As we end the decade, it’s time to look back at the highs (& low) of its final year and acknowledge those doing great things in men’s grooming and fashion. Hype is still just as important and the mega brands just keep getting bigger, but the great thing about fashion, and the reason I love it, is good ideas can come from anywhere.
Here’s to 2020 being the year of the Fashion Wanker - BUY TheChicGeek's new book - FASHIONWANKERS - HERE and owning it. Remember, it takes one to know one!
Best Label of 2019 Bottega Veneta
Just as Gucci starts to slow, Kering has Bottega Veneta creating all the hype thanks to it’s new British designer Daniel Lee. A graduate of Central Saint Martins College of Art, he has worked at Maison Margiela, Balenciaga and Donna Karan. Prior to joining Bottega Veneta, Lee was Director of Ready-to-Wear Design at Céline and he’s created a strict yet sexy reinterpretation of the Bottega Veneta signatures such as their basket weave leather.
It cools yet strict, minimal yet interesting and its influence is now everywhere.
Left - Bottega Veneta SS20
Best New Label of 2019 Carne Bollente
Carne Bollente is an independent Paris-based brand established in 2014 by Hijiri Endo,
Théodore Famery and Agoston Palinko. They focus on the relationship between sex and positivity, to allow people to embrace their own sexuality and kinks through their clothes. By pairing straightforward streetwear staples with scenic sex illustrations, which manage to cover a wide scope of sexual taboos without verging on the problematic, Carne Bollente inject irreverence and provocation into no-frills basics.
Left - Carne Bollente - Bimbo Unchained 2 Blue Denim Jacket - €230
Best High Street of 2019 Jaded London
The High-Street became something of a dirty word this year. It’s tough out there and menswear has been hit harder than most. While some brands ditched menswear entirely, others have taken the plunge and really gone for it.
Fun and affordable, Jaded London gets on all the big trends without the price tags. The made for Insta clothes are by brother and sister team, Grant and Jade Goulden, who launched in 2013. Dior Saddle bag for £40, anyone?
Best Grooming Product 2019 GilletteLabs
This year we were introduced to the first heated razor and its good. Part of the new ‘GilletteLabs’ stable, the stainless steel warming bar has adjustable temperature levels and a wireless magnetic charging dock to make this a revolutionary shaving sensation. Much higher than the usual Gillette price tag, it will be interesting to see how popular this has been.
Left - GilletteLabs - Heated Razor - £199
Best Grooming Brand 2019 Baxter of California
It’s getting increasing difficult to stand out in the crowded men’s grooming market and with everybody jumping on the unisex band wagon anyway, where does it leave it? Baxter of California now has the expertise of L’Oréal behind it and is a reliable mid-priced grooming brand. Based on its Californian surf heritage since 1965, it was one of the first in men’s grooming. For an everyday easy product I swear by the Oil Free Moisturiser.
Below - Baxter of California - Oil Free Moisturiser - £24
Fragrance of the Year 2019 - Ostens Impression Patchouli Heart No.1
Ostens was a new fragrance brand this year and completely won me over to patchouli.
This scent by Domitille Michalon-Bertier includes rosemary, lavandin, lavender absolute, immortelle absolute LMR, ciste labdanum absolute and is gorgeous. Easily my favourite of the year.
Left - Ostens Impression Patchouli Heart IFF-LMR No. 1 - 50ml - £85
Most Stylish Programme 2019 - Chernobyl
Possibly not the most stylish, but definitely the most memorable and impactful. Chernobyl took us on a jaw-dropping adventure in 1980s Ukraine charting the meltdown of the nuclear reactor. The wardrobe of drab Soviet suiting and military garments seemed to bookend the current trend of vintage dress down.
Best Menswear Collaboration 2019 - Moncler Genius
Moncler did the clever thing for our short attention span times and commissioned a new designer to do a new collection every few weeks and keep dropping throughout the season. Designers have included Craig Green, Simone Rocha, Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino, Richard Quinn, 1017 Alyx 9SM and Palm Angels, along with two of the brand’s own labels, 1952 and Grenoble.
It has kept it fresh, reliable and is producing some of the best outerwear to suit every fashion wanker’s taste.
Left - Craig Green Moncler Genius
Special ChicGeek Award 2019 - Drake’s
Charting its own preppy course, Drake’s has stealthy positioned itself as the bastion of contemporary classic British menswear. The new store on Savile Row shows they’re continued success and with Michael Hill’s tasteful eye over everything, it’s the most colourful quality menswear you’re going to find anywhere. Expanded far beyond its original silk ties and accessorises, it’s now a full men’s outfitters and the type of British label the Japanese and Koreans go crazy for.
Right - Drake's new Savile Row store
Most Stylish Man of 2019 Timothée Chalamet
A best dressed person is somebody you can’t wait to see what they put on next. Anybody who leaves you guessing and then smashing it out of the park is always the most interesting and therefore crowned best dressed.
This year I recognise Timothée Chalamet who famously said he doesn’t have a stylist. “I don’t want to work with a stylist or anything. I’ve been following designers like Raf, Haider Ackermann, Hedi Slimane—these guys are like rock stars. They’re artists.” he told Frank Ocean in a Q&A for VMan magazine in 2018.
Hi skinny frame and romantic locks have made him a youthful menswear pin-up who isn’t afraid to try something new.
Turkey of 2019 - Burberry
I just don’t get it. Riccardo Tisci has stripped all the personality out of Burberry. Rather than building on Christopher Bailey’s legacy and momentum, he seems intent on doing the opposite. Prices have gone up and the original ideas have gone down. It all just looks like it’s trying too hard and doesn’t have any identity.
