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.
If you’re not overly familiar with the name ‘Miansai’, you’ve probably seen one of their most famous designs without knowing it. A coloured nautical cord bracelet with a metallic fish hook or anchor detailing was, a few years ago, as ubiquitous as Stan Smiths and skinny jeans.
It was one of the few jewellery designs and brands that managed to cut through to the mainstream while still being desirable for guys to wear on their wrists. It was a sweet spot of pricing and branding that made it something that wasn’t throwaway, yet was affordable enough to be worn carefree.
Left - Michael Saiger Founder & Creative Director of Miansai, TheChicGeek wears Harrington Jacket - Grenfell, Cardigan - Pretty Green X John Smedley, T-Shirt - Vintage Helmut Lang, Tracksuit Trousers - adidas from ASOS, Trainers - Diadora Made in Italy
I caught up with the founder, Michael Saiger, in London, to find out how he achieved something that is so difficult, today, and see what’s next for Miansai:
Originally from New York, Michael Andrew Saiger - it’s the MI-AN-SAI of his name that gives the brand its name, “All the domains were taken until I circled these parts of my name. Everybody thought it was asian, but it’s not”, he says, is dressed in a simple sweater and chinos and surrounded by the salon style hanging of the Berners Tavern restaurant.
Michael’s attention to detail can be seen by his perfectly manicured beard and not a hair out of place on his head. “I put my handprint on everything I do. I’m OCD, I’m obsessive”, he says.
How did he get started and where did his eye come from? “My mum has an antique store, she’s an interior decorator and I grew up around estate sales my whole life. So, then when I went to the University of Miami and I started making some bracelets. This was 2007,” says Michael.
“I was looking for a bracelet and there was nothing out there. So, I started making bracelets for myself and then I would take these World War II pendants and medallions that I would find at estate sales and make them into necklaces. All my friends really loved it and wanted them.
“I took them to the concept store, Base, in Miami. They were like, ‘oh yeah, we love this stuff’. This was right before I went on holiday for the summer, and when I went back after, they said they’d sold out in like a week or two,”
Right - This bracelet design has done the difficult thing of being common while still looking fresh and has become something of a men's classic - Miansai - Anchor Cord Silver-Plated Wrap Bracelet - £55 from MRPORTER
The company started officially in 2008 and, then, the product that catapulted Miansai onto the wrists of men worldwide was born. “I took all that money and bought various machines, equipment, everything, so, then me and one of my best friends had a 300 sq ft work studio and we started making everything and selling to some of the best boutiques around the US.
“After that and I graduated - the degree was in marketing - we were bursting out, so we found a 10,000 sq ft warehouse, and built it out and set up our whole manufacturing operation. Then, I started taking our nautical rope and, at the time, nobody used nautical rope for anything unless you went to a summer camp and had a little tie-on bracelet.
“We launched in 2009, in Barney’s & Bergdorf’s ,and then GQ featured one of our rope bracelets. I started using the rope in 2008, but the hook and anchor came in 2009. I didn't want to launch it until I knew I had manufacturing, as I knew it would be very popular. I didn't want to come out with a product and not be able to deliver it.
“We were the first to do anything like this with price points between $55 to $500. It had to be for a 15 year old, it had to be for a 70 year old, it had to be for a 20 year old: anyone and everyone.
Asked how many he thinks he’s sold of his signature product, we quickly discredit the hundreds of thousands and move into the millions. Next came his own retail outlets. “In 2012, we started a mobile retail unit, an old vintage airstream. In 2013, we opened a store in New York, Soho, and we've just opened another store in Venice Beach in LA".
Michael understands the future of retail and that traditional bricks and mortar US retail is suffering. “Retailers are hurting, especially in the US, with everybody shopping online. We have our food delivered, we, literally, don't got to the store, at all. The industry is changing”.
How do you see your stores then? “It’s more about experiential retail. I built our two stores to be galleries. I didn’t want jewellery fixtures, I designed furniture to house jewellery. It feels like a furniture store inside. That’s the future of retail,”.
