Take the escalators upstairs to the first floor in Harrods and a sign above the entrance to the women’s designer floor reads ‘Superbrands’. Inside, individual, luxury fashion brands are housed in marbled-lined shop-in-shops giving consumers the full brand experience.
How these ‘Superbrands’ are anointed I’m not sure - it could be sales or how much they wanted to contribute to the fixtures and fittings - but, what we were willing to accept maybe ten year’s ago feels out of step with how we feel about brands right now.
Left - North Face or Sit On My Face?
Selfridges opened a similar ‘Superbrands’ room during the noughties, but has since dropped the moniker.
We’re moving into an anti big brand age and being labelled a ‘Superbrand’ isn’t the compliment it once was.
“Superbrands…who are they? Self appointment does not make you a Superbrand. And really was it just an industry ‘thing’. Did consumers really know or care who the Superbrands were? Did consumers really buy into this??? I think probably not. It struck me as quite ‘self congratulatory,” says Jo Phillips, Creative Director, Cent Magazine.
Right - The Hey Reilly Fendi/Fila collab for AW18
“The newer generations want brands that are traceable, responsibly care for the environment with ingredients, content etc, that is traceable and kind to the earth. Some want to have one offs so they can be seen as elite, first adopters, trail blazers etc or there are those who want individual products so they look for independent brands, small runs etc so they don’t feel like clones. Sadly some want to wear brands head-to-toe, emblazoned with logos so we all know ..how much money they have??? But, its beginning to look a little tired, like those people that act like a sandwich advertising board for a brand..especially if they wear them head to toe…its all a bit tragic,” says Phillips.
First published in 1995, and now in its 19th edition, ‘The Superbrands Annual’ highlights brands from a wide range of sectors that have become the strongest and most iconic in their field. The brands are voted for by marketing experts, business professionals and thousands of British consumers. There are two separate surveys: Consumer Superbrands (the UK's strongest B2C brands) and Business Superbrands (the UK's strongest B2B brands).
“A Superbrand must fundamentally deliver a good quality product or service but they also must be famous, come to mind ahead of the competition and be emotively engaging and distinctive, for example have a personality or tone of voice that is unique (think Virgin Atlantic vs Delta), or have a purpose that people can identify with and buy into.” says Stephen Cheliotis, Chairman of Superbrands UK.
Things have changed since 1995 and while many brands once wanted to make it onto the Superbrands list, it feels like the energy for consumers is turning towards start-ups and young, dynamic brands rather than something larger and established. People have become suspicious of big companies and this form of back slapping feels somewhat arrogant.
“While the fundamentals of what makes a strong reputation and what drives a positive perception have not in my view fundamentally changed, much of the context of marketing and buying has shifted substantially. For example, the channels or tools used to communicate with consumers has changed and there are now many more options, the consumers’ demands have has also rightly risen. With increased competition, not only has the bar been raised, but brands are increasingly called to account for poor delivery, for example through social media.” says Cheliotis.
“In many ways, brands are still, besides people, the most important asset a company has. A strong reputation in the market is essential to success. In this country we often focus too much on short-term success and short-term metrics, but really focussing on creating a distinctive brand with a clear purpose, point of view, personality and proposition should be a fundamental board consideration.” says Cheliotis.
As part of this change in thinking we’re seeing smaller brands or artists hijacking or playing around with established brands’ logos and slogans. These comical or clever playing with words have made many people think about brands’ messages and what they really mean. It’s part of our age of #fakenews, growing suspicion and rage against the establishment.
Left - OIBOY - £28
Since graduating from the Royal College of Art, Reilly has carved a unique position in the world of illustration and graphic art by playing with what is real or not in brand terms. His recent Hey Reilly AW18 collaboration with Fendi sees a play with the sportswear brand Fila. Both brands merge into a cool and playful outcome. It takes a level of confidence for brands to accept and give these tweaks their blessing. Other designers or artists such as Philip Normal, Proper Mag and OiBoy are all offering a British sense of humour on other people’s branding.
Based in South London, and founded by George Langham, OIBOY recently made its debut at Selfridges. “We all like to categorise everything into boxes, it makes us comfortable, but what makes a model super? "She's a ‘Supermodel’ not just a regular model”. Maybe adding 'super' to a brand or a model allows them to demand higher fees or prices because they are now super?! It's all bullshit really, BUT without these unaffordable (to the masses) 'superbrands', there wouldn't be brands like OIBOY, which is seen as affordable and accessible.” says Langham.
