There was a time when buying fashion was solely an investment in yourself. You bought fashion, at varying price points, thinking little or nothing of its intrinsic value after you’d finished using or wearing it. If it was lucky it would make a few pounds at a local charity shop after being donated. It was only very special showpieces or clothing worn by famous people that held any real value.
Left - Dolce & Gabbana sold its last Alta Moda Couture collection in NFT format
Today, designer fashion is being spun as ‘Contemporary Vintage’ or ‘Future Vintage’. It is being sold on the promise that it will retain some type of value or even increase. A generation of younger people are being asked to pay increasing prices for trainers and clothes on the pretence that they are an astute investment. Sounding like a giant Ponzi scheme, and adding in things like NFTs, are we seeing a new generation being hoodwinked into ‘investing’ into fashion?
“I think it's a complex landscape here, almost half of the UK Generation Z saw some negative alteration to their employment through the pandemic period, and for this generation, it's increasingly hard to get into meaningful work.” says Petah Marian, founder of Future Narrative, a retail, culture and consumer trends expert.
“This sense that the system is rigged against them is leading to all sorts of speculative behaviours, be it trying to get access to limited-edition trainers to flip, or in some cases crypto currencies. Some people do make considerable amounts of money out of selling items, but, unless you know what's going to hold value, it's a risky game, as a lot of the future value lies in how well it will resonate later on.” she says.
In November, London designer fashion retailer, Machine-A, with self-described 'contemporary vintage’ e-commerce site Byronesque, launched a vintage area selling archival and rare runway pieces from the like of Rick Owens and Raf Simons.
“As I understand it, contemporary vintage is just a new way of marketing vintage items. The way that Machine B is positioning itself is that the contemporary vintage selection will be key vintage items from a series of iconic designers that have a certain cult appeal.” says Marian.
Called Machine-B, it launched at the Machine-A store in Soho and online. What was interesting was how Machine-A was using these archival pieces to promote its other contemporary designer offering and labelling it as ‘future vintage’. This speculative retail approach included small and lesser known brands such as Stefan Cooke and Kiki Kostadinov.
Kerry Taylor, founder of Kerry Taylor Auctions, the world's leading auction house specialising in vintage fashion, fine antique costume and textiles, says, “I have concerns about people purchasing trainers for hundreds of thousands of dollars – when we know that items made from rubber or plastics in the 1960s have started to revert/disintegrate. High quality artisanal items such as Hermès handbags however are probably only going to increase.” she says. “I would trust vintage vintage as it has an established track record rather than ‘contemporary vintage’ which is a bit of a contradiction in terms. We have no idea of the marketing hype will come true.” says Taylor.
Taylor thinks brands and designers are marketing their clothes and product like this to make them seem more special in a world flooded with brands and garments. If you were to ‘invest’, what would you look for?
“They should buy what they like rather than just for an investment. Investments can go up or down – but if you love a piece – then it doesn’t matter so much. Always check condition – avoid anything altered or with damage.” says Taylor.
Marian thinks brands that have a strong and passionate fan base or items that either speak to a brand's codes or are exceptional examples of where it departs from it are more shrewd investments, as well as items that have a limited release.
“It's part of the broader narrative around circularity and retailers slowing consumption around new items, while also generating buzz around key designers by elevating second-hand items as "archive pieces" that are special and rare.” says Marian.
Right - Burberry's first NFT collection launched in August 2021
Fashion brands are offering other avenues to invest, and making their brands look more attractive in the process. NFTs or non-fungible tokens, offer a chance to buy digital versions of an item. Individuals need to establish a digital wallet to store your cryptocurrency in order to purchase an NFT.
In June, Gucci partnered with Christie’s selling an NFT video called ‘Aria’, the title of its AW21 collection, for $25,000, while in September, Dolce & Gabbana sold an NFT couture Alta Moda suit for £740,000 at auction. The new owner also got a physical suit for that price. Dolce & Gabbana grossed $5.7 million from its first auction of NFT collectibles.
Tying fashion items and collections to NFTs raises the investment levels, but are NFTs likely to be a good long-term investment?
