An optimist will look at COVID 19 as a opportunity. From the current crisis in fashion and retail will come the chance to snap up valuable brands at distressed prices. But, what makes a brand truly valuable?
Left - 1950s Teddy Boy in his classic Crombie coat
It usually starts with the name and whether it has any longevity, goodwill or future.
If that name has entered everyday lexicon then it is a very rare and valuable asset indeed. Joining the likes of Sellotape and Hoover, it rarely happens in fashion when a brand becomes the generic term, but Crombie is one such brand.
Meaning a formally tailored, three-quarters length covert coat with a contrasting velvet collar, the Crombie coat had recently become associated with the likes of Nigel Farage and Del Boy and a kind of dated city boy look.
J&J Crombie Ltd. was founded by John Crombie and his son James in Aberdeen in 1805, making it one of Britain's oldest brands. Starting as a fabric manufacturer, Crombie moved into making coats to supply armies in America and the UK during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Crombie lists Cary Grant, Winston Churchill, King George VI, Dwight D Eisenhower and John F Kennedy as distinguished wearers. From 1995 to 2004, Crombie also held the Royal Warrant as a supplier to the Prince of Wales.
A modern classic, a Crombie coat was retailing for around £900, but that is now on hold.
The brand’s home page currently reads, “In light of current world events, we have now fully suspended our retail, wholesale and supporting administrative operations until further notice. We will continue to monitor the global situation and hope to resume operations in the fullness of time. We’d like to thank our many clients for their custom and patronage and wish everyone a safe and healthy summer.”
Right - 1980s Car Dealer Arthur Daley in his Crombie
The brand has been up for sale for a while. It was formally announced in March 2020, when owner, Alan Lewis, 82, through his investment company, Hartley Investment Trust, told Drapers, “We are willing to divest non-core assets such as Crombie, which we believe would be of particular interest to a focused fashion business with the infrastructure to efficiently scale up this brand internationally, or to a retail chain looking to bolster its portfolio of unique intellectual properties.
“Crombie’s worldwide trademarks allow for expansion and diversification into a wide range of product categories, including cosmetics and accessories.”
Crombie has one store located at 48 Conduit Street in London which it sold in Nov. 2019 to a private Chinese buyer for £9.9 million with the intention of Hartley Investment Trust still occupying the building. Crombie’s turnover to the year ending March 2019 was £523,000, with a loss before tax of nearly £300,000, this was an improvement on 2018 when it was nearly £400,000 on a turnover of £430,000.
Hartley Investment Trust has interests in banking, property, energy, leisure and retail. Lancashire-born Alan J Lewis, CBE, a former Conservative Party Vice-Chairman told the Yorkshire Post in 2012, “I came here (Slaithwaite, West Yorkshire) and took over Illingworth Morris which was a public company, which was in trouble and owed the banks about £50m with 6,000 people employed and I turned it around from a substantial loss to a substantial profit and shares went from 13p to 186p.
“We concentrated on ensuring that we invested in the high margin business, low volume, rather than high volume, low margin business, so really concentrating on the quality end and the creative end of the business, and that made an awful lot of money.”
In the 1980s, the group was one of the world’s biggest wool textiles manufacturers handling almost half the wool imported into the UK. The Illingworth Morris group included up-market knitwear maker Hawico, worsted spinning operations Daniel Illingworth, suiting makers Huddersfield Fine Worsteds, chemical business Westbrook Lanolin, Woolcombers, Winterbotham Strachan & Playne (the world’s leading supplier of cloth for tennis balls and billiards tables), and Crombie.
Left - Three out of the four Beatles are wearing Tommy Nutter suits on the Abbey Road cover
Mr Lewis took the company private, making vast profits and a net lender to the money market – heralding the formation of Hartley’s investment banking division, Hartley Investment Trust, in 1983.
Hartley divested many of the brands with the implosion of the UK’s textile industry, turning many of the old textile mills into residential property and business centres, but retained the ownership of Crombie.
Another important brand Lewis owns is the iconic tailor, Tommy Nutter. In 2014, after a four year high court battle, Lewis agreed to buy the rights to ‘Nutters of Savile Row’ which left him free to use the Tommy Nutter brand.
