Is there ever a perfect time to launch anything? Warehouse, the women’s high street brand founded in 1976 by Jeff Banks, is launching menswear this week. The traditional British men’s high-street has been in the doldrums for quite some time since the skinny suit was replaced by the branded tracksuit. So, the question is, does this ambitious new launch signal the start of a potential menswear renaissance or will it be simply too difficult in a segment that has seen other well known high-street brands crash and burn?
Jonathan Munro, Warehouse Menswear designer says, “We feel strongly that there is a gap for a well-designed sustainable brand at a great price point. We wanted to build on the success of the womenswear line, marking a new chapter in the brand’s history and fulfilling what we believe, is a gap in the market.” he says. It is worth noting that this isn’t the first time Warehouse has done menswear. They had menswear in the early days of Warehouse so they are not promoting this as a first.
Left - Warehouse Menswear SS20
The main focus is, the fashion word du jour, sustainable. The new range will be sold online via the Warehouse webstore www.warehouse.co.uk and through host e-tailers and retailers; The Idle Man, Zalando, JohnLewis.com, Next and the Australian retailer Myer. Price points range from £15 for a 100% organic T-shirt, up to £189 for a recycled polyester content suit and £229 for the chrome-free suede jacket.
“The core of the range is made up of high quality wardrobe staples that should last season-after-season, balanced with breathable cottons and linens in a wearable colour palette.” says Munro. “We have a great range of printed shirts, from monochrome geos to abstract hand painted illustrations which are all designed in-house. Key pieces include our heavy twill overshirts and slim utility trousers.” he says.
“Fashion needs to become more sustainable for the good of the planet.” says Munro. “100% of the range includes sustainable fibres such as organic cottons which use less pesticides and therefore less pollutants, recycled polyesters made up from salvaged plastic bottles and eco viscose which is derived from renewable wood sources.”
What will Warehouse Menswear add to the British men’s high-street market? “Sustainable clothing for the modern man who needs his clothes to last and work for him every day.” says Munro. “We know women buy clothes for men and we also know men buy clothes for themselves - it's aimed at whoever wants to buy it.” he says. “We are holding a pop-up store at Protein Studios in Shoreditch, running from the 2nd – 7th March. This is to allow customers to see the range first hand, interacting with the materials and learning more about the sustainability messaging which runs throughout.”
What does the future look like for Warehouse Menswear? “Our main focus will be to continue to research and develop new ways of working with sustainability in mind, supported by the knowledge of what the Warehouse Menswear customer is looking for in a sustainable clothing collection.” says Munro.
Brands such as Whistles and New Look both struggled in the menswear category. Whistles cancelled its menswear range this time last year and New Look removed menswear from its stores in April 2019, going online-only. The rest of the high-street from Topman to River Island to Jigsaw have struggled to compete with Zara and the sports brands. But, things aren’t all doom and gloom, according to a ‘GlobalData’ report ‘The UK Clothing Market 2018 – 2023’, menswear will be the driving force of the clothing sector, forecast to grow by 12.3% over the next five years as greater trend incorporation and newness drives volumes.
A British Fashion Council and Mintel report estimates that consumer spending menswear has grown 5.1% to reach £15.9 billion in 2018. Menswear now accounts for 26% of the total clothing market, whilst womenswear accounts for 51%. Consumer spending on clothing is forecast to rise 25% to £76 billion in the next five years to 2023.
Warehouse’s parent company, the Oasis and Warehouse Group, clearly sees potential in the menswear market having recently purchased online retailer The Idle Man for an undisclosed sum in Sept. 2019.
Right - Warehouse Menswear SS20
So, what do the experts think Warehouse Menswear’s prospects are?
“When this was announced, I’m not going to lie, I was very surprised, to say the least. I understand a lot of people keep on talking about the growth in men’s fashion & grooming, but when we see retailers from New Look to Whistles dropping their menswear offering, it does beg the question, is now the best time to launch a menswear brand extension?
“Additional to this, we have an awful lot of talk on sustainability and buying less but better quality, plus when well known names like TOPMAN are not performing particularly well at the moment, its hard to see a brand not known for their menswear being a success in these difficult, uncertain times. However, maybe this is what the menswear market needs, maybe Warehouse it going to target the ladies buying for their men, but this is an ever increasingly niche demographic. I do wish Warehouse all the luck in the world and hope their Menswear offering is a success, but I won’t be holding my breathe.” says Anthony McGrath, Founder of Clothes-Make-the-Man.com & leading academic.