“It's very early to say what the mass uptake will look like.” says Marian. “There's a passionate community of collectors that are driving up the value of NFTs at the moment, but I can't say what the long term value of the current releases of NFTs. I think NFTs are here for the longer term, but it's very early to say what the value or the market will look like for individual assets in a year or two years from now yet.” she says.
Add the growing noise around the Metaverse - the British Fashion Council (BFC) recently announced a brand new category as part of The Fashion Awards 2021—the first ever Fashion Award for Metaverse Design exclusively with Roblox - and the way digital and physical items are blurring, these new ways of owning or consuming as item are selling themselves as investment opportunities to a younger and more engaged consumer.
All investments are speculative. By linking and promoting positive examples of fashion items increasing in or holding their value, brands are cleverly giving the illusion that it is a certain. This is targeted at the younger consumer queuing at stores in Soho or entering ballots for items happy to pay significant sums of money with the idea lurking in the background that they will be able to resell it at some point or even flip at a profit. Websites like Stock X continue to propel the hyped hysteria.
Left - Hyped kids? Luxury brands are invested in giving the perception their goods will retain or even increase their value to younger, Gen Z consumers
Fashion has never really been a serious investment before. Fashion, in its nature, is fickle and unpredictable. Implying that something is resellable at a price close to what you paid for it and/or a solid investment is another pull brands are using to activate the purchasing power of their expensive products. It doesn’t feel like you’re chucking your money away like it did in the past to a generation more careful with money. This bubble is getting bigger and we all know what happens to bubbles when they get too big.
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Inspired by the shape and detailing seen on vintage marmalade jars. Jo Malone London celebrates all the fun of the fete with a new collection, The Marmalade Collection. Five scents; Tangy Rhubarb, Rose Blush, Orange Peel, Elderflower and Blackberry & Bay are included in the new 30ml cologne range.
Natural fruit extracts were created specially for The Marmalade Collection by one of the UK’s leading soft fruit processors in Blairgowrie, Scotland. Usually used in the food industry, fruits and berries from local growers are steam distilled into draughts that are added directly to the fragrance. These extracts help to capture the true vibrancy of tart rhubarb and juicy blackberry.
Celine Roux, Global Head of Fragrance says, “Over 10 years ago, we launched the Sugar & Spice collection, which was inspired by beloved British puddings. This worked really well, and I started thinking about fragrances themed around jams and, in particular, marmalade. Using seasonal fruits to create homemade preserves that you can gift to family and friends seems like such a quintessentially British pastime, conjuring up images of English breakfasts, high teas and village fêtes.”
TheChicGeek says, “This looks like Jo Malone’s attempt to woo the Gen Z customer; smaller sizes, cheaper price points, Helvetica-like hipster packaging and sweet shop type fragrances. The imagery is a mix of Gucci and soft-focus Sofia Coppola. This feels like a completely different customer for them, though some of their fragrances have always had a mix of sweet and gourmandy in there. I haven't tried these to recommend any."
Jo Malone - Marmalade Collection - 30ml - £55
jomalone.co.uk and Jo Malone London stores nationwide from 1st May 2021
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Move over Millennials, sadly, it’s not all about you anymore. Generation Z is primed to take centre stage and retailers and brands are asking this constantly ‘on’ generation exactly what they want.
Generation Z are those born between 1995 and 2010, which means that the oldest are about 23 and are entering the workforce. Their spending power is increasing, their influence growing and they are a generation who doesn’t know life before the internet and mobile phones.
Younger focussed fashion and sports brands want to know what these young people want and what better way to do that than getting them to design the clothes themselves.
Left - ASOS's new Generation Z designed COLLUSION label
This new trend in Generation Z designers is mirroring the multifaceted desires and identities of this group of people.
Online behemoth, ASOS, recently launched its ‘COLLUSION’ brand. The entire brand is shaped and ‘focused' by Gen-Z with a line-up of 6 collaborators. The brand is exclusive to ASOS and can be found on COLLUSION.com which links through to the main ASOS site. The blurb says it “is built for a new generation united in their pursuit for inclusivity and representation. The 200-piece, animal-free collection is designed to fit seamlessly into the wardrobes of those who helped shape it”.
It goes on, “From the cut of a jacket, to the way that it is marketed, photographed, styled and sold, this collection is the result of extensive research into the values that this generation sees as non- negotiable”.
