With Italy tip-toeing in and out of recession, Pitti Uomo felt a little skittish on confidence. It had an atmosphere of brands holding on by their finger nails, with many hoping for a strong SS20 season to help pull them through.
Sadly, it’s the quality makers who seem most susceptible to failure. Their high costs, lower margins and small quantities make it a difficult balancing act to continue to stay strong and produce quality product in Italy. These are the brands who are barely known yet sing through the quality on the hanger and all at a fair price. Today, you rarely get this kind of care and attention with a designer name. Here are five made-in-Italy menswear makers we should all be supporting:
Left - Pitti Uomo 96 soaking up the sunshine
Founded in 1957 by current creative director Guido Biondi’s grandfather as ‘7 Bell S.p.A’, a Tuscan atelier, it was the very first producer of Italian denim. Today, they make colourful and contemporary menswear instilled with the best made-in-Italy production.
Right - President's - For the SS20 season, there were bold minimal orange jackets, tie-dyed shirting and hand sketched T-shirts
Based in Venice, Barena, the Italian for ‘mudflat’, has been steadily making inroads into the UK with its stylish and original menswear. Inspired by the Venetian lagoon, Barena says it mimics the qualities of traditional workwear with a modern aesthetic. Loose shapes, quiet precise tailoring, exquisite fabrics, attention to detail and confident versatility are the pillars of their design philosophy.
The menswear designer is Massimo Pigozzo who has been with the Barena family for over twenty years. Trained as a tailor, for Pigozzo it is important to create designs that are simple, understated and easy to wear. Deep fabric research, pattern work and soft tailoring are key to his approach and he says it is not about reproductions or constant alterations.
Left - Barena - For the SS20 season, it was all about contrast with playful tailoring and short sleeved shirts with contrasting collars
Meaning double A in Italian and named after two friends, Alain and Albert, Doppiaa is designed for the whole family, for all ages and all occasions. Based in Milan, Doppiaa has two essential cornerstones: 100% Italian manufacturing, and the painstakingly executed pinpointing and selecting of the highest quality fabrics.
Right - Doppiaa - For the SS20 season, it was brightly coloured towelling tops, pyjama style piped printed shirts and strikingly striped trousers
This is everything the more famous Missoni should be; colourful, stylish and contemporary. Designed by Simonetta Bocelli and Franco Santarini and based in Florence, Sunhouse is a specialist in Italian made knitwear in a rainbow of colours in classic menswear shapes.
Sunhouse is one of the few companies in the world to use traditional 720-yarn looms to 'reinvent' the culture of knitwear. The production is carried out in their workshops in Montecosaro, in the Marche Region. Each individual jacket is cut and sewn by hand.
Left - Sunhouse - For the SS20 season, it was about bold colour stories in signature zig-zagged blazers and delicate polo shirts
BOB is an Italian sportswear brand created by two young Italian guys, Alessio Bonaiuti and Tommaso Bellini. They started their adventure 11 years ago in Prato, with the idea developing from going around vintage warehouses where huge quantities of second hand clothes were divided by colours and then recycled. Going through these warehouses was like being absorbed in a spectacular coloured market that resembled a field of flowers they thought and it was this image was the starting idea to develop a new concept of eclectic and colourful menswear.
Right - BOB - For the SS20 season, it was all about bold, pattern blazers and colourful separates
These are simply beautiful clothes made with care from great ingredients. While you are paying a premium, you are, in fact, getting great value when you consider the expertise and pedigree of these makers. These are the kind of clothes that are a joy to wear and will last you a very long time.
The idea of paying to have something made, passing it on to someone else to sell, who will then pay you in a few month’s time, sounds like the cashflow diagram from hell. Unless the profit margins are huge, and even then it’s not ideal, wholesaling in fashion is difficult. Small brands, especially, need the constant stream of cash, traditionally have tighter margins, and need the crucial feedback of information with regards to successful products that can inform future decisions and where to put their limited resources.
