Bill Cunningham Fashion Climbing Autobiography Fashion BookBill Cunningham’s first love was fashion, but the Big Apple came a close second. He left Boston for New York aged nineteen, losing his family’s support, but enjoying the infinite luxury of freedom. Living on a scoop of Ovaltine a day, he would run down to Fifth Avenue to feed on the spectacular sights of the window displays – then run back to his tiny studio to work all night.

Working as ‘William J’ - to spare his parents’ blushes - Bill became one of the most celebrated hat designers of the 1950s, his hats were featured in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar and worn by Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy. Bill’s mission was to bring happiness by making beautiful things – even if it meant pawning his bike to fund fancy-dress outfits for all his friends.

When women stopped wearing hats and his business was forced to close, Bill worked as a fashion journalist, touring the couture houses of Europe. But New York remained his home, and it was as a street photographer of the fashions of the city that he became well known, in a job that would last almost forty years.

Fashion Climbing is the enchanting memoir he left behind. Found after passing away in June 2016 aged 87, it captures the madcap times of his early career and the fashion scene of the mid-century. Written with the spark and wit of Holly Golightly, and brimming over with Bill’s infectious joy for life, it is a gift to all who seek beauty, whatever our style or status.

Left - Fashion Climbing - Bill Cunningham - £16.99

TheChicGeek says, “We don’t have the same affection for Bill on this side of the pond as the Americans, but we know him from the 2010 documentary ‘Bill Cunningham New York’, charting his life as a street style photographer for The New York Times. (I probably need to watch this again soon).

One thing to point out about this autobiography is, it doesn’t touch on his later life as a photographer. It focuses only on his early years, moving from a hat designer to fashion journalist and ends in the late 1960s.

Bill leaves his conservative Irish catholic family in Boston, who tried to curtail his creativity, via a job at department store Bonwit’s and on to New York. Bill finds himself making hats and using his imagination during the heyday of Dior’s ‘New Look’ and America’s obsession with following Paris’ lead.

Bill takes us back to a time when people applauded at fashion shows and not the one handed clap while social media-ing you get today. As delicate a bird as one of his favourite feathered creations, Cunningham projects himself as an outsider purely driven by the love of fashion. He’s exasperated by the social climbing and the following of fashion of women during this part of the 20th century.

This is America at the height of its power. Post war and the golden age of the American dream, this autobiography works through the decades when America peaked and was a powerhouse of fashion consumption and was its biggest patron. Bill must surely be the only man to combine time in the American army while sitting frow at Parisian couture houses.

This is a fun read, and, while it feels exaggerated, it is endearing and is an amusing look at America trying to find its fashion feet. Bill isn’t particularly modest though and wants to continually remind you how individual and original he is. At one point he proclaims he’s ten years ahead of fashion and how nobody gets him. Nobody wants to be ten years ahead of fashion, plus you’d think somebody would have moved into something other than hats faster if you were so ahead of your time.

The hat business dries up and he starts to use his expertise documenting the latest fashion shows and writing fashion articles for WWD. He certainly doesn't have many positive things to say about the fashion press and notes how badly dressed they mostly are.

The book charts his struggle, particularly financially, but you get a feeling his family have more money than he lets on and his uncle sounds very wealthy.

What’s interesting in the book is how things are so different, yet the same. His talk of fashion shows isn’t far off of the circus today. But, fashion has changed and that breathless wait for the next creation from a chosen designer doesn’t ring true anymore. We look, yes, but they no longer have the power with people following sheep-like.

For many, at this time, fashion is a vehicle for social standing, climbing and showing their wealth and his eyerolling at those who just use clothes for these purposes isn’t disguised. He wants them to just enjoy it for what it is, but, you can only do this if you understand fashion, and very few people truly do.

This is the Mad Men New York of parties in hotel ballrooms, social gatherings and peacocking. This is America at its most formal, yet still shows how conservative they are and yet with all the money. They would never buy anything that original or daring and that still rings true today. 

This is a lite and inspiring read for anybody who gets excited about vintage fashion, women with cinched in waists and full skirts, Parisian fashion salons of the 1950s and bouji New York beach resorts."

Read more ChicGeek Fashion Book Reviews here

Wednesday, 03 October 2018 16:35

Hot List The Granny Coat

AW18 menswear trends Milan Gucci Granny coatI spotted this coat on the Gucci catwalk in February. It is the type of coat people bought in the 1950s and 1960s and came with a matching hat, usually a Baker Boy style. It's the same coat grannies were wearing 40 years later and has that vintage feel that I'm always looking for.