The brand speaks as a collective. Categorisation by gender is unnecessary, COLLUSION is ranged as one collection – for everyone. The brand’s website allows for navigation by product category, style or mood, rather than by men’s or women’s. The debut collection and the regular drops beyond it will be available up to a size 6XL. Price points for launch range from £5 for jersey basics to £70 for statement outerwear.
The initial six collaborators were selected by COLLUSION's cultural social team who find tastemakers and talent. The six were chosen from a wide pool of young creatives and all come from different backgrounds, areas, and professions. Students, stylists, activists, image-makers, authors and YouTubers.
It says, “COLLUSION is a manifestation of what this first contingent of six want the future of the fashion industry to look and feel like. Working in collaboration with a team of standalone designers and creatives assembled by ASOS, each industry experts in affordable fashion, the six are consumers of, consultants to, and architects of this brand. Their brief: to realise an authentic, vibrant wardrobe which speaks directly to themselves and their Gen-Z peers”.
Chidera Eggerue, 23, blogger and author, says, “I joined Collusion because I wanted to be part of something that created the change that I want to see,”. Chidera is known to her followers as The Slumflower.
Right - Brands giving the next generation what they want by getting them to design it - ASOS COLLUSION
The collection is animal-free and has been recognised a number of times in PETA’s vegan fashion awards, first launched in 2013, celebrating the most desirable cruelty-free clothing and accessories on the market.
So, what’s been the reaction? The brand says, “COLLUSION has been applauded both on social media and in the press for its unwavering commitment to diversity and body positivity. Publications such as Vogue, i-D, Dazed and Grazia have featured the brand and commended the daring approach for a big backed brand towards gender neutrality and its direct involvement with Gen-Z”.
I’m not sure this generation even read these publications anymore, but, it’s commercial success will be judged with how many follow up collections there are.
This burgeoning woke generation has also come to the attention of sports brand, Champion. They’ve just launched a capsule line of T-shirts inspired by the power of words and how the negative labels used to describe young people can influence and determine their identity and behaviour.
Partnering with the London-based charity ‘London Youth’, which represents 400 community youth projects across the city, and called ‘Champion London Youth’, the T-shirts are each inspired by the personal stories of five young people who have faced stereotyping and have overcome this with the help of their youth clubs and organisations.
Local authority youth service budgets across London in 2017/18 are £39 million lower than in 2011/12. This represents an average cut of £1.5 million or 44% per local authority. During that period, 81 youth centres were closed and there were 800 fewer youth workers.
Gill Goodby, Head of Communications at London Youth, says “We combined with The Corner agency to produce a film to challenge the perceptions of young people and every newspaper headline having ‘youth’ and ‘violence’ in the title wasn’t representative. The T-shirts with Champion came from that film,” she says.
Subira Damali, 23, from Lewisham is one of the chosen designers of the T-shirts, and describes how she became involved, “I’m part of Lewisham Youth Theatre. They send me acting opportunities and I applied to be on the film”.
Left - Subira Damali & her daughter
A young mum, she was interviewed for the film and wrote a few words that people used negatively to describe her. “Then somebody said, ‘This is going to be on a T-Shirt’. It’s about breaking down stereotypes and designing clothes helps confidence, leadership and is therapeutic,” she says.
Renowned designer Tim Head transformed the experiences of these young people into limited edition designs, which will be available for sale in Champion’s Soho store and at Urban Outfitters. Champion will be donating all profits to London Youth to help fund the charity’s arts, sports development, youth social action, employability and outdoor learning programmes.
If they design it, then, hopefully, they’ll buy it. Or, so the thinking goes. Asking the next generation what they want seems almost too simple in its concept. But, this generation is very individual and it wants to be seen that way.
This feels like the natural progression of personalisation and customisation and a step to the future where we’ll all be able to share a hand in designing what we want.
Today, retailers and brands are up to the size and speed of being able to tailor collections for certain generational groups or be reactive to their wants and desires. It makes business sense, but will it be this straightforward?
This is a generation of confident young individuals who know what they want and want their clothes to reflective their disparate identities. Brands will just have to try as hard as they can to keep up.