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If a picture paints a thousand words, what does a stylist do? In fashion, they are the story tellers. Stylists, those individuals who decide what and how to dress models and celebrities for many brands’ campaigns and visual assets, have long been taken for granted. Much like photographers and digital cameras, in recent years, their magic of making something look more expensive or chicer than it is has been overlooked and labelled as simply ‘dressing’.
Left - Hedi's idea of cool or just plain bad? Celine
Paula O’Connor, ex Fashion Editor and Consultant, says, “A stylist's job is to tell a story with clothes, to put them into a narrative. This could be for glossy pages of editorial/ magazines or film, or simply co-ordinating everyday outfits to suit someone's lifestyle, whilst understanding perfectly how to translate current trends in fashion into outfits to suit that person’s needs and their lifestyle whilst maximising their image and confidence.”
The majority of people don’t recognise good styling, but they certainly notice bad, and it feels like there’s a lot of it around at the moment.
And, that’s the crux of it, a stylist’s main job is to make, professionally, things or people not look bad. With many brands making cuts or struggling to produce content in lockdowns with less travel, then bad styling is becoming much more noticeable. While some brands may go deliberately for the slightly more ‘edgier’ or grungier look, even Balenciaga has a slickness in its ugliness, there’s a difference between this and simply bad. It’s the fashion equivalent of a hipster venue asking you to drink out of jam jars. It’s a cost saving spun as being cool.
Lockdown has really brought to light the importance of good styling and therefore a good stylist. Marketeers listen up. We became so blasé about perfect images, that, I think, we took them for granted pre-COVID, but it’s only, now, we can really see the difference and it’s coming from even the biggest of brands.
“Stylists are definitely taken for granted and they do not get enough respect for the skills they have”, says Jessica Punter, Freelance Stylist with almost 20 years’ experience, associate lecturer and Ex GQ Style and Grooming Editor.
“Stylists usually have an eagle eye over the whole fashion industry and draw on influences from a wealth of other areas such as art, music and pop culture. They can help steer or hone a collection and create fresh appeal. They can bring a lot to the table creatively, if given the chance.” she says.
Good styling has many contributing factors; concept, art direction, casting (model choice), location, props, looks (outfit choice), lighting, and, finally, how it’s all put together. It takes a refined eye and that’s worth paying a professional for. Many brands look like they’re doing it all DIY and it does nothing for their products.
Like anything visual, what is good and bad is subjective, but there’s a level. It also changes according in local markets and who they are targeting. It’s knowing which images to use when and where. While Europeans may scoff, the images could appeal to Asia or America.
Right & Below - Paul Smith AW20 looking like a hot mess?
“First, international brands cater to different markets. What appeals to one territory might not appeal to the next.” says Punter. “I often think of how different Nike US is to Nike EU. I know which I prefer, but it's all about knowing your market. Second, in the pandemic era we are seeing skeletal crews and brands needing to improve 'efficiencies'. During the first lock down I heard models were dressing themselves with samples sent to the photographer. I also heard celebrities were wearing outfits they had worn before for public appearances, rather than relying on a stylist to bring fresh looks. Third, there's a lot of dross product around. If a collection is really weak it can't necessarily be saved by styling.” she says.
Even the biggest brands have trimmed their expenditure. Do you think brand’s making cutbacks can be seen in their visuals?
“Yes, I am sure it is deemed necessary to make cuts, to use in-house staff and to limit outsourcing, but these short term savings inevitably have a negative impact on overall quality.” says Punter.
“There is definitely a noticeable difference in shoots that reflects that cutbacks. E-comm is increasingly shot flat instead of on a model, and there is a simpler approach to selling.” says O’Connor.
Can we put this down to lockdown issues of lack of expensive locations or doing things from home etc.?
“Certainly the impact can't be ignored. At the same time there have been lots of amazing distanced shoots. Self-styled Robert Pattinson for GQ US was a highlight for me. However, the clothes he wore were still selected in advance by a stylist, and no doubt heavily mood boarded and pre-styled into looks, which he may well have adapted. But the overall lesson is really that nothing can replicate a strong creative crew working closely, physically together.” Punter says.
“I think, previously, stylists researched and referenced a lot more.. films, art, photography catwalks .. but now everything is so fast and immediate, so there is a lot of imagery that is 'thin' in content. Also social media has boosted consumerism.” O'Connor says.
There is no formula for good styling. You need talented people, but it’s also an instinct, especially in something as unpredictable as fashion. A good stylist will be able to make the best of what they have, even if the budgets are tight.
“No one realises how much hard work goes into styling, It depends on the client, but there is never enough budget for what they want, so stylists sometimes have to work miracles!” says O’Connor.
There too isn’t a formula for bad styling, but get a few of those contributing factors - listed above - wrong and the chances are the pictures won’t be very good. It’s a false economy for brands and marketing departments to make cuts in this area, especially if they’re trying to peddle ‘luxury’. They are devaluing the product and the brand.
Left - AW20 Superdry styling looking far from contemporary
A great stylist is “someone who creates trends rather than follows them and has an innate understanding of what makes a great image.” says Punter, and this is something not worth skimping on.
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Hibernation, coma, mothballed; however you want to label it, fashion would have been in a very deep sleep before all of this is over. Even if we’re being optimistic, and life returns to a sense of normality in the spring, it would have been nearly a full year of disruption. Fashion would continue to be affected well into 2021, without fashion and trade shows in at that time to show AW22 and and we would be not fully back to normal until spring 2022 at the earliest, when the fashion cycle would have resumed.