The fashion wholesale model is broken and, now, even the big boys are deciding to step back. Luxury brands are also realising, finally, that the true value of selling directly to consumers is growing a database of customers and understanding exactly what they want in a shorter amount of time and being more reactive to those needs. Realising something is or isn’t selling in 3 to 6 month’s time is pointless and is what will suffocate even the biggest of brands.
Many luxury brands sat back and twiddled their thumbs over the past two decades while huge fashion corporations like YOOX/Net-A-Porter and MatchesFashion.com have grown with enviable customer lists and used huge amounts of information to improve their offer and grow further.
Now, the wholesale middle man is being pushed back to a point where brands want more control, know they will make more money directly and won’t be at the whims of a fashion buyer every season as to whether they’ve made the cut or not.
Prada announced last month that is would reduce its wholesale network in Italy and Europe in a push to have uniform prices for its products across different outlets and reduce markdowns. Before that, in March, the Milan-based company said it also would stop offering end-of-season promotions at its own shops in a bid to boost margins and protect its brand. They’ve obviously been watching the success of Gucci’s no-sale model and product that continues over seasons and doesn’t seem to quickly date.
In a short filing with the Hong Kong stock exchange, where the company is listed, the company's chairman Carlo Mazzi stated, “The Prada Group considers it essential to ensure greater consistency in pricing policies across retail and digital channels. This strategic review is intended to further strengthen the Prada Group brands with the aim of supporting sustainable long-term growth.”
Prada said it would end relations with some Italian and European wholesale partners and gradually replace them with new digital and e-commerce players.
While they’ve tried to improve their website, added a broader selection and launched onto sites like Mr Porter, Prada is doing it at a time when the brand has lost momentum and isn’t quite as in demand as it once was. It said the leather goods category will be the most impacted with the changes and this is their biggest segment with the greatest margins.
This DTC (Direct To Consumer) approach is something born from the internet and social media. The brand owns the customer and has a direct relationship. It knows their e-mail and address. It also knows what they have bought before and, most likely, things that may interest them in the future. As personalisation increasingly becomes more sophisticated, this will also help to offer more choices and brands can follow their customers through their actions.
Physical retail third party wholesale accounts allow you less control and inject potential disruption in your cherished luxury supply chain to the customer and, as Prada says, you can keep the prices constant and consistent (probably higher) throughout one geographical region.
Kering, owner of Gucci, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga, has announced it will take back control of its e-commerce operations, focusing on own branded sites where it can control its image and client data. Excluding Gucci, the YOOX/Net-A-Porter group operated e-commerce websites for most of the brands within the Kering group. The joint venture will now end in the second quarter of 2020. While not completely cutting off their nose to spite their face, Kering wants to turn more of its collaborations with third-party, multi-brand retailers such as Farfetch or Matchesfashion.com into what it calls ‘online concessions’, where it controls everything from the product assortment to their presentation. "Each time we move from wholesale to a concession we see our top line increase in a material way,” said Grégory Boutté, Kering’s Chief Client & Digital Officer, and former vice President of eBay. Kering has stated it was ‘not against wholesale,’ and did not plan to end its relationships with third parties altogether.
This is will be a play of power and something that I think will be difficult especially with the complexities of something like FarFetch coming from multiple retailers in different locations. This sounds like wanting your cake and eating it; we want your database, but in our own way. I’m not sure that many retailers will relinquish that amount of control, especially when you consider how many brands they sell and also the loyalty they now instil in these hard won customers.
Kering's total online sales — when including the business done through third party platforms, calculated at retail and not at lower wholesale prices — came to 9.4 percent of the group's 2018 revenue. Web sales through its own brand websites and online concessions made up 4.7 percent of revenue. This has huge room to grow.
Boutté has built up his digital team from 4 people upon his arrival at Kering in 2017 to over 80 people, today. He has realised the power of data. “The more data we have, the more precise our algorithm is and the better the experience is. The other thing is that it should lead us to excellence in terms of our operations.” he said.
Across the luxury goods industry as a whole, e-commerce accounts for around 10 percent of business today and should reach 25 percent of sales by 2025, consultancy Bain estimates.
