These were some of my favourite pieces from the SS19 trade shows. First seen at Pitti in Florence and then later in Copenhagen on the Barena, the Venice-based fashion brand, stand, they hadn’t disappeared out of my head and I was itching for them to drop.
Featuring a stunning print of Venice, one of the most beautiful and individual cities in the world, they are stylish, oversized linen garments which you could wear separately or all together for that complete Peggy Guggenheim look.
Left & Below - Barena - BERMUDA (Shorts) AGRO SCHIAVON UNICO - €195, CAMICIA (Shirt) SOLANA MARTINO UNICO - €235
The style world can never have enough fancy candles and blankets, it gives us #FashionWankers a break from the clothes. Along with Luke Edward Hall, John Booth is one of the artists du jour of the fashion set. This, his second collaboration with Scottish textile maker, Begg & Co, I’ll admit, I missed the first one, features John Booth’s famous FA Cup eared male portrait found on many of his pottery and artworks.
Made from a special blend of lambswool and cashmere yarns, the Valatzu's supersoft style has contrast blanket stitching – a traditional finish used on bound-edge blankets. All proudly made in Scotland.
Veganism has caught the public’s attention. The combination of environmental and health benefits has made huge numbers of people switch to a plant based diet. According to The Vegan Society, the number of vegans in Great Britain quadrupled between 2014 and 2018. Today, there are 600,000 vegans in Great Britain, or 1.16% of the population; 276,000 (0.46%) in 2016; and 150,000 (0.25%) in 2014 and this growth doesn’t show any signs of slowing.
Left - Watson & Wolfe - Vegan leather - Slim Credit Card Case - £30, Wallet With Coin Pocket - £65
It’s not just vegans who are buying into this growing market. Many people are cutting down their meat consumption and opting for meals without animal products. It’s cool to buy ‘vegan’, right now, whether you are one or not.
The vegan trend has continued into beauty with 82% of all new vegan items launched in the UK last year belonging to the beauty category. And, now, it’s the turn of the fashion business. Brands are seeing pound signs from consumers wanting a complete vegan lifestyle, or an alternative to products using animal skins or products. The anti-fur/exotic skins movement has seen many brands drop ranges from their collections and replace them with items labelled as vegan.
While the reduction in carbon emissions and environmental benefits is clear by switching from meat to plant-based food, is switching from leather to non-leather substitutes, usual plastics, that beneficial? Isn’t vegan fashion just more plastic in the world?
Helen Farr-Leander, Founder, Watson & Wolfe, www.watsonwolfe.com a new vegan, PETA approved British men’s accessorises business, says, “For me, vegan fashion encourages us to think about our future and our responsibility – being sustainable and environmentally-friendly and cruelty free.”
“Our intention was originally to work in the leather industry, which is where our experience lies, but our research into starting the business uncovered some facts that we didn’t like and we realised the true cost of the industry. The level of cruelty I witnessed and the impact on the planet of industrial farming for leather and the pollution from the chemical processes of tanning led me to transition to veganism and this was the turning point.” she says.
Watson & Wolfe’s ‘eco-leather’ is a giant stride towards fully sustainable leather. Rather than being 100% polyurethane, the base material is made with more than 50% bio plant material, that does not divert resources necessary for food farms or animal feed. This bio content comes entirely from renewable sources and is carbon neutral, so the production of the material has a substantially lower impact on the environment. The recycled linings are made from 100% post-consumer plastic bottles which are recycled into a PET yarn and the gift boxes and tissue papers are also made from high quality recycled materials which are biodegradable and recyclable.
Right - Billy Tannery 'Gote'' Tote - £395
“In the case of the leather industry, projections indicate that the industry will need to supply 430 million cows annually by 2025, a staggering statistic that is at odds with the 360% rise in vegetarianism and veganism over the past decade. We are focused on providing a more responsible, environmentally friendly product and we continue to seek material which avoids the use of animal-based components and that continually improves the sustainability of our collection.” says Farr-Leander. “This is not the case with all vegan fashion, and consumers should always do their research before buying anything.” she says.