Left - Sleeping Beauty woke up to something good, but what about fashion?
In the classic fairytale, when the princess was cursed to sleep for a hundred years she was awakened by a handsome prince, but what will be waiting for ‘fashion’ and what state or style will it be in?
Let’s recap where we were at the beginning of this disaster. All the Kering brands - Saint Laurent, Gucci, Balenciaga - were flying. Gucci was slowing but still steaming ahead and was hopeful on becoming the world’s largest luxury brand. Bottega Veneta was gaining momentum and hype was translating into sales.
At LVMH, Louis Vuitton was still the major cash cow, Dior seemed to be doing well in sales rather than critical success and Celine was doing a stealth commercialism which, I’m sure, was being reflected in sales and exactly what Slimane was hired for and what he did previously at Saint Laurent. The main style was a mix of Gucci’s dress-up maximalism and embellishment and contemporary sportswear based on fugly chunky trainers and overpriced loungewear.
So, what can we predict for the future?
It might be worth casting an eye back in history. We’re told by the Bank of England boffins that this will be biggest recession in 300 years. Based on the bank's own best estimate and historical data, the coronavirus crisis could push the British economy into the fastest and deepest recession not seen since the huge economic slump of 1706 and the Great Frost of 1709. This was a baroque period at the beginning of Georgian Britain when fashion designers became more recognisable and fashion magazines appeared for the first time. While we’re too far away to know the minutiae of hemline changes, but it was certainly the beginning of a new era of British style and design.
The most popular comparison has been with Spanish Flu in 1918-19. After that came the Roaring Twenties, one of the most modern and dynamic decades of the 20th century. After WWII we got Christian Dior’s New Look. And while it was a feminine look back, it propelled fashion forward into the next decade and was hugely influential.
The troubles of the 1970s gave us punk and the recession of the early 90s was reflected in American Grunge.
The most recent 2008 financial crash was all about the rise of China, and, undoubtedly, the growth in billon dollar brands and the associated logos and status.
Right - GDP growth of the world's three biggest economies - USA, Japan & China
While this is all simplistic, it offers some form of hope.
During the 20th century many economists cited the 'Hemline Theory'. It being the current fashion’s skirt length are a predictor of stock market direction. According to the theory, if short skirts are growing in popularity, it means the markets are going to go up.
Probably lucky everybody is wearing tracksuits right now.
And then there’s the ‘Lipstick Effect’, which is when consumers still spend money on small indulgences during recessions, economic downturns. For this reason, companies that benefit from the lipstick effect tend to be resilient even during economic downturns.
Market research firm Kline found evidence for the lipstick effect through four recessions from 1973 to 2001. Though during the financial crisis of 2008 lipstick sales dipped disproving this theory. Add a face mask and it doesn’t look like lipstick sales will be picking up anytime soon...
So, where does that leave any predictions post-COVID?
1) China will dominate even more. GDP Annual Growth Rate in China averaged 9.23 percent from 1989 until 2020. China’s gross domestic product expanded by 4.9 percent over the third quarter of 2020 on rising trade and consumption. According to the Wall Street Journal, it is “putting China’s economy back toward its pre-coronavirus trajectory half a year after the pandemic gutted its economy.” Brands are using China and Asia to currently support their businesses and as such more products will be tailored to these markets. China will fuel the growth in ‘Power Brands’ owned by the big groups and events like the Christian Dior, Designer of Dreams exhibition opening in Shanghai, following its success in Paris and London, will help to further educate and create this branding magic within this market.
2) Fashion will be more woke when it wakes, but the progress we were making on greening fashion will slow as many firms fight for survival and any expensive new initiatives will be put on the back burner. This is a fight for survival so we’ll see inexpensive greenwashing.
3) We’ll see a whole raft of new start-ups in the middle of next year, to launch later on that year, or in 2022. Many will be kitchen table brands with a strong and individual personality behind them.
4) Local will continue to be a focus and we’ll see more ‘luxury’ Bond Street type brands consider smaller stores in affluent neighbourhoods and design them in a less international and generic style and more of the locale.
5) They’ll be a slower reaction to the bad quality of most ‘luxury’ fashion, which will further fuel ‘fast fashion’.
On a purely aesthetic level, will people continue to want the escapist approach from brands like Gucci and what we saw during the glam 1970s downturn, or will we see a more austere and minimal look mirroring the rise in unemployment and shrinking of people’s disposable incomes? Well just have to see. Whatever happens it can't be too literal or obvious. The consumer is more sophisticated than that.
Fashion is too big now to follow the dictatorial approach of hemlines and lipsticks theories of the previous century. But, what is positive is the desire for consumption. That hasn't gone anyway. While remaining, big brands will try and monopolise for a while, we’ll see fast growing start-ups, from the most unexpected of places, give them a run for their money in a less competitive landscape which will have plenty of scope for growth due to brands disappearing.
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When was the last time you felt truly inspired by a luxury brand’s website? Regardless of the cute little illustrations or achingly cool ad campaign flipping past, mono-luxury e-tail hasn’t really moved on over the past decade. It’s as though they still feel the brand is enough.
People don’t dress like this, and just to replicate the physical store online is to create a glorified warehouse or catalogue, which doesn’t take into account the element of personality, pampering and leisure which makes physical shopping a pleasure for many and the reason most people desire these brands in the first place. It’s not seductive.
