Some of Britain’s best known, mid-sized fashion brands are up for sale. French Connection, Pretty Green and Anya Hindmarch are all rumoured to be looking for new owners. Put LK Bennett into the mix, which recently when into administration, closing five stores and making 55 redundancies, and you have a slew of established British brands trying to forge the next chapter of their existence.
While Anya Hindmarch is more in the luxury pricing category, the others are all premium high-street; asking consumers to stump up more cash for their products in a mid-market squeezed between fast-fashion and ‘luxury’ brands. This is an area that has suffered the most over recent years. Hooked on sales and discounts, many of these brands operate an unsustainable retail network, flabby business model and have suffered due to the demise of the traditional department store.
Putting themselves up for sale is timely. If you’re a foreign investor, British companies have never been so cheap, due to the weakness in the pound and Brexit, but there’s also a watch and wait attitude for most of the retail market at the moment, with many companies, particular private equity, being burnt, over the last few years, and only investing in strong, bankable billion dollar brands.
Left - Anya Hindmarch bag with her quirky sticker designs, but does the brand need to make more conservative product?
French Connection has been on the block for a while now. A brand that reached its zenith in the late 90s, thanks to their provocative and attention seeking FCUK slogan, it had lost its way. It recently went into the black, thanks to an ambitious store closure programme. Recently reported, French Connection made a slim profit of £100,000 for the year to January 31, 2018, compared with a £2.1million loss the year before. Revenues edged up 0.2% to £135.3million but its same-store sales fell 6.8%. French Connection said it will continue to close stores, having shut down more than half of its sites in the past five years. Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct has a 26% stake in the business with founder Stephen Marks, who is also chairman and chief executive, owning almost 40% of it and they say talks were “ongoing” with several potential buyers.
French Connection has done the correct and drastic decision to close the majority of it stores and department store concessions. Truly international, it is not wholly reliant on the UK market, but needs to remind people of their USP and make people feel good about paying more. It needs to decide what the sustainable size of the business is.
Liam Gallagher’s menswear brand Pretty Green, which is named after a song by The Jam, has called in Moorfields Advisory to help look at options for the company. Founded in 2009, Pretty Green channels British Mod culture into branded basics, linking the brand to music heroes and a strong Made-in-England feeling for its more premium ranges. The company said that it was “not immune to the challenges currently facing the UK high street as customers migrate from purchasing in store to online.”
It currently has 14 standalone UK stores and numerous concessions within House of Fraser department stores. The brand lost £500,000 when House of Fraser feel into administration in August 2018. “The growing overall demand for the brand, coupled with a strong online customer base, position the company well to navigate these changes and we are therefore considering all options,” they said with regards to a sale. In the 16 months to January 2018, turnover at Pretty Green rose to £38.2 million and pre-tax losses narrowed to £1.5 million following a £5.6 million loss the year before. Private equity company, Rockpool, invested £11m into Pretty Green in 2017 for a minority stake.
Pretty Green has a very distinctive British look, and, while it has its core Mod audience, it needs to develop and reintroduce itself into the larger men’s market. It has to define what it sells and make men more aware of this. Its small retail network will probably be trimmed further and it’s good they are starting to narrow their losses, but they need to tap into that rich vein of cult British style that Fred Perry and Dr Martens do so well. This cool also translates internationally. Any investor would probably want Liam Gallagher to have a more prominent role at the brand and increase his visibility in it.
Right - Liam Gallagher in Pretty Green
The British luxury goods brand, Anya Hindmarch, has been put up for sale. Mayhoola, the Qatari royal family’s investment fund, which also owns Pal Zileri, Balmain and Valentino, has decided to sell the brand it started buying into in 2012. The fund has grown its stake from 39.9% in 2012 – Mayhoola bought a controlling stake in the company for £27million - to at least 75% by the middle of last year.
Founded in 1987, Anya Hindmarch has become known for her quirky and colourful designs. The brand lost £28.2 million and reported a 10 percent decline in revenue to £37.2 million for the year in 2017, the latest year for publicly available accounts. The selling decision is said to be “mutual”.
Anya Hindmarch has plenty of fun ideas, but, they, as a brand, just need to establish who the customer is. It has a lot of potential, but, unusually for a leather goods company, it needs to focus on more conservative product. Sometimes it’s hard to find a plain, elegant black bag, which means they are missing out on a huge amount of sales. The prices are premium, so the high-fashion, seasonal and quirky fashion product has a limited audience, while more classic and trans-seasonal product would sell well too.
Their £40 stickers were a surprise hit, but, as an example, their candle range has a strange disconnect between customers. I don’t think many of the older women carrying the bags want cartoon eyes and rainbow decorated candles on their coffee tables. It needs to balance the fun with the sophisticated.
This brand would sit well with Burberry - there are rumours they are looking to buy something - or maybe a Mulberry, and drill down into that affordable luxury market more. I think they will have plenty of interest, possibly from the Americans - Tapestry, Capri Holdings - growing their brand portfolios.
If retailers can survive 2019, there is a strong chance they’ll be okay. Investors will want to see that losses are stabilising, or reducing, and there is a clear strategy for the future. Skeleton retail networks, offering enough brand awareness while pushing people online with good product will be the future for these brands. Being less reliant on the department store model and taking your quality product direct to consumers will be the only way to make these brands profitable. You need a point of difference to make people pay more and a feeling they can’t get what you offer anywhere else. The days of chucking huge amounts of money at growing brands is over and private equity will opt for more realistic, tidy returns rather than huge growth.
