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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Recently, a government advisor, Professor Neil Ferguson, director of the modelling programme at Imperial College London's MRC centre for global infectious disease analysis, estimated that up to two thirds of people who die from coronavirus in the next nine months are likely to have died this year from other causes. He said that many of those deaths were likely to be old and seriously ill people who would have died from other conditions before the end of the year. What COVID-19 is doing, sadly, is speeding up the end of life and it’s the same for brands and retailers.
Some retailers have started to fall into administration, pointing the finger of blame at the COVID-19 coronavirus. The majority of these brands and retailers were sickly patients to start with. Brands like Beales, Laura Ashley, Carluccio's and BrightHouse were on wobbly ground way before this devastating virus was on the horizon. The coronavirus has just cut short the inevitable. Bournemouth based department store Beales closed earlier than scheduled and left unsecured creditors £17.6m out of pocket.
Left - The Beales flagship store in Bournemouth
Other patients at risk are brands like shopping centre group Intu, struggling under a £4.5bn debt mountain, and who failed to secure new funding before the crisis hit. They’ve also been hit by stores holding back their rent payments recently. Frasers, owner of Jack Wills, has been cutting off vast limbs of its retail network to save their critically ill patient, Cath Kidston is looking for a buyer to save the business and up to 800 jobs and New Look has requested a three-month rent holiday from landlords. H&M has threatened landlords with walking away from 300-plus store leases if sales fail to match pre-coronavirus levels once the pandemic passes. How others like Debenhams and the Arcadia come out of this pandemic is anybody’s guess.
Right - Laura Ashley has fallen into administration
The patient metaphor has one big and important point; the third of previously healthy people who could potentially die. This is where the government efforts to help businesses should be focussed. Those businesses who were previously healthy, but, due to unforeseen circumstances, have been thrown into jeopardy should be given the largest help. Whether it’s down to the sector they are in or the way they sell, these previously healthy retailers should be given the ventilator of loans and payment holidays to give them life.
The longer this crisis goes on the larger that third will become. It is survival of the ones who were the fittest going into all of this.
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When New Look announced, at the beginning of this month, its menswear was going online only, it solidified what we already knew; high-street fashion is struggling, badly. It was only a few years ago, when the ‘dapper’ three-piece skinny suit was at its zenith and pocket squares were furnishing top pockets, that the good times were rolling and Britain’s high-street menswear retailers were expanding.
Left - Momager Kris Jenner loving an adidas tracksuit but with a Gucci bag or Fendi keyring
Back in 2016, New Look was busy rolling out menswear stores in university towns, appealing to those on a budget wanting fast fashion. New Look was fairly late to the menswear party, following in the footsteps of brands like Topman, River Island and Moss Bros, but it had lofty ambitions. They opened 22 menswear stores in places such as Shrewsbury, Exeter, Maidstone, Derby and Nottingham. They are all now closed, wth New Look saying in a recent statement, “New Look is removing menswear from its UK and Ireland stores but will continue to sell the range online and on third party platforms,” such as ASOS and Zalando.
So, what happened? Sportswear happened. Branded sportswear has been the main fashion story for the past few years. From trainers to tracksuits, sportswear is everywhere and on everybody.
Recent results from sportswear behemoth, JD Sports, illustrates its growth and dominance. JD Sports, which is now more than three times bigger than arch rival Sports Direct, almost-doubled revenue in its latest results for the 52 weeks to February 2, 2019. Revenue was up an incredible 49.2 percent to £4.7 billion for the period compared to the year before, with profit before tax increasing by 15.4 percent to £339.9 million pounds.
JD Sports’ results includes its acquisition of the Finish Line business in America. The brand was bought for around £400 million in June 2018, and saw JD Sports take ownership of Finish Line’s 600 stores in the US.