Left - Celine.com - Have mono-luxury sites moved on in the last decade?
During this same time period, multi-brand luxury retailers such as matchesfashion.com, Far Fetch and Net-A-Porter have grown their turnovers into the hundreds of millions of dollars thanks to their ability to tap into people’s desires for newness and vast amounts of choice. These retailers are basically online fashion department stores just minus the fridges and toasters. People like to skip between brands and cherry pick items across them in the most efficient use of their time. Going onto individual, mono-brand websites, especially if you don’t know what you want, feels like a blinkered process and like you’re not getting a full view of the fashion landscape. It also feels, on the majority of sites, as though there isn’t much on there. It is just isn’t very satisfying.
Last week, Farfetch Chief Executive, Jose Neves, predicted that brands would pull out of multi-brand retailers online and operate as e-concessions on marketplaces instead, much as they have done in bricks-and-mortar department stores. And, last year, Kering announced it would take some of its biggest e-commerce websites in house, by the first half of 2020, putting an end to a seven-year joint venture with Yoox Net-a-Porter (YNAP).
Kering’s online sales made up just 6% - this is against 18% of UK retail as a whole - of its 6.4 billion euro turnover in the first half of 2018, but it did grow by 80 percent in the third quarter, faster than revenue growth in department stores or its own shops. If these brands want to reflect general online retail sales they will need to double or triple the percentage of sales coming from online.
Taking back control of the Alexander McQueen, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga websites will allow Kering full access to information such as client data.While this is great for the brands and the back-end, tech side, customers will notice little difference unless they have a radical rethink of how they present their brands on the front-end. Consumers are used to scrolling and discount incentives to drive sales which many of these brands, outside of sales season, won’t offer. It can also feel very clinical.
According to a report by Deloitte “Big data may help luxury brands to provide personalized and superior customer service through consumer segmentation, behaviour and sentiment analysis, and predictive analytics. Several luxury brands, such as Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, Dior and Estée Lauder, have already started to take advantage of these technologies, using AI-powered technologies, such as machine learning and analytics, to offer more personalized and timely customer services. They implemented their own AI-powered chatbots and now can sell products using targeted marketing, personalization, and timely automation.”
In November 2018, Kering created a data science team at group level to improve the service and shopping experience of its clients. Kering intends to get real-time 360-degree view of its customers to deliver rich and personalised experiences and meet their specific needs. LVMH, doesn’t break out separate online sales information, but they did reveal that the group's online sales rose by more than 30 percent in 2018. Ian Rogers, the first ever chief digital officer of the LVMH group, told Wired, last year, that he doesn’t like the word "digital" and he has the very tricky job of matching the luxury online customer journey with the pampered, indulgent experience IRL.
“It’s not the case that luxury shopping becomes self-serve on the internet: if I do buy something I expect a high level of service, even if I’m remote.” he said “You can see it's definitely strategic for us to invest in remote customer support, and it's directly downstream of our Internet strategy. There's this nonsense land of digital transformation where people wave their hands and they talk in impractical terms. Keep drilling until you have something practical that works and then rinse and repeat. Lose these nonsense words like "digital", like "data", like "social media". You have to get rid of this digital umbrella because it's just too broad. When somebody says, "We're really behind on digital", my response is, "You're behind in every aspect of your business?” he said.
Right - Spot the difference - YSL.com
According to Kering’s Chief Client & Digital Officer, Grégory Boutté, “Digital can be many different things at once - a distribution channel; a platform for offering seamless omni-channel services to clients; a driver of brand image and visibility; and a tool for engaging with customers in a personalized way. Digital technology, data science and innovation provide a way of offering our customers the best possible experience – on every touchpoint” he said.
Online and off-line isn’t separate, most brands now offer services such as check availability, reserve in-store, make store appointment, pick-up in-store, return in-store, exchange in-store, and buy online in-store. Kering said it will continue to develop partnerships with third-party e-commerce platforms "when relevant", but we’re seeing the beginnings of a power struggle between brands and retailers. They both need each other.
Now these luxury groups are focusing on their websites they need to rethink the entire thing. Their rigid ‘aesthetics’ and branding doesn’t allow for personality. Mono-brand luxury sites are restricted by the volume of product and while it changes, it doesn’t change often enough to the levels today’s customers have become used to.
Brands, such as Prada, Saint Laurent and Celine, also sell a lot of black, which doesn’t shoot well and doesn’t make the most inspiring of online images. Add in ‘collab. fatigue’ and these brands really need to develop a new idea for websites if they want to increase sales and move away from multi-brand sites.
Luxury brands have built themselves a boring digital straight-jacket and need to start thinking differently. They could offer FaceTime with sales associates in people’s local stores, or offer a live view way of browsing in-store and matching to items online. It’s going to be about making the virtual real and vice versa. There are many possibilities, but they need to unthink the “brand”.
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While the majority of UK cities are struggling to deal with the implosion of their high-streets, London is a juggernaut that keeps people spending. Thanks to tourist dollars and and an increasingly high-spending visitor, Bond Street, arguably London’s premier luxury shopping street, has seen a raft of new openings hoping to tap into London as the global retail destination. From Alexander McQueen to Loewe, this historical street has seen glorious new retail spaces tailored to this exclusive location open to entice more money from shoppers.
