A new exhibition celebrating five decades of Zandra Rhodes’ namesake label opens at the Fashion and Textile Museum. Zandra Rhodes: 50 Years of Fabulous is the largest ever exhibition dedicated to the seminal British designer and museum founder.
The main space hosts fifty looks - one from each year of Rhodes’ career; from a 1969 ankle-length kaftan, screen-printed in silk chiffon to a 2018 fan pleated jumpsuit in a dramatic shimmer satin.
Left - Everybody knows her shocking pink hair, Dame Zandra Rhodes
TheChicGeek says, “Dame Zandra is a true fashion artist. She’s everything a great British designer should be; colourful, fun, artistic, creative, generous and a true personality. The shocking fuchsia pink hair has made her a fashion icon and her image and name resonates far outside of fashion circles.
Right - One dress from each of her 50 years
Her peak was in the 1970s, but the quality of her designs and screen printing make many of her dresses timeless despite heavily referencing this decade.
It makes sense to choose one dress for each year, but it always makes things feel quite bitty and random in an exhibition setting. I think it’s better to show the best collections in groups.
The major problem I have is I’ve always thought the Fashion and Textile Museum a drab and awkward space. It’s disappointing that a museum so colourful on the outside feels dark and claustrophobic on the inside. They really need a good retail designer who knows how to dress and light a space to give it a luxe feel. Fashion exhibitions should tap into the shopping desire aesthetic and entice you in. (Bit like Dior did at the V&A recently). You only have to look at the YSL Museum in Marrakech to see a small fashion museum working really well. See more here
Left - Designs up to the present day
I know the budgets are bigger, but this space doesn’t do justice to Zandra’s talents and every other exhibition I’ve seen here.
Here prints, displayed like saris, show her pinnacle as a textile designer, but disappointingly there aren’t any images of celebrities like Princess Diana and Freddie Mercury wearing her designs. There are no fashion shoots or glossy images to make the clothes become real, glamorous and take them out into the world. There is a fashion show reel, but it is easy to walk past.
Right - Freddie giving good Rhodes
Upstairs there are a few costumes from the operas she has designed in San Diego and images from her sketchbooks, which, again, show what an artist she is, but it’s never as fun as the person.
Dame Zandra Rhodes is a legend and to have survived for 50 years, being this creative, is no mean feat. She is somebody definitely worth celebrating.”
Until 26 January 2020
Left - Zandra's textiles full displayed
To be a retailer today you need many fingers in many pies. Think a centipede Paul Hollywood and you’re getting some idea. So, it was with interest to hear the latest announcement from the world’s second largest fashion retailer, H&M. They’ve decided to start a pilot selling products from external brands.
While they have sold third party brands in some of their more premium chains before, it’s a first for the mother brand. H&M’s main, eponymous brand has been neglected and struggled as the company’s strategy was to roll out retail chains such as Arket, Weekday and &Other Stories.
The bottom end of the market is tough with margins continually squeezed. H&M’s huge undersold inventory, an undeveloped online offering and falling profits - for the eighth quarter in a row the Swedish fashion chain reported a decreasing profit, despite having recently achieved turnover growth - has taken its toll on this retail behemoth.
Left - Swedish fast-fashion giant is piloting a new strategy
It needs a new strategy and has clearly been watching the likes of ASOS and Zalando be all things to all people and expand rapidly.
A company spokesman said “The H&M brand will now develop our offer of external brands. The purpose is to complement our offer with external brands to add excitement and energy and we see great opportunities for growth and to find new customers,”.
You can charge more for branded product without the need to hold large amounts of stock. It also widens you target market, especially amongst men who still like branded items. While it’s not clear which brands will be sold, it’s likely to be dominated by sportswear. This is an area that has seen huge growth with the likes of JD Sports smashing their earnings. JD Sports’ last half-year revenues jumped 47% to £2.7 billion on the back of a 10% surge in like-for-like sales. Sportswear has higher margins and appeals to more age demographics.