JD Sports executive chairman, Peter Cowgill, said in a statement: "We believe that our acquisition of the Finish Line business in the United States, the largest market for sport lifestyle footwear and apparel and the home to many of the global sportswear brands, will have positive consequences for our long-term brand engagement whilst significantly extending the group's global reach. We maintain our belief that Finish Line is capable of delivering improved levels of profitability.” JD Sports said it stayed clear of reactive discounting while offering a point of difference in the goods it sold.
This American dominance, particularly of the internet and social media channels, has helped grow this market. When American football is coming to Wembley and there’s even talk of baseball making inroads into this country, then you know the power of the American online world we now live in. When you see Kris Jenner wearing a full adidas tracksuit on multiple episodes of the Kardashians, instead of the luxury labels she used to be wearing, it really illustrates how far this trend has come and it’s global.
JD Sports is now in 10 countries in mainland Europe with its first store in Austria at Mariahilfer Strasse in Vienna opening in the next few months. The JD fascia saw a net increase of 39 stores in the period with new stores in all of the retailer’s existing territories as well as its first two stores in Finland. In Asia, JD Sports has opened its first stores in Singapore, Thailand and South Korea with its local partner Shoemarker Inc, and now has 16 JD stores, including 14 conversions of the multibrand Hot-T fascia which was acquired in the previous year.
New Look recently closed all of their stores in China, Belgium and Poland, 85 stores in the UK and, potentially, those in France and Portugal too. It has returned to profit after its underlying operating profit came in at £38.5 million to Dec 2018, compared to an underlying operating loss of £5.1 million for the same year-to-date period the year prior, but like-for-like sales are still falling, they’ve just slowed.
These woes aren't just restricted to New Look. The fall in the value of these high-street companies is illustrated by Arcadia recently buying a 25 per cent stake in retailers Topshop and Topman back from US investor Leonard Green for $1 or 76p. It was rumoured the US private equity firm bought the 25 per cent stake from Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia in 2012 for £350 million. That’s some devaluation.
Another British high-street brand suffering from the dominance of sportswear is Moss Bros. The menswear retailer recorded a £4.2 million loss for the 52-week period ending January 26, 2019, compared to a profit of £6.7 million the year prior. Revenues were down 2.1 per cent to £129 million and like-for-like sales dropped 4.3 per cent. Interestingly, full-year figures showed that like-for-like hire sales plummeted by 9.3 per cent. People aren’t even renting formalwear now?! Moss Bros chief executive, Brian Brick, said it was an “extremely challenging” year. “We suffered from a combination of a significant stock shortage and extremes of weather, alongside sporting distraction in the first half, which impacted footfall into our stores,” he said. That “sporting distraction” was the World Cup with people no doubt wearing yet more sportswear.
“Looking forward, in common with many UK retailers, we continue to anticipate an extremely challenging retail landscape, particularly within our physical stores, as a result of reduced footfall and rising costs.” he said.
This sportswear as a fashion trend is slowing, but sportswear is beyond a trend, now, and it’s a lifestyle and ease of dressing that is resonating around the world and to every age group. These once dominant British high-street stars are contracting and they are cutting off limbs (menswear) to save the vital organs. Karl Lagerfeld once said, “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.” He couldn't be more wrong.
It turns out Christian Dior liked English food. Clearly a charmer and a man who knows his audience, Dior had a strong relationship with London and the British royal family. Many of you probably saw snippets of this exhibition on people's Instagrams when it was in Paris last year. This is the same, but with an added room explaining his relationship with London. The Victoria & Albert museum did the same with Alexander McQueen's Savage Beauty.
This giant Dior exhibition, the largest ever in the UK, charts the miraculous growth and influence of Christian Dior up to the present day.
The staging and room sets are stunning. The lighting and displays make everything look sumptuous. The only negative is, the space will quickly become congested, as there isn't much room to move, so I would recommend visiting this early or later in the day.
This is pure fashion escapism and is a visual feast, illustrating womenswear from the second half of the 20th century.
From the "New Look" of 1947 to Maria Grazia Chiuri's present incarnation of Dior, every Creative Director is covered.