Left - Alexander McQueen's new three storey store
The Office for National Statistics has just released the final International Passenger Survey (IPS) results covering 2018 and it’s still looking good for London. While the number of visits to the UK in 2018 fell slightly (-3%) - 2017 was a record - to 37.9 million, the data from the last 10 months shows visitors spending huge amounts and are visiting Bond Street, in particular.
Data from Global Blue, a tourism shopping tax refund company headquartered in Nyon, Switzerland, shows that the average spend on Bond Street among international visitors increased by 4% year-on-year from January to October 2018. International shoppers spent a huge average of £1,341 per transaction during this time.
Global Blue has also just opened its first VIP Globe Shopper Lounge on Albemarle Street in Mayfair, just a stone’s throw from Bond Street. According to their figures, the top spenders were visitors from the UAE, Qatar and Hong Kong. UAE shoppers spent £2,074 per transaction, up 19% year-on-year. Qatari shoppers spent £1,964 per transaction (up 7%), while Hong Kong shoppers spent £1,837 per transaction (up 15%).
Interestingly, the biggest increase was seen amongst Indonesian visitors, averaging £1,551 per transaction, up 20% compared to 2017.
Right - Staircase in the new Celine menswear store
Paris is London’s closest luxury shopping competition and the 'yellow vests’ or Gilet Jaunes protests have been affecting its attractiveness and is putting off visitors. "We lost between one and two growth points in 2018 due to the yellow vests," said Mathieu Grac, Global Blue's vice president of intelligence strategy.
The weakness of the pound is making shopping in London more attractive and better value for money. The Chinese, in particular, have always chosen Paris over London, but this could be starting to change with new stats show record breaking results for the end of 2018 for London. Visits to the UK from China in this period were up 52% to 94,000 – the 9th consecutive record quarter for visits. These visitors spent £160 million in the UK between October and December 2018 – 30% up compared to the same period in 2017. In total there were a record 391,000 visits from China to the UK in 2018, up 16% on 2017.
Overall, UK visitor spend in 2019 is forecast to be £24.9B, up 7.8%, on a forecast of 38.8m visitors.
While many designer brands are closing stores and trimming their global retail network, others are realising that in order to stay ahead, you need to invest heavily in the world’s finest locations. The days of copy-cat, identikit stores are over and brands know they need to make something unique for its location.
Proving this point is the new ‘Casa Loewe’. The Spanish brand, Loewe, owned by LVMH, and famous for its puzzle bags, has opened a three storey boutique designed in the vision of creative director, Jonathan Anderson. Like an art gallery with clothes, but with a personality and warmth, the London store features work by a selection of internationally renowned artists, including three oak sculptures by Ernst Gamperl (winner of the LOEWE FOUNDATION Craft Prize in 2017) alongside 15 photographs by Alair Gomes, the ‘Vulcano Table’ by Anthea Hamilton, a long- standing LOEWE collaborator, William Turnbull’s 1956 sculpture ‘Idol 4’ and Grayson Perry’s ‘Mum and Dad’ vase.
Left - Casa Loewe showing Anthea Hamilton's 'Vulcano Table'
It feels a very creative space and is one of the few luxury boutiques on Bond Street to give you this full idea of a lifestyle. The sales assistant I spoke to said Anderson was often in the store talking to them through the product and also making sure things were working correctly. She also said they had a great many Chinese customers.
Further down Bond Street is the new Celine menswear boutique. The first time Celine has done menswear under new creative head, Hedi Slimane, it feels very déjà vu in the Saint Laurent mould and looks like all those other marbled minimal retail palaces from brands such as Neil Barrett or End Clothing in Soho. On the corner of New Bond Street and Grafton street, in the old Boucheron store, it is exactly what fans of Slimane will want and the quality of the clothes do look good. Downstairs is a compact tailoring area and while none of the extra skinny clothes had a price tag on, the raised front doors are automatic, just in-case those super-skinny rockstars don’t have enough strength to open them. Disappointly, this concept will look the same the world over.
Into Old Bond Street, Alexander McQueen has amalgamated all three of their London stores into the large, former DKNY outlet. The three storey boutique is a beautiful, sweeping space by Chilean architect Smiljan Radic, his first retail project. It truly flows with giant glass tubes linking the floors and acres of matt walnut covering every surface including the two spiral staircases.
The ground floor is home to womenswear and the first floor to menswear. The top floor is like a museum, probably hoping to capitalise on the popularity of ‘Savage Beauty’, it illustrates the artistry of the current collections while being dotted with archive pieces. This area will also be used to host a programme of exhibitions and talks aimed specifically at inspiring students. It left me with a renewed respect of the work of the brand which I’ve often dismissed since McQueen’s death. There was a men’s coat, hand embroidered with silver graffiti, on sale for £100,000.
Stella McCartney has moved her store from the Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby designed Bruton Street to Old Bond Street. A difficult space, it is linked by a huge metal staircase reminiscent of the tanks at Tate Modern. More concrete and terrazzo, the front ground floor is peppered by giant boulders and moss. A small glade of silver birches decorate a roof garden and 'Airlabs' technology makes this the first indoor commercial space in London with the cleanest air possible.
The store carries all the brand’s collections including women’s and menswear ready-to-wear, accessories, lingerie, swimwear, kids, eyewear, fragrance and adidas by Stella McCartney. Stella McCartney said, “Old Bond street, it’s probably one of the most prestigious retail locations in the world. And for me being born and bred in London and having our business headquarters there and design studio, it’s an incredible honour for us. This store really tells the story of the World of Stella McCartney; incorporating sustainability, fashion and luxury.” Louis Vuitton’s giant Bond Street store is also being refurbished and will hopefully offer something bespoke to this prestigious location.
