The week Marks & Spencer previewed their new AW17 menswear collection and instead of a traditional press day, which is usually a selection of clothes hanging on a rail or mannequins, they opted for a catwalk presentation.
Left - One of the models was Instagramming his six-pack on M&S's AW17 menswear catwalk show
They’ve done this previously, but, this time, it was a fun affair and they injected personality and humour into the proceedings. As well as a cross-section of ages of male models, there was a sausage dog, a little girl, a topless Instagram selfie taker, a musician, a guy wearing a tuxedo. You get the idea.
The idea was that it was men on the street and these were the characters in M&S clothes and the different type of guys they dress or can be dressed there..
There was one model carrying a coffee and even a guy holding one of those brown, square paper coffee shop bags. It was all very Sunday-mornings-avocado-on-toast, Bright-Lights, Big City and was aspirational enough.
The next day I woke up thinking about that coffee and paper bag and thought why weren’t they M&S branded? Why weren’t the models carrying M&S carrier bags? The answer is because they’re not cool enough. One of M&S’s checkerboard carrier bags says “egg & cress sandwich” rather than "modern, urban and fashion conscious guy".
And that’s the Brand Disconnect.
M&S needs to work backwards. It needs to think about making people feel good and want to carry a M&S bag and for it to be believable in a show like this. There is no reason why people aren’t happy to get their coffee and Danish from Marks & Spencer. There’s also no reason why they’re not happy to get the rest of their wardrobe from there either, but once it hits one of their green or white plastic bags it sucks the life out of the purchase. Any notion of special is gone.
And I think this is Marks & Spencer’s problem: it’s not the product, it’s the packaging. It’s just not cool or special enough. They have plenty of hot-food, coffee shop-type places and could easily make contemporary packaging for customers to take this away in. Or, even just simple brown bags with a printed logo. It’s not about disguising it’s M&S, it’s about updating and making people want to carry your brand. It's also not about money, well designed and contemporary packaging shouldn't cost much more.
They don’t have to go all hipster, but if they’re ever going to update and put back some retail magic they need to ask themselves why weren’t they happy for the models to be carrying current M&S packaging? Retail is detail after all.
Update Correction - Marks & Spencer's said "We are surprised about your branding comments, as we used both a branded coffee cup and a branded bag in our show (see pictures attached) and worked really hard to ensure we included lots of detail. Also, we have not offered the green carrier bags for over a year, in line with when the whole branding was re-designed in black and white".
I accept my mistake and it's good to see they used their own packaging. From where I was standing, at the show, the packaging looked plain and anonymous. I still think it shows how important bold branding and packaging is even in the most simple and everyday of purchases and how modern retailers want and need customers to be seen to happily carry their product.
Most of the time we’re happy with what we are given and today, for guys, it feels like there is plenty of choice. But, every so often you fantasise a lottery win and think what you would have made for you.
Mine has always been a towelling blazer. I’ve always thought that this spongey, soft and stretchy material would make the ideal summer blazer. I, initially, thought in blue and maybe double-breasted to really go all-out dressy with the towelling. Anyway, that hasn’t happened, yet, but this from one from Orlebar Brown has.
In dark asphalt grey, this single breasted towelling blazer is perfect for the British summer climate. You could wear with shorts and T-shirts and I would keep the colour palette to black, white or grey.
Left & Below - Orlebar Brown - Edgar Cotton Terry-Towelling Blazer - £495 from MatchesFashion.com
‘Potential’ is an overly optimistic word in fashion and there are many more disappointments than successes. When you work in this business you always have your eyes and ears open, listening and watching on social media, traditional media and on the street to see who people like and what they are doing.
Left - The pink suit is by Edward Sexton, one of the most stylish tailors in London
Somebody who I think has a lot of potential, in the realms of being a male clotheshorse, is Harry Styles. Apart from the social media hysteria, I didn’t take much notice of him when he was in One Direction, but he feels like he has huge potential to trail-blaze in menswear. Even as a five he always stood out, albeit slightly.
Many of the things he wears are difficult or require believability and on most guys would look too try hard. Okay, so I may be reading too much into this, but, I remember Justin Timberlake leaving N-Sync, and he was on the cover of Arena Home Plus, the cover they had to reprint as it was too violent as Sept 11th had just happened, and I remember thinking "he was just another silly boyband member, he’s not cool enough for that magazine", but he quickly, thanks to that first album, graduated into an adult artist and so did his style. (Though his Tom Ford Suit & Tie section is still the best).
Back to Harry. Scream! He looks like a young Jagger, which is a plus. He’s sexy without it being about his body. It’s an intellectual form of sexy and the clothes correspond with this.