John Galliano steals the show and illustrates how he took Dior couture to the maximum of its creative possibilities. It leaves you wanting a solo Galliano exhibition.
Everything in the exhibition is couture and handmade and there's a beautiful rainbow display showing all the accessories and costume jewellery.
Dior is one of the biggest brands in the world, today, and while this is a fantastic display, I didn't leave knowing anymore about the man himself. The exhibition is fairly light on information, but I guess the idea is for crowds to flow and for the museum to really pack in the numbers.
Dior sent the benchmark for mid-20th century femininity and it's fascinating how the brand continued to grow even though he died just over a decade after the company was established. Dior is one of the most coveted of French fashion houses and, while the last two creative directors haven't been particularly inspiring, it's interesting to see how that shape of 1947 continues to resonate.
Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams - Until 14th July 2019 - £20
While you're at the V&A, you could visit the Mary Quant exhibition.
They say the Chinese only buy the cheapest or the best. It’s simplistic, but it is the direction all retail markets seem to be headed in. The British market has been evolving into this for a while, now, and those stuck or stranded in the middle are suffering or dying.
The middle has been squeezed or forced to choose their direction of travel as we all race to the bottom or top.
The cheapest often requires huge volumes and multinationals and the best requires a perception of quality, luxury and good service.
As a brand or retailer, you have two questions to ask yourself, today: are we the cheapest? This can be split into different categories depending on where the brand sits and, are we the best? This is more complex and can mean many different things and is subjective. If you can’t say yes to both or either, they you need to start making some serious changes.
Imagine a Venn diagram: two circles, one the cheapest, one the best and price running up and the down the side axis. Any brand coming into the area where the two circles overlap is in a safer and strong position. Those within one of the circles has a focus, while those floating somewhere out of either need to work out which one they want to be in, and fast.
Let’s look at the cheapest option. This is why Sainsbury’s is getting into bed with Asda. The larger scale promises savings of around 10% to the consumer, and will help them compete with Booker/Tesco and the German food retailers, Aldi and Lidl. It’s an example of mid-market retailers needing to pair up or die.
In fashion, New Look revenue to the year 24th March 2018 was down -7.3% to £1,347.8m. New Look has not only announced store closures, but it’s also just said in its recent financial report and turnaround plan, that ‘Pricing (will be) lowered to offer significantly better value with 80% of product to retail under £20’.
Eighty percent of product under £20 will really put the brand toe-to-toe with Primark and, I think, it’s the right move for them. You have to go down fighting, but they’ll going to have to shift more product at these cheaper prices. Before, New Look wasn’t the cheapest, and it wasn’t the best in terms of being the most fashionable or desirable fast-fashion retailer. It used to be one of the cheapest, but then Primark came along.
It tried to be more fashionable, but at a time Boohoo, ASOS were growing and offering high fashionability at ridiculously low prices.
New Look says it wants to 'return to (a) value-led fast fashion and wardrobe basics offer with full price focus’. The margins will be so small they’ll need all the full price they can get.
H&M, long one of the darlings of fast retail, has seen its shares down nearly 20% this year and the company has said it will need to slash prices to reduce inventories, damaging profit margins. It has an $4.3 Billion in unsold stock and needs to be careful that its size won’t be its downfall.
It also explains its focus on different, ‘best’ sister brands like Arket and COS. H&M isn’t in the same position as New Look, yet, but they need to make sure it’s still seen as one of the best in terms of affordable fashionability and also offering value.
Marks & Spencer is another one trying this new best and cheapest approach. The clothes have arguably got much cheaper and the food is still perceived as the best, but it’s this balance that is hard to achieve within the same brand, especially knowing what consumers come to you for.
House of Fraser’s recent announcement to close 31 stores is a reflection of the growth of John Lewis both offline and online. John Lewis has continued to open in towns, in or near those House of Frasers, and House of Fraser isn’t cheaper or better. It probably explains the closure of the huge Birmingham store as John Lewis opened a shiny new shop at the railway station just a couple of years ago.