Looking like a walking pub carpet or wallpaper is the look for AW18. Even though it's fairly loud, you could pretty much wear this coat with anything and it would take centre stage while making it look like you'd pilfered your grandmother's wardrobe. You'd probably have to sell her to pay for it anyway!

Left  & Below - Gucci - GG Diamond Wool Coat - £2660

AW18 menswear trends Milan Gucci Granny coat

See more picks from TheChicGeek's Milan Scrapbook here AW18 menswear trends Milan Gucci coat

Wednesday, 03 October 2018 13:47

ChicGeek Comment Bye Bye Sales

Sewbots ending sales due to automation and manufacturingWhile the dust continues to settle on the hoo-ha regarding Burberry burning product - who have, miraculously, stopped burning product, BTW - the whole thing is a reminder of how brands deal with waste and what they should do with it. 

Brands don’t want waste. Waste costs money. It also takes time and energy to get rid of it. Waste is a sign of over ordering, and being left with a mountain of stock to dispose of. This is basically what sales are: the motivation to shift unsold stock, shoving it all out the door hoping to make some form of profit, or, at worst, cover its costs.

In an ideal world, they’d be zero waste. What if brands only made exactly what they needed? No more sales, no more outlets, no more burning. Welcome to the future. 

Janice Wang, Founder & CEO of Alvanon, a fashion tech business specialising in helping brands with fit and reducing returns, says, “Our industry is blighted by oversupply. Some 60 percent of the garments we supply are sold at discount, which means we are making too much of the wrong thing.”

Left - The Sewbots are coming

Sales and discounts are hurting retailers. Not only does it negatively affect profits and margins, it also has created an environment where consumers are hooked on discounts and never want to pay full price. It’s a race to the bottom for many retailers and this is putting many out of business. At the beginning of this year, H&M announced it had a $4.3 billion pile of unsold stock. What do you do with it?

“Sales are bad for brands and retailers because they reduce margin and damage a brand's credibility. It makes people question whether products are worth the price they have paid for them.” says Petah Marian, Senior Editor, WGSN INSIGHT.

Fashion retailers are always pushing for efficiencies, but there’s a disconnect, currently, between the speed of ordering and the making to order window which many consumers will not tolerate.

“To become competitive, fashion retailers and brands need to embrace new production strategies and technologies, such as data and intelligence, robotics and digitalisation, to use customer data to provide tailored, on-demand items.” says Wang.

“A responsive supply chain enables brands to react quickly to consumer demands and changing trends. The vision is to reduce lead times from months to weeks to days or hours.” says Wang. “Consumers today live in a constantly changing world. This shapes their behaviour and expectations. They demand newness and immediacy without compromise.” she says.

Sewbots ending sales due to automation and manufacturing

Marian says, “It means less wastage of resources and also the possibility of personalising items for an individual consumer. Less wastage means a more sustainable supply chain, and people value things more when they have participated in their creation.”

Fashion is currently stuck in the past. Buyers have to guess what people will buy and in which sizes, many months in advance. It’s guesswork, and, while they have got faster and more efficient, there is huge margins for error and then you’re left dealing with your mistakes. On the other hand, you could also not make enough of something popular: missing out on full-price sales and leaving disappointed customers.

Right - The type of robots soon to be making your clothes

“Regional and localised sourcing allows retailers to be more responsive to actual customer buying behaviour.” says Wang. “Styles can even be adapted in-season and delivered to stores while consumers still want to buy them. And, at the end of the day, smaller runs of garments that sell at full-price are better than cheaper cost volume runs of garments that have to be sold at discount.” she says.

How many retailers blame the weather for having the wrong product at the wrong time when publishing their financial results? It’s also really bad for the environment.

“Eventually technology will allow us to go from producing things by the millions to producing them by the ones. Everyone is talking about customisation and there’s no doubt that will eventually happen.” says Wang. “It’s the most efficient and sustainable way of manufacturing.” she says.

“You used to go to the tailor and they would make one item for you.” says Wang. “I can visualise that you will customise one unit to order. Bespoke, customised, perfectly fitting items made just for you and only when you order them – it sounds just like a Savile Row offering, only this time it will be purchased from your smartphone.”

