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
We know what our clothes are made from, you only have to look at the label, but do we know which materials are the least and most damaging to the environment? Probably not.
The new fashion exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Fashioned From Nature, gets serious about the impact fashion is having on the world. It starts off fairly simply, looking at the raw and natural materials used in clothing and decoration from the 17th century onwards, and quickly charts the growing appetite for the rare and exotic to decorate the wealthy’s clothes.
Left - Historical dress inspired by nature and new discoveries
Right - Fashion protesting against itself
It’s interesting how our love of nature and the beauty we see in it has made people want to wear it and at the same time destroy it. It's very difficult to strike a balance.
This isn’t your standard fluffy fashion exhibition or one dominated by big names, it’s a thought provoking look about what things are, where they come from and their impact on the environment. But, it’s done in a way that isn’t preaching or has a strong agenda.
It’s sponsored by the European Confederation of Flax and Hemp, but I feel they could have done more to highlight the benefits of wearing flax. (I didn't see hemp mentioned at all). Most commonly made into linen, flax is one of the easiest and least damaging forms of materials to grow and is definitely something we should be wearing more of. It would have been nice to see more with regards to how you can use it, different finishes and something more than being the material of a few seasonal summer shirts and suits. There’s a wall you can touch at the very beginning made of flax. It feels like really dry horse hair.
Left - Lace Bark grown from a tree
Right - Toxic Evening Coat, Madame Grès, 1936
Things I learnt from this exhibition: I’d never heard of ‘Vegetable Ivory’ or ‘Lace-Bark’ before. I didn’t know the bones used in corsetry are called ‘Baleen’, after the type of whale.
Upstairs there is a lot going on. Some pieces are simply inspired by nature while others show new materials made from by-products or waste. ‘Vegea’ uses grape waste from the wine industry to form a leather-substitute and their ‘Grape’ gown is on show, as well as a Ferragamo piece made from ‘Orange Fiber’ derived from waste from the Italian citrus industry and an H&M Conscious dress made from recycled shoreline plastic.
I think educating people - cotton uses ridiculous amounts of pesticides and water - about what they are wearing is important and it would have been good to have seen different materials: wool, flax, cotton compared with one another. These are the main choices people have when shopping.
Fashion in its nature is wasteful and destructive. There’s no logic to moving on from perfectly wearable clothes and buying new ones other than to stay ‘fashionable’. But, that’s how it works and it’s also a huge business employing many people.
We need to be realistic, the odd dress made from recycled plastic bottles isn’t even scratching the surface. We need to look at clothing like other recyclables. Take the components and raw materials apart and reuse into new garments. This would require less fresh materials and would also close the loop on the fashion industry.
Left - Vegetable Ivory
Right - The flax wall
I think it’s naive to ask people to buy less. We need to improve environmental practises, push less destructive options and reuse and recycle more.
Fashion is dictated to by money. The minute it becomes more cost effective to do something, then it will happen. Let’s just hope that's sooner rather than later.
Fashioned from Nature - Victoria & Albert Museum - Fashion, Gallery - 21 April 2018 – 27 Jan 2019 #FashionedFromNature - £12
Below - The 'GuppyFriend' which stops micro particles being released from your washing machine into the environment
What they’ve done with, I’m guessing, limited visual material is remarkable. Even a featured Andy Warhol art film/doc is of such bad quality it looks like the first season of Rupaul’s Drag Race. So they’ve done well to find enough contemporary film footage or pictures to fill this and keep your attention. Obviously, there are new interviews with people who were there at the time, but it’s sad and disappointing that the two main characters are no longer with us.
Left - Antonio & Jerry
I’d heard of Antonio Lopez before and was aware of his style of drawing. I knew the era he was producing in, but that was about all. I didn’t really know who he worked with and for whom.
James Crump’s documentary centres on Paris and New York between 1969 and 1973, viewed through the eyes of Antonio Lopez (1943-1987). A native of Puerto Rico and raised in The Bronx, the story centres on him and his personal and creative partner, Juan Ramos (1942-1995).
Being an illustrator Lopez would never have been in the public eye personally, unlike many of the designers he was copying. His illustrations were well known, but it felt like he was always at the mercy of the commission, whether that was for a magazine or fashion house.
Right - Lopez's partner, Juan Ramos
Unlike Warhol, who also started as an illustrator, Lopez didn’t push himself centre stage. Warhol knew there was money to be made in people’s narcissism and vanity. Lopez seems to stick to the safety of what he knows. Maybe there wasn't enough time, well, between all the shagging, at least!
I like how the documentary moves between New York and Paris, but I wanted more from the main disco time of the late 70s and early 80s. The disco is Paris’ Club Sept, but you don't really get a feel for the place.
It gets wrapped up quickly at the end without the same level of detail. What was he working on? Did he fall out of fashion?