House of Fraser will need to pair up with somebody (maybe Debenhams?) or disappear altogether. Sports Direct, Mike Ashley, has shares in both and will no doubt be pushing for it and then they really can compete on price and dominate their local markets.
So, who is getting it right? Zara, for the best in fashionability and speed and John Lewis in customer service and being ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’. But, like a game of musical chairs, it’s changing all the time.
As for the ‘best’, this is what many luxury brands rely upon. This could be quality, use of materials, origin etc. Many ‘luxury’ brands have lost control of these in the race for large quantities and bigger margins. They have to be careful because a few poorly made, overpriced products will ruin the perception of any brand.
But, you can also find the cheapest within this market. For example, Johnstons of Elgin, one of the best Scottish producers of scarves and blankets. It makes for everybody from Hermès to Burberry. While a scarf from them is not cheap, say £100, it’s far cheaper than one with a designer name on. They are also the best at what they do and the reason why these brands use them.
Or, a brand like Paul Smith. When looking at a multi brand website like Mr Porter, it feels like one of the most affordable brands on there. I think its recent troubles has seen it get more competitive and tread that fine line between affordable and exclusivity. They are also the best at colour.
Or, you could can look at the total top, at the most expensive and exclusive. This is the pinnacle of the market and to be true to both would only be made in very limited numbers. This is chasing a very small number of big-fish consumers and, as such, it limits the size of the business. But, this can also to used to sell ranges of cheaper products, such as perfume or sunglasses, but even these categories are harder, now that people aren’t so hung up on brands.
This simplistic approach to the market cuts through some of the wood to see the trees in a highly competitive and changing retail landscape. So, the next time you look at your own brand or somebody else’s, you know which two questions to ask.
News on the grapevine New Look is close to going under. I don’t think this will mean that New Look will disappear, it’ll probably be pre-packed into a slimmer and more nimble retailer while shaking off its debt. It has 600 stores, which seems rather top heavy in this current retail environment.
Ironically, when it’s not cold enough many retailers blame the weather for not shifting clothes, and this week, the whole week, or even two, will be a write off, for the majority of retailers, particularly fashion, because people aren’t leaving the house or simply can’t get to the shops due to the snow and many items there won’t be suitable anyway. Two disruptive weeks could push a few more retailers over that administration edge.
Left - Expect to see more of these and for longer
I think we’re at a tipping point for physical retail, particularly larger shops with big overheads. These gaps are big and aren’t being filled. 102 of the 164 BHS stores that went out of business are still un-let nearly 2 years after its closure. Add in Toy R Us and the announced store closures from many retailers such as Marks & Spencer and Debenhams and you have a very gappy and unattractive grimace to the majority of shopping areas or high-streets.
This downward spiral simply speeds up the death of these areas: fewer shops, means fewer visitors and therefore fewer shops.
Any retailers who sell the same items as Amazon seem to be in trouble and fashion has to acknowledge that the ASOSs and Boohoos of this world have taken a massive chunk of spend and continue to do so.
Fashion retailers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t when it comes to the internet. Even the best website in the world will still eat into physical stores. The bigger and better you make your online offering will only encourage people not to visit your stores. It’s a feeling of struggling to stand still, and, with many cases, going backwards.
I live in Croydon and there’s been talk of a big, new Westfield for a long time. The town centre is very dated and run down and needs the investment and also the ‘Westfield’ name to put it back on the map. But, Westfield has gone very quiet. They’ve kicked the development back to start in 2019, not really sure why, and having just been taken over by a French company it wouldn’t surprise me if they wanted to relook at any new developments.
Croydon is a risk. It isn’t White City. While it has good transport links, it also has many shopping centres close by. I’ve said to people buying into ‘up and coming’ Croydon, not to buy thinking a Westfield is definitely coming. John Lewis was always muted as an anchor tenant and they’ve said they don’t want to open anymore stores ATM. If it does happen, it will affect the Bromley, Kingston, Bluewater and even Brighton shopping centres. The pain will be felt somewhere.
