In last week’s Evening Standard, Hatton Garden jeweller, Sam Hunter, brother of director, Sophie Hunter, wife of Benedict Cumberbatch, said, “People are bored of the little blue boxes, extortionate prices and minimal design that is now completely characterless,” he went on “It’s the name you’re paying for and nothing else… It’s fine if the piece is exquisite, but they’re producing less and less of those!”
He was, of course, talking about the American jeweller, Tiffany & Co., but he could have easily have been describing the majority of modern luxury brands.
There was a time when you wanted everybody to know your brand. There was a time when success was built on brand awareness. There was a time when consumers wanted you to know the brand they were wearing in order to convey status, but times change and this awareness and ultimately saturation has breed predictability and boredom.
For example, I was recently in Berlin. I walked past their fanciest department store, KaDeWe, and in the windows were great looking clothes. I always like to try and guess the designers and then, like a museum piece, look at the labels on the glass. I didn’t recognise a single one of them. In the past you would dismiss this as being a second rate store or inferior because the ‘big labels' weren’t there, but instead it was far more interesting and refreshing.
Inside was another story. The usual luxury shop-in-shops: Bottega Veneta, Valentino, Gucci, acres of marble and the same look, the world over, but the element of the unknown is what will get people off their sofas and into stores.
It’s much more exciting, today, to not recognise a label and go purely on quality and design. It’s a sign of good taste and a good eye rather than blindly buying a ‘name’. It's also a sign of confidence. But, it’s hard to stay unknown forever and why shouldn’t brands that are good be celebrated, but it’s the level to which they are exposed and rely solely on the name or label that I have a problem with.
A good example would be the Italian brand, Slowear, soon to open another store on London’s Marylebone High Street, they are understated and their multiple labels - Incotex, Montedoro, Zanone - aren’t household names and don't seem to want to be. Slowear, while not cheap, offers better quality, fit and value than clothes at twice the price. This isn't about being a contrarian and always different and obscure. It's about brands that have a humility, aren't a vehicle for a designer's ego and are understated with a ‘we’re too busy making great clothes-to-focus-solely-on-the-label’ attitude which makes it very democratic and far more interesting.
Go seek out the unknown. I've never heard of them. Tell me more.
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
Happy New Year, Chic Geeks. What a year. Fashion years are a bit like dog years, so much happens and so much is forgotten about, while other things, unpredictably, have such an impact and filter out into the mainstream. Here's what I can remember from 2016. Tweet me your thoughts on #TheChicGeekAwards
Best Label of 2016 - Loewe
There weren’t many labels to rival Gucci this year, and while I (still) love it, I wanted to recognise something else. J W Anderson creates ‘fashion’ which is becoming harder and harder to find these days. Being the head of the Spanish label, Loewe, pronounced Loo-wavay, it has allowed his ideas to be polished with their skills in leather goods and skins.
He has created a clean high-fashion label out of Loewe, it’s almost like a male Celine, but with touches of humour and seasonal difference which gives it life without being too gimmicky and themed. If only we could afford it. He’s done such a good job here it wouldn’t be a surprise if he got the top job at Louis Vuitton, eventually.
Best New Label of 2016 - Gosha Rubchinskiy
‘Designing’ since 2008, this Russian designer is part of the non-fashion, sportswear trend that infiltrated the po-faced - read East London - side of fashion, this year. While he didn’t create anything new, he subverted like a professional and hit the sweet spot when it came to pricing the designer market. There’s a real market for affordable designer clothes and the Comme backed Gosha is cleaning up with his sweatshirts and skater style pieces. We’re spending more time in the gym and this is being reflected in our clothes and this is where it meets high-fashion with a side order of 80s charity shop.
Best High Street of 2016 - ASOS
With annual sales now standing at £1.4bn, ASOS is the ‘high-street’ giant of the internet. It’s obviously doing something right and it wins TheChicGeek Award for best high-street for its pure experimentation and ridiculousness. From Yeezy inspired Mad Max looking outfits to Gucci pussy-bow shirts, ASOS has the depth of choice at a price everybody can afford.
Where once the high-street copied designers, now, due to the sheer volume of product needed, they come up with their own ideas and run with it. Just don’t buy the ‘Super Skinny Fit’. Sequinned trousers, anybody?
