and lost some of its elegance, especially at a time when shorter jackets are starting to look a little dated. Standout items included silk shirts - or maybe they were very sheer cotton - featuring breasts and rope designs, while in accessorises briefcases were emblazoned with ‘Danny’, from a designer who has the potential to give us more desirable pieces.
This was Sharon Wauchob’s first men’s collection and she’d teamed up with Savile Row tailors, Norton & Sons, owned by E Tautz’s Patrick Grant, to finesse the tailoring.
The Irish designer showed, in ethereal surroundings, All Saints, just off Oxford Street, a collection that perfectly complemented the backdrop. This was one of the highlights of the entire week and the most grown up, yet it felt contemporary, desirable and luxurious, in the old fashion sense of the word.
Standouts were the super-creased shirts with silver threading and a sheer evening shirt showing off this season’s new erogenous zone, the male back.
A sea of ugly trainers sat down to watch the Liam Hodges collection. Feeling ‘Crapped Out’, it was a play with bad taste - British roast pork tan lines and tribal face tattoos, anyone? - but, there was plenty to buy into - the sports socks and badges - and even a Gucci-type hibiscus homage which was decidedly less polished and more interesting. Best thing I’ve seen from him.
While the temperature on Floral Street for Qasimi’s show climbed, so did the colour palette on the catwalk. Lots of oranges in earthy and spice tones played with larger shapes and Arabic slogan hoodies referenced the designer’s background. There’s a growing momentum to the Qasimi brand.
What did TheChicGeek wear? Credits - Suit - Jigsaw, Bag - River Island, T-Shirt - Band Of Outsiders, Neckerchief - Etro, Woggle - eBay, Spectacles - Lunetterie Generale
See LFWM Day 1 - here
If the headlines were to be believed you’d think the high-street was in terminal decline and everybody was withdrawing at the speed of knots. Store closures across the board and brands shrinking to survive, it’s armageddon on the high-street, they scream!
The retail market has always seen brands or chains crash and burn over the years. It’s part of the retail renewal cycle and allows others to appear and grow.
Left - River Island's new expanded store at Milton Keynes' Centre:MK
"As consumers, we are becoming more and more demanding, each new level of service experienced serves to simply raise the bar even higher. In the UK in February 2018 online accounted for 17.2% of total sales (source ONS). Whilst this is still increasing (15.6% in February 2017) it is still a relatively small proportion of total sales meaning that over 80% is from the high-street. So, it is clear that the high-street is far from dead but it is evolving at a rapid rate - Darwinism on the high-street if you like, where the process of evolution naturally culls the weak whilst the strong prosper and survive,” says Andrew Busby, Founder & CEO Retail Reflections.
Continuing to grow, online retail sales leapt to 18.8% last month - April 2018 - and it won’t be long before it hits 20% and maybe even 30%. For the offline retail optimist, though, it means 80% is left for the taking offline in physical stores.
But, while the focus has been on chains closing stores - M&S announced 100 stores closing by 2022 - there are a few strong and growing brands stealthily tightening their hold and grip on the high-street. The focus is on bigger and better stores in premium locations: less stores but better.
As brands vacate premium sites other brands can cherry-pick and expand into the gaps, but only in the top tier of shopping centres and cities.
For example, both Zara and River Island are carrying out major expansions of their stores at Intu Lakeside. River Island will be doubling the size of its store to 21,000 sq ft while Zara will treble its store size to 35,000 sq ft making the stores among the largest in the retailers’ portfolios. They are the latest retailers to invest in flagship stores at Intu Lakeside since H&M doubled the size of its store to 36,000 sq ft and Next opened an expanded 70,000 sq ft store in Spring 2017.
When Banana Republic vacated Westfield White City, Zara took the opportunity to create the biggest branch in the UK. River Island recently doubled the size of its store in Centre:MK in Milton Keynes. The retailer doubled its existing unit to 20,000 sq ft to accommodate the brand’s full range of womenswear, menswear and children’s fashion ranges.
Nick Tahir, River Island, Head of Menswear Buying says, “We have over 280 stores in the UK. In an increasingly competitive high street, it is important to keep River Island stores looking fresh, relevant and exciting. With 30 years heritage, naturally some stores will require a makeover and in some towns/cities and that has been a key focus for us, we have also been increasing our square footage, to accommodate the needs of our customer and our growing divisions (for example we launched RI Kids and RI Mini only a couple of years back and the demand is consistently growing).”
“Although retailers are seeing an impact on bricks and mortar due to mobile and online, retail is still the biggest mix of sales for us. With our heritage, stores will always play an important role. They are the heartbeat of the River Island. The challenge for us and our peers in the industry, is to keep our customers coming back again and again. We do this by enhancing their shopping experience – whether that’s through pop-ups and exclusive events, or through offering something that our customers can’t find with some of our competitors; take Style Studio for example, our complimentary Personal Shopping service. It is vital for us to keep revamping and improving our store aesthetic to draw footfall, creating theatre through VM and windows and of course constantly refreshing our product offering to stay relevant and exciting.” says Tahir.
As stores grow larger at key shopping hot spots, retailers can give fewer locations more attention and fine tune, update and invest in those locations. But, what this will also mean is many towns will lose their well known names and become secondary as the money is sucked into fewer, bigger places.
“Most retailers with a large store estate have too much space so what we're also seeing (landlord rent restrictions aside) is an expected re-sizing and in some cases re-purposing of space eg. Debenhams considering renting out space to WeWork.” says Busby.
“All this means that the stores which survive will need to be far better than those we currently experience. For example, the poor quality of the Toys R Us stores was a major factor in it collapsing into administration.” he says.
“But the fascinating dynamic is that quality and customer experience in store is largely dependent upon the particular shopping journey ie. if it's a distressed purchase then the customer just wants to get in, find what they need, pay and leave - as seamlessly as possible. However, if it's for say a luxury item they may well welcome, indeed, seek out engagement and advice; being quite happy to spend far longer. Both journeys will be judged by different criteria. The trick for retailers is to recognise what journey we're on and act accordingly. Facial recognition and AI is going a long way to be able to tell what mood we are in when we enter the store.” says Busby.
Right - Zara's new store at Westfield Stratford
The shopping centre companies know this too. The recently abandoned £3.4bn tie-up between Hammerson and Intu failed, I think, because Hammerson were probably only interested in a handful of their top sites like Manchester’s Trafford Centre. Trying to offload or revive the others would be costly and a distraction and knowing where the market is heading, it knows it’ll probably be able to bid on what it wants individually if Intu starts to wobble in the foreseeable future.
In order to survive it’s going to be about fewer players with less but stronger sites. As more close, it strengthens those which are left. If you believed the newspapers you’d think that every retailer had given up on physical stores, but the clever ones are only getting started. When the growth in online slows or plateaus, these proactive retailers will be positioned to take full advantage of the eventual return to the high-street.
Read more expert ChicGeek Comments - here