There is a brief moment when you feel like you’re watching a documentary about YSL and Karl Lagerfeld. (Love the beef between these two). These giant fashion planets pulled many different stars into their orbit and Lopez and his entourage of models and lovers were just some of them.
It was fun to see and hear from the group of female models Lopez championed - there's one who reminds me of Angie Bowie - and would have looked mega diverse even by today’s standards. The documentary is worth watching just for Jerry Hall’s arrival. Man, was that one beautiful woman. There are models and, then, there are supermodels. She’s like Botticelli’s Venus combine with a classical Greek siren with a dash of Texan Barbie. She’s captivating, especially in this where she's just starting out on her modelling career. This is where the film starts to end. It’s a shame, along with Grace Jones and Karl Lagerfeld, that she isn't interviewed for the film.
Lagerfeld seemed to distance himself at the end of Lopez’s career which is probably why he’s lasted so long in the fashion business. I imagine you have to be pretty cold and heartless in order to maintain your position. In the film he uses Lopez to illustrate his work at Chloe, and, being good at what he does, he knew they were the zeitgeist of the time and then when to drop them, accordingly.
Upsetting the photographer, Bill Cunningham, who is a prominent interviewee in the film, Lagerfeld wasn’t there when Lopez was diagnosed with AIDS.
The film is definitely an extensive insight into Lopez's fashion circles of the late 60s, 70s and early 80s: who knew who, who fucked who and who made it through. There are, annoyingly, not enough recorded visuals of his process and you want to hear more from the man himself. You don’t get a feeling of how much he produced and how his magazine illustrations complemented the fashion of the time. The artworks look like a mix between 70s Art Nouveau and porn illustrations, but you can see his precocious talent.
The film, again, illustrates how much talent we lost during the AIDS crisis and also fulfils our insatiable thirst for retro glamour. We live in age where we are obsessed with looking backwards at talented and beautiful people, quenching our need for what we feel today's modern landscape is sadly lacking.
Left - One of Lopez's illustrations
The velvet evening slipper, in fashion terms at least, is taking a break, but, when one this good comes along, it can’t pass you by.
American slipper brand Stubbs & Wootton has teamed up with British illustrator & designer du jour, Luke Edward Hall. Grass green Sea Island cotton-velvet uppers with a turquoise blue grosgrain trim features Hall’s classical illustrations on the front. Putting the ionic into iconic!
Left & Below - Stubbs & Wootton - Vitruvius (LEH) Men Slipper - $600
A strange distraction robbery leaves a Stockholm art museum director chasing his wallet and phone while dealing with the woke environment of a contemporary art museum and his family life.
Winner of the Palme d’Or, last year, at Cannes, The Square’s most memorable scene is the disturbing man/artist playing an unpredictable ape, but I’ll let you find that out for yourself.
Left - Artist 'Julian' in a Q&A from the film The Square
Anyway, on the style stakes, it’s the visiting artist, Julian, played by Dominic West, who is the sartorial inspiration in a scene set in the museum where he’s there to discuss his work. An audience member with Tourette’s syndrome makes it a surreal moment.
Right - Artist Julian Schnabel which some say was the inspiration for the character
Wearing blue pyjamas, a navy double breasted jacket and yellow lensed glasses he bears a striking resemblance to American painter and film maker, Julian Schnabel.
Left - Derek Rose - Men’s Classic Fit Piped Pyjamas - £95
Sky blue cotton pyjamas worn out of the bedroom shows an easy confidence and the yellow lenses on the glasses adds the artistic element. It’s hip to be square!
Left - Reiss - Carlotta B Double-Breasted Blazer - £325
Below - Sunglasses - Paul Smith - £177, available at Sunglass Hut
Left - Sunglasses - Lunetterie Generale - £375
Left - Vans - Authentic Shoes - £47
Below - Dominic West in full 'Julian' PJ look
Denim is having a bit of downtime while it decides where it wants to go after skinny. But, just because denim maybe having a rest, it doesn’t mean leather is.
I saw this a few months ago and at first glance, it’s a classic blue denim shirt, but, on touching and closer inspection, it’s printed leather. Admittedly, that bumps the price up massively - it’s quite an investment - but who else do you know who will be wearing a leather denim shirt?
This is the ultimate in luxury casual.
Left & Below - Tod’s - Leather Shirt - £2650
There was an American brand - Brashy Studio - who got a lot of online flak, recently, for selling safety glasses as a fashion accessory and charging $25 for the privilege. They cost £1.42 at B&Q BTW.
But, they were definitely onto something as clear frames and light lenses are the way to go this summer. I saw this pair from Korean brand Gentle Monster, who are set to open a store in London shortly, and there’s something one part chemistry teacher and one part Gucci catwalk that I love about them.
While they have that safety glasses vibe they’re far cooler than that and the lenses have full UV protection. Experiment!
Left & Below - Gentle Monster - Afix 02 - $310
More SS18 eyewear inspo? Try The Hamburglar Sunglasses here