Patterned carpet is in the DNA of the British. We’re obsessed with patterns, textures and, ultimately, staying warm! Our Victorian forebears instilled in us a love of Axminster, and, with the second Mary Poppins - Mary Poppins Returns - about to appear on our cinema screens, it feels like the carpet bag is ripe for a comeback.
Left - Made Of Carpet - Voyager Elite - Polaris Red - £169.95
This is an accessory from Arthur Liberty’s time. It’s an item that suits country houses, wood panelling and aspidistras in Art Nouveau planters. They have a richness that celebrates exotic designs while feeling steadfastly domestic.
Right - Made Of Carpet - Sac Voyage - Vintage Navy - £259.95
If you want to get in on the trend early, Made Of Carpet specialise in carpet bags. Based in London, but made in the European Union, they use plush, silky carpets to construct their bags. The tote is ideal as an everyday bag, while the doctor’s style is perfect for weekends away.
Just make like Mary, and fly away!
Below - Mary being magical with her carpet bag
Fashion doesn’t happen in isolation. Large corporations can influence fashion and push their aesthetic through with the help of wads of cash. This, sometimes, makes the companies bigger and more money and so the cycle continues. But, a shift can often beach the whale and sportswear has thrown the preppy baby out with the bath water. Apologises.
I’ve written about the troubles with preppy before, Read more here, usually focussing on Ralph Lauren as the flag bearer, quite literally, of the look and its reluctance to change or evolve to suit the current taste in comfort and dress down.
Left - Brooks Brothers' 200th Anniversary Show at Pitti Uomo 93
That was a while ago, and with people soon to get bored of looking like a charity shop reject or a retro sportsperson, it’s inevitable that it will return.
So, we move to Florence for the 93rd edition of Pitti Uomo. Brooks Brothers is one of the chosen brands to show and they are celebrating their 200th year. Which, for any retailer, let alone an American one, is something to be very proud of.
Under the painted ceiling of the Palazzo Vecchio, a deep presidential blue curtain pulled back to reveal an orchestra playing ‘Empire State Of Mind’. So far, so good. Out came the models in various guises of preppy, yet it had been styled to mute their greatest hits. Cable knits over jackets and suit jackets tucked into trousers, it looked like a collection embarrassed to brushed with the preppy magic.
Brooks Brothers can lay claim to dressing presidents and charting the evolution of American style over the last 200 years. This should have been preppy so good that you’d bounce out of the show and be googling ‘John F Kennedy Jnr’ before you hit the cobbles of Florence’s Piazza della Signoria.
Unfortunately, this wasn't the case. This should have been a celebration of America’s 20th century power and the handsome, dashing evolution of that dressed style into preppy and the history of American fashion.
Brands like Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren need to push in order to return to fashion favour. There’s no point in sitting back and waiting for the tide to come back in on your style. Push preppy, push suiting, push people looking like they give a shit. There was was no fight here.
Preppy isn’t fully dead, it just needs to be really good. There are new American brands like Rowing Blazers, and British brand, Drake’s, is a perfect example. They manage to make preppy feel artistic, creative and beautiful. It’s the colours, the prints and the detail that makes you want to explore the fun and exaggerated side of preppy and, shock horror, put a tie on! Maybe.
Whether religious or not, Lent is that perfect time of year, and a decent length of time, to challenge yourself to give something up or try something different. I’ve been thinking of trying vegetarianism for a while now and while I could have easily done it after Christmas, as a New Year’s resolution, but it could feel a bit like jumping off a cliff edge, after the indulgence of Christmas, and I wanted to give it a proper go.
Lent is perfect, being in the middle of February, you feel mentally prepared and can block off the next 6 weeks as you countdown to Easter.
Christians traditionally abstain from animal foods in remembrance of Jesus' 40 days of fasting in the wilderness and with Vegetarianism and Veganism growing in popularity, it felt like the right time to give it a go.
A few of my friends are vegetarians, so I’m going to tap them up for recipes and advice. I’m going to put some Quorn in the fridge for those days I may need something meat-like. My main worries are getting bored and also feeling hungry quickly after meals. I also don’t want to pig out on carbs or turn to sweet things to fill me up. I think I’m going to have to be more organised with my meals and less lazy with the snacking.
If I lose loads of weight and feel like a bag of bones, I’ll think about stopping. But, the main driving force is, it’ll be healthier for me and for the environment, and I want to take more vegetarian options into my everyday and maybe find a few things that I will enjoy and carry on eating. I’ll keep you updated.
French beauty company, L’Occitane, opened their huge - the largest in the world - new flagship store on London’s Regent Street last night. This isn’t just another standard branch, it’s spacious, has a luxurious yet homely finish and even has a Pierre Hermé macaroon counter to boot. It feels like a cross between an airport lounge and a store. It’s definitely somewhere you could happily spend time in.
Left - Upstairs at L'Occitane Regent Street February 2018
Anyway, chatting away, somebody mentioned their boyfriend had come into the store previously and was looking for hand cream. The sales assistant said it was upstairs. As he went upstairs another sales assistant came over and said, “You’re looking for hand cream?”.