One of the more traditional high-street retailers to make this third party brand strategy work is Next. Its ‘LABEL’ concept is now turning over £350 million in yearly sales with huge growth seen over the last few years. Brands such as River Island, adidas, Boss, Superdry and Fat Face sit alongside beauty and home. It’s the contemporary department store.
In their latest financial statement, they say they “continue to develop the business through the addition of new brands, increasing the breadth of offer with existing brands and (from early this year) offering items stocked in our partners’ warehouses through Platform Plus"
"‘Platform Plus’ allows our customers to order un-stocked items directly from our partners’ warehouses to be delivered through our network.
“In March this year we started selling items in this way with three of our partner brands. These items are offered to customers on a 48-hour delivery promise. Items are injected into our warehouse and then delivered through our courier and store network. For example, a Platform Plus item ordered on a Monday, is transferred to our warehouse by Tuesday and delivered to the customer on Wednesday.” they say.
“When customers order Platform Plus items with other items stocked in a Next warehouse (available in 24 hours) they can choose to receive one consolidated delivery, offered in 48 hours. Alternatively, customers can choose to split their delivery and have stocked items delivered in 24 hours. There is no additional charge for the split delivery. Currently, 50% are choosing to consolidate their order.”
Next says Platform Plus is more than a marketplace. “Platform Plus differs from many marketplaces because, rather than despatching parcels directly to consumers from third-party warehouses, items are inducted into our distribution network. The advantages of operating in this way are: We can consolidate orders into one delivery which can materially reduce distribution costs. Items can be delivered through stores which currently receive 50% of all our Online orders and we have visibility and control of all orders through our own trusted networks and tracking systems. This allows us to ensure quality of service and in the event of any delivery issues or queries, customers have one point of contact.
It seems to be working for Next with full price LABEL sales in the first half of this year up +26% and total sales (including markdown sales) up +29%. They expect full price sales in the second half top 2019 to be up around +13%, more in line with their original full year estimate of +15%. The expected slowdown in growth in the second half is mainly due to errors and stock shortages in their Lipsy - owned by Next - ranges which they believe will slowly be corrected.
For the full year, full price LABEL sales are forecast to be up +19%. Total sales (including markdown sales) are forecast to be up +21% with net margins, after central overheads, forecast to be around 15%.
In this retail environment this is very impressive. Sales are a combination of wholesale and commission, and although they make lower net margins on commission sales, they encourage their partners to adopt this model because they believe it generates higher sales growth. In the first half of this year commission sales grew by +32% compared to wholesale which grew by +18.5%. It's also less risky.
As of August 2019, they have four clothing brands operating on Platform Plus and plan to add at least ten more later this year, with more to follow in 2020.
Last month they also agreed a licensing deal with Ted Baker to create and sell Ted Baker children’s products. They intend to launch the first collection in Spring 2020.
Right - Next's Label sales over the last four years
Next, thanks to its Directory, has fine-tuned its delivery and database over many years and is trusted by its customers. H&M, on the other hand, doesn’t quite have the online reputation, but, being able to return to store could be a massive positive for consumers.
It will be interesting to see how fast and big they go with this concept and the brands they decide to stock. Third party branded goods allows for a faster turnover of brands and product, less risk, especially under this commission model, and the subsequent cool and elevation that can rub off on a tired umbrella brand.
Consumers are addicted to newness and H&M needs to try something new. This idea has the potential to work, though it is getting increasingly competitive, it just needs to judge when the sportswear trend will finally end, which brands connect with their customer and what the next big trend will be.
Something in fashion will always come along to push you out of your comfort zone. It’s a good thing. After seeing the SS20 pleated dresses for men at Louis Vuitton - pictured below - I thought I was ready for some pleats. Add in the kilt tradition, plus Dior’s now signature side sash and the timing feels right.
COS has this half kilt - a full kilt would probably use too much fabric and be too expensive - but it gives you that Dior side-sash look.
