One brand, two campaigns. The hot-of-the-moment label, or it wants to be, Calvin Klein, and two variations on the same thing.
Left - Clearly Raf Simons' idea of Calvin Klein advertising, but which will sell the most pants?
Both trying to sell pants: one campaign is sexy and classic Klein, the other less so, read baggy pants in a drafty art gallery.
What’s interesting is that it perfectly illustrates the sexual leveller of imagery and the different choice of art directors.
The fashion and style game is all about proving your sophistication and taste level, yadda, yadda, yadda. We all want to be different and express ourselves in the things we buy, wear and surround ourselves with, but ultimately a flash of a six-pack or a bulge in a pair of Y-fronts and the attraction is universal.
We judge ourselves and others by the decisions we make and the things we choose to wear and surround ourselves with. We can all pretend to be the most sophisticated and this is the endless game of modern style and social media. It's always been about proving yourself and staying ahead of the game.
The ‘Sex Leveller’ and its universal appeal is often cleverly disguised as sophisticated, but ultimately brands can be as clever as they like, but if you’re going to appeal to the mass and biggest market, especially if you’re selling underwear, the sexier the better.
This was pioneered in the 80s, perfected in the 90s and then seemingly forgotten about in the 00s. We can all pretend to like a Sterling Ruby as much as the next man, but it ain’t gonna shift many pairs of underpants. Sex is a leveller and it still sells.
Below Left - Classic Klein starring, Trevante Rhodes, one of the actors from Moonlight. Both campaigns are SS17
"If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends" or so the song goes. The Union Jack was the symbol - obvs - of “Cool Britannia”, when Liam was in bed with Patsy and everybody wore Wannabe loafers by Patrick Cox.
Left - Gucci - Union Jack Horsebit Leather Loafer - £530
I’ve been wanting to do something on this for ages, since Gucci took over Westminster Abbey to show their UK-inspired Cruise collection, last June, but, I'm not sure where the time went. Luckily, because Gucci are holding onto products and not putting them into the sale, they're still relevant.
If we’re talking about who owns the loafer then historically it’s Gucci, but during the 90s it was Patrick Cox. Selling 100,000 pairs a year, it was part of the Britpop wardrobe and while not cheap, they were suprisingly affordable with the silver 'W' on the side.
He sold his label and name and then the brand disappeared into the ether. He returned a few year's ago, designing a range with Geox and then decided to establish his new brand Lathbridge. The Lathbridge brand name is Cox's middle name and the company logo of the bulldog is inspired by Cox's much loved 2 English bulldogs, Caesar and Brutus.
I spoke to Patrick during a trade show in Paris where he was previewing this collection, I asked him about the Gucci homage, he knew about it and I think he was flattered. His version is slightly simpler, but with all the same positive 90s nostalgia. Now, to dig out those Benetton sweaters!
Below - Lathbridge by Patrick Cox - English Flash Penny Loafers - £321 from FarFetch
To call it a recession is maybe a little extreme, but let’s call it a contraction. Menswear is struggling. Some are mouthing the word #brexit but this was coming way before that and affecting international markets too, most notably America.
Like everything that goes in cycles, you have your ups and you have your downs. We’re definitely in a down cycle as brands merge their men’s and women’s and reduce the amount of labels within their brands.
Left - Inside menswear is screaming
Many are private companies so they don’t disclose profits, but when you have menswear giants like Armani and Ralph Lauren losing labels - Collezioni and Armani Jeans in the case of Armani and store closures - in the case of Ralph Lauren - then things are clearly unsustainable.
Why is this happening? The first big answer is a saturated market. Do we need much more ‘stuff’? When Ikea’s head of sustainability, Steve Howard, said we’d reached “peak stuff”, he hit the nail on the head. We’ve seen expansion online and offline and our wardrobes are bursting with clothes at every price point.
Designer fashion isn’t coming up with many new ideas and this has lead to the high-street bringing the new ideas and offering improved quality that many men are happy with. I think companies like ASOS are doing well because people are trading down to cheaper and more fun fashion and don't really wear it long enough to care about the quality.
Brands like Topman have got more and more expensive and are not reactive enough to trends and the latest gimmicks and fashions. They’ve believed in their own ‘cool’ which is dangerous for any brand. Arcadia, Topman’s parent company, has seen many high profile departures lately. Craig McGregor left his role as retail director at Topshop/Topman, after eight years, and Topshop/Topman global commercial director Matt Brewster is leaving the company. Wesley Taylor left his role as managing director of Burton and Yasmin Yusuf left as creative director of Miss Selfridge, both after more than 10 years at the business. Which all suggests the epic growth Arcadia has experienced over the last few decades has now ground to a halt. They are no longer the darling of the British high-street.