This is about information and control. Controlling discount, controlling points of sale and controlling presentation. You can control more online, even with third parties. You can see it from anywhere. It's those pockets of physical wholesale boutiques or department stores in small towns that are harder to police and often unsold stock disappears into the grey market and ends up on discount sites and with other retailers.
Where once luxury retailers didn’t want to get their hands dirty, they are now rolling up their sleeves and have their eyes on the online prize; higher prices, more full price sell-throughs and control of that all important ‘data’. This will get more ferocious as the market becomes more saturated, growth slows and customers get increasingly more expensive to acquire.
I predict many brands will try to be exclusive to their mono-brand websites if they don’t get what they want with their third party partners, or possibly try the LVMH 24 Sèvres, now rebranded as 24S, route, but it will be hard. And expensive.
Retailers like FarFetch and MatchesFashion.com are decades ahead and thrive on new and small designers adding that colour and point of difference online. Luxury mono-brand websites often look boring, sterile and empty. People don’t shop in single brands, particularly when they are browsing. While the idea is logical and makes sense to reduce wholesale and take back more control, it will be far more complicated than that and add multiple costs to their business models.
As London’s men’s fashion week gets ever smaller it becomes even harder for designers to make an impact. The four day event is really only two days with a mix of established brands and young designers trying to pad out the schedule. Like a Summer pond retreating, due to lack of rain (funding), with LFWM's decreasing pull the audiences are smaller and less important. Under this handicap, designers have a few short minutes to grab people's attention and resonate further outside of the room. When you look at the expense, you do wonder why anybody is crazy enough to do it, but that’s what makes you love the ‘art’ of fashion even more. LFWM is as much about getting together and looking at each other as it is about trends and looking forward. It’s not really even about selling clothes anymore, it’s like a social event or festival.
Left - RCA Graduates Gráinne Walley, Right - Clara Chu
On London Fashion Week Men’s opening night, the Royal College of Art graduates held a show called ‘All at Once’. The 50 MA graduates each had one look each which gradually rotated around the room. Held at a new retail development on Cork Street in Mayfair, this new way of showing ever increasing volumes of students makes it increasingly hard to see a story in people’s ideas or only gives them one chance to grab your attention. They were saying it was a reflection of the cost it takes for students to produce these collections and, possibly, a reflection of the times of not making huge amounts of stuff with one student offering ‘Extinction Rebellion’ as a reason for not producing anything physical at all.
It’s a tough task to show this amount of students in a realistic amount of time, but it might be better to possibly break them up and give them 5 looks to show in differing categories. Unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the more stuff you produce, the more opportunity you have to mentally sell something to somebody. Desire triggers people sharing and buying things. Noted highlights were Irish graduate Gráinne Walley’s Game of Thrones type armour and Clara Chu’s food inspired accessories.
For the remainder of the fashion week, the front rows were still sprinkled with Burberry check and Balenciaga Triple S trainers, all seen this time last year, and a sign of the lack of hit replacements even though fashion giants continue to churn out incredible amounts of product and ideas.
Here are some brief highlights of LFWM SS20:
This South Korean label, established in 2013, and with creative direction by Hyun-Min Han, made its London catwalk debut. An alumni of Wooyoungmi, Han showed a sophisticated collection mixing pinstripe tailoring and sportswear with flourishes of ruching and ruffles with a finale of models all wearing branded Münn suit bags.
Following her first collection as part of Fashion East, last season, the Dublin-born returned with more of her stylish normcore. This time it was summer towelling mixed with traditional Irish knits and sports fabrics in her mono-coloured looks which are fast becoming her signature.
Nicholas Daley gave LFWM a tribal jazz happening in a 18th century church in the City of London. The ‘Sons Of Kemet’ band dressed in a warm, bold checks made from British fabrics created a crescendo of music and that quickly fell into a party atmosphere with looks referencing his Jamaican heritage.
McQueen came back to London town with its usual exquisite tailoring and its fashion as art raison d’être. As well as the all ultra smart evening wear, there was watercolour symmetry prints and bold fuchsia pink florals in the charming surroundings of the C1348 Charterhouse in Farringdon. I just wish McQueen’s accessorises were as elegant as the clothes. Those chunky trainers and boots just don’t sit right and aren’t the best of their type.
