It’s subjective, I know, but if you’ve bought something from a ‘luxury’ brand, recently, you will probably notice the quality isn’t quite what it once was. On the unstoppable growth trajectory of higher prices and sales, the quality hasn’t stayed consistent: no doubt increasing already inflated margins.
I’m not naive, I understand you pay a premium for a designer name or brand, but there was always a minimum quality to the product, leaving you, the customer, satisfied and at least without the feeling of being ripped off.
I’ll give you an example. I bought one of those new GG buckle Gucci belts online, 18 months ago. I hadn’t felt it, or seen it, I just ordered it online. It was a simple black belt after all. You think you know what will arrive.
What turned up felt like a free pleather school belt. I’m not being facetious, but there was no quality there. When you’re charging £250 and you can’t even offer a decent strip of leather to take the strain of holding your trousers up, there’s clearly something wrong.
Why didn’t I send it back? When it arrived at home, in insolation, seduced by the packaging, and Gucci was so-hot-right-now, you just shrug your shoulders and think, "okay, so it’s not the best, but it’s what I wanted and it’s cool ATM". (Damn you hype!)
It’s when I look back, and think about that belt, I feel, that if I’d handled and seen it in the shop, I probably wouldn’t have bought it in the first place. I would have felt the quality and moved on.
And, so to my theory - the growth of online is allowing mainstream luxury brands to get away with lower quality products. Consumers are more accepting in their own homes, they have nothing to compare it to at the time and the thought and hassle of sending something back is making people keep things they wouldn’t have necessarily bought in a physical store.
“Shopping is very much a human multi-sensory experience so it follows that we want to use as many of our senses. Emotion plays the dominant role in our buying decisions so the in-store experience will always be far superior to the online experience. As Boxpark MD Roger Wade put it ‘Shopping online is like watching fireworks on TV’ says Andrew Busby, Founder & CEO of Retail Reflections.
There’s no doubt online has contributed to the massive growth of these brands, whether on their own websites or third parties. Last year Gucci’s online sales posted triple-digit growth on their branded website and that’s without all the other online retailers. Gucci didn’t hit €6.2 billion turnover in 2017 on physical stores alone.
“This all depends on your definition of ‘Mainstream Luxury’. The word ‘Luxury’ is banded around all too often. True luxury is confined, generally, to bricks and mortar shopping, hence the resistance of major houses to enter the online market. When I consider ‘Luxury’ I think of brands such as LV, Chanel, Loewe etc,” says Darren Skey, Founder/Director of Nieuway Limited, and former Head of Menswear at Harvey Nichols.
“I wouldn’t class brands such as Off White, Amiri, Vetements as ‘Luxury’. What we are seeing is the luxury brands such as Loewe and LV seeing the growth potential of hype products and as such are designing products with this in mind. This leads to more quantity produced and a lower quality, compared to their main ranges, Fashion details are hard to produce on a large scale. Unfortunately, there is no correlation in price reductions, as you would expect with economies of scale,” says Skey.
It’s hard to prove this point, but it’s an interesting factor to think about. Net-a-Porter group recently introduced a new service for their “Extremely Important People”, where the delivery person waits to see whether you want the item or not, after they deliver it. It’s an instant reaction to the item(s) and it would be interesting to know whether this has increased or decreased returns. Obviously, they want the latter.
Quality is subjective and brands vary. But I think we’re seeing an overarching trend towards higher margins and lower quality from brands trying to still offer ‘luxury’ and compete with other brands’ stratospheric growth in turnovers.
There’s also a generational shift to think about. Since 2016, the global luxury market has grown by 5%, with 85% of this growth generated by Millennials according to a report by A LINE, a global branding & design studio. These younger consumers don't have as much experience and product to compare the quality to and brands are taking advantage of this.
“The expectation of the younger consumer is also changing and I think this is an interesting observation. For the younger consumers it is more important to have the latest hype piece regardless of the quality. And, as we know, the majority of the Millennials shop online,” says Skey.
Brands have made it easier to return products, but unless it’s the wrong size or nothing like pictured, I think people are more accepting in terms of quality.