Is this about a lack of respect for brands who have spent many years and millions of pounds establishing themselves.
“I’m not sure it’s a lack of respect from our side of things, we see what we do as something lighthearted and harmless fun. What seems to be happening is privileged kids glamorising the working class, even glamourising poverty in some cases, you can see this with the trend of every fashion shoot being on a council estate or pie 'n' mash shop or wherever, it's like going on a safari for them, seeing how the ‘others’ live…” he says.
Left - OIBOY - £28
“Well ,we used to take any brand that rang a chord with us and British culture/humour, hoping that the brand(s) would see the funny side of what we had done, at the same time, realise it’s guerilla advertising, we never look to discredit nor try to pass ourselves off as them, yet lately we’ve had some issues from 2 ‘superbrands’... the first one which is an American preppy brand who were fairly nice to us and asked us to kindly remove items from sale off of our site, the other, which is a French tennis brand, they tried taking us to the cleaners, so I guess to answer your question; we now can’t mess with clothing (super)brands, so we best stick to beverage companies from now on.” says Langham.
"It's just another marketing spin, why is Mark Ronson a 'super' producer not just a 'producer'? I like the idea of some super hero character producer coming in to save the day, but not really a super brand.” he says.
This reaction is about brands not taking themselves too seriously and being able to laugh at themselves. Many larger brands have built themselves a straight jacket of branding and guidelines and aren’t flexible enough to respond to the new consumer’s desires. This is about having a personality and being confident enough to join in the joke. They had this trouble when social media first appeared and they needed to have a singular voice.
Superbrands is a dated concept and as such illustrates the change in the way we view established brands. Today, you don’t want to be seen as being too successful. You want to be part of the struggle and that’s also why many big brands are starting smaller brands all the time. Just look at H&M and its growing stable.
Many Superbrands have lost sight of its product and got wrapped up in the brand too much. They need to disrupt themselves. I think we’ll see many of these brands falter unless they give more attention to the final product and particularly its quality and longevity.
Right - Proper Mag Mug - £8
I wrote about ‘Russian Doll Brands’ - here
It’s time to show chest - see also TheChicGeek’s obsession with silk shirts - here - and, so, we’ve seen the stealth rise of the camp collar shirt over the last couple of summers. What first arrived in classic Hawaiian styles and floral patterns has morphed into fashion shirts and smarter plain versions.
If you thought a camp shirt featured pink flamingoes, drank Pina Coladas and listened to ABBA, you’d be wrong. This is the shirt style of the summer and you need to get involved. It’ll continue over into summer 2019 too.
Also known as a Cuban, Cabin, Cabana, Bowling or Lounge shirt, it’s a square shaped, short-sleeved, simple placket shirt worn untucked. I’m not really sure where the camp bit is from the origins are from warmer climes and it suits a more relaxed yet dressed approach.
Left - Basic Rights - Short Sleeve Camp Collar Shirt Mustard - £99
Left - Neighbourhood - Camp-Collar Printed Voile Shirt - £185 from MRPORTER.COM
Below - Commas - Camp-Collar Cotton Short - £191 from matchesfashion.com
Left - Reiss - Haydon Cuban Collar Shirt - £85
Left - Orlebar Brown - Travis Towelling - £175
Below - Barena - Camp-Collar Mélange Linen-Blend Shirt - £215 from MRPORTER.COM
Left - Dunhill - Paisley Print Short-Sleeved Lounge Shirt - £250
Left - Gucci - Oxford Bowling Shirt With Patches - £700
Left - River Island - Green Stripe Short Sleeve Revere Shirt - £25
Left - Topman - Pink Sunset Short Sleeve Shirt - £30
The French give good summer shoe and one of my favourite brands is Rivieras. Specialising in espadrille-type slip-ons, they have a standout modernity, quality and playfulness with their colours and finishes.
Seeing the full stand at the recent Pitti Uomo show was a reminder how nice these shoes are. It’s only when it finally gets hot that you can picture yourself wearing these shoes. I particularly like this ‘Napoles Pablo’ style with its delicate woven mesh and tricolour effect. The quality Spanish construction includes Terrycloth lining and sheepskin inner sole. Wear with chinos and a camp collar shirt.