“It’s certainly a challenging time to launch, but there’s an opportunity for Warehouse where other major high street names are stalling or retracting on menswear. There are multiple challenges for high street retailers; nimble online competition, prohibitive high business rates, persistent economic uncertainty and the fact that many of us no longer choose shopping as a preferable leisure activity. However, in my opinion the current menswear offer from the high street, with a few exceptions, is failing to offer well-made, well priced and exciting product. There’s a proliferation of dull, cheap clothes.
I’d like to see a certain amount of risk taking. Nobody needs another line of neutral, anonymous ‘wardrobe essentials’. Men shop for themselves. It’s not going to work if the strategy is to rely on existing customers.” says Jessica Punter, Stylist & Grooming Consultant, & former GQ Style & Grooming Editor.
“It'll be a tough fight, and depends on their marketing strategy I think. They have a nice campaign video and a pop up shop but is that enough? We'll see. They have an opportunity now to really nail it, to take the market share from the high street brands that don't do it particularly well, but time will tell! I think others failed because they weren't offering a mix of product for different customer groups, so hopefully Warehouse will.
“There isn't a 'good time' to launch I don't think, there's always going to be peaks and troughs in the industry, and right now we're just coming out of a terrible time for retail, so maybe it's a great time! To wait until fashion week or another event is pointless now as we know men don't really shop to seasons or events, they just shop because they need to. I guess it's a good time in the year though, because now is the time for newness, so makes sense from a business point of view.
“Initially, I think it'll be the aimed at the women for sure, because they are the ones going in store and online to buy Warehouse, but if they have a good marketing plan, and get it out to wider audiences, men will slowly show up. Also, I wonder who they are partnering with, if anyone, to wholesale? That'll be really important in pulling in a new menswear customer. It'll be slow, but maybe they might be able to do what others have failed to do!” says Simon Glazin, freelance fashion writer and blogger.
Left - Will it work? Warehouse Menswear SS20
“I think there's space for an affordable, fashion-forward offer now Topman is tussling with Boohoo over cheap sportswear, but Warehouse aren't going to be the ones to provide it. Well, judging from the images I've seen.” says Lee Clatworthy, Fashion Writer.
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Marc, who? Exactly. Walk into the new Dior exhibition - Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams - at the Victoria & Albert Museum and you’ll be wowed by a glamourous exhibition dedicated to one of the world’s strongest fashion houses. A few rooms in, there’s a recap of the previous Dior Creative Directors, in order, from after Dior’s death in 1957 up until the present designer, Maria Grazia Chiuri. All getting equal billing and space is Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferrè, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Chiuri.
The least known, yet the longest there, is Marc Bohan. From 1958 to 1960, Bohan designed for the Christian Dior London line. In September 1960, Dior’s creative director Yves Saint Laurent was called up for military service and Bohan was promoted to replace him. He stayed at Dior until 1989 when he was replaced by Gianfranco Ferrè.
Left - Linda in Chanel. But, will we remember this in a few decades time?
Bohan’s career at Dior lasted over 30 years and yet he is almost forgotten about. Still alive, he didn’t create anything long lasting directly attributed to his hand at Dior. Or, that is widely known. And this is where I bring my comparisons to Karl Lagerfeld. He lead Chanel from 1983 up until his death. That’s a 36 year career, and yet in a few year's time, what direct influences will Lagerfeld leave on the French house? Will Karl Lagerfeld become the Marc Bohan of Chanel? #Discuss
Dr Kate Strasdin, Fashion Historian and Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies at Falmouth University, says, “I think he will be remembered just because of the length of time he was at the helm and that his time coincided with the expansion of mass media. He talked about being a caricature of himself, creating his own distinctive self-image.
“As for Lagerfeld’s legacy, many people criticised his work as derivative. but actually I think he was astute at managing a heritage brand, treading that line between designs that were recognisably ‘Chanel’ and simultaneously relevant for over 30 years....I would argue that was his distinctiveness.” she says.
Looking at Lagerfeld’s Chanel, he brought the house’s tropes into the late 20th century, but they already existed. The tweed, the camelias, the quilting, the interlocking Cs and gold chains all existed within the archive. The most famous bag shape, the 2.55, was created in 1955 and is still a juggernaut today.