So, what to do? These units are too big. Shops and shopping centres will have to contract. These spaces need redesigning and dividing. What we need is housing and leisure facilities. The future of physical retail will be ‘want’ and not ‘need’. It’ll will be about service and human interaction - Read TheChicGeek's Human Cookies. Online is unbeatable with need, and its dominance will speed up even more with automation and driverless delivery. But, we’ll still want to get out of the house, see what’s new, try and touch things. It’s just unfortunate that some of these larger retailers and their footprints are unsustainable.
Are the wheels coming off at Topman? From zero to hero, Topman is the poster boy of how brands, thanks to fashion and the sponsorship of fashion weeks, can go from uncool to cool in little over a decade, but, has their run of dominance on the men’s high-street come to an end?
Topman recently had a clear out of the top brass and creative. Gordon Richardson, who served as Topman's head designer for the past 17 years, has been pushed out along with many others within the Arcadia group. This is usually a sign of trying to stop the rot and starting something new.
Left - Will you be buying your tracksuit from Topman this season?
Taveta Investments, Arcadia’s parent company, doesn't break out individual figures for their brands, but financial figures released in June 2017 showed a 16 per cent drop in profits for the year to August 2016. Taveta Investments, indicated that annual profits plummeted to £211 million, while sales dropped 2.5 per cent to just over £2 billion. Taveta Investments, derived £1.7bn of revenue from the UK in 2016. That marked a fall from £2.2bn a year earlier, although up to £370m of that related to discontinued operations such as BHS, which was sold in 2015.
That’s a huge drop of £500 million or £130 million, if you take out BHS. That’s still a lot of clothes not sold.
So, what do we think has happened at Topman? Is it a case of these runs can’t go on forever and or is it something more serious?
One things for certain, it’s much more competitive than when Topman started out on its journey. Whether selling fashion or basics, there is much more choice, both offline and online.
Did they over expand? We know that Australia has struggled, with their franchise partner going into receivership recently, and the big push into America hasn’t really stuck as they don't seem to understand how fashionable us Brits are. American teens, in many cities, have nowhere to wear this kind of stuff.
Right - Has Topman peaked and how can they get their spark back?
Did it get too expensive? With labels like ‘Topman Design’ pushing the upper price points there is a perception that Topman was expensive, especially when compared to other high-street retailers. I’ve spoken to mums of teenage boys who say they leave Topman until last on a shopping trip as it’s usually the more expensive.
Topman’s buyers never committed to ‘Topman Design’. We had the shows, we had the collections, but when it hit the stores or online it was very bitty. They’d only make the trousers of a suit, for example, or items that didn’t really go with each other and the pricing was into three figures.
I think Topman has fallen into that gap of not being fashionable enough and not being cheap enough on basics and is falling into the void in the middle. They’ve lost the energy to ASOS, Boohoo and New Look.
I think there was a case of Topman believing their own hype too. You can’t afford to be arrogant in fashion and thinking you’re the coolest kid on the block, because things move fast and this will quickly bite you on the arse. The campaigns were a little too editorial and not relatable enough.
Fashions have changed too. Topman practically owned the skinny, three-piece suit and was selling volumes of a more expensive product. Now, the kids want sportswear and retro looking basics. It’s not the go-to place anymore. It’s lost its USP.
What are they doing? They’ve hired David Hagglund, known within fashion circles for founding a Stockholm-based creative agency which includes H&M and Hugo Boss as clients. He was also art director at Vogue Paris. David Hagglund is replacing Ms Phelan - Topshop head creative - and Mr Richardson in a 'newly created position' of creative director across both Topman and Topshop. Is combining Topman and Topshop a good idea? Or is this further cost cutting? It’s interesting they’ve given this important job to an Art Director type and it’ll be interesting to see whether Topman will get as much focus as Topshop. I doubt it.