Left & Below - Rivieras - Napoles Pablo - €110
Male Daisy Dukes
Putting the duke into Daisy Duke, okay, so they're usually denim, but these shorts are seriously short.
Top Left - Prada, Dior Homme, Fendi, Hermès
From Left - SS World Corp, Maison Margiela, Jacquemus, Prada
More Bad Denim
Is there any other type of denim these days? It keeps on getting worse and it ain't going away.
Above - Prada, Alyx, Balmain, CMMN SWDN, Off-White
Left - Valentino, Versace
Burnt neck? Don’t worry the summer roll-neck's got you. These were made for a British summer.
Left - Both - Prada
Brown Art Suit
I just love this. Simples.
Left - Dries van Noten
Verner Panton was the inspiration at Dries (left) and this carried over to Prada and Raf.
Left - Prada, Raf Simons
If you've seen more untucking than Rupaul's Drag Race, it's now time to let those French cuffs hangout. Goodbye cufflinks!
Below Both - Alexander McQueen
Caping was once massive eyeroll at fashion week, but, now, you can put your shoulders in!
From Left - Alexander McQueen, CMMN SWDN, Maison Margiela
The Scarf With Coat Attached
Trust Raf Simons do give us something we didn't know we needed. It won't blow away!
Below - Raf Simons, Raf Simons
How many green coats do you own? Exactly. Nothing welcomes spring like the Green Man. May Day alert!
Left - Dries van Noten, Raf Simons, Comme des Garcons
Left - Dunhill, Dolce & Gabbana, Thom Browne, Versace
Yellow hasn't mellowed, in fashion terms, it's just got brighter.
From Left - Raf Simons, Dior Homme, Ermenegildo Zegna
Left - Hermès, Thom Browne, Jacquemus, Versace
Don't be a dummy, get a bucket hat with the baby ties.
From Left - Ami, Fendi, Stella McCartney
The Longer DB
This season saw the beginnings of something more grown-up and less novelty. It starts with the double-breasted, longer jacket.
Above From Left - Ami, Dior Homme, CMMN SWDN, Dunhill, Versace
Below - Left - Kenzo, Louis Vuitton, Paul Smith, Stella McCartney, Thom Browne
We've had latex and leather trousers, now, it's time for the shiny, plastic looking shirt.
From Left - CMMN SWDN, Wooyoungmi, Dior Homme
Half & Half
Yin & Yang your look. It's as clear as night and day.
From Left - Maison Margiela, Alexander McQueen
You won't find this in any army surplus shop, but it makes you want to get in the big outdoors.
Below From Left - DSquared2, Neil Barrett
Just say 'Auntie Donatella knitted it for me, daarling!'.
From Left - Valentino, Louis Vuitton, Versace
They say the Chinese only buy the cheapest or the best. It’s simplistic, but it is the direction all retail markets seem to be headed in. The British market has been evolving into this for a while, now, and those stuck or stranded in the middle are suffering or dying.
The middle has been squeezed or forced to choose their direction of travel as we all race to the bottom or top.
The cheapest often requires huge volumes and multinationals and the best requires a perception of quality, luxury and good service.
As a brand or retailer, you have two questions to ask yourself, today: are we the cheapest? This can be split into different categories depending on where the brand sits and, are we the best? This is more complex and can mean many different things and is subjective. If you can’t say yes to both or either, they you need to start making some serious changes.
Imagine a Venn diagram: two circles, one the cheapest, one the best and price running up and the down the side axis. Any brand coming into the area where the two circles overlap is in a safer and strong position. Those within one of the circles has a focus, while those floating somewhere out of either need to work out which one they want to be in, and fast.
Let’s look at the cheapest option. This is why Sainsbury’s is getting into bed with Asda. The larger scale promises savings of around 10% to the consumer, and will help them compete with Booker/Tesco and the German food retailers, Aldi and Lidl. It’s an example of mid-market retailers needing to pair up or die.
In fashion, New Look revenue to the year 24th March 2018 was down -7.3% to £1,347.8m. New Look has not only announced store closures, but it’s also just said in its recent financial report and turnaround plan, that ‘Pricing (will be) lowered to offer significantly better value with 80% of product to retail under £20’.