The year before, David Mason's 'Nutters Holdings' won the right from the UK's Intellectual Property Office for the Tommy Nutter trademark to be revoked from J&J Crombie due to non-use. Mr Lewis was ordered to pay costs of more than £3,000. However, he appealed against the decision, arguing that he had kept the name in use. A spokesman for Mr Lewis said at the time, "Crombie owns the Tommy Nutter brand, and every season a range of Tommy Nutter branded clothing is available in Crombie stores in the UK."
Previously, Mr Lewis had been in talks to sell ‘Tommy Nutter’, a brand he had started with Tommy Nutter in the early 1980s when he had parted ways with business partner Edward Sexton and ‘Nutters of Savile Row’, to a subsidiary of Fung Capital - the private investment arm of the billionaire Fung family of Hong Kong. The deal never materialised.
Tommy Nutter produced a variety of legendary designs under his own name - including Jack Nicholson's Joker costumes for the 1989 Batman movie - while Crombie supplied him with the cloth. He died in 1992.
What we have here, if sold together, are two of Britain’s greatest sleeping menswear brands. One traditional, loaded in history, the other, a pioneer and icon of tailored fashion, but both heaving in icons from statesman to superstars. Confucius once said, “The gem cannot be polished without friction” and, while it would take substantial investment to bring these menswear two brands back, they have a natural sparkle and value most brands don't.
Buy TheChicGeek's new book FashionWankers - HERE
The man who defined the tailored look of the 1970s, Tommy Nutter, is a little bit like Beau Brummell in so far as he always seems like an enigma, as a person, yet his name runs throughout the history of menswear and is continually name checked. Anything bold with large lapels is always a reminder of Nutter’s style. The classic Tom Ford suit is basically a rip-off of Tommy Nutter.
This biography doesn’t just look at one Nutter’s life, but two. Tommy’s brother, David, a photographer and also gay, is the main source of first-hand information and the book follows both lives, intertwining throughout. The comical jobs they both do and the situations they seem to find themselves in makes for a really fun biography.
While Tommy is the centre, it’s great to hear about both their lives at the whims of the rich and famous of that era. From Bianca Jagger to John Lennon to Elton John, they were all wearing Tommy’s clothes while being photographed by David.
Left - Tommy Nutter modelling his own design
Tommy feels like a true creative which means he lacked the business skills and ruthlessness often needed in the fashion business to get anywhere. You get a sense that while a pioneer of the suit, Tommy was also constrained by it. He was constrained to bespoke suiting, particularly, which, due to the quality and labour intensiveness, would only ever be on a small scale and his dreams of creating a bigger ‘brand’ was restricted by centring around this one garment.
Whenever he tried anything else, outside of this area, he didn’t seem to grasp it or be able to make it work. The strong shoulder, huge lapels and contrasting fabrics became not only his signature, but his style straight jacket.
This book is great, you’ll speed through it. The best bits feature Elton John. I knew Tommy had created Elton’s 1980’s straw-boater, 'I’m Still Standing' era clothes, but I hadn’t realised he was there from the start. David became one of his inner circle and follows him around the world with manic energy. Everybody is in here: Beatles, Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono, Diana Ross.
Unfortunately, having died from that big disease with a little name, Tommy’s voice isn’t here and it would have been nice to hear from Cilla Black as she seemed to have a lot of love for him. But, the main voices are: Edward Sexton, his main cutter and Peter Brown, his boyfriend and the Beatles' manager, even when conflicting, but, that’s, ultimately, history and people’s differing viewpoints.
I remember sitting next to Jeremy Hackett at a dinner once, he started his company selling vintage clothes, and I asked him if he ever came across any Tommy Nutter, as you never see it anywhere. He said he once had some from Andrew Lloyd Webber, but it wasn’t particularly interesting. It feels like all the best pieces were commissioned by the rock stars and celebrities of that era and are probably still languishing in their storage warehouses somewhere.
There was an exhibition at The Fashion & Textile Museum in Bermondsey, a few year’s ago, which brought together some of Tommy’s best clothes. Cilla Black’s were there and I remember how small Ringo Star’s and Mick Jagger’s mannequins were.