Best Grooming Product 2016 - Boldking Razor
The razor market is dominated by the big players who out discount each other to monopolise the supermarket and pharmacy. They do innovate, but slowly, so it was nice to hear of a small player thinking differently.
The big difference here is the blades are further apart to prevent clogging, which, if you have thick, coarse hair, will happen a lot. Plus the razor comes with a suction cup to put on your mirror or sink, out of the way. Simply yet effective.
The branding is really good. Gone are the muscles and steamed up mirrors: replaced by cute graphics and chatty instructions. This feels modern, it feels like there’s no pressure to be a certain type of man, it’s simply about shaving and doing a good job. Time to start shaving again. Hello, Boldking. More here
Best Grooming Brand 2016 - Buly
Parisian brand, Buly, takes you back to a fantasy time of apothecaries and Renaissance snake oil salesmen where there’s a tortoiseshell comb for every part of your body. Where things have more meaning than is obvious, at first, and time-honoured traditions are bottled and squeezed into metal tubes and glass jars. This brand is all about the packaging which is always a big thing when it comes to grooming and beauty products.
I’ve tried the toothpaste - orange, clove and ginger - and the shaving cream - read more here
They add a difference and excitement to the grooming routine and the products work. They’re not cheap, but they’re special and feel like a historical treat.
Fragrance of the Year 2016 - Dunhill Icon Absolute
2016 was a bit of a disappointment from mainstream fragrance brands. The power of the fashion brand has waned and their offerings don’t feel as special or as premium as they once did. People are moving towards niche and specialised fragrance houses which offer something of quality, but at a higher price, usually.
Fashion brands and their licensees are too quick to release and they don’t commit to the fragrances they produce and thus fall by the wayside very quickly. I wanted to choose something more mainstream. Technically, this came out in 2015, but I only discovered it, this year. Even though Dunhill Icon won TheChicGeek Award last year, this Absolute version is completely different in a good way.
The top notes are bergamot and black pepper, middle notes are saffron, black rose and jasmine and base notes are agarwood (oud), tobacco leaf and leather. It smells really exotic and rich and warm and keeps you coming back for more. It doesn’t really last, but that’s okay, it’s not ridiculously expensive. I’ve smelt this on a few people over the year and it’s instantly recognisable. This really is rather good if you like something rich and intoxicating.
Most Stylish Programme 2016 - Deutschland ‘83
Forget the shoulder pads and power dressing, Deutschland ’83, was a lesson in Eastern European sportswear and military dressing. It was the great pop soundtrack of 80s classics that got us channelling our East Berlin realness and Vetements irony that made us want to stay firmly behind the wall.
Best Menswear Collaboration 2016 - Craig Green X Bjorn Borg
Affordability seems to be the word of 2016. Collaborations needs to tap a new market or appeal to those priced out. That’s why H&M always seem to do so well. Craig Green teamed up with Bjorn Borg this year to produce a collection that didn’t meet in the middle, it just gave the great unwashed Craig Green at a price they could afford. His samurai favourites were here in a capsule collection of unisex pieces. Doubles your market, natch!
Special ChicGeek Award 2016 - Dover Street Market
While the world tipped towards online, and the high-street continued to try to pile it high and sell it cheap, Dover Street Market moved.
It became what it should have always been. It got a proper retail space and had a flow and order to it. It’s dedication to designers and their visions will make Dover Street Market the hardcore venue and destination for devotees of the catwalk and its silliness. This is serious fashion for those who can’t see the humour in it all, but mock what you will, it’s nice that a Dover Street Market as good as this one exists in London.
Most Stylish Man of 2016 - Jared Leto
If you’re going to be a ‘style icon’ you need to take risks. We can all do a Thom Sweeney three piece suit with a horseshoe waistcoat and look the part, but it’s those little touches and breaking-out-of-the-mould outfits that gets TheChicGeek nod.
I’ve never been a fan of Jared Leto, not really sure why, but since he became Alessandro Michele’s dress-up doll, he’s really committed, with both GG logoed feet, to the Gucci renaissance. Some have been hits, other misses, but it’s definitely not safe and hats off to him.