“I don't think that shoppers are unwilling to send things back once purchased online. Fashion is not cheap and I don't believe we are in an economy where this can be an option. I also think retailers are making the process of sending product back easier,” says Skey.
‘I am predicting a backlash to the returns culture we are currently witnessing - both from retailers and environmentalists. The average returned purchase in the UK passes through seven pairs of hands before it is listed for resale. According to Iain Prince, supply chain director at KPMG, "It can cost double the amount for a product to be returned into the supply chain as it does to deliver it”.’ says Busby.
What brands have to remember: when you’re not cool or hot anymore, the thing that will keep consumers returning is quality. This lowering of quality is short-termism and greedy and will ultimately be a big factor is diminishing future sales and brand loyalty.
I’ve also written about brands which offer great value, like Fiorucci. here
Paris men's is the home of the big fashion hitters and it didn't disappoint for AW18:
Thought leather trousers were just for the Hoff?! Think again. Leather shakes off its stereotypical rockstar image and gets smart enough for business attire.
From Far - Dunhill, Paul Smith, Hermès, Berluti, Ami, Wooyoungmi, Cerruti, Louis Vuitton
Once the sole preserve of Moncler wearing European language students, the ultra shiny puffer is the future of cold weather jackets.
Left - Dunhill
Why have one boring layer when you can have three colourful layers all showing at the same time? Rollneck, polo shirt and tank. Tick, tick, tick!
Both - Kenzo
Male Floral Twinsets
If you're going to wear a twinset, it may as well be covered with flowers.
Below - Both Kenzo
This is the season for reflection with silver accessorises. From bags to boots, choose something you can see yourself in, literally.
From Far Left - Dunhill, Kenzo, Lanvin, Louis Vuitton
No animals were harmed in the making of these. It’s not supposed to real or fake, but fun.
From Far Left - Kenzo, Pigalle, Sacai, Kenzo
Big shoulders and longer jackets continues to push the tailoring boundaries.
From Left - Kenzo, Wooyoungmi
Look like walking Matchesfashion.com packaging!
From Left - Louis Vuitton, Dries van Noten
Yves Klein blue is the bold, primary accent colour of the season.
Below - Officine Generale, Hermes, Acne, Facetasm
The AW18 colour of the season.
From Left - Paul Smith, Facetasm, Paul Smith
Boxer Waisted Short
A true boxer worn high over the hips.
Left - SSS World Corp
PVC, trust me, is the material and finish of the season. Black bin bag? Yes, please!
From Far Left - Balmain, Acne, Wooyoungmi, Louis Vuitton, CMMN SWDN, Haider Ackermann, Walter van Beirendonck, GMBH
The worst wash, in the worst cut. Hello, new jean.
From Far Left - Dior Homme, Vetements, Vetements, Wooyoungmi, Cerruti, Louis Vuitton, Facetasm, GMBH
Landscape Poster Knits
JW Anderson may have done this first, but I still like it.
Both - Hermes
Game of Thrones Coats
Jon Snow way?! Look like a warrior
Left - Alexander McQueen
This is granny mac territory, and I love it!
Below both - Maison Margeila
Don't over think this. Just turn your coat inside out.
From Left - Vetements, Maison Margiela
Weak calves?! This could be your winter leg solution.
Below - All Thom Browne
When the Queen unexpectedly rocked up at London Fashion Week, yesterday, it merely cemented the trend. Admittedly, she wasn’t wearing one, she needs a Barbour gilet and a horse for starters, but it’s one of her iconic looks.
Far Left - Vetements AW18, Left - HRH
The silk head scarf has now entered the realm of menswear. So, just when you were getting your head around, literally, the beret, TheChicGeek called this in 2015, now, it’s time for something new and silky.
Seen on the catwalk at Vetements - they clearly know this will be a product that will fly, I dread to think how much they'll be charging for theirs - and MSGM, a year earlier in Milan.
Look for great secondhand silks in vintage or charity shops or opt for the best at Hermès, Turnbull & Asser, Drake's or Liberty.