Left - Miansai - Harbour Rucksack Tobacco Leather - £506.35 This was the bag Michael was carrying in London. He says the bags are made in the same factories as Prada, using the same leather as Louis Vuitton
He cites Aesop as a brand he admires. He’s coy about naming anybody that touches on his accessorises world, but he’s clearly an admire of good design.
He knows that he needs to go to where the consumers are, so he’s launching 5 more mobile units of classically restored Airstreams, Piaggio's and a Fiat at various locations such as JFK, LAX, Soho House Malibu and Newport, Rhode Island. He says it’s all about, “High traffic in an authentic way without selling out,”.
The brand has just expanded into leather bags and fine jewellery. “We launched leather bags: Italian leather, all cut and sewn in Turkey. We use some of the same factories as Prada and the some of the same leather as Louis Vuitton. I always collected bags from my estate sale days and knew what I wanted in a bag”.
As for the fine jewellery. It’s not currently available in the UK, but how does that fit in? “It’s marketed to women, but anyone can wear it,” he says, “For first 5 year’s of the brand, I never said whether it was men’s or women’s,". Is it made by your? "We do make some of the solid gold jewellery ourselves and some of the fine jewellery with the Pavé diamonds, we also work with a very high end factory in Thailand”.
Right - Arduin Cuff Bracelet, 14K Gold/Pave - £2978.54
What advice can he give to men with regards to wearing jewellery? “Keep it simple. Keep it to two pieces, unless you have a thin bracelet. For me, personally, I never wear more that two bracelets and a watch”.
So, what’s next for Miansai? “I definitely want to stay in the accessories realm, I don't want to go into ready-to-wear. We have a very good niche and I’d like to stay there”.
Michael currently has 55 employees, he doesn’t disclose his turnover, but if he’s shifting £60 bracelets by the million, then it’s going to be pretty high. He obviously knows his market and exactly how to expose his brand without it feeling like it is everywear, devaluing it and worst of all, millennials I'm looking at you here, boredom kicks in.
To sell millions of the same bracelet yet retain its desirability is a skill many retailers or brands would love to know. I don’t think it’ll be long before we see a converted vintage van - how about a Morris Traveller? That’s very British - at Wilderness or one of those more monied festivals emblazoned with ‘Miansai’ on the side.
We need some good news, and with new footwear label, Good News, it’s coming in spades. I first saw Good News at the Designer Showrooms during the last LFWM, where they were previewing their new AW17 collection. What I liked was it was a twist on the classic American baseball shoe, but in material of the season - coloured corduroy.
Left - 80s styling from Good News SS17
Good News is a British contemporary footwear brand founded in 2016 in London by co-Founders Ben Tattersall and Nia Jones with the shared aspiration “to bring the world a little bit of GOOD NEWS”.
Nia was a shoe designer at Topshop and Ben has a background in marketing and sales. The shoes have a unique thick natural rubber sole that gives ultra-comfort for men and ladies looking for a fresh contemporary sneaker at an affordable price. Fresh bold designs and colour is at the essence of the brand’s identity and the styles that are available for the SS17 season.
Each piece is named after a traditional baseball term; ‘Dinger’ and ‘Bagger’ after a homerun, ‘Hurler’ the fast pitch, ‘Babe’ after legendary Babe Ruth and ‘Slugger’ after the ball is hit out of the park.
Hurler is a traditional baseball stripe, which comes in monochrome striped canvas with a natural rubber sole. The Bagger style comes in cotton canvas white, black or navy. The Dinger introduces colour into the collection with primary blue, red, green, off white, 70s burnt orange and black. This striking style has a contrasting white tongue that comes in cotton canvas. Babe is a canvas and nylon mix combining vibrant multi-coloured tones and Slugger is an easily styled black canvas with a noticeable white lace or matching black laces.
The collection ranges from £50 for the low height styles, to £60 for high-tops.
Right - More Good News SS17
Good News look to create a positive change in the world. From ethical product monitoring fairtrade and supply chain, to collaborations with charities and brands that share the Good News values. The aim is to engage target audiences and communities through raising awareness on important issues.
Now, just ask yourself, why buy a pair of Converse when you can get a pair of these?