Right - Stella McCartney's ground floor showing boulders running through the centre
What this group of shops show is the huge investment still going into physical retail. If you’re going to entice those shoppers, you'll need to offer something original, something they'll want to investigate and explore and ultimately an experience of buying something truly great and memorable. By working and competing as a group, it gives more incentive to brands and people to make this the greatest destination and a positive cycle of openings and continued openings will keep this firmly as one of the most thriving luxury retail destinations in the world.
If you hadn’t already heard it’s time to start buying back into Bottega Veneta. The Italian luxury goods brand known for more weave than Beyoncé, they call it ‘Intrecciato’, has a new Brit designer at the helm, Daniel Lee.
The replacement for Tomas Maier, Lee, 32, was previously director of ready-to-wear at Céline, but a relative unknown. He is a graduate of Central Saint Martins and has worked at Maison Marginal, Balenciaga and Donna Karan, before joining Céline in 2012.
His first full show of AW19 luxe-grunge caused a frisson when it was shown in February, but the pre-fall collection is available now.
Leather trousers are something that have been bubbling up for a few seasons. They fit into that naff, retro aesthetic pioneered by Balenciaga. These are subtly Bottega with the woven knees and will tell everybody you’re in the know with the hottest label right now. Wear with biker boots and oversized anything.
Left & Below - Bottega Veneta - Trousers In Lamb Satiné - £3825
Not since the late 90s, when it was compulsory to wear smart trousers and shoes to get into your local nightclub or bar, has the shirt been seen as a fashion item. While it has soldiered on over the past two decades in its traditional white collar role as a 4 for £100 offer at various Jermyn Street type outfitters, the shirt is priming itself for a comeback.
Harvey Nichols is reporting a massive spike in sales of shirts with growth in the double digits in its menswear department and new companies are springing up, offering a contemporary take on this historical garment of dress.
Danielle Grantham, Buyer, Harvey Nichols says, “Whilst traditional shirting styles drive interest, we’ve noticed that customers are looking for a point of difference and originality to add to their wardrobe staples so we’ve seen an uplift across the entire Harvey Nichols network on those pieces with subtle elevations; soft handle flannel, bolder colours and designs, grandad collar and a resurgence for short sleeves.”
There’s an entire generation who have never known the shirt as a fashion item brought up on a diet of tees and sweatshirts. “The product offer at Harvey Nichols appeals to both father and son, and with such a broad customer profile across the business we are seeing a more mature casualwear customer and younger contemporary customer shop this category.” says Grantham.
The shirt is diversifying by offering better fits and new materials to broaden its scope and appeal. Hale Clothing is a new menswear brand “created for athletic build men, by athletic build men”. Co-Founder, Frederik Willems, was formerly Head of Design at Pink Shirtmaker where he introduced their ‘Athletic Fit’ shirt, designed to fit comfortably across broad shoulders and a narrow waist. Hale Clothing is taking this concept further.
“I think the versatility of a shirt drives its popularity. It is a bridge between formal and casual dress codes and can work either way. Also men in general like practical dressing and most of the shirts you can wear with a suit and tie and super casual with jeans, etc.” says Willems.
“We have seen a few seasons now that were very streetwear dominated and with the likes of Kim Jones, the design team behind Balenciaga and Vetements starting to mix up streetwear with formal wear. It has filtered down and I believe that has helped shirt sales grow. Also in times of economical uncertainty people tend to dress smart as part of a psychological factor of wanting to portray authority and respect.” he says.
Right - Hale Clothing's shirt design for athletic bodies
“I think shirts can be worn in any way, there are no rules. I see great mixes of pattern with formal and casual wear as well as very crisp and minimal use of shirts in the silhouette or look. There are lot of oversized and short sleeved shirt out there at the moment.
“After the explosion of oversized and sportswear inspired fashion, many brands and designers are going back to slick dressing. Formal menswear is also becoming more elevated and mean with that, that the likes of Givenchy show some great menswear tailoring and fashion during their women’s couture and RTW shows.” says Willems.
Luxury shirt specialist, Thomas Pink, has completed a re-brand to 'Pink Shirtmaker'. The LVMH-owned retailer has refreshed the logo, stores, packaging, labelling, brand imagery to reflect the new direction. The retailer has also introduced women’s shirts to their collections to take advantage in this new demand for shirts.
Revolutionising the speed and ease of getting fitted for a shirt is Formcut. From their City of London showroom, they can design a shirt individually tailored to you in a short 15 minute visit. Combining the world’s finest artisanal materials with cutting edge 3D Body Scan Technology, Formcut is owned by the American Size Stream company, which has over 100 years of combined engineer and software developer experience in 3D body scanning and measurement extraction technology. They are the global leader in accurate, affordable body scanning technology.
During the consultation, you’ll have a full body scan, choose your fit and material and within a matter of weeks a shirt arrives. Formcut uses the best 10 fabric mills in the world, including Grandi Rubinelli and Albini with custom shirts ranging in price from £89 to £140 depending on the fabric choice.
Left - The Formcut body scanner
On the other side of the spectrum is the new going out shirt and silk is the material of choice. This indulgent and louche look taps into that rock star feeling peddled by the likes of Saint Laurent and Celine and celebrities like Harry Styles and Timothée Chalamet.