Mind reading is a skill that modern retail needs. Clearly, the sales assistant, downstairs, had radioed ahead. Not only is this great service, it’s also a form of human cookies - the chain of information your internet journey/history leaves behind allowing brands to track your movements and also recommend appropriate stuff.
It’s not magic, it’s just clever data, and I, for one, don’t mind having things recommended for me or being reminded I looked at something previously. You can clear your history every now and again if it becomes annoying.
What this shows is a linked up journey in a physical store. The customer is looking for something and rather being lost somewhere on the journey or not finding what they want, the sales links became strong and would obviously have more conversion in sales with the added bonus of wowing the customer and making them feel they had received great service.
Right - The flower filled ceiling installation from above inside the new L'Occitane Regent Street store
This is what physical stores need in order to compete with online: sales assistants quickly talking to each other, directing the consumer and having that want to please and fulfil expectation.
I understand many stores are too busy, some of the time, for this type of individual attention, but many luxury brands can offer this type of service if the sale assistants are motivated. It’s about a personal, human touch, which in the future we will miss from online shopping and something that can become a physical store USP.
‘Human Cookies’, as a concept, would definitely put new meaning into a physical store’s customer journey.
There’s something wildly indulgent, no, scrap that, ridiculously indulgent about a white Mackintosh. This option is part of a limited-edition collaboration with Maison Margiela and the Scottish rainwear specialists, Mackintosh.
Trust the house of Margiela to offer something impractical yet extremely desirable. One part lab coat, one part asylum, this will mark like crazy, but you’ll wear those marks with pride and it’s all part of the 'process'.
They are limited to only 250, with each one featuring Margiela’s signature stitches at the back and individually numbered.
Left & Below - Mackintosh X Maison Margiela - £1865
Forming the heel of Italy’s boot, Puglia, in Southern Italy, is home to the Massa Company. Still family owned and founded in the last 1950s, the Massa Boutique is one of Southern Italy’s premier fashion stores offering the best in ‘sprezzatura’.
A young Francesco Massa began his career as a dressmaker with a few basic tools: scissors, sewing needle and thread. He opened a small tailoring shop in Martina Franca and quickly became a trusted local outfitter for the gentlemen of the time. Eminent people of the city quickly demanded the gold hands of a Massa custom-made product.
Today, they sell men’s clothing, footwear and accessories. Located near Corso Messapia in Martina Franca, and online, Massa Boutique is strong in Italian brands including Ferragamo, Etro and a Tod’s online shop.
Suiting brands include Lardini, Zegna and Isaia and the name of Massa remains synonymous with quality and style.
Left - Shirt - Barba - £107.81
There was a time when prestigious shopping centres, usually out of town, could pick and choose - ‘curate’ - its retailers. Those deemed too low rent, not literally, weren’t given house room and everything was perfect in these sanitised high-streets.
Well, things are changing, we’ve heard many ‘Death of the Mall’ stories, but ultimately visitor numbers and footfall is dropping and they need/want to stay relevant.These shopping centres need bodies and lots of them.
So, it’s interesting to see how Primark is now being heralded at shopping centres that before wouldn’t have given such a large space to this affordable retailer.
Left - The extension of Westfield White City includes John Lewis and Primark
Bluewater recently announced a huge new Primark after it said it was the most requested brand from its visitors and Westfield White City’s new extension contains not only a John Lewis but a Primark, which was missing from the original lineup. Manchester’s Trafford Centre enlarged to accommodate one and, soon, Primark will be seen as an anchor tenant much like John Lewis and Marks & Spencer.
What Primark brings to a shopping centre is a constant lifeblood of customers. With no online option, people have to get out there and physically go into the stores and this will have the knock on effect of making the whole place busier.
It’s an interesting time for shopping centres. Without something distinctive or ‘destination’, many will end up with large holes as retailers trim their retail footprint. Argos is moving in with Sainsbury’s, many of those BHS stores remain empty and with retailers such as New Look and M&S closing stores, there aren’t many big retailers to take their place.
A few years back, when Littlewoods and C&A disappeared, M&S was expanding and Primark was taking big units as it was growing so fast.
New shopping centres, such as ‘Coal Drops’ in Kings Cross, will take a different approach from the bigger is best attitude of shopping centres previously. Even the wording ‘Shopping Centre’ sounds a bit dated. What should we call them? Not ‘Town Squares’, hey, Apple!
It’s going to be about design - Thomas Heatherwick has designed Coal Drops - and discovery, with retailers many people wouldn’t have seen before. It’s about selling cool and constantly changing to keep up with this. It’s never ending. You need events, social media and a siren-like call to constantly remind your customers what you have to offer.
In America, their shopping centres are important because many places didn’t have much before it. Without the shopping centre there is no hub or heart to the town or city. In the UK, we’ve had High-Streets for centuries which have evolved constantly and also a street culture which is ingrained within our society. Admittedly, less prosperous places will see their high-streets struggle, but then maybe shops with be replaced with homes or other ideas we’re yet to even think about.
Shopping centres need to start thinking about what they stand for and question the future of shopping and retail. I think just ignoring it and ploughing on will speed up their demise.