Below - Harry on Graham Norton. He's partial to dragons on a flared trouser
And this isn’t just because there is no competition. Ed Sheeran, anybody?! Harry Styles was recently interviewed by The Sun and he was asked a few things about his appearance.
He said “I always love being comfortable. You should wear what makes you feel comfortable.
"It’s a really good opportunity to have fun - it’s clothes, it’s not a big deal.”
“It’s a good time to express yourself and have fun with it.”
“It’s one of those things that you shouldn’t take seriously. If you want to wear a pair of yellow trousers you can wear a pair of yellow trousers.”
Exactly. It feels a very relaxed approach and something that isn’t laboured over. Obviously he has a stylist, somebody has to do the leg work, but it feels like he’s choosing from the rail. It’s quite a British thing to not look at others and just do your own thing, instinctively in-sync with what’s going on.
At the moment it’s a mix of Gucci, which definitely isn't for the wallflower, and Edward Sexton, one of the greatest British tailors, who has dressed the majority of the Beatles and Mick Jagger over the years, but we’re hoping for an evolution as fashion moves on. It’ll show his eye and style/taste level if he can change without losing any of the cool factor.
Harry, TheChicGeek is watching you.
Left - Harry in those acid yellow trousers
Put yellow and red together and you don't get orange, but Baywatch. This colour combo always says ‘Lifeguard’, even though on the new film, strangely, they’re using red and blue. Must be a copyright issue!
Anyway, make like Zac and Dwayne down on the beach and go for T-shirts and swim shorts in primary red and yellow. Take the hassle out of Hasselhoff and keep it simple. A strong yellow T-Shirt has always been a difficult one to blend into the wardrobe, but add a red swim short and you get a perfect combo.
Left - An oldie, but a goodie - Original Baywatch
Even if the film’s a load of rubbish, which it probably will be, you can’t get away from the attraction of the sea and surf. Forever and always, I'm always here!
Below - St. Moriz, the no.1 volume self tan brand in the UK, is making a big splash this summer by partnering with the new Baywatch movie which hit screens from 29th May
Left - Orlebar Brown - OB-V - Sunshine Tailored-Fit V-Neck T-Shirt - £65, BULLDOG - Raspberry Mid-Length Swim Shorts - £145
Left - Whistles - Crumple Everyday T-Shirt - £35
Below - Topman - Red Embroidery Swim Shorts - £16
Left - Orlebar Brown SS17
Left - ASOS - Longline Knitted T-Shirt With Curved Hem In Yellow - £18
Below - Thom Browne - Slim-Fit Short-Length Stripe-Trimmed Swim Shorts - £290 from MRPORTER
Below - Topman - Mustard Reality Print T-Shirt - £15
Left - River Island - Yellow Rolled Sleeve Pocket T-Shirt - £8
Left - Patagonia - Nine Trails Jersey T-Shirt - £35 from MRPORTER
Below - Speedo - Solid Leisure 16” Swim Shorts - £15]
Jeans are in flux. Okay, that is a bit dramatic, but upstaged by the style and comfort of tracksuit bottoms and the fact that many jeans styles have become way too tight and skinny, it’s time for a new direction.
The ‘Dad Jean’ is deliberately ill-fitting and unflattering and looks surprising fresh. Liberating and, so-bad-they’re-good type of thing, you need the most ill-fitting shape, in the worst wash you can find. You can thank me later!
Okay, these may take a while to get used to, but, ask yourself, how long did it take until you committed to your first pair of skinny jeans?
Think Kurt Cobain.
Left & Far Left - Topman - Blue Cropped Wide Leg Fit Jeans - £40
Weekday - Drift Loose Cropped Jeans Lagoon Blue Wash - £40 from ASOS
River Island - Light Blue Wash Cody Loose Fit Raw Edge Jeans - £45
Who knew Obama was the king of the dad jean?!
If you’re not overly familiar with the name ‘Miansai’, you’ve probably seen one of their most famous designs without knowing it. A coloured nautical cord bracelet with a metallic fish hook or anchor detailing was, a few years ago, as ubiquitous as Stan Smiths and skinny jeans.
It was one of the few jewellery designs and brands that managed to cut through to the mainstream while still being desirable for guys to wear on their wrists. It was a sweet spot of pricing and branding that made it something that wasn’t throwaway, yet was affordable enough to be worn carefree.