Left - Both MSGM AW17
Right - The Queen is partial to an Hermès scarf
Left - Vetements AW18
Left - Hermès - Centered Rhyme de Elaine Lustig Cohen - £330
Below - Drake’s - Rust Large Paisley 40oz Ancient Madder Silk Scarf - £395
Left - Gucci - Wolf-Print GG Supreme Silk-Twill Scarf - £310 from Matchesfashion.com
Below - Liberty London - Lodden 45 x 45 Silk Neckerchief - £70
We haven’t had a big fabric trend in menswear for a while now. Gone are the days when colours or fabrics would become ubiquitous for that season and every store and brand would toe the same line. But, there are exceptions, and corduroy is having a good stab at bringing itself back.
Lead by Prada, corduroy, in all its brushed softness, is perfect when coming in the reds and rusts of autumn. A tactile fabric, corduroy is hardwearing and can flit between casual and smart in all its bookish charm.
I love the fact the Germans called corduroy “Manchester” which was the home of “Cottonopolis” and a major manufacturer of corduroy for many years.
Left - Prada Menswear AW17
Corduroy can add bulk so be carefully when choosing a shape or style. For something cooler and more casual look for jeans jackets with matching trousers. I really like what the Spanish brand Lois are doing.
Below - Good News - Rhubarb Tan High - £60
Left - Lois Jeans - Jumbo Cord Brown Corduroy Jacket - £95, Dallas Jumbo Brown Corduroy Trousers - £65 from Stuarts London
Below - Vetements - Darted-Knee Cotton-Corduroy Trousers - £1200 from matchesfashion.com
Left - Drake’s - Single-Breasted Green Cotton Cord Jacket - £595, Green Cotton Cord Suit Trousers - £255
Below - Junya Watanabe - Cotton-Corduroy Baseball Cap - £130 from matchesfashion.com
Left- Prada - Slim-Fit Leather-Trimmed Cotton-Corduroy Suit Jacket - £1805 from MRPORTER.COM
Left - Jigsaw - Garment Dye Corduroy Button Down Shirt - £79
Below - ASOS - Tapered Cord Trousers In Rust - £30
Left - Marks & Spencer - Straight Fit Corduroy Trousers With Stretch - £35
Guys, listen up. As you’re probably wearing trainers or sneakers, right now, you’ll probably want to know the direction your next pair is coming from. Think of the worst pair you can imagine, double it and then sprinkle on another cup of ugly and you’re there.
Left - Vetements X Reebok Instapump Fury Canvas Trainers - £610 from matchesfashion.com
Gone are those minimal, sleek cup-soles, that have, let’s be honest, had a good run for their money, to be replaced by the fugliest fuckers to hit the pavement.
Right - Raf Simons X Adidas Ozweego III Low-Top Trainers - £285
This is all part of our addiction to bad 90s style and everything of dubious taste. You better start planning the rest of the outfit!
Below Right - Eytys - Angel Low-Top Chunky-Sole Leather Trainers - £265
Below - Nike Air More Uptempo Triple Black - £140
I recently went to Berlin, for their fashion week, which is dominated by two trade shows, Seek and Premium. I know Berlin is the city of the young hipster wanker and far from the bourgeois idea of fashion. Always has been. But, watching a young guy in adidas trackie bottoms, an old tour T-shirt tucked in and a fake looking GG monogrammed Gucci hat, it’s pretty clear that fashion, ATM, is looking like ‘cool crap’.
Pioneered here, but spreading: it’s about found, second-hand, vintage, charity and everything that is the opposite about looking expensive and ‘designery’.
Left 'Pensive Crap' at Seek in Berlin - Cap - J Crew, Sunglasses - Vintage Gucci, Top - Umbro
It’s been coming a while, and it’s something the fashion industry struggles with, because making something shiny and new is what they are used to. Plus, why buy something brand new when you want it to look old?
It’s about mass produced old items looking old. This isn’t the Gucci idea of decadent vintage. That’s over.
I know Italian brands have been doing ‘pre-distressed’ for donkey’s, and it’s always looked a bit crap. Ripped jeans, anybody? But, it was interesting to see brands, such as Pony and Valsport, doing options of trainers looking like you’ve been wearing them for months.