The V&A’s exhibition ‘Fashioned From Nature’, last year, featured materials such as ‘Vegea’ which uses grape waste from the wine industry to form a leather-substitute, as well as a Ferragamo piece made from ‘Orange Fiber’ derived from waste from the Italian citrus industry. There is leather also made from apple skins used by new ‘sustainable’ designer labels such as Zilver.
These materials are often more expensive than traditional leather and aren’t available in the quantities many brands desire. For the ethical cynics, there are some brands labelling plastic as vegan to jump on the ethical band wagon. Some consumers are also skeptical about these new leathers being as durable and tough as traditional leathers, especially for things like bags and shoes.
Jack Millington, Co-Founder of Billy Tannery, a new British tannery using goat leather from the food industry, says, “There are lots of so-called vegan alternatives to leather, but the vast majority are plastic products like PVC or PU which are being re-labeled as vegan. If we are comparing plastic with artisan leather created from a by-product, then I don't think there can be any confusion as to which is better for the environment. Even with recycled plastic materials, there needs to be more research done into the micro-plastics that these materials could be emitting.”
“There are a few plant fibre materials that are also touted as "vegan leather", but in our experience these are more similar to cardboard in performance than leather, so end up being coated in a layer of plastic anyway.” says Millington.
Left - Billy Tannery founders Jack Millington and Rory Hawker
Billy Tannery's goat leather is produced using goatskins sourced from the British food industry that were previously going to waste. Before they started nearly all of these goatskins were being destroyed, so they take this waste product and turn it into a functional material in their own micro-tannery in the Midlands, between Leicester and Northampton. Their signature ‘Gote’ tote bag is £395 and is made in Somerset or Leicestershire.
“We believe that ours is one of the most environmentally friendly leathers available today. Our unique tanning process not only uses bark extracts instead of the usual metal salts, but it recycles 90% of the water used and turns much of the waste into compost. Also, when compared to most industrially tanned leather which circles the globe to be tanned as cheaply as possible, our supply chain is kept in the UK which drastically reduces the "leather miles" and in turn the carbon footprint.” he says.
Like all environmental labelling, it’s good to read behind the lines. Just because something is ‘organic’, it doesn’t mean it hasn’t been flown halfway around the world and just because something is labelled ‘vegan’, it doesn’t mean it’s any better for the environment. It’s important for consumers to ask questions, do their research and buy from brands taking us in the right direction with or without animal products.
Read more ChicGeek expert comments - here
From miniskirts and hot pants to vibrant tights and makeup, discover how Mary Quant launched a fashion revolution on the British high street, with over 200 garments and accessories, including unseen pieces from the designer's personal archive.
Left - Vidal Sassoon cutting Mary Quant's famous haircut
TheChicGeek says, “The V&A does love a Baby-Boomer focused exhibition. They do have all the time and money afterall, so why not?
Mary Quant is one of the biggest fashion names of the 1960s and despite her business shrinking to almost nothing, today, many people still know her name.
Mary Quant was great at branding herself and her ‘Bazaar’ brand, and the names of the designs like ‘Banana Split’, for a zip up dress, are of their time, but, dare I say it, the majority of the designs felt dowdy and quite boring.
Right - Model with a Mary Quant 'Bazaar' bag
The Mary Quant brand wasn’t cheap, and while she had a cheaper ‘Ginger Group’ line, this isn’t fast fashion like we know it, though some of the stitching says otherwise…
I left the exhibition feeling that the cool girls of the 1960s probably weren’t wearing Mary Quant. 'Swinging London' doesn’t look quite as colourful through Quant’s eyes, and the designs often look quite basic as opposed to chic. The exhibition is well put together and her talent for licensing is to be admired, but it would be good to have known what happens after the mid-70s where the exhibition tails off.