Left - Michael Saiger Founder & Creative Director of Miansai, TheChicGeek wears Harrington Jacket - Grenfell, Cardigan - Pretty Green X John Smedley, T-Shirt - Vintage Helmut Lang, Tracksuit Trousers - adidas from ASOS, Trainers - Diadora Made in Italy
I caught up with the founder, Michael Saiger, in London, to find out how he achieved something that is so difficult, today, and see what’s next for Miansai:
Originally from New York, Michael Andrew Saiger - it’s the MI-AN-SAI of his name that gives the brand its name, “All the domains were taken until I circled these parts of my name. Everybody thought it was asian, but it’s not”, he says, is dressed in a simple sweater and chinos and surrounded by the salon style hanging of the Berners Tavern restaurant.
Michael’s attention to detail can be seen by his perfectly manicured beard and not a hair out of place on his head. “I put my handprint on everything I do. I’m OCD, I’m obsessive”, he says.
How did he get started and where did his eye come from? “My mum has an antique store, she’s an interior decorator and I grew up around estate sales my whole life. So, then when I went to the University of Miami and I started making some bracelets. This was 2007,” says Michael.
“I was looking for a bracelet and there was nothing out there. So, I started making bracelets for myself and then I would take these World War II pendants and medallions that I would find at estate sales and make them into necklaces. All my friends really loved it and wanted them.
“I took them to the concept store, Base, in Miami. They were like, ‘oh yeah, we love this stuff’. This was right before I went on holiday for the summer, and when I went back after, they said they’d sold out in like a week or two,”
Right - This bracelet design has done the difficult thing of being common while still looking fresh and has become something of a men's classic - Miansai - Anchor Cord Silver-Plated Wrap Bracelet - £55 from MRPORTER
The company started officially in 2008 and, then, the product that catapulted Miansai onto the wrists of men worldwide was born. “I took all that money and bought various machines, equipment, everything, so, then me and one of my best friends had a 300 sq ft work studio and we started making everything and selling to some of the best boutiques around the US.
“After that and I graduated - the degree was in marketing - we were bursting out, so we found a 10,000 sq ft warehouse, and built it out and set up our whole manufacturing operation. Then, I started taking our nautical rope and, at the time, nobody used nautical rope for anything unless you went to a summer camp and had a little tie-on bracelet.
“We launched in 2009, in Barney’s & Bergdorf’s ,and then GQ featured one of our rope bracelets. I started using the rope in 2008, but the hook and anchor came in 2009. I didn't want to launch it until I knew I had manufacturing, as I knew it would be very popular. I didn't want to come out with a product and not be able to deliver it.
“We were the first to do anything like this with price points between $55 to $500. It had to be for a 15 year old, it had to be for a 70 year old, it had to be for a 20 year old: anyone and everyone.
Asked how many he thinks he’s sold of his signature product, we quickly discredit the hundreds of thousands and move into the millions. Next came his own retail outlets. “In 2012, we started a mobile retail unit, an old vintage airstream. In 2013, we opened a store in New York, Soho, and we've just opened another store in Venice Beach in LA".
Michael understands the future of retail and that traditional bricks and mortar US retail is suffering. “Retailers are hurting, especially in the US, with everybody shopping online. We have our food delivered, we, literally, don't got to the store, at all. The industry is changing”.
How do you see your stores then? “It’s more about experiential retail. I built our two stores to be galleries. I didn’t want jewellery fixtures, I designed furniture to house jewellery. It feels like a furniture store inside. That’s the future of retail,”.
Left - Miansai - Harbour Rucksack Tobacco Leather - £506.35 This was the bag Michael was carrying in London. He says the bags are made in the same factories as Prada, using the same leather as Louis Vuitton
He cites Aesop as a brand he admires. He’s coy about naming anybody that touches on his accessorises world, but he’s clearly an admire of good design.
He knows that he needs to go to where the consumers are, so he’s launching 5 more mobile units of classically restored Airstreams, Piaggio's and a Fiat at various locations such as JFK, LAX, Soho House Malibu and Newport, Rhode Island. He says it’s all about, “High traffic in an authentic way without selling out,”.
The brand has just expanded into leather bags and fine jewellery. “We launched leather bags: Italian leather, all cut and sewn in Turkey. We use some of the same factories as Prada and the some of the same leather as Louis Vuitton. I always collected bags from my estate sale days and knew what I wanted in a bag”.
As for the fine jewellery. It’s not currently available in the UK, but how does that fit in? “It’s marketed to women, but anyone can wear it,” he says, “For first 5 year’s of the brand, I never said whether it was men’s or women’s,". Is it made by your? "We do make some of the solid gold jewellery ourselves and some of the fine jewellery with the Pavé diamonds, we also work with a very high end factory in Thailand”.
Right - Arduin Cuff Bracelet, 14K Gold/Pave - £2978.54
What advice can he give to men with regards to wearing jewellery? “Keep it simple. Keep it to two pieces, unless you have a thin bracelet. For me, personally, I never wear more that two bracelets and a watch”.