Fashion businesses are looking at making items ‘on-demand’, but to make these cost effective and fast we’re going to need automation. Amazon has just patented an ‘on demand’ system: making the clothes once an order has been placed, not before.

It will be robots or ‘Sewbots’, situated closer to home, which will, eventually, be making our clothes. SoftWear Automation, based in Atlanta, introduced ‘Lowry’ in 2015, a sewing robot that uses machine vision to spot and adjust to distortions in the fabric. Though initially only able to make simple products, such as bath mats, the technology is now advanced enough to make whole T-shirts and much of a pair of jeans. According to the company, it also does it far faster than a human sewing line.

SoftWear Automation’s big selling point is that one of its robotic sewing lines can replace a conventional line of 10 workers and produce about 1,142 T-shirts in an eight-hour period, compared to just 669 for the human sewing line. The robot, working under the guidance of a single human handler, can make as many shirts per hour as about 17 humans.

“Retailers will push for this when it becomes cheaper to manufacture products using robots than using offshore labour.” says Marian.

Retailers, factory owners and brands will make huge savings. It will also mean things can be made closer to home so left time and expense in travel. They’ll be no more sweatshops and the robots can run 24/7.

Currently, brands are starting to explore this new idea, but it’s still quite niche and can be more expensive. Under Armour has its new Lighthouse Project, Nike has a new partnership with Apollo Global Management and Adidas' Speed factory.

Adidas currently has a ‘Speedfactory’ in both Germany and Atlanta. The factory is completely automated, and designed to be able to speedily produce limited runs of customisable product or replenish the hottest product selling quickly during the same season. Adidas said it can get shoes to market three times faster in a Speedfactory than with traditional means and hopes the two factories can produce one million pairs of shoes a year by 2020. Adidas will continue to experiment with the Speedfactories, adding new technology and more automated processes to get to a goal of 50% of shoes made by with 'speedier' methods.

This is the future. The future will be shops as showrooms, where you order the item in your specific size and then an automated robot, closer to home, will be able to manufacturer it within an acceptable window of time. Just imagine, something will never sell out. They’ll always have your size. Your better size even. You’ll be able to order something to fit perfectly.

The brands or shops that will thrive will be those with the best ideas or styles. Consumers will be able to customise, within reason, and brands will no longer have to hold vast inventory which ties up capital and kills cashflow. Sales will be a thing of the past and the waste and environmental pollution will be reduced hugely. Clothes could also become cheaper as the labour costs are reduced.

This fashion automation is part of the forthcoming ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’. It will revolutionise what we buy and how we look. The machines are definitely coming because the industry wants it. 

Read more ChicGeek Comment pieces here

must have vintage menswear Pierre BalmainFor those of us who want to express our taste, get something different and also, possibly, invest, vintage is the place to be, right now. I love a rummage around a vintage store or on eBay, but finding something decent, that fits, is tough, but that’s part of the fun and makes something good all that more special. Book - 

One of the easiest ways of finding something special is to look at a specialist online auction and Kerry Taylor Auctions in Bermondsey is probably the best specialist fashion seller in the UK. Admittedly, it is reflected in the prices, but they aren't crazy, especially when you compare them to today's designer prices. I always have a look at their online catalogue, not only to look at what is in the sale, but also for style ideas from the past. 

must have vintage menswear Tommy Nutter

must have vintage menswear Tommy NutterHere are TheChicGeek’s picks of the sale and why:

TheChicGeek says, “While I probably wouldn’t get into this dress… it’s the 1960s & 1970s optical prints that are all the rage at the moment. Just look at Dries Van Noten’s Verner Panton inspired collection for SS19 to understand how fresh these are looking right now. I'd love this print in a shirt.”  See Thom Yorke in Dries Van Noten SS19 it here 

Lot 202 : A Pierre Balmain couture printed organza evening dress, 1972

A Pierre Balmain couture printed organza evening dress, 1972. labelled and numbered 154665, boldly printed with 'target' medallions.

Estimate: £300 - £500

TheChicGeek says, “Vintage Tommy Nutter is very hard to come by. These aren’t particularly exciting, but, it’s the shapes you’re buying into: huge, exaggerated lapels and flared trousers. I particularly like the multiple vents on the back.”

Book - You need to read the House of Nutter here

Lot 252 : Two Tommy Nutter gentleman's wool suits, 1975-76

Two Tommy Nutter gentleman's wool suits, 1975-76. un-labelled, of similar design, the first in sage-green, the second beige, both jackets with exaggerated lapels, inverted pleat detailing to front pockets and rear; together with an original 'Nutters' hanger and photocopy showing the original owner.