Hussein Chalayan celebrated 25 years with a walk on the street near his store in Mayfair. Lucky with the weather, and with the backdrop of a textured stone wall clean striped shirting - something that continues to look fresh - in simple shapes and a minimal palette was a reminder of this experienced technician of a designer.
For the past few seasons Lou Dalton’s collections have been dominated by her collaborations with British fine knit manufacturer, John Smedley. This season, she returned to a fuller offer with outerwear, shirting, tailoring and, of course, knitwear, but this time in fine rugby shapes, in a collection of easy and stylish clothes which don’t scream ‘designer’. A return to beautiful things?
The roll neck became something of a winter go to for the man who liked a camel overcoat and skinny jeans. It became the simple smart casual top for ‘dapper’ looking dudes trying to cross to the road without getting run over. If you’ve tried it, you’ll notice it has to be ridiculously cold for a wool or cashmere roll neck not to leave you looking like a perspiring mess. While it does look good on the majority of guys, it’s often impractical and doesn’t really allow for the option of taking it off or loosening it. You're committed once it's on.
Left - Prada Menswear SS19
Ah-ha, so, we want the look, but without the sweaty throttle? Enter the summer roll neck. Made usually from stretchy cotton/lycra mixes, and seen on the catwalk at Prada, this is just a long sleeve T-shirt with an extra roll around the neck. This won't make you much hotter, but you get the cool look, and looks great layered under a polo shirt.
Right - Jeff Goldblum in Prada SS19
The short shorts are optional, but this will certainly keep the sun off the back of your neck.
Left- Fila White Line Logo Roll Neck Long Sleeve T-Shirt In Green - £24 from ASOS
Baby-Boomer bashing has become a favourite Millennial and Gen Z past time. Yes, yes, we know they’ve taken our futures, they own everything, have everything and our lives won’t materialistically match theirs, but they should be aspired to rather than looked at enviously and begrudgingly. This is the youngest generation of older people ever and they are staying in good health for longer.
Left - The Young Old - It's very hard to find an image which isn't patronising or a stereotype of the elderly
They are also choosing to work longer. A recent survey by jobs website, ‘Rest Less’, shows almost one in 12 of people in their 70s are working, compared with one in 22 a decade ago. Admittedly, there are more older people, overall, but, it is a growing trend driven partially by skills shortages. There has been an increase of 285,000 workers over 70 over the past ten years.
Due to better health and an appetite for a certain standard of lifestyle many of this generation is lucky enough to enjoy working and are using the additional income on luxury holidays and prestige cars. I look at my parents and they are both working past traditional retirement ages. Mortgages paid off, free travel, fuel allowance! and in good health, they see no reason to retire. This is the energetic generation of the 1960s and they don’t want to slow down just because they are getting older.
Stuart Lewis, of Rest Less, said, ‘Gone are the days of working hard five days a week for four and a half decades before suddenly stopping. We can see that part-time work is growing in popularity among the over-70s, both male and female.’
Baby boomers were born between 1944 and 1964. They're currently between 55-75 years old. They are the most successful generation of people ever and represent nearly 20% of the American and UK public.
Netwealth, a wealth manager, analysed the Office for National Statistics’ Wealth and Assets surveys between 2006 and 2016 (the most recent data available) and found those aged over 65 owned 28 per cent of the UK’s household wealth in 2006, a figure which had increased to 36 per cent 10 years later. The analysis also found that one in five (20 per cent) of over-65s in the UK to be a millionaire, compared with 7 per cent in 2006. The total wealth owned by over 65s nearly doubled - from £2.4trillion to £4.7trillion - in the decade between 2006 and 2016, while in comparison, those between 25 and 54 years old saw their wealth increase by just 9 per cent in real terms during the same time. That means that for every £1 of UK household wealth, Baby Boomers own the biggest share of 36p.