Left - The upstairs portion of the V&A's Mary Quant exhibition
The daisy branding could have been as big as any make-up brand and the power of the name and that Vidal Sassoon haircut is the epitome of 1960s cool. I was just surprised how pedestrian a lot of the designs were, but I liked the personal touches of saying where people bought their items from, pictures of them wearing it, and the inclusive call out - #WeWantQuant - the V&A did to fill gaps in their collection for this exhibition.
Try and see this while you're at the V&A - Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, it's really good.
Right - Mary Quant and models at the launch of the 'quantafoot' collection
There’s been much talk recently about the relevance of fashion shows and, subsequently, fashion weeks. With many brands questioning the expense, time and effort these showcases take, it is prescient for them to work harder and justify their existence.
There was a time, not that long ago, when fashion weeks were a lot like cocktail hour: there was one happening around the globe at any given point in time. Cities saw their own fashion week as a self-elevation and promotion to help their domestic fashion industry as well as tourism and the overall perception of the city. Smaller fashion weeks sprung up, hoping to emulate their big city rivals, in a calendar already squeezed for time.
“080 Barcelona Fashion”, now in its 23rd edition under the “080” - the city’s telephone code - moniker is being realistic about its ambitions and the new need to promote talent from emerging countries. For the first time, Barcelona Fashion Week threw open its catwalks to designers outside the domestic Catalan market, and looked to international designers from Colombia, China, South Africa and Turkey to provide new points of view for #AW19.
Left - Marta Coco Project Manager 080 Barcelona Fashion
Marta Coco, Project Manager for 080 Barcelona, this is her first fashion week in charge, and responsible for the fashion department for 9 years, says, ”The fashion week is paid for by both private and public funds. The majority of funds, 70% come from the public, Generalitat through the Trade, Crafts and Fashion Consortium (CCAM) and 30% from sponsors, designers and other collaborations.
“The scope mainly is to focus and promoting on three areas - trade, crafts and fashion. We hope to promote crafts and creativity in general. The main objective is promotion.”
Situated in the north-western part of Barcelona, looking down on Gaudi’s magnificent Sagrada Familia, and housed in the masterpiece of a restored art-nouveau hospital - Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau - 080 Barcelona Fashion is in the perfect environs to highlight its creative credentials. But, can cities really afford to put on these frivolous and lavish displays in a time of increasing government cuts and austerity?
“It puts Barcelona into international fashion minds”, says Coco. “We’re not Paris or Milan, but we’re going the right direction. It gives Barcelona, as a city, recognition.”
“Fashion accounts for approximately 7.5% of GDP, including retail.” says Coco. “There are 4500 manufacturing companies in the domestic fashion business, and 15,000 companies, if you include retailers, employing 60,000 people.” she says.
Catalonia has a long history of textiles and leather working industries. “Fashion is a reflection of this historic background.” says Coco.
“In 2005, (when “080 Barcelona Fashion” started, they had been previous incarnations since the 1980s) many textile companies were dying or were in crisis. People were moving to China and the largest ones couldn’t compete. Companies needed to readapt and rethink their strategies,” says Coco.
“Today, the largest companies are fast-fashion retailers, like Mango. We’re also very big in bridal with companies like Pronovias and Rosa Clará.” she says.
The recent AW19 edition, held last week, of the 080 Barcelona Fashion Week calendar had 30 designers showing, with an additional 20-30 exhibiting in the showroom and, also, 20-30 in the pop gallery. Over the week, they had over 40,000 visitors, with unique numbers around 20,000.
“The city council would like the fashion week to open to citizens, but my personal interest is to focus on buyers and fashion, lifestyle and beauty press. I am dedicated to the professionals. The other side comes by itself.” says Coco.
For the first time, 080 Barcelona Fashion Week is hosting international designers such as Polite (Colombia), Esaú Yori (China), Chulaap by Chu Suwannapha (South Africa) and Umit Benan (Turkey/France).
Umit Benan, previously head of Trussardi and a feature on the Parisian men’s calendar, mentioned his desire to step out from the main carousel of New York to Paris fashion weeks and that he feels that these satellite fashion weeks allows his message and brand to have more impact. He previously showed at Tokyo Fashion Week before being invited to Barcelona.