An Asian man stopped me in the street in this and asked me if it was ‘cultural’. Must be the red hair!
You do really need to get the matching trousers, but it’s something dressy, yet different and would look great at a dinner or smart winter party.
Left, Right & Below Left - COS - Pleated Wool Kilt - £115
Disclosure Trousers & Kilt #Gifted by COS
Below - Dior Men, Below Right - Louis Vuitton SS20
Fred Daley has a ring to it! Fred Perry has teamed up with British designer, Nicholas Daley, in their first collaboration. Taking inspiration from his parents’ club nights and their role in igniting reggae sound system culture in the UK, Daley has exaggerated Perry’s signature polo shirt with his 70s styling.
Daley’s mix of Caribbean and Scottish heritage is blended here in a boxy fit shirt with thick intarsia hem and sleeve details.
Left & Below - Nicholas Daley X Fred Perry - Striped Knitted Shirt - £175
We’re halfway through #SecondHandSeptember and how are you doing? The idea, from Oxfam, was to pledge to not buy anything new for the 30 days of September. Oxfam says every week 11 million items of clothing end up in landfill and ‘throwaway fashion’ is putting increasing pressure on our planet and its people - it’s unsustainable and this is their way of making people think and act differently.
An already under pressure high-street isn’t taking this boycott lightly and many are starting to gravitate towards selling second hand clothing themselves. High street brands and retailers are piling into the second hand market trying to looking like caring, sharing and responsible custodians of the fashion industry. Offering to sell not only their’s, but other’s second hand clothes, often for charity, this is a new take on pop-ups and a perception of giving back and closing the loop on the fashion cycle.
Left - The George at Asda 'Re-Loved' pop-up in Milton Keynes
George at Asda has just unveiled their first in-store ‘Re-Loved’ charity clothing shop running for 4 weeks from 2nd September. Located in Asda’s Milton Keynes store it features donated second-hand clothes from a number of different brands, as the retailer looks at ways to encourage customers to reuse, repurpose or recycle their unwanted clothes. The move is part of a drive by George - the UK’s second largest fashion retailer by volume - to improve the environmental impact of its clothes and operations, following the launch of its new sustainability strategy and first range of recycled polyester clothing in the spring.
Melanie Wilson, Senior Director for Sustainable Sourcing at George, said, “By trialling our Re-Loved pop-up shop, we hope to help create another route for unwanted clothes to find a new home and encourage people to think again about throwing away that top or those jeans they no longer love.” All proceeds from the shop will go to Asda’s Tickled Pink campaign, which supports Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now.
As a whole in the UK, the average lifetime for a garment of clothing is estimated as 2.2 years. Extending the active life of clothing by nine months can significantly reduce its environmental impact. The value of unused clothing in wardrobes has been estimated at around £30 billion. It is also estimated £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year.
Many brands and retailers are starting to looking into the second hand market as the world is challenged with ever growing mountains of discarded clothes and unsold inventory. It was reported last year that H&M had an incredible $4.3 Billion in unsold clothes. Places like Topshop and Urban Outfitters have had vintage sections for years, and Marks & Spencers has its pioneering ‘Shwop’ scheme, which motivated consumers with vouchers, but to be actually selling second hand clothes alongside new is something new and the next logical step. The stigma around second hand is changing. It’s cool to wear older clothes and a badge of honour not to buy something new. Yet, consumers still get want to get that retail fix.
So, how can brands and retailers make money from this?
Olly Rzysko, CMO & Retail Advisor, says, “Ultimately, every second hand unit sold in the market is another brand new item a retailer isn’t selling. In a declining market, executive teams won’t like that and are responsible for protecting those sales. Second hand clothing is having a surge and it proves to be a logical route on paper.”