The danger is, as they wobble they go safer, which is the wrong direction. Admittedly, Australia is having problems and America isn’t as fashionable as Europe, but young men want fashion and know it. Brands like ASOS and Boohoo are really pushing it, New Look has got a hell of a lot better and newness is the drug on the high-street.
Topman Design became a bit formulaic and they need to commit to it or scrap it. I think they’re going to find it hard to get that spark back. It’s very hard to do when you’ve lost it, but they’ve done it once before, so why not again.
There’s the juxtaposition between men’s basic and fashion led clothing. Basics are so competitive and difficult to make money from unless you’re doing huge volumes and buying basics from Topman is, well, a bit basic. Maybe they should leave that to Primark and Uniqlo and stick to making fashion.
I think they need to think more inclusive and not try to be too cool without losing the trends. Look what happened to American Apparel when they tried that achingly cool model. You need to be the coolest of the mainstream and, especially in Britain, have fun with it.
I think what we’ll see is, as leases run out, stores will close and they’ll be a renewed focus and growth of online. Topman needs to tighten up its collection and re-educate guys about what they do. As fashion cycles move, they need to aim for a new USP and focus on that. You can't be all things to all people today.
Note - A friend just mentioned on Facebook about the 'Philip Green Effect' and people boycotting his brands due to his handling of the sale of BHS and the hole in the pension fund. This could definitely be having an effect on Topman as many people are aware that he is the owner.
I think we all know how competitive it is at the lower end of the clothing market. But, it was an e-mail, a few weeks ago, from Marks & Spencer that really summed up where we are. It was announcing their new range of men’s ‘Quick Dry Swim Shorts’, all pretty standard for this time of year, but it was the price that caught my eye. A bargain £10! This is cheaper than Topman, cheaper than River Island and even New Look. It’s certainly cheap for M&S and, then, you realise all the retailers are busy racing to the bottom.
What this means is, in order for those companies to make money, they need to shift a hell of a lot of product. British retailers are currently playing a game of poker, holding their hand i.e. keeping prices low, waiting for their competitors to fold.
Left - Pep&Co at Poundland SS17
But, if this game wasn’t tough enough, new competition is entering the market which will only increase pressure on those margins and unsustainable volumes.
For example, Poundland has entered the clothing market. Their in-house brand, Pep&Co, launched into stores in March this year.
They've already opened over 50 Poundland shop-in-shops with another 50 or so planned for the second half of 2017. The chain, which was bought by the South African group Steinhoff International, expects to put Pep&Co clothing outlets in up to 200 of its 850 stores over the longer term.
Pep&Co was founded by Andy Bond, who once ran Asda’s George clothing label, with backing from the South African tycoon and Steinhoff shareholder Christo Wiese.
The first shop opened in Kettering, Northamptonshire, in July 2015 and the chain opened its first 50 stores in less than two months.
If people are wearing Poundland, it means they aren’t wearing another brand. This isn’t about sneering at this end of the market, it’s about wondering who will go out of business first. It's unsustainable.
The market is saturated and these business models only work if you can order huge volumes and shift it fast.
This is new competition for all the supermarket brands plus Peacocks and Primark and traditional high-street retailers like M&S and Debenhams are more keenly pricing their offering. Add discount brands such as TK Maxx and the neverending discounts and sales and you have an environment that is harder to make profit in.
Consumers are being squeezed with higher inflation and low wages and are generally satisfied with cheaper clothes. They can't or don't want to pay more.
Then add the internet, with Boohoo offering bargain fashion-led clothing and websites such as EverythingFivePounds, where everything is, literally, five pounds, and you have the perfect storm to implode some of the giants of the British high-street. Arcadia, the owner of Topman, is already seeing revenues fall and Topman is looking increasingly expensive against the competition.
In this game of pound wars poker, who will run out of chips and fold first?
Left - Louis Vuitton? No, Everythingfivepounds - £5
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
Another year, another crop of prestigious ChicGeek Awards. Fashion years are longer than dog years, crammed full of so much celebrity, business and unpredictability, it feels like a never-ending rollercoaster of stylish ups and downs.