“If we want to be more international we need to offer global content, not just Catalonian. We said let’s not set an exact quantity, but look to designers who add something to our offer here. We’ve looked to emerging countries for a new perspective of fashion. They were chosen, together with XXL, my international PR agency, and it’s who excites me, and designers and contacts it would be good to have here.” says Coco.
080 Barcelona Fashion Week is carving a niche within the fashion calendar, hoping to offer a stepping stone for international talent on a bedrock of Catalan talent like Antonio Miro, Brain & Beast and Custo Barcelona.
“It’s impossible to compete with other fashion weeks, so we have to find our own niche. I would like Barcelona to be a good platform for talented designers coming into Europe; more about emerging talent than super-established designers.” says Coco. “I would like a more open vision of fashion, where they can present the whole universe of the brand. Not just catwalks, but maybe present a capsule in a film, a performance, a happening or work with a video maker. We have Sónar here, a filmmaker cluster, and we’re strong in audio and visuals.” she says. “There are many other creative industries in Catalonia and fashion isn’t integrated with them at the moment. We cannot grow, grow, grow, doing shows, shows, shows!” says Coco.
While the established fashion weeks may look slightly snobbishly down on these smaller fashion weeks, it is their more relaxed and supportive approach which will offer brands and designers exposure in an increasingly tough and competitive business. Barcelona is shoe-horned in between Copenhagen and New York, but it highlights that there is a big fashion world outside of the four dominant cities, and these can be where exciting new brands and ideas can bubble up. Fashion weeks can still be used as a vehicle to showcase the importance this industry has to a region’s economy and creativity, and 080 Barcelona Fashion is proving it.
Pack up your troubles in your new Kit Neale bag, and smile, smile, smile! It’s a long way to Tipperary, or should that be Glastonbury, but festival season is soon upon us and it’s time to forget about the real world and get muddy. Mountain Warehouse has enlisted British designer, Kit Neale, to produce a 26-piece ‘Karabiner Collection’ including clothes, tents, bags and everything you’ll need for this summer.
In sizes XS to 3XL, it’s available online and in their Covent Garden flagship. It’s limited, so it could sell out faster than the festival.
TheChicGeek says, "Us Brits are the masters of summer festivals and this whole collection is so much fun. This fleece is practical, it always gets cold and damp at night, and your friends are definitely not going to lose you."
Left & Below - Kit Neale Festival Men’s Camber Fleece - £29.99
The new “Bentley Beyond - The Collection” from Bentley Fragrances is their first collection of exclusive unisex scents featuring three evocative olfactory journeys, matching peerless ingredients with exotic destinations. A trip to Acapulco, Mexico, with Exotic Musk, an ambery musky composition by Mathilde Bijaoui, a voyage to Goa, India, with Majestic Cashmere, a woody fragrance by Julie Massé and an odyssey in Java, Indonesia, with Wild Vetiver, an aromatic woody scent by Sidonie Lancesseur.
Left - Bentley - Beyond - 100ml - £165
The fragrances, housed in a beautiful faceted flacon inspired by the signature cut-crystal glass headlights of the Continental GT, will be available from Harrods and Lalique boutiques (Conduit Street and Burlington Arcade).
TheChicGeek says, "Finally, a car company doing fragrances which reflect the quality of their cars. This is no longer asking people to buy into aspiration - the fragrance equivalent of a branded keyring - this is a realistic vision of the same person buying their cars actually wearing the fragrance. Man or woman.
The Wild Vetiver is fresher than a normal vetiver, without that dirty, soily undercurrent, the Majestic Cashmere has that favourite orris on soft, warm cashmere wood and the Exotic Musk has an aquatic edge with a refreshing velvety coolness.
These are three quality fragrances and are very easy to wear. So easy, in fact, they aren't very memorable. These don't shout, which could be part of their attraction, but they don't disappoint and feel as classic and understated as a neutral coloured Bentley Continental."