Estimate: £300 - £500

must have vintage menswear Courrèges sunglasses glasses Kerry Taylor AuctionsTheChicGeek says, “These are a fashion museum piece, so I’d expect them to go for much more than the estimate. The late 1960s sci-fi/retro-future styles still fascinate and these are one of the iconic eyewear styles of that era.”

See more inspiration from 2001 Space Odyssey here

Lot 267 : A pair of Courrèges cream plastic 'eskimo' sunglasses, 1964

A pair of Courrèges cream plastic 'eskimo' sunglasses, 1964. signed along one arm, the solid lenses with horizontal slits, in a Courrèges plastic glasses case.

must have vintage menswear Courrèges sunglasses glasses Kerry Taylor AuctionsEstimate: £200 - £300

must have vintage menswear Pearly King OutfitTheChicGeek says, “While this isn’t an original Pearly King outfit, and more a stage costume, the allure is the style’s place in London’s working class street culture. While an original East London ‘Pearly’ suit would be the dream, it would be hard to find one in as good condition as this one.”

Lot 381 : A good 'Pearly King' outfit for 'The Yorkshire Coster', English, circa 1910

A good 'Pearly King' outfit for 'The Yorkshire Coster', English, circa 1910. of dark grey herringbone tweed and covered entirely with pearlised buttons, comprising jacket, waistcoat and trousers with buttons by 'Scarboro Etches'; together with an original photograph and pocket map of London. Provenance: The Castle Howard Collection, ex lot 210, Sotheby's, 7th October 2003. This suit belonged to William Wedgwood Fenwick (1886-1960) who was born in Scarborough to Methodist parents. He wanted a stage career and went to London where he trained as understudy to the performer Albert Chevalier. Eventually due to pressure from his family he returned to Scarborough where he opened a draper's shop. He used to entertain friends wearing this suit.


Estimate: £350 - £500

must have vintage menswear bracesTheChicGeek says, “Pre-20th century items have a preciousness knowing that the majority of clothing or accessorises fell apart through wear and never made it through the decades of time. These pairs of braces are really cute and show the whimsy in menswear going way back into history. These are pure dandy and would be fun to wear, if the condition allows.”

Lot 419 : Three pairs of men's braces, mid-late 19th century

Three pairs of men's braces, mid-late 19th century. comprising: petit point pair with motifs including matadors, galleons, native figures with feathers; another pair embroidered with forget me knots, both with elasticated and leather straps; a woven blue and white Edelweiss patterned pair; and a single poor condition petit point panel.

Estimate: £250 - £400

must have vintage menswear Northern India Ladakhi quilted hatTheChicGeek says, “This is giving me pure Gucci vibes, especially the yellow one. Saying that, Michele’s probably already ticked these off his list of references and he’s already ransacked Northern India from the first half of the 20th century for SS17!!!!”

See more about this AW18 season’s trend of Balaclavas here

Lot 464 : Two quilted hats, Ladakhi, Northern India, first half of the 20th century

Two quilted hats, Ladakhi, Northern India, first half of the 20th century. the first of golden-yellow silk damask; the second in black velvet with fauna stems stitched in gilt thread; both lined in red cotton. This style of hat is worn sitting high on the crown of the head, with the flaps curving outwards, during festivals.

Estimate: £100 - £150

Friday, 28 September 2018 10:50

ChicGeek Comment Life After Brexit

Life after Brexit Chanel moves global headquarters to LondonRemainers cover your ears. One of the world’s strongest fashion brands is moving its headquarters to London despite Brexit. Yes, Brexit hasn’t put them off. Chanel has decided to close its global headquarters in New York and move it to London.

Until now, Chanel did not have a single holding company for its operations and functions were located in a number of cities. In a statement from the French company, they said, “We wanted to simplify the structure of the business and London is the appropriate place to do that for an international company. London is the most central location to our markets, uses the English language and has strong corporate governance standards with its regulatory and legal requirements.”

Left - Even London's lampposts are Chanel!

‘Chanel Limited’ became the holding company of most Chanel entities in the summer of 2017 and this is why the majority of the global functions are now located in London.

“Brexit's economic and geopolitical impacts remains a challenge for the London economy. London is still dealing with a hangover from Brexit.” says Brandon Rael, Operations Strategy & Innovations Leader & Retail Digital Strategist. “We should expect that London will experience an upswing when the economy stabilises. Moving the Chanel HQ to London is very much a long-term strategy.” he says.