Turkey of 2016
We got a lesson in how not to launch a website this year with Condé Nast’s style.com. The much delayed and anticipated site was supposed to use their expertise and kudos in the luxury market to rival Net-a-Porter and matchesfashion.com by using the power of their magazine brands and offering a new take on curated commerce. What we got was a quiet launch of something that didn’t have much content, was a shopping portal and didn’t offer anything new in a saturated luxury market. It will be interesting to see whether they further commit to this or quietly shelve it and put it down to experience. Read more here
What are your thoughts? #TheChicGeekAwards
First things first, what exactly is Lurex? Lurex is a type of yarn or fabric which incorporates a glittering metallic thread. It gives the knit a sort of Christmasy makeover which is on just the right side of glittery.
It’s perfect for this time of year, under artificial lights or candles, and adds an element of reflective fun to a suit or evening wear.
I remember Prada produced a collection with lots of lurex in AW 2011 , below, and showed how it could look fresh and interesting in knitwear and accessories. I ended up buying a knitted tie. Lurex on men shows an element of confidence in the wearer and somebody you instantly gravitate to at a party. Get involved!
Here is a selection of what is available this season:
Far Left - Joseph - Lurex Merinos Polo - £195
Left - Vintage - Prada AW 2011
Left - ASOS - Knitted Metallic T-Shirt - £25
Left - Gucci - Lurex Jacquard Tank Top - £440 from LN-CC
Below - Balenciaga - Men’s Slip-on Lurex - £325
Left - AMI - Men’s Round Neck Pull In Lurex - £235
Left - Topman - Lurex Top - £20
You walk into the new Coach store on Regent Street and the first thing to confront you is Rexy, Coach’s T-Rex dinosaur. This isn’t the replacement for Dippy the Diplodocus, the Natural History Museum’s famous dinosaur, which is going on a regional tour, but it’s just as magnetic.
Left - Putting the sexy into Rexy!
The new store is impressive. It feels like a one-off. Coach has always been a perfectly acceptable, mid-market and luxury with a small l, brand.
Right - The handbags move around the Heath Robinson-type contraption
But, with this new store they’ve really stepped it up a gear. It shows a Creative Director - Stuart Vevers - putting himself into the brand and being allowed to do so. What they’ve done is thought about injecting personality and identity rather than focus solely on ‘luxury’.
So many brands get fixated on luxury and forget about identity and personality. For some, it’s all about the Carrara marble and shiny finishes and they’ve started to look soulless, empty and, ultimately, boring.
Left - Coach Regent Street's giant Rexy is going to be auctioned off
The new Coach store has a mechanical track with bags running along it, a giant pink neon dinosaur in the window and special product, downstairs, designed with British tourist badges and travel souvenir symbols. It’s fun without being gimmicky. It feels like somebody has thought about it rather than simply rolling out a format the world over. Yawn.
In contrast, I popped into the new handbag hall in Selfridges. The biggest in the world, when finished, it has all the usual suspects: Valentino, Celine, Balenciaga, Chanel, Burberry, all with their signature shop-fits. It all feels so predictable and formulaic. The only one of interest was Gucci with a mosaic floor featuring their, now, signature wasps.
Luxury needs personality. It needs a strong individual to lead with instinct and intuition. Brands need to create newness and not just consistency. Coach seems to not only made Rexy sexy, but also fun. It's approachable and welcoming. If brands are going to get us off our sofas, offline and outside, there needs to be something worthy of going out for.
The Chic Geek's latest vlog looks at his favourite grooming brand of the moment, Buly, Tom Ford launches body sprays as a new way to wear fragrance, pimps his old Sperry Topsiders with a Vibram sole and shows you how to do Gucci black tie with a couple of pieces of velvet ribbon. Watch TheChicGeek video below and subscribe to his YouTube channel here
Maybe it’s in homage to the latest Oasis documentary, but the roll-with-it thin-knit roll neck is the default easy menswear knitwear trend of the season. (That was quite a mouthful, or in this case, a neck full).
I'm not sure whether Liam or Noel would do a louche jewel-coloured rollneck with contrasting velvet jacket, but I'm sure they'll agree that it looks pretty good. Go for something fine, maybe a Merino wool or cashmere silk mix, if your budget allows for it. Look for golds, reds, pinks or oatmeal and team with a contrasting jacket like in Tom Ford's latest advertising campaign. This is easy, but cool dressing. Trust me, between now and next summer, you'll reach for the reliable rollneck and it'll leave you feeling supersonic!