Another reason for the men’s downturn is competition is fierce and this had lead to a discount environment. People know they can wait for the sale or search the internet for a discount code. This makes margins smaller for companies which then need to sell even larger volumes. We’ve also seen growth in companies like TK Maxx that offer people the brands they want, but with heavy discounts.
Fashion has changed too. It’s very sportswear/dress down driven. These are cheap or old clothes. Looking ‘expensive’ has gone out of fashion. Brands like Balenciaga and Gosha Rubchinskiy have pioneered this style of fugly fashion and while not cheap they have prices that are more realistic and attainable.
Millennials are all about ‘experiences’ and are less materialistic, or so we’re are told. All those selfies tell a different story, but I think they want to eat out and wear something new, which ultimately means spending less. This big group of young consumers is squeezed by rents, student loans and low wages and this isn’t going to change for the foreseeable future.
In the Evening Standard on Monday, Net-a-Porter/Mr Porter boss, Alison Loehnis, said when they measured “zeitgeist buying” in the Mr Porter team they discovered the number one item was socks. “Followed by Ray-Bans and trainers.” Socks?!! Now, that is worrying. Unless Mr Porter is selling hundreds of millions of dollars worth of socks, which I doubt, then it’s a signifier of the market. It’s too expensive and they are the cheapest things they sell. It’s also one of the main gifting items and something you don’t need to try on.
Online is still only 10% of the retail market so has huge potential, but that still means 9 in every 10 pounds is spent on the high street.
Net-a-Porter/Mr Porter call their top customers ‘EIPs’, (EXTREMELY IMPORTANT PERSON) and these EIPs are the two per cent of customers who account for 40 per cent of NAP revenue. It’s dangerous to have all your eggs in a few baskets, particularly a fickle customer which many others are chasing. They’re now offering a service where the driver waits while these EIPs try things on. It’s a gimmick, but at least it shows they’re trying. These EIPS are the people shopping in Selfridges and Harrods too, while the rest of us have seen our wage packets shrink or not go as far and designer prices continue to rise. #Brexit will make imports to the UK more expensive, temporarily, but fashion will just find somewhere cheaper to make it, but it’s true the weakest wont survive this price hike or margin cut.
Brands have been trimming the fat over the last few years and many are down to the bare bones. The recent christmas was good for retailers and I think that kept many afloat, for now.
Jaeger just announced its bankruptcy. I don’t think there’s much hope for it to survive as it is, but it’ll become a brand within Edinburgh Woollen Mill or the like. It’s the sign of the times and also the cycle of brands. There are times when a brand runs its course and no matter how much investment or time, it’s just time to let it go.
Okay, enough doom and gloom. On a positive note from a down you have an up and when a gap appears something new will come into fill it. But, our addiction to cheap clothes isn’t going anywhere which will make it very difficult for new, smaller brands or labels to compete. I think short term we’ll see more closures and less choice or a choice masked by the fact it’s a sub brand from a big retailer. H&M is just about to launch Arket.
One thing is for sure, fashion is unpredictable and that’s why I love it.
Fashion always surprises and reinterprets. We all have our preconceptions about things and it’s that willingness to change that separates the leaders from the followers. I love it when something you think couldn’t be less cool is presented in a new way that makes it desirable. This is what good designers do.
Far Left - Balenciaga SS17, Left - Striped Cotton-Poplin Cropped Shirt - £285 from Matchesfashion.com
When Georgian designer, Demna Gvasalia, of Vetements fame, started working as Creative Director of Balenciaga, I was a bit sceptical. I thought they - the parent company Kering - were chasing the latest cool wave and it was more about column inches and gimmicks than making great clothes. I’ll put my hands up and say I was wrong and they are making interesting clothes at more realistic prices. It’s also the first time that new designers have brought in some of the DNA of the house into the present.
What he has done is play with proportions and shapes, that at first sight seem comedic, but when they start to sink in become desirable and cool. It feels fresh, which brings me to the easiest way to buy into this collection.
Fashion has got basic, and that’s basic as in #basicbitch. Items you wouldn’t have given a second thought are now at the forefront of menswear thanks to Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga.
Long the wardrobe of the postman or the office dad, the short sleeve shirt, slightly oversized, is the style you should be going for. You want those nerdy triangular sleeves, this isn’t a gun show, and I would team with a pair of tailored sweat pants to stop it looking too dress-down office.
You can opt for the original or find a standard short sleeved shirt in most men’s shops like this like blue version from Esprit.
Left - Esprit - Poplin Shirt With Short Sleeves - £29
Somebody pass me a spanner! Or, should that be my blow torch?! Part of Jigsaw’s new ‘Raw State’ workwear-inspired collection, this jacket is looser than a traditional denim jacket, comes in Italian cotton and garment dyed to this amazing smokey colour that feels authentic enough to be worn by an Okie in the Grapes of Wrath: dustbowl chic, anybody?!