It’s seems intent on ignoring the hero product of the trench and opting for gimmicks. If the Chinese stop buying, they’re going to need to change things quickly. It will be interesting to see whether sales are sustained at a label that has lost its kudos amongst the fashion crowd.
Burberry - Large Logo and Kingdom Detail Nevis Backpack - £1090
Each Ostens ‘Impression’ is a fragrance created as an ode to a single inspirational ingredient. Here is patchouli. Melting wax. The resinous dust from a violin’s bow. Crushed biscuits, cooked molasses. Old bricks, decorative tiles, worn stone floors are just some of the references said to be conjured up by this scent by Domitille Michalon-Bertier. Other notes include rosemary, lavandin, lavender absolute, immortelle absolute LMR and ciste labdanum absolute.
TheChicGeek says, “Ostens is a new fragrance company - see more here - and they’re starting with one quality ingredient and asking perfumers to create fragrances around it. Here, everything rides on a classic patchouli heart without its earthiness.
This is addictively good. I’m getting a lot of incense and wooden church pews, but without that screaming and clawing depth you get from some niche fragrances. This is a gorgeous patchouli and very easy to wear. It's one of my favourite fragrances of the year so far and it's the kind of fragrance you want to say to everybody 'smell me'."
Left - Ostens Impression Patchouli Heart IFF-LMR No. 1 - 50ml - £85
Disclosure - A sample was gifted by Ostens
The biggest retail opening of 2018 was Coal Drops Yard in Kings Cross. This former Victorian railway sidings for coal coming into London from the north has been transformed, thanks to Thomas Heatherwick, into a contemporary retail destination.
Left - Koibird in Marylebone
While the kissing roofs are elegant and memorable, the rest of the development is less inspiring. The brand list is the type concocted by an architect who is shopping like a design magazine rather than the realities of retail in 2019. It feels a bit 10 years ago and doesn’t acknowledge the recent Guccification of the world. We really doesn’t need anymore boring “designer” shops.
A case in point is the Paul Smith store. Housed in the former Bagley’s nightclub, you’d expect some sort of crazy ecstasy interior: testament to the many clubbers who wore Paul Smith on the dance floor. But, no. There’s even a white wall.
It’s 2019 and we’re in the “Age of Bonkers” when it comes to retail and if a shop doesn’t have you reaching for your phone to take a picture straight away then they’re clearly doing something wrong. Retail needs to wow, it needs to shock, it needs to entertain, otherwise you can get everything else online.
You need people to mouth “that’s cool” when they walk in or see something, especially when you’re trying to create a destination, as is the case here. This isn’t need: this is visitor attraction with the hope of souvenirs purchased. It’s that excitement and rush of shoppers' adrenaline that makes people glad they left the house. It’s not just about being conceptual, it’s about fun, wit and being relatable and current.
We often forget how experimental retail once was. From the Victorian pioneers of the department store to the independent boutiques of the 60s to the cool minimalism of the 90s and this was all pre-internet. Now, it’s more important than ever to give physical retail a fighting chance and bonkers it should be.
Examples include Koibird in Marylebone and Gentle Monster, the Korean eyewear brand, who opened their first UK store on Soho’s Argyll Street last year, both creating and refreshing interiors that stimulate and keep people coming back.
The Koibird store recently closed for two months while the interior was changed from their beach concept to their ski store. Founder, Belma Gaudio, established Koibird out of her frustrations of not being able to find clothes to match her holiday destinations. The new ski concept is another instagrammable interior featuring the colourfully rounded Koibird “K”. “Koibird is on a mission to inject some much needed playfulness into skiwear.” Gaudio told British Vogue when she recently unveiled it.
Right - Gentle Monster Argyll Street, Soho
Gentle Monster, a Korean sunglasses and optical glasses brand founded by Hankook Kim, was established in Seoul in 2011. “I wanted the products to look as if they were being exhibited.” said Kim in 2016. Today, they have over 40 stores worldwide and employ 6 people to design its eyewear compared to 60 people to design the store visuals. This shows the priority of their interiors within the company and the Seoul flagship is transformed every 25 days.
While these types of continual makeovers can be expensive, it can also be minimised with enough imagination. This is the traditional idea of changing windows becoming a fully immersive and experiential retail experience.
Fragrance is something physical and as such, Ostens, a new perfume brand by Laurent Delafon and Christopher Yu, has created a pop-up store in Marylebone, to showcase its debut. Open until the end of February, it is an abstract showcase of their new brand.
“We love Gentle Monster, we love spaces that drag you in , that speak to your curiosity. And this is the main idea behind Ostens: olfactive curiosity and discovery through the exploration of the ingredients.” says Delafon.
“So, we set up the space in 3 distinct areas, part of ‘journey’ taking you from the ingredient to the perfume: the Rose oil from Isparta, in the neon lit front room, magnified and presented like an objet d’art.” he says.
"All the rooms are appealing, they are fun, they are instagramable, and they are attracting people that wouldn’t necessarily been attracted by a ‘normal’ perfume shop.” says Delafon. “If you create spaces that are enjoyable, exciting and surprising places for your consumers to interact with the brand, you enhance their experience, and you make the whole purchasing act much more than simply about the product.” he says.
“The idea is to change the whole set-up of the store every two months. Like an art gallery would change its exhibitions. We intend to move Ostens to a central location, where the store will be more of a white box in which we will be able to rotate sculptures, videos installations, theatre sets, interactive displays..To parody Magritte…’this is not a perfume shop’!” says Delafon.
Left - New fragrance brand, Ostens, launching with a bonkers pop-up shop in Marylebone
Retailers are fighting for people’s time. You need something to grab people’s attention, make them stop and have a desire to enter and explore. Half the battle is getting your product in front of people, then at least you have a chance of a sale.
The home page on Koibird’s website reads “Never Boring…” and this is exactly how physical retail needs to think.