This feels comprehensive and very well researched by Lance Richardson. The majority of the book takes place in some of the most exciting times and places of the 20th century: London in the 1960s and New York in the 1970s and this energy is what makes the book flow.
I’d love to hear what Elton John remembers. His shopping addiction seems to keep Tommy in pinstripe trousers for a while and his partying and 1970s wardrobe are all off the chart.
David Nutter is still alive and living in New York, and while Tommy died in 1992, this end segment of the book is very emotional, the glamour and era makes this a must-read for anybody interested in not only men’s clothes, but photography, music and the fashion business.
House of Nutter: The Rebel Tailor of Savile Row by Lance Richardson - Chatto & Windus - £25
If somebody said they could make you any suit you wanted, that fitted perfectly, simply by sending a few photographs of yourself, you’d be sceptical, right?
That’s how I felt when “The Drop” got in touch. The Drop is a startup that allows men to create their clothes, in their sizes at a price which suits their budget.
I’ve seen many apps, come and go, that allow you to take a picture of an item you see in the street. Like Shazam for clothes, they let you know where you can buy it from. Unfortunately, this only works for clothes in season and available in your size, so can be a disappointing search. It also doesn’t allow for you imagination or dream item.
Left - TheChicGeek smiling in his finished suit
The Drop business was founded on the premise that lots of men know what they want when they see it (whether on Instagram, Pinterest or on the street) but often find it hard to locate it in stores, in their size - a fundamental disconnect between supply and demand.
Right - Inspiration - Burberry - But I wanted it cut like a Tom Ford
The Drop enables customers to submit an image of their ideal suit (from styles they've seen online, in store or on the street) along with images of themselves so that correct measurements can be assessed. Their suit is then made & delivered in their size in under three weeks. Prices start from around the £300 mark.
They can make a single item in Asia, and then they allow a small budget for you to take the finished item to be altered, if it needs any additional work, at a place of your choosing.
I wanted something different yet also something that I knew they could make. It would be pointless going all out Gucci if they didn’t offer those kinds of fabrics.
I wanted a brown flannel suit as it’s really hard to find a good chocolate brown suit. I found an old picture from a previous Burberry campaign, but I wanted a longer jacket and wider lapels.
I also wanted the fit based on a Tom Ford suit that I already own. After a couple of e-mails, swatches were sent through, which is difficult to choose online admittedly and they said they didn’t have brown flannel, so I just asked for a plain chocolate coloured suit.
I sent three pictures - front, side, back - of me in fitted clothing and then chose the lining and other details on the suit. I went for a peaked lapel two button wool suit with a pink lining.
They may get in touch to ask a few further questions and just to clarify the order.
Far Left - Tailored Made - Chic Geek - Pink lining with green lettering
Left - The Edward Sexton/Tommy Nutter/Tom Ford lapels that I wanted
A few weeks later the suit was ready. It was shinier than I envisioned, but not detrimental. The lapels were good, very Tom Ford/Edward Sexton like - move over Harry Styles! As for fit, the waist on the trousers and the jacket was too tight. They kindly had this altered for me, when in reality you would do this yourself and then bill The Drop.
Overall, the suit is good, I know I couldn’t buy another brown wool suit with a pink lining for the price they are asking.
Verdict - For the price of a high-street suit you get something individual and one-off. You could get something for a special occasion or if you find it hard to get standard suits to fit, but at these prices you could use this service everytime you want a new suit. This concept has the potential to play around and copy designer items quickly if the choice of fabrics allows.
I think The Drop needs to brand their name more on the items, as I couldn’t remember the name throughout the process, and they should also offer more inspiration and fabric choices to capture the more experimental and directional customers or for those guys who know what they want, but want a few images to base it upon. It would also be good to photograph the suits they make to give you more of a feel of what they do and create a community of passionate guys wanting something individual.
Left - Brown & pink suit from The Drop from around £300
See the full The Drop OOTD here
You can thank me after, but I just may have found the prom outfit to beat all other prom outfits!!!!! Be the king of the prom by taking inspiration from the king, Elvis himself, and Harry Styles with a combination of black and pink. A pink suit with a black shirt, no tie, says 'dressy cool' and is as timeless as rock itself.