Benjamin Wild, Cultural, Historian, Writer and Lecturer, says, “For sure, there are many similarities between the men - longevity and the ability to contemporise classical styles, not least - but it is interesting to note the increasing number of voices that are coming forward to comment on Lagerfeld's less savoury social attitudes and comments. In a week where major fashion brands have withdrawn items from their Spring/Summer collections because of their perceived racism and insensitivity, it seems to be a sign of the times that Lagerfeld's character and creations are also being examined in a forensic manner as people recognise that person and portfolio cannot be - and should not be - so easily disentangled; if we are to understand Lagerfeld's contribution to fashion, we need to be frank about who he was, and this will, I think, leave for a more accurate, but disputed legacy.”
Lagerfeld’s tenure at Chanel was through the boom of designer brands and luxury clothes. Bohan’s was in a much smaller industry and no doubt had to design few collections than the six Chanel creates every year. Lagerfeld’s Chanel was much bigger, so it’s interesting that even fewer designs of Lagerfeld’s have stuck. But, also, today, there is now so much more competition.
It’s often what comes after and how good it is that really pushes a designer into the background. When Galliano created his Dior, it was a fantasy of couture, yet still managed to leave behind his strong DNA - the Masai neck, the saddle bag and the famous Dior newspaper print are all Dior signatures still attributed to him today.
Chanel is privately owned by Alain Wertheimer and Gérard Wertheimer, the grandsons of Pierre Wertheimer, who was an early business partner of Coco Chanel. After Lagerfeld’s death, Virginie Viard, fashion studio director and Lagerfeld's right-hand woman at Chanel, was announced as taking over the creative leadership. No doubt she’ll be in charge to offer a respectful gap to Lagerfeld’s legacy, but, ultimately, this is one of the plummiest jobs in fashion and many designers would kill to fill those shoes and offer their own take on Chanel’s future. Like many brands, it may take a few goes to find the perfect fit and I’m not sure anybody would stick around, or be allowed to stick around, for over three decades today.
“I think to get the best out of Chanel, it now needs to push the brand boundaries - not in a Balmain or Balenciaga ‘sell out’ begging-for-attention from the Instagram generation manner, but it needs to become more relevant. I feel Chanel has sunk into a comfort zone that rich women seeking affirmation or middle class basic bitch types aspire to.” says Katie Chutzpah, Fashion Blogger.
Lagerfeld is, of course, respected for his prolific and long career, but, what left is distinctively “Lagerfeld”? You have to separate the man and his designs. When his domineering character is quietened by his death, it will be his designs and collections which will have to fight with what went before, and what will, now, come after.
“If Karl Lagerfeld had just concentrated on Chanel, then I think he would've been forgotten, but his influence was so pervasive across popular culture. Despite his work at Chanel, he was actually a modernist and early-adopter of technologies. From fashion to art, photography, product design, and even music, he was always there at the edge, and I think that will be his true legacy, not reinventing a tweed jacket every three months.” says Lee Clatworthy, Fashion Writer.
This isn’t about trashing Lagerfeld’s career, it’s an unemotional look at the things we can directly attribute to him. Clearly, Chanel has been a huge success under his guidance, but it had very strong foundations on which to build. In a few decade's time, will Lagerfeld’s chapter at Chanel be remembered as vividly and fondly?
Let’s take a moment to step back and see how fashionable men are looking at this moment in time. You’ve probably noticed a proliferation of thick moustaches - well away from the month of Movember - alongside lean and toned bodies all clothed in fitted, retro sportswear. It’s hard not to see his counterpart mirrored from the late 70s or early 80s. An era of disco, gay liberation and pre-AIDS.
Left - How men are looking today - lean, toned and a hair top lip - Gone is the bearded and tattooed hipster
This isn’t just gay men either. Young straight men and homosexual men are almost indecipherable in how they look, today, bouncing the trends off one another and have the confidence to do as they please, rather than worry about being labelled either way.
I was recently in a gay pub in East London. In walked three young guys all proudly sporting cropped hair and thick moustaches. I thought it was interesting how they looked like the same young men from nearly 40 years ago. I wondered why all these things: the clothes, the body shape and facial hair styles, had all collided back to this one point in time. And, then I thought, maybe it’s because we’re entering a Post-AIDS era?