Author, Camilla Cavendish, has just published a new book called ‘Extra Time: 10 Lessons For An Ageing World’. She cites Mick Jagger, still touring at the age of 75, as an example of the so-called “young-old”; the growing number of people who extend an active and healthy middle age into their late Seventies. According to Cavendish, dementia rates have actually fallen by 20 per cent in the past 20 years in the UK.
“It’s not old age that’s getting longer, it’s middle age,” she writes. “We need to . . . stop lumping everyone from 60 to 100 together, and accept its normal to be vibrant and capable in your 70s”.
During the same period we’ve seen a massive decrease in traditional killers of older men and women. According to the British Medical Journal, between 1990 and 2013 cardio vascular disease death rates in England declined by 52%, coronary heart disease (CHD) by 60%, and stroke by 46%. The reason has been attributed to the reduction in smokers and also the banning of smoking in public places in 2007.
Many people lose their sense of purpose when they no longer work and if you don’t want to retire why should you when we live in a country of record employment and the demand is there for workers with experience? Old age should be a balance and many of these people are choosing to work part time which goes to pay for their more indulgent free time. So, what does it mean for businesses and brands?
I think we saw an example late last year when LVMH bought the travel company Belmond. LVMH, paid $25 per Belmond share, a premium of more than 40 percent on the company’s closing price, a deal valued at $2.6 billion. Established over 40 years ago with the Hotel Cipriani in Venice, Belmond owns and operates a collection of the world’s finest hotels and luxury travel companies in 24 countries including Hotel Splendido in Portofino, Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire, plus the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and Belmond Royal Scotsman luxury trains and cruises such as Belmond Afloat in France fleet and Belmond Road to Mandalay.
Bernard Arnault, Chairman and Chief Executive Offer of LVMH, said, “Belmond delivers unique experiences to discerning travellers and owns a number of exceptional assets in the most desirable destinations. Its heritage, its innovative services, its excellence in execution and its entrepreneurship resonates well with the values of the Group and is complementary to our own Cheval Blanc maisons and the Bvlgari hotels activities. This acquisition will significantly increase LVMH’s presence in the ultimate hospitality world.”
This “ultimate hospitality world” is targeted squarely at those with the time and disposable incomes. LVMH has just unveiled plans to open a Cheval Blanc hotel in Mayfair. The Cheval Blanc brand was created in 2006 and has locations in Courchevel, the Maldives, Saint-Barthelemy and Saint Tropez. The former department store La Samaritaine in Paris is due to reopen as a Cheval Blanc hotel later this year. Estimated to cost £500 million, the development would be a joint project between LVMH and real instate investor O and H Group, which owns the sites on 8-14 Grafton Street, 163-164 New Bond Street and 22-24 Bruton Lane. If planning permission for the London hotel is granted, work would begin at the start of 2020, with a view to opening the Foster and Partners designed hotel in the third quarter of 2022.
A natural progression from owning and running the luxury retail stores of Bond Street for LVMH, another new luxury hotel and apartment development is The Residences at Mandarin Oriental Mayfair. Currently being built, and due to open in 2021, they are next door to Fenwicks on Hanover Square and residents will enjoy privileged access to a full suite of services and amenities provided by the integrated Mandarin Oriental Mayfair Hotel, including in-residence dining & house keeping, 24/7 Concierge, valet parking, an opulent spa and roof terrace bar overlooking Mayfair.
Left - The Old Old - One way not to hit 100?!
A big opportunity for brands is there. A move away from material goods to holidays and experiences actually makes more sense for this older generation than it does for Millennials. These people have enough stuff and they’ve often outgrown the novelty and fripperies of fashion while at the same time having the leisure time to take more holidays and at higher price points. This ‘Young Old’ generation has the luxury of time and money. They are healthier and more active. They’ve worked hard and have been blessed with the rise of property values and generous pension schemes. By choosing to work longer they are topping up their incomes and as such are a very attractive demographic for businesses specialising in life's luxuries. Sadly, for subsequent generations, working past traditional retirement ages could be less of an option and more of a necessity.