Disclosure - The products were gifted by Bentley to review
As American as apple pie and semi-automatic weapons, denim has been somewhat side-lined, in fashion terms, over the past couple of years. In the style doldrums, denim was once the unassailable casual-wear category. 'Skinny', 'Spray On', 'Muscle Fit' or 'Ballet Fit', (I just made the last one up) are firmly out and the fugly Dad/Mum jean is a confusing ‘fashion’ concept to the average punter. Denim doesn’t quite know where it is right now.
Left - A timeless American denim image
So, it is timely that Levi Strauss & Co. launched their public offering onto the New York Stock Exchange, last week. They must know something we don’t.
The 166-year-old company first went public in 1971, but has been private for the last 34 years. The trading price of over $22 per share was well above projections and means the brand has a gross value of $8.7 billion. Before the sale, a figure of $17 per share was estimated.
“I’d say the fact the stock opened so much above the price we listed at suggests a certain amount of confidence in the company, confidence in the business results and confidence in the sustainability of our business,” Chip Bergh, chief executive, told the Financial Times.
Levi’s is the American denim original, and, like all original brands, it has considerable value. It also has huge potential. On its annual revenues of $5.6 billion, in 2018, a year-on-year growth of 14%, just 3% of it came from China. Even in a denim downturn, Levi’s made a profit of $542 million in 2018, (Adjusted EBIT). When the denim market does start to power away again, Levi’s is in one of the strongest positions to reap the benefits, being priced well below designer brands, but above the fast-fashion players.
For the rest of the denim market, it has been a struggle. Over the last 10 years, global jeans sales have climbed at a 3.5% compounded annual growth rate, slower than the entire apparel category, according to the analyst company, Bernstein. Leggings and tracksuits have replaced jeans in people’s wardrobe. Traditional denim just isn’t cool ATM.
In London, department store, Harvey Nichols, announced, last year, that its “Denim Room” would sell other non-denim products such as shirts and more casual clothing items. Once the cow-cash of the department store, the denim room is on the wane, like the category itself.
Last year, the huge American VF (Vanity Fair) Corp. was looking to sell their huge Wrangler and Lee jeanswear brands. They had previously sold premium jeans brand Seven For All Mankind in 2016. But, with no takers, VF Corp. is to spin off its jeanswear business, which includes Wrangler, Lee and Rock & Republic, into a new public company called Kontoor Brands in the first half of 2019. Kontoor Brands will remain in North Carolina, while VF will move the sports apparel and footwear businesses, including The North Face, Timberland and Vans, to its new corporate headquarters to Denver, Colorado.
Right - With skinny jeans gone, the denim industry needs a new trend/style to get consumers excited again. Not sure this style will fill denim manufacturers with much excitement for selling for those extra metres of fabric...
North Carolina was once the heartland of American denim production. Cone Mills White Oak Plant, the last selvedge denim mill in the United States, closed permanently on December 31, 2017. After 112 years in business, International Textile Group, Cone’s parent company, cited the reason as, “Changes in market demand have significantly reduced order volume at the facility as customers have transitioned more of their fabric sourcing outside the U.S.” The switch to cheaper, foreign made denim made this American denim factory unviable. It probably didn’t help that denim’s share of the apparel market and sales were declining. At one point, it was the largest mill in the world and is noteworthy for the “Golden Handshake” deal struck with Levi Strauss & Co. in 1915 to be the exclusive manufacturer of the XX denim used in the brand’s 501 jeans.
It’s not just American jeans brands that are struggling. This month, Diesel USA Inc., the American arm of the Italian Diesel brand filed for bankruptcy in Delaware. They blamed plummeting sales, a botched turnaround, pricey leases and unwavering landlords plus several instances of cyber fraud and theft. The Chapter 11 petition estimates up to $100 million in assets and as much as $50 million in debt. Diesel USA has 380 employees and 28 retail stores. It doesn’t plan to close, it wants a clean sheet in order to open new stores and refit some old ones. “Prior management began employing a real estate strategy that involved substantial investments in its retail stores,” Chief Restructuring Officer Mark Samson said in a court declaration. In an effort to put stores in “premium” locations, it entered into pricey leases, for example, its flagship on Madison Avenue in New York, just as its sales “dropped precipitously,” he said.