Chanel could have chosen Paris, but instead chose London, and this goes against the anti-Brexit rhetoric of companies leaving in their droves. In July, Chanel revealed its financials for the first time in its 108 history. It generated nearly $10 billion in global sales in 2017, making it one of the world’s biggest luxury fashion brands. This new openness is Chanel positioning itself and facing up to the dominance of the likes of Kering and LVMH. This is for the next, digital chapter in Chanel’s history. 

Brexit is so close, now, it is time to start looking beyond it and, Chanel’s decision would have been a long term decision from this globally revered company. While one company moving its headquarters to London doesn’t prove anything. In the same vein, one company moving out, doesn’t either. The major reasons companies move or stay in London won’t change post Brexit. They move to London because of geography, language, law and talent pool. This is about London competing with New York or Hong Kong and it is the only truly world city within Europe.

“London remains the world‘s most promising city for luxury retail growth, despite troubles faced by the Brexit vote,” says Rael. “A new report conducted by CBRE and Walpole has found that compared to other major luxury destinations across the globe, London still holds the greatest long-term potential,” he says.

The newly christened Capri Holdings - formerly Michael Kors -  has its principal executive office in London and Condé Nast International recently choose London to cope with the new demands of its digital future. Everything catwalk related: photography, video, social media and features will be lead by Vogue International, an editorial hub established last year to lead content for the 25 editions of the magazine.

Life after Brexit Conde Nast International moves global headquarters to LondonIn an interview in the New York Times with Wolfgang Blau, Chief Digital Officer of Condé Nast International, he said two-hundred editorial and engineering staff members had been hired, and next year, he wants to have a Vogue presence at about 900 runway shows all feeding back to London. This is Condé Nast cutting costs and becoming more efficient while focussing its global fashion content in London. This will only get bigger. Its travel magazine, Condé Nast Traveler has moved onto a new single platform, and it too would be overseen not from its birthplace of New York, but from London.

Right - London, not New York, is the global centre for all digital content

We were told that "Brexit would make us poorer”, but since the vote, and with a background of caution and underinvestment, Britain has a joint record high employment rate of 75.6% with 32.39 million people now in work according to the latest official statistics. (June 2018). There were 488,000 unemployed people aged from 16 to 24 for May to July 2018, the lowest figure since records began for youth unemployment in 1992. Overall, unemployment fell by another 55,000 between May and July to 1.36 million. Wages saw faster than expected growth in the three months to July. Excluding bonuses, wages grew by 2.9%, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), well above the inflation rate.

Business is doing well. UK Trade benefitted from a goods export boom in July. Official figures showed the deficit in goods dropped to £10 billion in July from £10.7 billion the previous month. Including service, the overall trade gap fell to just £111 million, one of the best monthly results in the past 20 years. In the three months to July overall goods exports grew by £4.3 billion while imports rose by £3.7 billion. This came largely from trading with countries outside the EU.

“It looks like Brexit is going to be a good thing for luxury fashion as people in the US and China take advantage on preferential tariffs coming from the UK.” says Fleur Hicks, Managing Director of onefourzero, a data analytics and digital research agency.

Eurotunnel recorded its best ever August for freight traffic and the number of passengers passing through Heathrow’s terminals jumped to 7.5 million last month, boosted by new services to China. Europe’s biggest airport, said August customer numbers were up 2.6% from a year earlier and cargo volumes were up 1.2%. Asia saw the biggest increase in passenger numbers, up 6.3%, with new services from Hainan Airlines, Tianjin Airlines and Beijing Capital. Gatwick also saw a 0.4% rise in passenger numbers to 4.9 million and its cargo traffic soared a whopping 22.3%.

Irina Bragin, from Made of Carpet, who specialises is making luxury carpet bags, says “I think I have one advantage of Brexit in mind. Today selling to the EU as retailer (to the end buyer) we pay VAT, same as we sell in UK. After Brexit, it will be the same as selling to US, or Canada, or Australia - no VAT to pay.”

I know it’s fashionable not to be positive about Brexit, but, it’s 6 months away and it’s time to turn the negativity into optimism. Global businesses are looking past Brexit, for the longer term, and what makes London great to do business in hasn’t really changed. Brexit is something new and unknown, but, in Britain’s true entrepreneurial spirit, we can do this!