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While the majority of UK cities are struggling to deal with the implosion of their high-streets, London is a juggernaut that keeps people spending. Thanks to tourist dollars and and an increasingly high-spending visitor, Bond Street, arguably London’s premier luxury shopping street, has seen a raft of new openings hoping to tap into London as the global retail destination. From Alexander McQueen to Loewe, this historical street has seen glorious new retail spaces tailored to this exclusive location open to entice more money from shoppers.
Left - Alexander McQueen's new three storey store
The Office for National Statistics has just released the final International Passenger Survey (IPS) results covering 2018 and it’s still looking good for London. While the number of visits to the UK in 2018 fell slightly (-3%) - 2017 was a record - to 37.9 million, the data from the last 10 months shows visitors spending huge amounts and are visiting Bond Street, in particular.
Data from Global Blue, a tourism shopping tax refund company headquartered in Nyon, Switzerland, shows that the average spend on Bond Street among international visitors increased by 4% year-on-year from January to October 2018. International shoppers spent a huge average of £1,341 per transaction during this time.
Global Blue has also just opened its first VIP Globe Shopper Lounge on Albemarle Street in Mayfair, just a stone’s throw from Bond Street. According to their figures, the top spenders were visitors from the UAE, Qatar and Hong Kong. UAE shoppers spent £2,074 per transaction, up 19% year-on-year. Qatari shoppers spent £1,964 per transaction (up 7%), while Hong Kong shoppers spent £1,837 per transaction (up 15%).
Interestingly, the biggest increase was seen amongst Indonesian visitors, averaging £1,551 per transaction, up 20% compared to 2017.
Right - Staircase in the new Celine menswear store
Paris is London’s closest luxury shopping competition and the 'yellow vests’ or Gilet Jaunes protests have been affecting its attractiveness and is putting off visitors. "We lost between one and two growth points in 2018 due to the yellow vests," said Mathieu Grac, Global Blue's vice president of intelligence strategy.
The weakness of the pound is making shopping in London more attractive and better value for money. The Chinese, in particular, have always chosen Paris over London, but this could be starting to change with new stats show record breaking results for the end of 2018 for London. Visits to the UK from China in this period were up 52% to 94,000 – the 9th consecutive record quarter for visits. These visitors spent £160 million in the UK between October and December 2018 – 30% up compared to the same period in 2017. In total there were a record 391,000 visits from China to the UK in 2018, up 16% on 2017.
Overall, UK visitor spend in 2019 is forecast to be £24.9B, up 7.8%, on a forecast of 38.8m visitors.
While many designer brands are closing stores and trimming their global retail network, others are realising that in order to stay ahead, you need to invest heavily in the world’s finest locations. The days of copy-cat, identikit stores are over and brands know they need to make something unique for its location.
Proving this point is the new ‘Casa Loewe’. The Spanish brand, Loewe, owned by LVMH, and famous for its puzzle bags, has opened a three storey boutique designed in the vision of creative director, Jonathan Anderson. Like an art gallery with clothes, but with a personality and warmth, the London store features work by a selection of internationally renowned artists, including three oak sculptures by Ernst Gamperl (winner of the LOEWE FOUNDATION Craft Prize in 2017) alongside 15 photographs by Alair Gomes, the ‘Vulcano Table’ by Anthea Hamilton, a long- standing LOEWE collaborator, William Turnbull’s 1956 sculpture ‘Idol 4’ and Grayson Perry’s ‘Mum and Dad’ vase.
Left - Casa Loewe showing Anthea Hamilton's 'Vulcano Table'
It feels a very creative space and is one of the few luxury boutiques on Bond Street to give you this full idea of a lifestyle. The sales assistant I spoke to said Anderson was often in the store talking to them through the product and also making sure things were working correctly. She also said they had a great many Chinese customers.
Further down Bond Street is the new Celine menswear boutique. The first time Celine has done menswear under new creative head, Hedi Slimane, it feels very déjà vu in the Saint Laurent mould and looks like all those other marbled minimal retail palaces from brands such as Neil Barrett or End Clothing in Soho. On the corner of New Bond Street and Grafton street, in the old Boucheron store, it is exactly what fans of Slimane will want and the quality of the clothes do look good. Downstairs is a compact tailoring area and while none of the extra skinny clothes had a price tag on, the raised front doors are automatic, just in-case those super-skinny rockstars don’t have enough strength to open them. Disappointly, this concept will look the same the world over.