Right - Two Supermen, 40 years apart - Henry Cavill & Christopher Reeve
Thanks to medication, HIV can be prevented and people who do have it can no longer pass it on. Medication such as PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) can stop HIV from taking hold. It is highly effective for preventing HIV if used as prescribed and it recently became available on the NHS.
Consciously or unconsciously, it feels like we can finally celebrate this time because we’re no longer scared of it. Previously, looking at the images from that era had a heavy melancholy knowing what was to come and how many men didn’t make it out of that decade. But, it feels like that has lifted. It’s a mental freedom that the fashion industry is clearly relishing and focusing on this hedonistic era and image of hyper-masculinity.
Popular Instagram accounts such as ‘TheAidsMemorial’ celebrates the lives of men who lost their lives and it’s interesting how contemporary these images look. Publications such as ‘Gayletter’ play with retro homoerotic imagery and books such as ‘Fire Island Pines’ , is a collection of Polaroids from 1975-1983 of men holidaying in Fire Island in Long Island, New York, and they look like a contemporary men's swimwear shoot. Recent films like ‘Tom of Finland’ focuses on the illustrator who drew the fetish/leather side of gay men and can be seen throughout the recent AW18 collection from Moschino.
Left - Photography book - Fire Island Pines by Tom Bianchi
This is obviously centred on the gay community, but gay men influence straight men, so quickly now, and vice versa.
“In the inimitable words of power PR Samantha Jones of TV show ‘Sex and the City’ (fictional, of course) "First comes the Gays, then the girls and then the industry"!says David M Watts, Editor & Publisher, Wattswhat Magazine.
"Gay men have historically been regarded as trend setters when it comes to fashion and style. However, the resurgence of male erotica imagery making its way into mainstream fashion has more to do with lazy millennial designers looking back and copying 80s and 90s imagery rather than using it as inspiration to create something new,” says Watts.
Right - Moschino AW18
Contemporary films, documentaries and TV shows such as Ready Player One, Stranger Things, The Assassination of Gianni Versace and Antonio Lopez: Sex, Fashion & Disco - Read TheChicGeek review here, keep us continually coming back to the 70s and 80s.
“I think nostalgia is a feeling which anchors us in a constantly-changing world, and that period between the late-Seventies and mid-Eighties, pre-AIDS crisis, pre-Section 28, and the birth of the Gay Liberation movement, is sometimes seen by gay men as a golden age of hedonism and queer sexual politics. Hence the continued popularity of the music and style from that period,” says Lee Clatworthy, Writer and Press and Media Officer for Sparkle - The National Transgender Charity.
"I think this style has filtered down to the mainstream because of the availability of cheap flights to cities like Berlin, which has a large queer art community, but is also a focal point for innovative electronic music and club culture at present.” says Clatworthy.
Gone is that built, steroid-fed and hairless muscular body of the 90s and in its place is a more natural yet Instagramable toned shape. It’s more youthful and suits the current fitted style of men's clothes.
Trying not to fixate on the moustache too much, but it’s definitely one of the defining factors linking the two eras, one thing to know is, it’s not the twiddly gin-drinking Victorian type, but the solid Magnum PI style. The many years of Movember would have played a part in its return, but it’s most probably a reaction to the hipster beard.
Left - GQ Style SS18
“I would say guys wearing the moustache are normally stylish and looking to stand out a bit more in a world of beards. It normally means they are confident in themselves too.” says Tom Chapman, Founder of the Lions Barber Collective.
“I think the obsession with facial hair as a whole has been with us for a few years now, but people are starting to feel confident with a furry face and beginning to experiment with different shapes. There are so many choices when it comes to the moustache which can be easily changeable and stylable.” says Chapman.
Right - Selfie from Pinterest
“The thicker, denser looks with less styling have definitely come from those 70/80 icons such as Freddy Mercury and Hulk Hogan and I would say that young men are most definitely influenced by iconic TV and films. They have a powerful way of making something feel cool or stylish.” Chapman says.
While this ‘PrEPpy’ look has already been strong, particularly amongst East London gay men, it is definitely being pushed out into the wider male aesthetic. As we move further away from the bearded hipster, this seems to be its cool replacement. It is starting to influence straight males who won’t even know where it’s come from.
Or, it could simply be just a lot of young men with moustaches. It’s only a theory!
Left - Clearly influence by Tom of Finland, GQ Style SS18 showing the lean, toned and tached male look
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