And, what a stylish year 2015 was. This was the year the Apple Watch arrived, Gucci became cool again and the British high-street took over the world. Here’s what TheChicGeek rated for 2015:
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Best Label of 2015 - GUCCI
Creative directors of fashion brands get replaced all the time. They come and go quicker than many football managers, but without as much drama! Historical Italian house, Gucci, was crying out for a fresh injection of ideas for a very long time, but it’s the speed and quality of the turnaround that has made it TheChicGeek’s Label of the Year.
Thanks to Alessandro Michele, the new Creative Director, it completed an 180 degree turnaround into the ultimate geek-chic look of fantasy dressing within one and a half seasons. Gone was the obviously sexual to something that is sophisticated, clever and interesting.
When you’re the world’s second largest luxury goods company and you decide to change this drastically, it has a huge global influence. I was just pleasantly surprised how radical and comprehensive it has been.
His first collection (AW15) of androgyny had many of us thinking "we’ve seen this before", but it’s the subsequent Cruise collections, campaigns and store refurbishments that has cemented this new look of vintage maximalism.
Gucci has become the buzziest label of late and looks set to continue its dominance. Unfortunately, high-street menswear isn’t copying it straight away, but expect to see details and influences in the coming few months. You can always add a simple grosgrain ribbon to your silk shirt!
A double GG belt buckle hasn’t been this cool since the 90s, but this one is in a more delicate font finished in vintage brass.
Gucci has added much needed excitement back into fashion, but there are so many ideas in each collection I’m scared there aren’t enough ideas to go around. Let’s just hope it doesn’t run out of steam anytime soon. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.
Best New Label of 2015 - DANIEL W. FLETCHER
Selling designer menswear is a difficult business. Men with deep enough pockets are traditionally conservative and those with the will often don’t have the way. So, any new designer menswear label that appears has to be admired.
A new menswear label that caught my eye was Daniel W. Fletcher. Originally from Chester, the brand was founded shortly after Daniel finished at Central Saint Martins, this year, after studying Fashion Design: Menswear, and his graduate collection was picked up by Opening Ceremony who will be the exclusive stockist of a capsule of 8 pieces from this first SS16 collection.
The collection - Peckham Pony Club - is a reaction to the gentrification and re-development of urban space in London. The writings of Ruth Glass and witnessing first hand the gentrification of London neighbourhoods inspired a collection which aims to capture the essence of the urban gentry which Glass defined.
Peckham, in South-East London, provided a backdrop for a collection which reflects the mix of cultures and styles as a result of socio-economic change, whilst highlighting the effects of regeneration schemes and the displacement of long term residents.
Featuring shaved mink collars, silk pyjama shirts and stretch leggings in a palette of baby blue, white and black, it has a retro-futurism quality with humorous touches with the ‘Peckham Pony Club’ branding. I’m wearing a look in a forthcoming OOTD and it sure beats all those Peckham hipsters in their Barbour jackets.
Best High Street of 2015 - NEW LOOK
After a few false starts, this was the year New Look’s menswear finally made it into the pantheon of men’s British high-street retailers. Menswear became a new focus of their business with 4 standalone men’s stores opening across the UK and another 20 are planned for the new year.
The collections became more trend lead and sophisticated with some of the best suede pieces I’d seen this season regardless of price point.
New Look menswear grew up without losing its youthful side and became a bonafide menswear player in what must be the most competitive affordable menswear market in the world.
As if we weren’t spoilt enough with affordable menswear retailers, in 2015 New Look became another great place to find well-fitted, affordable and fashionable menswear.
Best Grooming Product 2015 - GILLETTE FUSION PROGLIDE FLEXBALL RAZOR
Razor brands often herald something ‘new’ with great fanfare when in fact it’s the same old tired concept in a new colour way or they’ve added more blades. Revolutionary.