Into Old Bond Street, Alexander McQueen has amalgamated all three of their London stores into the large, former DKNY outlet. The three storey boutique is a beautiful, sweeping space by Chilean architect Smiljan Radic, his first retail project. It truly flows with giant glass tubes linking the floors and acres of matt walnut covering every surface including the two spiral staircases.
The ground floor is home to womenswear and the first floor to menswear. The top floor is like a museum, probably hoping to capitalise on the popularity of ‘Savage Beauty’, it illustrates the artistry of the current collections while being dotted with archive pieces. This area will also be used to host a programme of exhibitions and talks aimed specifically at inspiring students. It left me with a renewed respect of the work of the brand which I’ve often dismissed since McQueen’s death. There was a men’s coat, hand embroidered with silver graffiti, on sale for £100,000.
Stella McCartney has moved her store from the Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby designed Bruton Street to Old Bond Street. A difficult space, it is linked by a huge metal staircase reminiscent of the tanks at Tate Modern. More concrete and terrazzo, the front ground floor is peppered by giant boulders and moss. A small glade of silver birches decorate a roof garden and 'Airlabs' technology makes this the first indoor commercial space in London with the cleanest air possible.
The store carries all the brand’s collections including women’s and menswear ready-to-wear, accessories, lingerie, swimwear, kids, eyewear, fragrance and adidas by Stella McCartney. Stella McCartney said, “Old Bond street, it’s probably one of the most prestigious retail locations in the world. And for me being born and bred in London and having our business headquarters there and design studio, it’s an incredible honour for us. This store really tells the story of the World of Stella McCartney; incorporating sustainability, fashion and luxury.” Louis Vuitton’s giant Bond Street store is also being refurbished and will hopefully offer something bespoke to this prestigious location.
Right - Stella McCartney's ground floor showing boulders running through the centre
What this group of shops show is the huge investment still going into physical retail. If you’re going to entice those shoppers, you'll need to offer something original, something they'll want to investigate and explore and ultimately an experience of buying something truly great and memorable. By working and competing as a group, it gives more incentive to brands and people to make this the greatest destination and a positive cycle of openings and continued openings will keep this firmly as one of the most thriving luxury retail destinations in the world.
It was the mid-nineties, I’d been shopping on a Saturday afternoon and somehow I’d found myself locked out of my house. I took refuge with the neighbours next door. Surrounded by shopping bags, my older neighbour took umbrage at something written on the side of one of them. In large, bold lettering, the white paper bag read ‘F.C.U.K.’. I thought nothing of it because I’d been a fan of French Connection for a few years and naively thought everybody knew what it stood for. I didn’t think it was rude, he clearly didn’t agree.
Left - French Connection brings back FCUK with Urban Outfitters
This simple shock tactic abbreviation devised by advertising executive Trevor Beattie, having noticed FCHK (French Connection Hong Kong) on an internal memo, was a revolution for French Connection’s marketing campaigns. It really was one of the best and most fashionable upper high street stores at the time and condensing French Connection United Kingdom down to this four letter word in 1997 came to symbolise the division between those who got it and those who didn’t. It was brilliant. The subsequent poster campaign, which read "FCUK fashion", received complaints from the Advertising Standard Authority, MPs and even the Church of England at the time.
Unfortunately, French Connection didn’t know when to let it go. It’s about to come around yet again with a new, exclusive collection with US Urban Outfitters. The FCUK + Urban Outfitters collaboration is taping into 90s nostalgia with a collection ranging in price from $39 to $129 and featuring the FCUK slogan loud and proud.
“Our brand has always been driven by innovation and change,” said Stephen Marks, founder and chairman of French Connection. “When FCUK launched in the ‘90s, it pushed boundaries and was wildly popular with a youth that celebrated individuality and self- expression. The timing is right to bring this back and introduce it to a new generation that shares this attitude and energy.” he said.