So, what’s next for Miansai? “I definitely want to stay in the accessories realm, I don't want to go into ready-to-wear. We have a very good niche and I’d like to stay there”.
Michael currently has 55 employees, he doesn’t disclose his turnover, but if he’s shifting £60 bracelets by the million, then it’s going to be pretty high. He obviously knows his market and exactly how to expose his brand without it feeling like it is everywear, devaluing it and worst of all, millennials I'm looking at you here, boredom kicks in.
To sell millions of the same bracelet yet retain its desirability is a skill many retailers or brands would love to know. I don’t think it’ll be long before we see a converted vintage van - how about a Morris Traveller? That’s very British - at Wilderness or one of those more monied festivals emblazoned with ‘Miansai’ on the side.
The results are in and the great British high-street has polarised. On the one side is the tired and cumbersome old guard with its offering still stuck in the past, trying to shift their stock through promotions and discounts and then the younger, faster, cheaper and ultimately, more fun retailers who are reporting record sales and profits, both on and offline.
From Left - ASOS, Boohoo
Boohoo just reported a doubling in annual profit, driven by growth in new customers, and said revenue should rise by about 50 percent in 2017-18 as it benefits from recent acquisitions. Revenue rose 51 percent to £294.6 million as Boohoo increased its active customer base to 5.2 million, up 29 percent, while international growth, particularly in the United States, exceeded management expectations.
ASOS The online fashion retailer said pre-tax profits rose 14 percent to £27.3m in the six months to 28 February, while revenue increased 37 percent to £911.5 million. ASOS has again upgraded its sales guidance for the full year, pencilling in growth in the 30-35 per cent range, up from 25-30 per cent.
This is growth, most brands, at this particularly point in time, can only dream about.
The pioneer of ridiculously cheap clothes, Primark, said total sales jumped 11 percent in the six months to 4 March. Sales at Primark, which has 329 stores globally, jumped by 21pc to £3.2bn on the back of new shops.
The UK also delivered an improved performance with a 2 percent lift in like-for-like sales, which meant the discount chain stole market share from suffering high street rivals.
Even sales of clothing at Sainsbury’s and Argos outperformed the market with growth of more than 4 percent in the year to 11 March, the supermarket reported.
What’s going on? This isn’t purely price driven. While it’s a factor, they’re making product that people want and the bigger they get and more product they make, the more people they can please. Lots and often seems to be the mantra to keep the novelty of fashion ticking over.
Too many old brands do these big annual ‘collections’, but people just want lots of individual items and fast. These fast brands do look to designers and trends, but they seem to play and experiment themselves. They acknowledge what is going on, but come up with their own things too. It's a buy it or it's gone attitude.
While Next and Marks & Spencer’s languish, I think a lot of men are trading down, happy with the product and choice. I’ve never seen so many fun things for guys. ASOS and Boohoo are producing the kind of menswear once reserved for girls and the boys seem to be loving it. Ombre fringed sweaters, lace shirts and sequinned leggings are just a few of the crazy things that are coming out of these retailers, and while they wont sell in the thousands, it keeps the cool guys coming back for more.
The young guy, today, has the confidence to have fun with how he looks and he doesn’t want to invest big money in fun or one-off items that are part of a look, or something he feels he’s taking a risk on. The fact is it’s the cheapness that makes it more fun and less pressure to look like anything in particular. It also is a way of showing off, this only cost me…
I’m going to call it the ‘Harry Styles Effect’ - trying something different yet being cool enough to carry it off. Okay, he’s wearing Gucci dragons, but you get the idea.
Only a few guys can get away with it, but it receives admiration from the rest of their peer group. It’s basically about looking like a ‘cool dick’ and when you turn up in a white, see-through lace shirt and your friends ask you what you’re wearing, you secretly know they think you’re cool and it’s the buzz you get from trying something different or new. They then look to see where you've bought your items and, while maybe not getting the same things, it creates a halo for the brand.
It’s about having a sense of humour and this is why the British are so good at style: we can laugh at ourselves, while still looking cool. We can be experimental while not worrying too much about convention or others. It’s what makes us leaders and, also, why some of our retailers are so good at this too and internationally.
Another reason is young men aren’t so hung up on logos and branding anymore. They also don't have the money to spend and want something fresh and often, if only for their Instagram account. They want to go out and wear new clothes and with limited disposable incomes they have to buy cheaper. It’s FUN with a capital F and in a world that seems to be harder and harder to get by in, it’s an outlet of escapism for the young guy.
My only message is enough ‘super skinny’.