Gillette, this year, really did come up with something new and it works.
It’s a simple concept really - a sprung ball that can move up, down and sideways following the different contours of the face.
The FlexBall is a little bit like the Dyson of the shaving world allowing for ease of movement and a close, safer shave.
When the hipsters rediscover shaving again they’ll be pleased to know it’s got a lot easier and more comfortable since they last did it thanks to this.
Best Grooming Brand 2015 - KIEHL’S
American grooming brand, Kiehl’s, seemed to have the most innovation this year. Admittedly, a lot of it was unisex, but it still introduced me to facial oils and leave on overnight masks.
Kiehl’s has cornered the market in that pharmacy stroke skincare brand with attractive stores and simple yet recognisable packaging. They’ve expanded yet still managed to keep it cult.
I also particularly liked the Peter Max psychedelic makeover they gave their packaging for Christmas 2015.
Most Stylish Man 2015 - HARRY STYLES
Harry gets an A for effort. A stylist can take a star to water, but they certainly can’t make them drink. Harry took a tall glass of water, this year, with his floral suits from Gucci and silk pyjama shirts from Daniel W. Fletcher (above).
He’s owning that Saint Laurent/Gucci rocker look that is one part timeless and one part contemporary. It’s a tough ask being the new Mick Jagger, but it needs to come easy especially when it comes to the clothes.
He’s been cleverly distancing himself from the rest of One Direction and using his wardrobe and hair to do this. While not every outfit hits the mark, it’s the experimentation and interest that he gets TheChicGeek recognition for.
Best Fragrance 2015 - DUNHILL ICON
This was an early release in the year. dunhill ICON opens with top notes of Italian bergamot and neroli absolute intertwine with a black pepper, fusing the mid notes of cardamom lavender de Provence.
The dunhill brand was given a refresh by new designer John Ray and this was the first fragrance to complement that. The advertising for this matched the advertising for the main brand. The bottle perfectly reflected dunhill’s art-deco heritage while the fragrance was mainstream yet sophisticated and wearable.
It sits up there with Mont Blanc Legend. A modern classic.
Most Stylish Film 2015 - CRIMSON PEAK
Director Guillermo Del Toro’s spooky, gothic thriller Crimson Peak gets TheChicGeek award because of its attention to detail. While the beginning American section is a little bit Titanic, the rest is a visual feast in high-Victorian gothic.
Costume designer, Kate Hawley, fills the film with late Victorian menswear and while it does take a back-seat to the women’s costumes, it adds to the many layers of this visual feast of incest and gory mass murders.
Best Menswear Collaboration 2015 - MONCLER A
Menswear is suffering from something that I can only describe as ‘Collaboration Fatigue’, right now, so this year wasn’t as perky as it once was in the world of collaborations.
One that caught my eye was Moncler A. A Wes Anderson like exaggeration of logos and colours, Moncler A is tie-up with AMI, founded in 2011 by Parisian menswear designer Alexandre Mattiussi.
Playing with the tricolour palette - red, white and blue - of Moncler, Moncler A was a tasteful and handsome take on Moncler’s outerwear classics.
Special ChicGeek Award 2015 - CILLA BLACK
What’s Cilla Black doing on TheChicGeek Awards, you may ask, but she was instrumental in one of the most exciting periods of British menswear.
Savile Row tailor Tommy Nutter and master cutter Edward Sexton teamed up and opened ‘Nutters’ on Savile Row in 1969, and was financially backed by British pop singer Cilla Black and Beatles’ executive Peter Brown.
She introduced the label to her long-standing friends, the Beatles, three of them are wearing Tommy Nutter on the cover of Abbey Road and others within her pop-star circle.
This was and still is the most influential of 1960s tailors and gave rise to the Peacock Revolution and the huge lapelled and flared suits of the 1970s.
Her friendship and financial support of Tommy Nutter left us with one of the most exciting episodes of 20th century menswear. I bet she has left one of the best vintage collections of Tommy Nutter.