“Retail is hard right now and a number of elements are playing a factor in the growth of second hand.” says Rzysko. “Depop and Ebay are doing very well. They are ultimately taking sales from the high street, specifically taking sales of new product away from the retail brands. These businesses are making nothing when people are reselling their product and that will be challenging to accept. Depop particularly has kept its head down and built a sizeable business with only ASOS responding in the form of their Marketplace platform.” he says.
“Most brands experience double digit returns and some of these cannot be sold (as new) on for various reasons. Repairing product or repurposing them enables the returns to be more valuable and not a complete loss.” says Rzysko.
“Many stores right now are larger than required (having been built for a Bricks and Mortar landscape) and filling that space with low cost stock is crucial to prevent cash being tied up with inventory. Vintage / Reclaimed / Second Hand is a great way to fill these spaces.” says Rzysko. “Critically, it ensures the customer returns to the store at a time where footfall is in the decline.”
Right - Oxfam's new 'Superstore' in Oxford
“I think for a lot of brands it can work for their customers. It can also bring in new consumers to a brand where pricing may have been prohibitive before and serving as a gateway into the brand just like Outlet shopping does.” says Rzysko.
Besma Whayeb, Ethical Fashion Blogger, Curiously Conscious, says “With more and more shoppers conscious of the impact that fashion has on people and the planet, second-hand fashion is becoming more sought-after, as well as fashion retailers who outwardly show their sustainable practices.”
“There’s many ways retailers can promote second-hand fashion or circularity: many high street retailers already provide take-back schemes, inviting shoppers to return items when they’re finished wearing them, which they then use the materials for in new pieces or sell on to third-parties.” says Whayeb. “But when it comes to preserving the items (rather than dismantling or disposing of them), they could look at selling them as pre-loved pieces. There are already many independent second-hand and vintage resellers, however I don’t see why many brands don’t provide a second-hand section in their own stores and resell pieces they’ve previously made. This needn’t be a full-scale or full-time operation either; pop-ups to show they’re being more circular could be a promising first step.” she says. “I believe it’s a combination of lip service, taking advantage of the growing demand for sustainable fashion, and when (hopefully) they see positive results, it will become a more permanent fixture.” says Whayeb.
George at Asda says its concept is just a trial to see how customers respond to the concept. They’ll take feedback and learn from the trial to see how customers have responded to it. But, won’t these new schemes take away from the charity sector?
“It is not our intention to take away support from other charities. This charity shop continues Asda’s long-term commitment to fundraising for vital breast cancer research and support,” says a spokesperson for George.
Charities like Oxfam are fighting back though. The charity has just opened their first ‘superstore’ on the outskirts of Oxford. About 12 times the size of the average Oxfam shop at 18,500 sq ft, and run by 150 volunteers, it also works as a community space and includes an on-site café housed in an Oxfam water tank. They hope initiatives like Second Hand September will convert more people to second hand clothing. An Oxfam spokesperson said, ”We are delighted by the overwhelming positive response to Second Hand September and the huge public support it has received.
"The campaign is raising awareness about the harm fast fashion has on planet and people. Clothes that too often end up in landfill are frequently made by garment workers paid poverty wages in harsh conditions. Second Hand September is encouraging people to think twice about their shopping habits. There seems to be a real appetite for change, which some brands are responding to – but more needs to be done.”
The more clothes we have, the less we’re wearing them. This makes the majority of second hand almost like new. Second hand shopping is becoming cool and for brands it could be a good way of dealing with returns and old season stock while trying to look responsible. Fashion is addicted to volume, whether it is fast or not, so while consumers might not be buying anything new, they’re at least in your store buying something.
Below - The cafe inside a water tank in Oxfam's new mega charity shop
The V&A unveils the Tim Walker: Wonderful Things exhibition featuring Tilda Swinton, Grace Jones, Karen Elson and Grayson Perry, as well as over 150 brand new images inspired by objects in the V&A’s collections. The exhibition is the largest-ever exhibition on the photographer to-date, celebrating his 25-year career.