Right - Pony distressed for SS18
Even if you buy something new, you style it in a way which looks old and not cared about. Maybe that’s why we’re seeing collaborations such as Louis Vuitton and Supreme in order for these brands to look less expensive, even though the prices say something else.
Some brands only know how to do new and this is leading to people raiding wardrobes and rediscovering things they used to wear or asking parents for their old sportswear. Hoping they've hoarded it.
Menswear is really experimenting in this area and the worry of looking bad is over, as that’s really the point. It’s about looking like an America tourist from 1985 or a post-Soviet Russian, aping western brands, circa 1994.
Could be a hard sell, or no sell at all, and this certainly won’t help the struggling fashion industry.
Below - Valsport SS18 worn look, Never too old for Vetements SS18
It's always this side of winter that the parka comes into its own. The default sub-zero style, the parka has become the trusted companion to many a fashionisto. But, there's a new way to wear it:
Go big and don't go home! There’s oversized and then there’s oversized and the designers, this season, have really blown-up the parka. Wear it big, wear it slouchy and if anybody asks, say "Demna made it for me!".
If you can't afford a Raf Simons, buy a generously filled high-street version a couple of sizes bigger. You can thank me later.
Left - Raf Simons - Men’s Oversized Down Quilted Jacket In Black & Yellow From LN-CC
Right - Balenciaga FW16
Left - Parka London - ‘Lever’ Oversized Fishtail Parka
Left - Vetements - Red Canada Goose Edition Down Parka From SSense
Happy New Year, Chic Geeks. What a year. Fashion years are a bit like dog years, so much happens and so much is forgotten about, while other things, unpredictably, have such an impact and filter out into the mainstream. Here's what I can remember from 2016. Tweet me your thoughts on #TheChicGeekAwards
Best Label of 2016 - Loewe
There weren’t many labels to rival Gucci this year, and while I (still) love it, I wanted to recognise something else. J W Anderson creates ‘fashion’ which is becoming harder and harder to find these days. Being the head of the Spanish label, Loewe, pronounced Loo-wavay, it has allowed his ideas to be polished with their skills in leather goods and skins.
He has created a clean high-fashion label out of Loewe, it’s almost like a male Celine, but with touches of humour and seasonal difference which gives it life without being too gimmicky and themed. If only we could afford it. He’s done such a good job here it wouldn’t be a surprise if he got the top job at Louis Vuitton, eventually.
Best New Label of 2016 - Gosha Rubchinskiy
‘Designing’ since 2008, this Russian designer is part of the non-fashion, sportswear trend that infiltrated the po-faced - read East London - side of fashion, this year. While he didn’t create anything new, he subverted like a professional and hit the sweet spot when it came to pricing the designer market. There’s a real market for affordable designer clothes and the Comme backed Gosha is cleaning up with his sweatshirts and skater style pieces. We’re spending more time in the gym and this is being reflected in our clothes and this is where it meets high-fashion with a side order of 80s charity shop.
Best High Street of 2016 - ASOS
With annual sales now standing at £1.4bn, ASOS is the ‘high-street’ giant of the internet. It’s obviously doing something right and it wins TheChicGeek Award for best high-street for its pure experimentation and ridiculousness. From Yeezy inspired Mad Max looking outfits to Gucci pussy-bow shirts, ASOS has the depth of choice at a price everybody can afford.
Where once the high-street copied designers, now, due to the sheer volume of product needed, they come up with their own ideas and run with it. Just don’t buy the ‘Super Skinny Fit’. Sequinned trousers, anybody?
Best Grooming Product 2016 - Boldking Razor
The razor market is dominated by the big players who out discount each other to monopolise the supermarket and pharmacy. They do innovate, but slowly, so it was nice to hear of a small player thinking differently.
The big difference here is the blades are further apart to prevent clogging, which, if you have thick, coarse hair, will happen a lot. Plus the razor comes with a suction cup to put on your mirror or sink, out of the way. Simply yet effective.