The Silk Shirt Company is a new British start-up specialising in the finest Italian silk shirts. Ajay Valecha, Managing Director, says, “Shirts have endured the test of time and are suitable both for work and play. Our shirts are made of the finest silk made in Italy and are meant for the emperor in you. Whether you are a neo imperial warlord, master of the universe or just trying to look ridiculously fly at a dope house party, The Silk Shirt Company aims to be the zenith of shirts for you.”
While expensive, the silk shirt offers flexibility to leave it dangerously open and display another big trend in menswear, necklaces and jewellery.
Right - The Silk Shirt Company - Luxury Silk Shirt - £800
While the shirt took a back seat to the T-shirt and sweatshirt over the last few years, it is starting to regain territory. People are willing to pay more for a shirt than a T-shirt because it feels like you’re buying something with more work to it. It also feels more longer lasting, an investment piece, less disposable and more versatile in how you can wear and style it in comparison to other types of tops. The message is clear, put a collar on it.
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At the end of a tumultuous year for traditional retail, and at the start of another, which doesn’t appear to offer much respite, there’s been a distinct trend in rebranding for both luxury and high-street brands. While you’d expect them to want to stand out, it seems as though they all want to blend into one another. This homogenisation is a case of an expensive “reblanding” exercise. Rebranding means creating a different identity for a brand, from its competitors, in the market, which, in fashion, is even more important especially when you're trying to flog luxury goods and the idea of difference and individuality. This feels like the opposite.
The recent rebland list is long: Belstaff, Celine, Calvin Klein, John Lewis, Burberry, Berluti and Balmain have all gone for simple and bolded logos without any of the details and distinct serifs. Playing it safe, what these new logos and fonts say is a lack of confidence and often change for change’s sake.
Left - The recent logo "reblands"
In August, Burberry unveiled its new logo. Replacing the Burberry Equestrian Knight logo with its bespoke Bodoni font, which had been used by the clothing company since 1901, the new logo is the work of celebrated British graphic designer, Peter Saville. It’s also worth noting he rebranded Calvin Klein with a similar font when Raf Simons took over and wanted to refresh.
"The new logotype is a complete step-change, an identity that taps into the heritage of the company in a way that suggests the twenty-first-century cultural coordinates of what Burberry could be," Saville exclusively told Dezeen. Somewhat cryptic and full of marketing speak, he describes what he and Riccardo Tisci, the new Burberry Creative Director, settled on as “modern utility,” adding, “It looks like it’s been there forever, but it’s still contemporary.”
Right - Hedi's masterstroke?!
Tisci said on Instagram ‘Peter is one of our generation’s greatest design geniuses. I’m so happy to have collaborated together to reimagine the new visual language for the house.’
Burberry are in the throes of changing everything way before the new Creative Director’s impact has been proven. As his first collection hits stores to a rather muted response by the fashion press, it’ll be interesting to see how it sells, especially the items with this new logo on.
Seb Law, Fashion Copywriter & Journalist, says, “I really hate that they’ve added’ ENGLAND’ to the Burberry logo after London. As if it’s London, Texas or something.”
It “Seems like an attempt to look ‘international’ and more premium, but also it’s now becoming an established way of a new designer starting at a different house to mark the start of their chapter. Does the general consumer care about this, or is it dive behaviour? Also rebrands cause plenty of chatter in fashion circles and build publicity – see Hedi’s previous rebrand of SLP. All press is good press, apparently.” says Law.
Hedi Slimane is a designer who likes to put his mark onto a brand and in September it was announced that the French house, Celine would be, controversially, losing its accent. Law and others have been defacing the brand’s posters by returning the accent to the first e.
“For me, it’s a matter of good use of language. As a copywriter and journalist (with a degree in French), diacritics aren’t just a pretty typographic tool to be played around with at the will of a designer, they’re an integral part of the word.” says Law. “‘Celine’ and ‘Céline’ are different words, pronounced differently (‘sell-een’ and ‘say-lean’, respectively). he says.
“It’s a continuation of the cult of personality over brand, in both cases. Causing a splash, in whatever way possible, seems to be the aim of the game. With Burberry, I’m disappointed that the logo doesn’t have a more uniquely British feeling, which the old one did IMO – I do love the interlocking TB print though.” says Law. “With Céline, it’s a classic case of Hedi doing whatever he wants. Brands should be aiming to exercise their unique personalities; this uniqueness is what attracts customers and maintains a brand’s personality. Homogenisation might attract sales, at least initially, and while change is obviously necessary, and often good, these two rebrand exercises feel like they’re a bit half-arsed. They’ve succeeded at building publicity, but is that what a logo redesign should do?” he says.
Left - The new logos are all very similar
On the high-street, John Lewis, in September, rebranded as John Lewis & Partners at a reported cost of £10m. Its first rebrand in 18 years and inspired by the company's 1960s "diamond pattern" motif, John Lewis managed to not only complicate its name but also lose its trademark dark green. Opting for safe black, it was yet another example of this reblanding trend.
In an age when these brands should really be trying to expressive confidence in themselves, these boring logos show a striving for safety and an anti-criticism blandness. It’s hard to be critical and negative about something so simple, yet they aren’t memorable or standing out. These aren't utility companies. Fashion’s current love of the sans-serif is definitely missing something.
Luxury brand names were once a signifier of quality and craftsmanship. In the race to grow and hit those billion dollar turnovers many luxury fashion brands have diminished their quality to a point where you can no longer tell the difference between a real or fake product.