Left - The exhibition is centred around objects Walker has chosen from the V&A's collection
TheChicGeek says, “When I stopped religiously buying fashion magazines, probably over a decade ago now, fashion photographers feel off my radar. Their names were pride of place at the beginning of each editorial and they became as familiar as the models, editors and stylists.
But, things changed, budgets were cut and everything started to become advertiser lead, very samey and anonymous. Probably the reason why so many people have stopped buying them.
And so, to Tim Walker, his career really started to take off after I’d stopped buying magazines and as such I really don’t know that much about him. I missed the exhibition he had at Somerset House, which really seemed to cement his name.
His style is fantasist, Alice in Wonderland, Gulliver's Travels, fish eye lens type images, which, in this world of billions of daily images, are very memorable, which shows their strength. The first room is a collection of his previous work. (It’s a shame some of them weren’t reproduced larger, but there are a lot to cram in).
Then, each thematic room is based around an object from the V&A’s collection and the subsequent images Walker has produced inspired by and in respect of.
This idea, which they could easily roll out to other creative figures, is a good way of connecting one type of audience - here fashion - into exploring more areas of the museum. Walker’s connection to his items seemed quite lite and it would have been nice to have some more history or emotion to his objects. Let’s be honest, you could probably connect any random idea with something inside the V&A.
Right - The first room - love a Space Odyssey ceiling
Here we have ‘Wonderful Things’ ranging from Aubrey Beardsley's illustrations to some rather wonderful French stain glass windows featuring crowns and maces to Edith Sitwell’s gold shoes. It's quite a mix, but that's part of the fun. As always with the V&A, the staging is great, and it all has the fantasy touches we all know and love these days. I particularly liked the highly lit, Space Odyssey-type rooms and, overall, it was all playful and approachable.
It did make me think about where can fashion photography really go? These images are great and everybody loves them, but, like fashion, it's a continual rehash of previous themes and styles and these images could easily been produced at any time in his 25 year career. It doesn't feel contemporary, and, until fashion changes, fashion photography won't either."
Below - More images from the exhibition
As nearly as delayed as the Elizabeth Line, well, not quite, the new Flannels on the eastern side of Oxford Street has been the most anticipated addition to London’s busiest retail thoroughfare this year.
Sandwiched between Marks & Spencer’s Pantheon store and Matalan, this four storey, 18,000 sq ft store, selling designer clothes and accessorises, has been 3 years in the making. The entire building was purchased for £108 million in 2016 by a Sports Direct subsidiary and doubles as office space for its parent group. Part of Mike Ashley’s growing empire, it is the debut of Flannels in Central London.
Left - Veja display inside the new Oxford Street Flannels
This is Flannels' 44th store in the UK, after a lightning expansion, with a further 15 stores coming this year alone. In 2012, sportswear giant Sports Direct bought a majority 51% stake in Flannels and in September 2017 they acquired the brand in full and began investing in and opening stores.
It is worth noting Sports Direct also own other premium fashion chains such as USC, Cruise and Van Mildert, but, it is Flannels which has been chosen to lead the designer crusade to “elevate” the company. Sports Direct currently has an obsession with moving from discounted sports to full price branded.
Mike Ashley said at a recent shareholder meeting regarding Flannels, “I think they are better than any other stores in the market. Now, I might have rose-tinted glasses but one of the reasons is because I have absolutely nothing to do with it. I just sign off the money. It has nothing to do with Mike Ashley.
“It’s not just a few show stores. When you have a pipeline it takes time. I’m telling you – this is for real. The reality is, I’m telling you it is real and the proof of the pudding will be when they start to roll out. It’s happening, it’s coming. It’s just not as fast as I would like it.
“I’m going to do the same with House of Fraser and get around to elevating. The modern-day consumer – that’s what they want. It could be Stone Island, it could be Nike and Adidas – it’s all about the branded world.
“Maybe I was late to the party, I accept that. Maybe my son-in-law should’ve gone out with my daughter when she was 12, but now we’re on it, nothing’s going to get us off it.”