Left - US Jeans Sales are starting to see an uptick
On a positive note, it appears that the denim slide has bottomed out and sales are seeing a slight uptick. According to Euromonitor International, American jeans sales, saw a year-on-year 2.2% growth to over $16.5 billion in 2018.
Denim needs Americans and the rest of the world to fall back in love with their jeans. It also needs a style that resonates with consumers and gives them a reason to buy a new pair. Fashion will play its part by offering new styles and ways to incorporate this most American of fabrics. It’s just a case of seeing which options resonate most with consumers. Denim's return is not a case of if, it’s when.
When Virgil Abloh devoted his latest AW19 Louis Vuitton men’s collection to Michael Jackson he never could have thought that the whole thing was going to disappear so quickly. Paying homage to the ‘King of Pop’, the entire show was inspired by his Billie Jean video with its light-up paving stones and litter-strewn New York street.
Left - Those famous Jacko sequinned gloves reimagined for the, now, cancelled AW19 Louis Vuitton men's collection
The designer and brand presumed that it would be as uncontroversial as the icon from the first collection, under his creative direction, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz: her glittery red shoes being replaced by his glittery gloves. In a collection brimming with references to Michael Jackson, it was a celebration of Jackson the stage performer and musician.
All good, until the release of the recent documentary, ‘Leaving Neverland’, which focussed on the allegations made by two men who say Jackson had abused them as children. The energy around this film reignited the controversy surrounding Jackson, reminding people of his potential darker side.
The Louis Vuitton damage limitation machine kicked in and released the following statement: The documentary ‘Leaving Neverland’ featuring two men who allege they were sexually abused as children by Michael Jackson has caused us the greatest pain. It is important to mention that we were unaware of this documentary at the time of the last LV FW19 Men’s Show. “My intention for this show was to refer to Michael Jackson as a pop culture artist. It referred only to his public life that we all know and to his legacy that has influenced a whole generation of artists and designers." said Virgil Abloh, Men’s Artistic Director.
Right - Billie Jean trash can
“I am aware that in the light of this documentary the show has caused emotional reactions. I strictly condemn any form of child abuse, violence or infringement against any human rights.” added Abloh.
The collection, due to hit stores in July, has been stripped of any of the Jackson references and the label confirms that it will not produce any of the pieces that include Michael Jackson. Fortunately for Louis Vuitton, it was easier to cancel the collection in March, before too much had been expensively manufactured, and they were left with product they couldn’t sell. To cancel it before production was the safest option in a environment where brands are frightened to upset people or be controversial.
So, where does this leave us as an industry in relation to references?
The fashion industry is a huge business with a never ending conveyor belt of ideas and products needing copious amounts of references and inspirations. One minute it’s rainbows, then unicorns, then llamas, and whatever next, and who knows where these images come from and what they mean to different people.
In an era of ‘Cultural Appropriation’ and ‘Blackface’ controversies, brands will, now, always err on the side of guilty. This is guilty until proven innocent and a way of limiting the social media outcry and killing the thing stone dead. It’s just not worth the hassle.
From Katy Perry’s shoes to Prada’s figurines to Gucci’s roll-neck, we’re now clear on what should definitely be erased from the design vocabulary. But, won’t this limit the scope of references at the disposal of brands and designers and lead to boring collections frightened to reference motifs and cultural imagery? Won’t it be a case of collections designed by lawyers to satisfy the small print and devoid of anything challenging or different? Every moodboarded person will be researched and investigated in a Stasi-like, 1984 approach into finding anything controversial in their background. You just wonder how Coco Chanel gets away with it.