The classic 50s colour combo of pink and black brings to mind Teddy Boys and rock 'n' roll. You want a black shirt with black buttons, plain. No contrasting. You can do black trousers if you don't want to buy the whole suit, but add white socks classic penny loafers and you'll be the beau of the ball!
Left - Harry Styles giving good Elvis in an bespoke Edward Sexton suit
Left - River Island - Pink Slim Fit Suit Jacket - £85
Left Below - River Island - Pink Slim Fit Suit Trousers - £40
Below - Hugo - Ebros Stretch Cotton Shirt - £100 from HarveyNichols.com
Left - ASOS - Super Skinny Suit In Mid Pink - £85
Left - Topman - Rose Pink Ultra Skinny Fit Suit - £130
Below - Ted Baker - Rosest Tailored Fit Shirt - £65 from John Lewis
Left - Opposuits - Mr Pink - £64.95
Below - The original, Elvis Presley
Left - Zara - Sartorial Suit Blazer - £99.99, Trousers - £49.99
Left - Zara - Basic Blazer - £39.99
Left - Actor Aidan Alexander at the Billboard Awards
Left - Marks & Spencer - Autograph - Pure Cotton Tailored Fit Shirt - £35
Left - Moss Bros - Moss Esq. - Regular Fit Black Single Cuff Non Iron Shirt - £25
Left - 1950s Cliff Richard
Below - New Look - Deep Pink Suit Jacket - £64.99, Deep Pink Suit Trousers - £29.99
Below - Be the king, this prom season
‘Potential’ is an overly optimistic word in fashion and there are many more disappointments than successes. When you work in this business you always have your eyes and ears open, listening and watching on social media, traditional media and on the street to see who people like and what they are doing.
Left - The pink suit is by Edward Sexton, one of the most stylish tailors in London
Somebody who I think has a lot of potential, in the realms of being a male clotheshorse, is Harry Styles. Apart from the social media hysteria, I didn’t take much notice of him when he was in One Direction, but he feels like he has huge potential to trail-blaze in menswear. Even as a five he always stood out, albeit slightly.
Many of the things he wears are difficult or require believability and on most guys would look too try hard. Okay, so I may be reading too much into this, but, I remember Justin Timberlake leaving N-Sync, and he was on the cover of Arena Home Plus, the cover they had to reprint as it was too violent as Sept 11th had just happened, and I remember thinking "he was just another silly boyband member, he’s not cool enough for that magazine", but he quickly, thanks to that first album, graduated into an adult artist and so did his style. (Though his Tom Ford Suit & Tie section is still the best).
Back to Harry. Scream! He looks like a young Jagger, which is a plus. He’s sexy without it being about his body. It’s an intellectual form of sexy and the clothes correspond with this.
Below - Harry on Graham Norton. He's partial to dragons on a flared trouser
And this isn’t just because there is no competition. Ed Sheeran, anybody?! Harry Styles was recently interviewed by The Sun and he was asked a few things about his appearance.
He said “I always love being comfortable. You should wear what makes you feel comfortable.
"It’s a really good opportunity to have fun - it’s clothes, it’s not a big deal.”
“It’s a good time to express yourself and have fun with it.”
“It’s one of those things that you shouldn’t take seriously. If you want to wear a pair of yellow trousers you can wear a pair of yellow trousers.”
Exactly. It feels a very relaxed approach and something that isn’t laboured over. Obviously he has a stylist, somebody has to do the leg work, but it feels like he’s choosing from the rail. It’s quite a British thing to not look at others and just do your own thing, instinctively in-sync with what’s going on.
At the moment it’s a mix of Gucci, which definitely isn't for the wallflower, and Edward Sexton, one of the greatest British tailors, who has dressed the majority of the Beatles and Mick Jagger over the years, but we’re hoping for an evolution as fashion moves on. It’ll show his eye and style/taste level if he can change without losing any of the cool factor.
Harry, TheChicGeek is watching you.
Left - Harry in those acid yellow trousers