In the Evening Standard, this week, columnist, Charlotte Edwardes, spoke about the difference she’s noticed in the quality of designer clothes. “Yani at my local dry cleaner informs me: ‘Clothes don’t last any more.’ We are standing on either side of the counter in his shop with an almost-new shirt lying between us. It is silk, but like some reverse sow’s ear, it has developed the consistency of polyester.” she writes.
Left - Bombinate homepage
“I tell him that two beautiful Celine shirts (don’t judge: they were 70 per cent off in Bicester) were stripped of their vibrant colour and silky texture after a few runs through the ‘gold standard’ service. The trousers I am wearing in the picture accompanying this column have also lost their shape. Yani shakes his head. It’s the fault of the manufacturers and not his new - ‘organic’ - machines. In the 65 years and three generations that his family have run this business ‘we’ve noticed a sharp decline in the quality of clothes.’ What, even expensive brands? ‘Especially expensive brands.’”
Edwardes goes on to say that her contact at Net-a-Porter confirms that the quality of clothes is in decline with two famous fashion houses being the worst offenders.
Personally, I’ve even heard of a story where the cotton logo-ed T-shirts of one huge “luxury’ brand were so thin and, of such poor quality, that the department store they were in couldn’t attach security tags without making a hole in the garment.
This all confirms something I’ve long suspected and, something, I expect, you may have noticed.
All is not lost, though, there are still some amazing producers and manufacturers out there and there’s a new trend in bringing these, often unknown, labels and makers to a wider audience.
The Bombinate marketplace, launched in 2017, and, recently relaunched, specialises in brands of quality for men and has secured an alliance of 100+ brands.
“The main stipulation for being part of the Bombinate community is that each brand aligns with Bombinate’s quality criteria and have a compelling story. Men from around the world can now easily discover a curated selection of European brands that all share the same commitment to quality and design.” says the website.
Founded by European entrepreneurs, Massimiliano Gritti and Elliott Aeschlimann, who were both students studying marketing and finance at different universities in London. “The story of Bombinate started on a bumpy road, somewhere between Russia and Mongolia. Something during these two months traversing the legendary Silk Road inspired us to take the plunge,” says Gritti. “Driving at night didn’t prevent us from having a clear vision of what we wanted to create: an online destination that would be both a home for high-quality brands and a source of inspiration for men who care about quality,” he says. “Back to London, we set sail again to discover the finest menswear and lifestyle goods Europe has to offer. We soon realised that the future of craftsmanship lies in the hands of extraordinary people, and made it our promise to promote them and deliver their craft from their workshop to your door,” says Gritti.
The word “Bombinate” means to make a humming or buzzing noise and the website offers a platform to quality producers, but how do they decide which brands make the cut? “The promise to bring the world’s finest craftsmanship brands to men who care about quality does not come without its challenges,” says Gritti. “At Bombinate we have created a scorecard to source craftsmanship brands. It is based on 5 different factors: Design, Story, Materials, Founders, Skills,” he says.
Many of the brands on the website, such as Arkitaip, Juch and Oscar Deen aren’t well known, and that’s really the point. You’re trusting Bombinate as the umbrella brand for quality and therefore it’s very important for this nascent online brand to fulfil the expectations of its customers. While you’re not paying for a designer name, you are paying for quality and the majority of people know quality when they see it and these brands need to over deliver on this front.
“The real issue at hand is discoverability and accessibility of quality pieces at a fair price today,” says Gritti.
Bombinate has secured investment from a former Richemont Group and Cartier CEO and lastminute.com’s founder and has the potential to sweep up shoppers disillusioned with the quality of some luxury goods at the moment.
Another website offering luxury quality without the name is ‘Italic’. Italic is a marketplace that lets consumers shop unbranded luxury goods. They say by removing brands and labels from the equation, manufacturers earn significantly higher profits while passing "brand markup” savings onto customers.
The website proudly announces, “Shop luxury goods straight from the source”, and “Handbags made by the same factory as Prada and Celine”, but this only really means something if the factories and suppliers are of quality. “Based in sunny Los Angeles and fast-paced Shenzhen, Italic is a members-only marketplace where normal people (not sure what that means) can shop for luxury goods directly from the manufacturers behind the most desired brands and designers.” says the website.
Right - Italic homepage - This only works if Prada and Celine use a decent factory, which is often debatable today
Shoppers pay a $120 annual membership fee, this is free for a year for early sign-ups, and can choose from a selection of unbranded luxury goods, from bags and wallets to sheets and toothbrushes.
The company’s investors include Index Ventures, Ludlow Ventures, Comcast Ventures and Global Founders Capital among them. The company says 100,000 people have joined a waiting list to be notified when membership opens, and is initially limited to the US.
What these platforms both suggest is a growing movement back to quality. Consumers are growing dissatisfied with luxury goods which seem to grow forever more expensive. This growing niche needs curation and also control, but if they can deliver what they promise they can expect to grow rapidly. Trust is paramount here.
A 2017 Deloitte study of over 1,000 millennial consumers aged 20-30 across the US, UK, Italy and China found that “quality and uniqueness” are the most important factors that attract them to a luxury brand. Good luck finding that!
It could be part of the new push for a genderless society or simply the boundaries being widened for what is, or feels, acceptable for men to wear or carry, but it feels right and looks right for men to carry handbags, right now. This isn’t about making a statement or being provocative, it’s about design, rather than gender and size, that is dictating what a stylish man carries.