FCUK looks comparatively tame today. Fast forward over 20 years and we’re in an age of ‘Fucking Fabulous’ and ‘Bollocks To Brexit’. In a time of ‘alternative facts’ and fake news, people and brands are starting to say it exactly how it is. It feels like there isn’t time for tip-toeing around and the B.S. of previous generations.
Tom Ford originally launched his perfume ‘Fucking Fabulous’ as a limited edition for his Spring Summer 2018 catwalk presentation.
Right - Tom Ford saying how we all feel (sometimes)
According to American website Coveteur on how the name came about; “We were sitting in a meeting smelling the fragrance and Tom said, ‘This is fucking fabulous,’” recalls John Demsey, executive group president of the Estee Lauder Companies, which owns Tom Ford Beauty. “I said, ‘Yeah, it is fucking fabulous.’ He said, ‘Well, why not [call it] Fucking Fabulous?’ So we did. It’s a descriptive. Some people talk about fragrance ingredients; we talk about how it smells.”
For the conservative, American beauty giant Estée Lauder to sign this off was a bold move, especially considering how sensitive the middle of America can be.
“Tom Ford is the consummate gentleman. No one cares more about manners than he does,” adds Demsey. “I understand that this could be offensive to people, but it’s been done in a super elegant, high-end way with good taste. There is a very fine line between what’s salacious and what’s pornographic, what’s erotic and what has a sense of humour. Tom is one of those people who has the ability to do both.”
The PR at Tom Ford Beauty told Coveteur when I asked whether there was any resistance to the name: “This was 100% a Tom decision. We don’t negotiate with Tom Ford.”
Tom Ford has the power and track record to get what he wants and there wouldn’t be many brands or designers brave enough or powerful enough for this to make it through to market. ‘Fucking Fabulous’ has become a cult product even though the scent isn’t particularly memorable.
“I haven’t had this many requests since Tom first went into business with us ten years ago,” Demsey told Coveteur. “Everyone’s asking me, ‘Aren’t I fucking fabulous?’” he said.
This is a case of saying exactly what people think or what you hope they will think, and so it turns to the forthcoming European Elections. The Liberal Democrats slogan ‘Bollocks To Brexit’ isn’t original to them. People have been using it since the referendum, but they have been brave enough to use it and tap into people’s frustrations. It’s definitely a first for politics to be this brave and out there when it comes to campaign slogans. Some have describe it as “coarse” or “crass”, but it’s a very clear message and is exactly what people need today with so much noise on social media and confusing issues and conflicting arguments. It’s decisive.
Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable has defended titling the party manifesto “Bollocks to Brexit”, after the BBC’s Andrew Marr refused to read out the name on-air. Marr said: “This is the first manifesto whose title I cannot read out on Sunday morning television. Do you not feel a little embarrassed about the coarseness of your main election slogan?” Sir Vince responded: “A few people objected to it. I looked up the etymology of ‘bollocks to Brexit’ and the first thing I read was it was a word with a long and distinguished history going back to the 18th century.”
Left - Liberal Democrats slogan for the European Elections 2019
What was pioneered by French Connection’s FCUK, has been taken and run with by Tom Ford’s 'Fucking Fabulous’ and the Lib Dems' ‘Bollocks To Brexit’ and shows there isn’t time to pussy-foot around to get your message across. For brands and companies, labels, slogans and names like these are a risk, but this bravery, when it pays off, is rewarded with the both positive and negative energy needed to gain attention in today’s crowded and fractured marketing mix.
Making people feels a little bit uncomfortable and pushing the envelope of polite language and what is deemed acceptable, resonates, leaves a lasting impression and gets people to remember your product. But, it’s a gamble, some will fall fantastically flat. It’s a question of judgement, but the potential gains are worth it.
It’s the modern version of shouting and waving. Staying safe now means getting lost in the middle somewhere. This is like the classic Ronseal type of marketing, saying exactly what’s on the tin, but, now, it’s just what you would say to those closest to you or in private. Say it like it is.
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