The branding is really good. Gone are the muscles and steamed up mirrors: replaced by cute graphics and chatty instructions. This feels modern, it feels like there’s no pressure to be a certain type of man, it’s simply about shaving and doing a good job. Time to start shaving again. Hello, Boldking. More here
Best Grooming Brand 2016 - Buly
Parisian brand, Buly, takes you back to a fantasy time of apothecaries and Renaissance snake oil salesmen where there’s a tortoiseshell comb for every part of your body. Where things have more meaning than is obvious, at first, and time-honoured traditions are bottled and squeezed into metal tubes and glass jars. This brand is all about the packaging which is always a big thing when it comes to grooming and beauty products.
I’ve tried the toothpaste - orange, clove and ginger - and the shaving cream - read more here
They add a difference and excitement to the grooming routine and the products work. They’re not cheap, but they’re special and feel like a historical treat.
Fragrance of the Year 2016 - Dunhill Icon Absolute
2016 was a bit of a disappointment from mainstream fragrance brands. The power of the fashion brand has waned and their offerings don’t feel as special or as premium as they once did. People are moving towards niche and specialised fragrance houses which offer something of quality, but at a higher price, usually.
Fashion brands and their licensees are too quick to release and they don’t commit to the fragrances they produce and thus fall by the wayside very quickly. I wanted to choose something more mainstream. Technically, this came out in 2015, but I only discovered it, this year. Even though Dunhill Icon won TheChicGeek Award last year, this Absolute version is completely different in a good way.
The top notes are bergamot and black pepper, middle notes are saffron, black rose and jasmine and base notes are agarwood (oud), tobacco leaf and leather. It smells really exotic and rich and warm and keeps you coming back for more. It doesn’t really last, but that’s okay, it’s not ridiculously expensive. I’ve smelt this on a few people over the year and it’s instantly recognisable. This really is rather good if you like something rich and intoxicating.
Most Stylish Programme 2016 - Deutschland ‘83
Forget the shoulder pads and power dressing, Deutschland ’83, was a lesson in Eastern European sportswear and military dressing. It was the great pop soundtrack of 80s classics that got us channelling our East Berlin realness and Vetements irony that made us want to stay firmly behind the wall.
Best Menswear Collaboration 2016 - Craig Green X Bjorn Borg
Affordability seems to be the word of 2016. Collaborations needs to tap a new market or appeal to those priced out. That’s why H&M always seem to do so well. Craig Green teamed up with Bjorn Borg this year to produce a collection that didn’t meet in the middle, it just gave the great unwashed Craig Green at a price they could afford. His samurai favourites were here in a capsule collection of unisex pieces. Doubles your market, natch!
Special ChicGeek Award 2016 - Dover Street Market
While the world tipped towards online, and the high-street continued to try to pile it high and sell it cheap, Dover Street Market moved.
It became what it should have always been. It got a proper retail space and had a flow and order to it. It’s dedication to designers and their visions will make Dover Street Market the hardcore venue and destination for devotees of the catwalk and its silliness. This is serious fashion for those who can’t see the humour in it all, but mock what you will, it’s nice that a Dover Street Market as good as this one exists in London.
Most Stylish Man of 2016 - Jared Leto
If you’re going to be a ‘style icon’ you need to take risks. We can all do a Thom Sweeney three piece suit with a horseshoe waistcoat and look the part, but it’s those little touches and breaking-out-of-the-mould outfits that gets TheChicGeek nod.
I’ve never been a fan of Jared Leto, not really sure why, but since he became Alessandro Michele’s dress-up doll, he’s really committed, with both GG logoed feet, to the Gucci renaissance. Some have been hits, other misses, but it’s definitely not safe and hats off to him.
Turkey of 2016
We got a lesson in how not to launch a website this year with Condé Nast’s style.com. The much delayed and anticipated site was supposed to use their expertise and kudos in the luxury market to rival Net-a-Porter and matchesfashion.com by using the power of their magazine brands and offering a new take on curated commerce. What we got was a quiet launch of something that didn’t have much content, was a shopping portal and didn’t offer anything new in a saturated luxury market. It will be interesting to see whether they further commit to this or quietly shelve it and put it down to experience. Read more here
What are your thoughts? #TheChicGeekAwards
The Chic Geek talks about his week in men's style including his lack of love for Vetements & Yeezy, Anya Hindmarch's new men's range, the Fossil Q Founder Smartwatch, UTC00 accessories & That So layered sun protection.