Instagram @goodnewslondon Facebook @goodnewsldn www.goodnews.london
Below Right - Everything is coming up corduroy for AW17 - Good News Rhubarb Low AW17
Left - Hurler Hi AW17
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
I don’t usually feature Kickstarter campaigns. I like to wait until something is concrete and there’s something to see. Otherwise, the website can become a graveyard of sartorial dreams that never quite materialised.
Left - MDN English trainers in ChicGeek 'ginger'
I met Jamie Harris from shoe brand, Modern English, at LCM, last summer, and the recent Jacket Required men’s trade show in February. He had finished product and from what I could see it looked really good.
Here's the Modern English story. Until the 70s, there were hundreds of shoe factories in England – capable of turning out almost 180 million shoes per year and the majority of shoes bought in the UK were made locally. Today, only a handful of shoemakers remain and imports account for 98% of UK shoe sales.
Founder and Creative Director, Jamie Harris, believed England's craft footwear industry could only survive if its products were relevant to today's consumers and, in 2013, Modern English was established with the intention of ‘evolving', rather than ‘preserving’ this 600 year old Northampton-based industry.
The name, Modern English, is their manifesto; everything they make will be made in England, and will be modern in its thinking. He likes to point out that “Modern English is NOT another 'Heritage Brand’".
Right - MDN English sandals in this clean, polished white
Keeping it simple, there are just 2 styles of shoes - trainers & sandals - in 6 bold colours, all made in Northampton, the home of English-made shoes.
He first produced a small run (100), because he wasn't sure how they’d be received, and they immediately sold out. He's now doing an exclusive collaboration with Natural Shoe Store which will be a limited-edition of 65 pairs and available at their stores in mid-July.
Now, he’s decided he wants to go straight to consumers and decided to start selling by Kickstarter. He’s got the factory, made the all the mistakes and, now, you can grab a pair at the remarkable price of £125. He can keep costs low because the construction of the shoe has been simplified which, I think, also adds to its physical appeal.
A pair of contemporary and stylish made in England shoes for £125? It’s definitely worth a punt.
Watch the video below
Making it onto TheChicGeek's Hot List is a pair of made in England trainers. The majority of people would be surprised to learn that there are still manufacturers making trainers in this country.
Bolton to be precise. Norman Walsh make these classy looking trainers for Marks & Spencer's latest AW15 Best of British collection, where they support British manufacturing.
The first casual shoes within the range, they come in this handsome grey colour which look just as good with joggers as with more formal trousers.
Left & Below - Marks & Spencer - Best of British - Trainer - Grey - £99
If you know where to look Clarks make some great shoes. There comes a time in any fashionisto's life where you want not only great design, but also comfort.
This Trigenic Flex style, developed from the Clarks' archive , has a silhouette that meticulously follows the shape of the foot.
The pioneering fusion of footwear engineering technologies and classic moccasin construction features a three part decoupled Vibram sole unit offering superior flexibility while the upper is designed in black nubuck with a knitted heel tab. An Ortholite footbed provides cushion comfort and moisture management.
TheChicGeek says "The moccasin style is a very strong men's footwear shape for #SS16, so get in early with these knowing you can walk in style for miles in comfort. These will look great with jeans".
Left & Below - Clarks Originals - Trigenic FlexBlack Nubuck Trainers - £100
The biggest problem I had with Converse was how could something so simple be so uncomfortable. I remember buying a pair of special John Varvatos Converse and within a few hours I was hobbling home, never to be worn again.
Left - The four colour ways of the new Chuck II
Anyway, Converse, now owned by Nike, has released the Chuck II: a brand new style that boasts the same exterior of the iconic Chuck Taylor All Star – including the easily recognisable rubber toe cap, white foxing detail and statement All Star patch – whilst incorporating features and benefits to deliver a comfortable, versatile and premium sneaker, "as informed by the consumer" - so it wasn’t just me who found them to be uncomfortable!
The Chuck II is available in black, white, red and navy colour ways – £55 for low tops and £60 for high tops.
Below - The trainer interior for comfort