Eighty percent of product under £20 will really put the brand toe-to-toe with Primark and, I think, it’s the right move for them. You have to go down fighting, but they’ll going to have to shift more product at these cheaper prices. Before, New Look wasn’t the cheapest, and it wasn’t the best in terms of being the most fashionable or desirable fast-fashion retailer. It used to be one of the cheapest, but then Primark came along.
It tried to be more fashionable, but at a time Boohoo, ASOS were growing and offering high fashionability at ridiculously low prices.
New Look says it wants to 'return to (a) value-led fast fashion and wardrobe basics offer with full price focus’. The margins will be so small they’ll need all the full price they can get.
H&M, long one of the darlings of fast retail, has seen its shares down nearly 20% this year and the company has said it will need to slash prices to reduce inventories, damaging profit margins. It has an $4.3 Billion in unsold stock and needs to be careful that its size won’t be its downfall.
It also explains its focus on different, ‘best’ sister brands like Arket and COS. H&M isn’t in the same position as New Look, yet, but they need to make sure it’s still seen as one of the best in terms of affordable fashionability and also offering value.
Marks & Spencer is another one trying this new best and cheapest approach. The clothes have arguably got much cheaper and the food is still perceived as the best, but it’s this balance that is hard to achieve within the same brand, especially knowing what consumers come to you for.
House of Fraser’s recent announcement to close 31 stores is a reflection of the growth of John Lewis both offline and online. John Lewis has continued to open in towns, in or near those House of Frasers, and House of Fraser isn’t cheaper or better. It probably explains the closure of the huge Birmingham store as John Lewis opened a shiny new shop at the railway station just a couple of years ago.
House of Fraser will need to pair up with somebody (maybe Debenhams?) or disappear altogether. Sports Direct, Mike Ashley, has shares in both and will no doubt be pushing for it and then they really can compete on price and dominate their local markets.
So, who is getting it right? Zara, for the best in fashionability and speed and John Lewis in customer service and being ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’. But, like a game of musical chairs, it’s changing all the time.
As for the ‘best’, this is what many luxury brands rely upon. This could be quality, use of materials, origin etc. Many ‘luxury’ brands have lost control of these in the race for large quantities and bigger margins. They have to be careful because a few poorly made, overpriced products will ruin the perception of any brand.
But, you can also find the cheapest within this market. For example, Johnstons of Elgin, one of the best Scottish producers of scarves and blankets. It makes for everybody from Hermès to Burberry. While a scarf from them is not cheap, say £100, it’s far cheaper than one with a designer name on. They are also the best at what they do and the reason why these brands use them.
Or, a brand like Paul Smith. When looking at a multi brand website like Mr Porter, it feels like one of the most affordable brands on there. I think its recent troubles has seen it get more competitive and tread that fine line between affordable and exclusivity. They are also the best at colour.
Or, you could can look at the total top, at the most expensive and exclusive. This is the pinnacle of the market and to be true to both would only be made in very limited numbers. This is chasing a very small number of big-fish consumers and, as such, it limits the size of the business. But, this can also to used to sell ranges of cheaper products, such as perfume or sunglasses, but even these categories are harder, now that people aren’t so hung up on brands.
This simplistic approach to the market cuts through some of the wood to see the trees in a highly competitive and changing retail landscape. So, the next time you look at your own brand or somebody else’s, you know which two questions to ask.
Judging by the queue, Jeffrey, and his gang of club kids, is still the golden ticket for East London menswear. The status even matches his yellow hair job.
The catwalk featured dancers and props, which looked like they were there for the marriage of Sarah Brightman to that Starship Trooper she fell in love with.
Metres of tin foil and oxygen pipes mingled with men’s, women’s and anything-in-between wear in a collection which looked more accomplished and retail than ever before.
A standout was a denim jacket and matching jeans and also his tailoring for the contemporary Westwood-type customer.
Jeffrey just needs to be careful the amateurish elements don’t take the focus away from the important stuff, but the new push to way-out-there commercial certainly suits his design sensibilities.
What did TheChicGeek wear? Credits - Coat - Gloverall, Sweater - Kent & Curwen, Sunglasses - Retrosuperfuture, Watch - Kronaby, Shirt - Jigsaw, Shoes - Sperry, Belt - Coach
See LFWM Day 1 - here
See LFWM Day 2 - here