Left - Tom Ford - Classic Cashmere Turtleneck - $1290
Left - John Smedley - Connell Deep Claret - £145
Below - Hymn - Maximum Roll Neck Burgundy - £50 From John Lewis
Left - Gucci - Cashmere Turtleneck - £485
Left - River Island - Light Brown Ribbed Roll Neck Jumper - £25
Left - Topman Premium - Pink Roll Neck Jumper - £35
You've probably got the hint by now that I'm a big fan of Alessandro Michele's Gucci. The fantasy of getting dressed up and, finally, being excited by fashion makes this a fashion moment to cherish and get involved in.
It may not be for everybody, but if you're a lover of beautiful things then you'll find plenty here. It's not revolutionary, but, boy, is it good. It has so many references that it's hard to pigeonhole it in a particular time or place. If you don't fancy the checked deerstalker or snake jeans, then how about the logo belt?
Credits - Full Gucci look from MRPORTER.COM, Velvet Trainers - Russell & Bromley
I’m not going to lie, photographer, Glen Luchford’s, name wasn’t in my style vocab. until he teamed up with Alessandro Michele for the recent maximalist makeover at Gucci.
Left - Making minimalism sexy in Prada's 1997 campaign
When you don’t read glossy magazines, anymore, it becomes more difficult to learn and credit the images with the photographer, even though he’s been working way before the digital revolution.
It turns out the British-born photographer produced one of my favourite images of the 90s. Model, Amber Valletta, slouched in a boat for Prada's 1997 AW campaign was a seminal image. It heralded the start of minimalism. A new sexy and seductive minimalism and the start of Prada entering the pantheon of luxury brands.
I remember seeing it take up a full double-page spread of the broadsheet newspaper I was reading at the time and it was part of my awakening to fashion and the power of fashion images. It was the end of 1997 and luxury fashion was on the cusp of reaching into the mainstream of people’s lives and this image seemed to define the introverted sexuality of the time.
Fast forward nearly 20 years and Luchford has gone to the other end of the fashion spectrum by teaming up with Gucci’s new Creative Director and giving the great clothes Gucci are producing the life and context needed to really lose yourself in the OTT images.
Right - Tom Hiddleston in the latest AW16 Gucci Tailoring campaign
Each campaign has continued to develop the Gucci fantasy of symbols, colour, print and geek-chic sophistication. From peacocks to flamingos to chickens to Afghan hounds, Luchford’s images are a menagerie of people and interiors too. This is the age of dress-up: a clashing of influences and inspiration, Luchford's campaigns are a lesson in richness while feeling light and not being the sole preserve of money, but an eccentricity in taste.
In the age of Instagram, producing images that make you stop and pause is getting harder and harder. It helps that I like the clothes, yes, but these images are really defining this moment in fashion and style.
Below - Shot at Chatsworth and starring actress, Vanessa Redgrave, the new Cruise 17 Gucci campaign
The new Cruise campaign - below - has a Pre-Raphaelite busyness that would satisfy the most fussy of kleptomaniac Victorians. And, this brings us full circle to the Prada image - above - even though the time was 90s minimalism it could have just as easily been inspired by Millais' Ophelia or Waterhouse's Lady of Shallot. It's not just beautiful, it's also clever.
TheChicGeek continued his journey north to the birthplace of Morrissey and Lowry - Salford Quays. Now, home to the BBC and ITV, these were the docks that supplied the world’s first industrial city.
Today, The Lowry theatre and gallery and the Imperial War Museum North are shiny centres of culture and the perfect backdrop for TheChicGeek’s latest OOTD.
TheChicGeek is rocking easy tourist chic, amongst the matchstick men, in a simple grey shirt and military green pleated trousers. Smart lace-up blue sandals, monogrammed belt and small backpack finishes this simple look. Bighead strikes again!
Credits - Shirt - Jigsaw Menswear - Trousers - River Island, Belt - Gucci, Shoes - Kurt Geiger, Bag - Mad Rabbit Kicking Tiger, Watch - Fossil Q Founder
With thanks to AC Hotels Salford Quays #ACHotels