These brands have that problem of being too big to be nimble and streamlined, while not big or glamourous enough to catch the eye of the big investors to take it somewhere big. Mike Ashley can’t buy everything. Or can he?!
Read more of TheChicGeek's expert comment here
Patterned silk shirt open to the waist, long gold necklace drawing the gaze to the chest and hair slicked back like a wannabe Lothario, this retro idea of male sexuality is having a beautiful renaissance.
Think more Harry Styles than Simon Cowell. It’s part of our fascination with masculine images: a Joy of Sex era cliché of what a man should look like. It also complements the return of moustaches, necklaces - see TheChicGeek’s Medallion Man - and hirsute bodies.
Two young and stylish brands have appeared to facilitate this new trend. Specialising in silk shirts, they are pioneering a new idea of male sensuality, and promoting this sensuous, form-hugging material, not to mention the way it takes prints, and giving you many seductive reasons why it should be the fulcrum of your Summer wardrobe.
Left - MrSloane - Tom Cat Jade - £250
A mysterious ‘MrSloane’ has appeared. Helen, the designer behind the brand, who would rather remain anonymous, says, “the enigma of ‘MrSloane’ was largely created as a fictional character, either male or female, hence the way the MrSloane label is spelt ‘together’ ...ie Mr or Mrs..depending on how you read it.”
Right MrSloane - Kimono - £250
Loosely referencing the 70s screen play ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’, which features an ambiguous relationship between the film’s 3 main characters, it also echoes the ‘his or her’ element of the shirts. Newly launched in December, 2017, her aim was “to create a brand which was reflective of my own personal tastes. Fusing the grit of rock ’n’ roll legends doused in overt glamour and danger, influenced by the NY Disco scene; the collection reflects a melting pot of inspiration combined with rare vintage finds, including antique kimonos, Oriental objet and 70s silk scarves” she says.
What made her want to start her own brand of silk shirts? “A lack of choice in the current market - I either scour ‘Designer Vintage’, in order to find good enough fabrics, which are not 70s polyester, and that led me to create my own label.” says Helen.
Maximillian Robinson launched his eponymous label last year. Only 21, his aunt is handbag queen, Anya Hindmarch, he says, “growing up I have always admired fashion and, more specifically, those that challenge the norms and create striking collections. I wanted to do something unique and identifiable, I’ve always loved what many would describe as ‘loud’ prints and it’s these prints that I have designed which is what gives Maximilian Robinson its name.
“From the beginning I wanted the debut collection to stand out, be full of colour and offer something different. I saw silk as the answer. The way the shirts hang offers something completely different to the norm, along with the versatility of the material. It never looks out of place, whether you’re on a beach or out for dinner,” says Max.
Left - Maximillian Robinson - The Snow Leopard - £280
Many guys see the silk shirt as distinctively feminine or hard to wear and are therefore quite reluctant. “Sometimes people are sceptical about some of the loud prints, but as soon as they put one on they fall in love!” he says.
“I think there is a preconception that silk is always very shiny and too feminine,” say Helen. “The printed silk shirt is very flattering, ours come with a slightly deeper cuff and carefully considered collar, not too retro, nor too mean!” she says.
So, how to wear it? “I’d definitely encourage guys to take the silk shirt plunge and embrace the look. Not only do silk shirts look super cool, but they drape so well on the body, (especially the sleeves) and feel incredible against the skin..unlike a lot of vintage pieces which can be synthetic,” says Helen.
Right - Maximillian Robinson - The Midnight Black - £250
“My advice to any guy would be, wear unbuttoned, as low as you dare, just ensure manscaping and grooming is in check. I would advise keeping the fourth button safely fastened unless of course you’re on ‘Holiday’ and then proceed with caution. Three buttons left undone should be enough for most men, no matter how body confident they are.”
Max says, “I’ve seen them worn in so many different ways, as I said, that’s why I love working with silk, the shirts look great casual with a pair of jeans, or for dinner or can be dressed up with a jacket, but also look at home on top of swimwear on the beach.”
The silk shirt is a luxurious and confident treat of an item. It’s about playing around with male sexuality, with a knowing wink, and offers a fun return of the shirt. The way it drapes, hugs and falls on the upper torso is asking for it to be opened.
Try one and, then ask yourself, "how low will I go?!"
See Label To Know - The Silk Shirt Company - here
One of the most successful British luxury labels of the last few years, Anya Hindmarch, has just introduced a men’s collection.
"Men started wearing our product so the menswear line really launched itself,” says Anya Hindmarch.
This bag, in the ‘Walton’ shape, is a men’s style from the Anya Hindmarch Bespoke collection and is, now, available, in this bold red, with her humorous Men at Work symbol.
A symbol usually associated with hold-ups, Men at Work seems apt on a formal briefcase, making it light-hearted and showing you have a sense of humour, even in the most serious of meetings.
Now, where do I get a Geek at Work version from?!
Left & Below - Anya Hindmarch - Men’s Men at Work Walton Briefcase - £1495
The Chic Geek talks about his week in men's style including his lack of love for Vetements & Yeezy, Anya Hindmarch's new men's range, the Fossil Q Founder Smartwatch, UTC00 accessories & That So layered sun protection.