The shape is cropped and sits nicely on the waistband. I tried it on yesterday and it comes up big. Take a size smaller.
Left & Below - Jigsaw - Raw State Welder Jacket - £249
Chances are if you've not already booked your summer break, it's on your mind. If the daily grind's got you down or the thought of another uni lecture or day at work has you reaching to tug the duvet over your head, fret not. Half the fun of taking a trip out into the sun is planning how to look good doing it, so make sure you keep some basic essentials – and a few off-the-cuff favourites – on hand. Here is a guest post on TheChicGeek offering some holiday advice:
We all love cream, light blue and other go-to shades for their subtle ways of accentuating an outfit, but the look for summer 2017 is bold hues. Coverage from Paris Men's Week saw vibrant shades of purple and red featuring massively in line-ups from Coach to Balmain – something to think about as you pack your bags.
Take Some Cues From The 90’s
Bucket hats, wallet chains, even the dreaded centre parting – nineties nostalgia has hit its high point and leading brands are taking note. So, rock a denim jacket, grab yourself a snapback cap and pack that spiky hair gel for that ruffled sensitive boyband look. Sunglasses? Go for Oakley’s-style.
Punk It Up
You can keep it geek-chic while still putting a punk edge into things this summer, which is highlighted as one of the big trends of the season. The beauty here is that it doesn't have to overshadow your look. A skull motif bandanna, a studded belt or the tried and tested chain-on-distressed-jeans combo all give you the edge.
Swimwear That Speaks
Men's swim shorts are a popular choice nowadays, and can be as plain or vibrant as you like. Using them as the foundation of your beach look is the way forward, while styles like this blue pair from the men’s swimwear range at Tu are sure to get you noticed on the beach. Combine a subtle tone on the shorts with a pale, thin-fabric shirt worn loose for that laid-back look. Or, spice it up with those vibrant blues we talked about. Team with either vest tops or tee-shirts for a poolside showstopper that still beats the heat.
Bag Some Style
When you're packing for your getaway, remember that what you're bundling the threads into is just as important. The good news is it doesn't have to be bank-account-breaking stuff here, unless that leather manbag is your absolute must. In fact, with the nineties coming back hard, backpacks are pretty much a go-to, particularly in bright blues or greens that'll make you the Fresh Prince of your holiday destination.
Fast & Loose
Those slim line shirts and tailored cuts give you the sleek physique and sharp silhouette, but for summer 2017, baggy fits are the way forward. As jackets get boxy shoulders and jumpers with sleeves overlapping your knuckles become the norm, expect a similar story in summer. Find either an oversized jacket, a slouchy tunic-style top for the boho vibe or one of those slung-low sleeveless hoodies that are just about everywhere at the moment.
Don't Get It In The Neck
Still got a bandanna or two knocking about since the big bohemian kick a few years back? Don't let them gather dust when they could be a useful tool in your suitcase. A bandanna on the beach is always a classic look for us longer-haired gents, but this season's also seeing some maritime influences. Anchor motifs and sailor stripes are easily found, yet you could just as easily turn that bandanna into a neckerchief and go from there.
Seek Beyond Skinny Jeans
It feels like we've been rocking the skinny jeans since the year dot, but there are some who say they're starting to have had their day. Cargo trousers are making a comeback. If that's not on your radar, aim for some simple chinos or classic wide-hem trousers, although we're not quite back to bootcuts just yet.
Beyond Big Brands
I've already touched on the brand fatigue that a lot of us are feeling, and although some of the latest runway looks speak of inventive thinking, it's the lesser-known labels catching many of our eyes nowadays. When packing for your sunshine escape, factor in that one daring piece you picked up from the back of beyond to take your look beyond the expected.
The Right Footwear
Whether it's the sandals, the canvas trainers or the full on Doc Martens, make sure that the footwear you choose pairs well with what you're packing. I'd recommend trainers as a good go-to, with bonus points if they lean towards that nineties kick – no pun intended – already mentioned.
What's going in your travel bag this summer?
Holidays are a time for fun and this should be reflected in your wardrobe. It's a time to let go, relax and have a sense of humour while staying on the right side of cool.
Whistles has this towelling palm print shirt and matching swim shorts combo which makes it more than just another Hawaiian style shirt. This means you've thought about it, if only they did a matching bucket hat. Now, that would be a complete outfit! Team with sunglasses, towelling sports socks and sandals or sliders.
Left - Palm Dot Textured Shirt - £65
Below - Whistles x Boardies Swimshorts - £45