Left - The Dior Saddle bag reborn on Kim Jones' first catwalk for Dior Homme
There are certain styles that are simply great pieces of design or are fashion classics and look just as good on a man’s shoulder as on a woman’s. This isn’t about ‘feminising’ men, it’s just something of beauty that is practical in carrying what needs to be carried. Enough said.
What started with Loewe’s ultra-chic ‘Puzzle’ bag has ballooned to include many other classic women’s styles. It was the reintroduction of the Dior ‘Saddle’ bag on Kim Jones’ SS19 catwalk, at his new gig at Dior Homme, in Paris in June, that cemented this new feeling. The #DiorSaddle hashtag featured male influencers reintroducing this style designed by the former Dior Creative Director, John Galliano.
Luke Ross, blogger at Fashion Samaritan, says, “I noticed a real change around 2012 when Hedi Slimanne debuted his first Saint Laurent collection that featured his signature slim cuts that really made pockets obsolete.
“Guys wanted to wear these skinny silhouettes, but the garments just didn’t have sufficient pockets” he says. “You couldn’t carry a wallet, keys, phone etc in them as it ruined the lines and for the first time we started to see men carrying bags with them that weren’t just backpacks.”
Right - Spanish influencer, Prince Pelayo
We have so much more to carry today: wallet, phone, keys, charger, water bottle, notebook, that unless you have a coat with huge pockets, a bag is an indispensable accessory for men. Men want the elegance a bag can give their total look, rather than numerous bulging pockets which can make you look dishevelled and untidy.
Alvin Cher of Bagaholicboy, the dedicated blog for bags, fashion and luxury based in Singapore, says, “I think it was just a matter of time before men got more and more confident and realised they were not restricted to just bags made for them. And if the ladies can dip into what was offered for the guys, the guys can do the same too.
“Boys actually loved the Boy Chanel when it first came out. And started buying. Then slowly, but surely, more and more brands came in.” he says. “Remember Tisci's Givenchy when they had the Pandora? That was a hit too. Even Mulberry's Alexa was deemed 'boyish' enough by some guys to use. After that the gates opened, Dior did it, so did Gucci, Loewe. Even Celine has fans amongst the men, remember the Cabas that everyone wanted?” says Cher.
“I think everyone played a part by releasing a piece that helped the evolution - Ghesquiére released those 'Arena' leather document cases at Balenciaga that every guy in fashion had and they kind of trickled down as more and more people were carrying ipads and laptops so they could be justified as practical even if they weren’t for the everyday man.” says Ross. “For me, Loewe really moved things along by making it cool to have a bag that was a replica of a female bag with the Puzzle. It’s large enough to look like a duffle bag, but then also can be small enough to look like a camera bag.”
This new trend has been pioneered by men’s celebrities, bloggers, influencers and street style images, all making the look believable and cool: men seeing other men carrying these types of bags, making it feel contemporary and fresh.
Navaz Batliwalla, founder of disneyrollergirl.net and author of The New Garconne: How to be a Modern Gentlewoman, and champion of androgyny in womenswear says, “With the influence of streetwear on men’s luxury, men's style icons like A$AP Rocky and any Korean boy band member you care to mention, have long embraced their fashion-forward side, so increasingly, the idea of carrying a bag that’s more exciting than a briefcase or a Uniqlo backpack is no biggie.” she says. “Plus, the fact is that everyone is simply carrying more stuff. Why let your outfit down with a sad generic gym bag, when you can have something that’s as considered and design conscious as the rest of your outfit?”
Left - Luke Ross, Blogger, Fashion Samaritan
The term ‘manbag’ was from the age of the ‘Metrosexual’ and feels just as dated. Who can forget that episode of Friends when Joey becomes too attached to his new shoulder bag, and the ribbing he took from his friends. Looking back, it was huge.
“I think the rise of the reusable tote also fuelled this fire as it became normal for a guy to carry a tote without it looking like a ‘manbag’.” says Ross.
Men don’t need the labels anymore: manbag, mutch - male clutch - or whatever else adds a masculine moniker to a name. I think brands will start to offer more gender neutral shopping areas and put more styles into the men’s shopping areas and advertsiing. This is a market growing into another and actually the true meaning of ‘unisex’.
So, what should us guys be looking for?
“I'm all for a guy carrying a bag made for ladies, but it still boils down to my proportion ratio. You have to try it on and see if it looks correct visually.” says Cher. “I think the time has gone when it comes to specifying which bag suits which gender. More and more brands are coming out with versions that look exactly the same for both guys and girls, so it is all about trying them on, seeing what works and having fun. It is a bag after all at the end of the day, we don't have to be so so serious about it.” says Cher.
Right - Blogger - The Modman with the Loewe Puzzle bag
“I think it’s about being authentic and genuine to your attire and aesthetic.” says Ross “Don’t do a tailored suit and then wear some flimsy nylon, touristy looking money bag.” he says. “Lastly, buy the bag for what you want it to do not the label. I’ve bought bags in the past that I wanted because they were cool, but they actually couldn’t take that much weight in them before the leather started to warp leaving them at the back of my closet and mind.”
The opinion formers in menswear have been carry women’s styles of bags for a while now, but with the new Dior grey Saddle bag set to hit stores in February, I think we’ll see a huge expansion of men carrying styles that were traditionally seen as women’s.
“Men have evolved, which is what fashion is all about anyway.” says Cher.
Male handbags were a major trend on the Milan AW18 catwalks - See more here