Dries Van Noten, the Belgian designer, famous for this Indian embroidery and ethnic motifs, told Business of Fashion in 2017, “For me, other cultures have always been a starting point. But I never took things very literal. Quite often, we take one element that we like...and mix it to be something very personal,” he said. “It’s like layering. Indian- or African-inspired or ethnic-inspired...it has to be clothes people want to wear now. Clothes that are used to express who they are. To me, that’s the final goal.”
Left - Louis Vuitton menswear referencing The Wiz, the sequel to the Wizard of Oz, which starred Michael Jackson and followed Abloh's first collection with Dorothy was the main inspiration
“I look now more to the art world, for several reasons, I still make elements and references to ethnic things, but it has become more difficult now.” In response to Cultural Appropriation he said, “The only ethnicity I could look at is Belgian folklore.… It’s not that I exactly copy them and it's not that I want to hurt people by using certain things,” he said. “It’s the alphabet of fashion, which I use to create my own things. Sometimes, especially with menswear, you have to work with recognisable things. You have to make things that men know.”
His latest collection references the Danish designer Verner Panton, but what if Panton turns out to a few skeletons in his closet? For example, imagine you created a collection around the much loved Beatles’ song, Penny Lane. Referencing the fireman, the banker and nurse selling poppies from a tray, but then somebody points out the famous street in Liverpool is named after James Penny, an eighteenth-century slave trader. It’s knowing when the line of history needs to be drawn or how far back you investigate the reference. Rather than seeing people celebrating these things, many are seeing it as a hijacking, and limit people to only use the culture they identify with; making a very boring and restrictive design vocabulary.
The world moves forward and things change. Everything needs to be judged on an individual case-by-case basis and the decision is an informed and instinctive knowing when something isn’t right, appropriate or we’ve moved on as a society. We’re all learning this, all of the time.
Different cultures think differently about things and being frivolous or decorative about things with deeper meanings should be used with caution.
Right - Pixelated Michael Jackson on Louis Vuitton accessorises
Brands make things to sell, not to upset anybody, but won’t our oversensitivity limit the references we have at our disposal. We’re in an era of seeing the negative in everything and blowing it up on social media and it could lead to a very bland and beige period of fashion.
Some of Britain’s best known, mid-sized fashion brands are up for sale. French Connection, Pretty Green and Anya Hindmarch are all rumoured to be looking for new owners. Put LK Bennett into the mix, which recently when into administration, closing five stores and making 55 redundancies, and you have a slew of established British brands trying to forge the next chapter of their existence.
While Anya Hindmarch is more in the luxury pricing category, the others are all premium high-street; asking consumers to stump up more cash for their products in a mid-market squeezed between fast-fashion and ‘luxury’ brands. This is an area that has suffered the most over recent years. Hooked on sales and discounts, many of these brands operate an unsustainable retail network, flabby business model and have suffered due to the demise of the traditional department store.
Putting themselves up for sale is timely. If you’re a foreign investor, British companies have never been so cheap, due to the weakness in the pound and Brexit, but there’s also a watch and wait attitude for most of the retail market at the moment, with many companies, particular private equity, being burnt, over the last few years, and only investing in strong, bankable billion dollar brands.
Left - Anya Hindmarch bag with her quirky sticker designs, but does the brand need to make more conservative product?
French Connection has been on the block for a while now. A brand that reached its zenith in the late 90s, thanks to their provocative and attention seeking FCUK slogan, it had lost its way. It recently went into the black, thanks to an ambitious store closure programme. Recently reported, French Connection made a slim profit of £100,000 for the year to January 31, 2018, compared with a £2.1million loss the year before. Revenues edged up 0.2% to £135.3million but its same-store sales fell 6.8%. French Connection said it will continue to close stores, having shut down more than half of its sites in the past five years. Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct has a 26% stake in the business with founder Stephen Marks, who is also chairman and chief executive, owning almost 40% of it and they say talks were “ongoing” with several potential buyers.