Oxford Street is their new flagship and is a physical testament to their ambitious intentions of becoming “the biggest global luxury retailer,”. This is what Sports Direct Group’s head of elevation, Mike Murray, Mike Ashley’s daughter’s boyfriend, told Drapers in March. He went on, “We’re in the early stages, but we have a clear vision for Flannels, we have ambition and we are willing to invest,”.
Right - Art on the second floor
The £10 million new store has been designed by Italian studio P con P, and you can see the Gucci influence in the rugs, over blown William Morris type screens, 1970s brass changing rooms and waiting areas and contrasting use of materials.
The store is split into women’s accessorises on ground, womenswear in the basement, men’s designer on first and men’s accessorise and sportswear on the second, though there wasn’t much difference between the latter two. The second-floor will also house the first ever UK retail space for US footwear brand Flight Club and the store offers services such as Click & Collect and personal styling.
One notable difference was the huge amount of staff, all dressed in black. I was told 50 members of staff currently work there. I visited on a late Tuesday afternoon and the only people seriously buying were a group of Asian tourists in the Gucci men’s section. They’d probably never heard of Flannels before.
I expected to see the usual chav labels such as Off-White and Burberry, which were there, but, interestingly, there were also brands such as Barena, Brioni, Alanui and JW Anderson. There was even a diamond necklace for nearly £60,000. I did ask how many they’d sold that week?!
Cire Trudon candles, Acqua Di Parma fragrances and Ganni dresses were also spied, and while nothing particularly revolutionary, it is difficult to pick holes in.
“His whole plan for 100 Flannels stores is bonkers. Knock a nought off, mate!” says Eric Musgrave, former editor of Drapers and fashion industry consultant. “It will be a ghost town for 5 or 6 days a week. Wrong location. Too big. Offering nothing you can't get in the West End or Knightsbridge already.” he says.
“My guess is that they will leave it as it is for two or three years, then reorganise it, making the Flannels area smaller and bringing in USC and SD. But, I believe Ashley owns the building, so he can run it as a vanity project.” says Musgrave.
Left - Display in collaboration with artist, Alec Monopoly
The simile I would use is, it’s like an Essex nightclub, which, if playing the right music, you’d have a good time in. And that’s what the clothes and buy is, the music.
(The security guards do look a bit like bouncers though, and one made me delete a picture I took on my phone of the new store *eyeroll*).
There’s nothing to fault in the design and money spent, it feels premium and everything is nicely presented, but Flannels has a problem with the snobby stigma London has towards Mike Ashley. He needs to distance himself like he says above.
People will need persuading to part with their cash here, unless it is product they can’t get anywhere else. Flannels needs to change perceptions so people are happy to be seen swinging a Flannels bag when they leave. It’s just not cool right now. They need to turn into leaders rather than just flogging the same old mega brands to punters.
Right - That £60,000 necklace
They own the building here, so are here for the long haul, but it will be interesting to see how it develops and how long they stick to this initial format. Flannels recorded sales of £173.9 million in its latest financial year, up 12 per cent from 2018. It’s growing because it is rapidly expanding, it obviously wants to get to the point where is it more powerful than the brands, rather than the other way around currently. I can imagine many luxury brands, currently, being cautious about choosing them as a stockist, but watch this space as they grow.
Flannels will also struggle with some of the quality of the product, and disappointed consumers. Read Gucci Quality Is Rubbish - here - which isn’t their fault.
Left - Flannels Oxford Street exterior. Sports Direct own the entire building
Sports Direct want more elevation than the Wright brothers, but it’s going to be expensive and I can't help think that 100 stores is too many, especially when you’re trying to sell £900 Gucci hoodies. Even though this is on Oxford Street, it needs to become a destination. It feels like the kind of store going against the retail tide, but I certainly admire the ambition.
Below - Interior shot of the new Flannels Oxford Street store