French Connection has done the correct and drastic decision to close the majority of it stores and department store concessions. Truly international, it is not wholly reliant on the UK market, but needs to remind people of their USP and make people feel good about paying more. It needs to decide what the sustainable size of the business is.
Liam Gallagher’s menswear brand Pretty Green, which is named after a song by The Jam, has called in Moorfields Advisory to help look at options for the company. Founded in 2009, Pretty Green channels British Mod culture into branded basics, linking the brand to music heroes and a strong Made-in-England feeling for its more premium ranges. The company said that it was “not immune to the challenges currently facing the UK high street as customers migrate from purchasing in store to online.”
It currently has 14 standalone UK stores and numerous concessions within House of Fraser department stores. The brand lost £500,000 when House of Fraser feel into administration in August 2018. “The growing overall demand for the brand, coupled with a strong online customer base, position the company well to navigate these changes and we are therefore considering all options,” they said with regards to a sale. In the 16 months to January 2018, turnover at Pretty Green rose to £38.2 million and pre-tax losses narrowed to £1.5 million following a £5.6 million loss the year before. Private equity company, Rockpool, invested £11m into Pretty Green in 2017 for a minority stake.
Pretty Green has a very distinctive British look, and, while it has its core Mod audience, it needs to develop and reintroduce itself into the larger men’s market. It has to define what it sells and make men more aware of this. Its small retail network will probably be trimmed further and it’s good they are starting to narrow their losses, but they need to tap into that rich vein of cult British style that Fred Perry and Dr Martens do so well. This cool also translates internationally. Any investor would probably want Liam Gallagher to have a more prominent role at the brand and increase his visibility in it.
Right - Liam Gallagher in Pretty Green
The British luxury goods brand, Anya Hindmarch, has been put up for sale. Mayhoola, the Qatari royal family’s investment fund, which also owns Pal Zileri, Balmain and Valentino, has decided to sell the brand it started buying into in 2012. The fund has grown its stake from 39.9% in 2012 – Mayhoola bought a controlling stake in the company for £27million - to at least 75% by the middle of last year.
Founded in 1987, Anya Hindmarch has become known for her quirky and colourful designs. The brand lost £28.2 million and reported a 10 percent decline in revenue to £37.2 million for the year in 2017, the latest year for publicly available accounts. The selling decision is said to be “mutual”.
Anya Hindmarch has plenty of fun ideas, but, they, as a brand, just need to establish who the customer is. It has a lot of potential, but, unusually for a leather goods company, it needs to focus on more conservative product. Sometimes it’s hard to find a plain, elegant black bag, which means they are missing out on a huge amount of sales. The prices are premium, so the high-fashion, seasonal and quirky fashion product has a limited audience, while more classic and trans-seasonal product would sell well too.
Their £40 stickers were a surprise hit, but, as an example, their candle range has a strange disconnect between customers. I don’t think many of the older women carrying the bags want cartoon eyes and rainbow decorated candles on their coffee tables. It needs to balance the fun with the sophisticated.
This brand would sit well with Burberry - there are rumours they are looking to buy something - or maybe a Mulberry, and drill down into that affordable luxury market more. I think they will have plenty of interest, possibly from the Americans - Tapestry, Capri Holdings - growing their brand portfolios.
If retailers can survive 2019, there is a strong chance they’ll be okay. Investors will want to see that losses are stabilising, or reducing, and there is a clear strategy for the future. Skeleton retail networks, offering enough brand awareness while pushing people online with good product will be the future for these brands. Being less reliant on the department store model and taking your quality product direct to consumers will be the only way to make these brands profitable. You need a point of difference to make people pay more and a feeling they can’t get what you offer anywhere else. The days of chucking huge amounts of money at growing brands is over and private equity will opt for more realistic, tidy returns rather than huge growth.
These brands have that problem of being too big to be nimble and streamlined, while not big or glamourous enough to catch the eye of the big investors to take it somewhere big. Mike Ashley can’t buy everything. Or can he?!
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