When Virgil Abloh devoted his latest AW19 Louis Vuitton men’s collection to Michael Jackson he never could have thought that the whole thing was going to disappear so quickly. Paying homage to the ‘King of Pop’, the entire show was inspired by his Billie Jean video with its light-up paving stones and litter-strewn New York street.
Left - Those famous Jacko sequinned gloves reimagined for the, now, cancelled AW19 Louis Vuitton men's collection
The designer and brand presumed that it would be as uncontroversial as the icon from the first collection, under his creative direction, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz: her glittery red shoes being replaced by his glittery gloves. In a collection brimming with references to Michael Jackson, it was a celebration of Jackson the stage performer and musician.
All good, until the release of the recent documentary, ‘Leaving Neverland’, which focussed on the allegations made by two men who say Jackson had abused them as children. The energy around this film reignited the controversy surrounding Jackson, reminding people of his potential darker side.
The Louis Vuitton damage limitation machine kicked in and released the following statement: The documentary ‘Leaving Neverland’ featuring two men who allege they were sexually abused as children by Michael Jackson has caused us the greatest pain. It is important to mention that we were unaware of this documentary at the time of the last LV FW19 Men’s Show. “My intention for this show was to refer to Michael Jackson as a pop culture artist. It referred only to his public life that we all know and to his legacy that has influenced a whole generation of artists and designers." said Virgil Abloh, Men’s Artistic Director.
Right - Billie Jean trash can
“I am aware that in the light of this documentary the show has caused emotional reactions. I strictly condemn any form of child abuse, violence or infringement against any human rights.” added Abloh.
The collection, due to hit stores in July, has been stripped of any of the Jackson references and the label confirms that it will not produce any of the pieces that include Michael Jackson. Fortunately for Louis Vuitton, it was easier to cancel the collection in March, before too much had been expensively manufactured, and they were left with product they couldn’t sell. To cancel it before production was the safest option in a environment where brands are frightened to upset people or be controversial.
So, where does this leave us as an industry in relation to references?
The fashion industry is a huge business with a never ending conveyor belt of ideas and products needing copious amounts of references and inspirations. One minute it’s rainbows, then unicorns, then llamas, and whatever next, and who knows where these images come from and what they mean to different people.
In an era of ‘Cultural Appropriation’ and ‘Blackface’ controversies, brands will, now, always err on the side of guilty. This is guilty until proven innocent and a way of limiting the social media outcry and killing the thing stone dead. It’s just not worth the hassle.
From Katy Perry’s shoes to Prada’s figurines to Gucci’s roll-neck, we’re now clear on what should definitely be erased from the design vocabulary. But, won’t this limit the scope of references at the disposal of brands and designers and lead to boring collections frightened to reference motifs and cultural imagery? Won’t it be a case of collections designed by lawyers to satisfy the small print and devoid of anything challenging or different? Every moodboarded person will be researched and investigated in a Stasi-like, 1984 approach into finding anything controversial in their background. You just wonder how Coco Chanel gets away with it.
Dries Van Noten, the Belgian designer, famous for this Indian embroidery and ethnic motifs, told Business of Fashion in 2017, “For me, other cultures have always been a starting point. But I never took things very literal. Quite often, we take one element that we like...and mix it to be something very personal,” he said. “It’s like layering. Indian- or African-inspired or ethnic-inspired...it has to be clothes people want to wear now. Clothes that are used to express who they are. To me, that’s the final goal.”
Left - Louis Vuitton menswear referencing The Wiz, the sequel to the Wizard of Oz, which starred Michael Jackson and followed Abloh's first collection with Dorothy was the main inspiration
“I look now more to the art world, for several reasons, I still make elements and references to ethnic things, but it has become more difficult now.” In response to Cultural Appropriation he said, “The only ethnicity I could look at is Belgian folklore.… It’s not that I exactly copy them and it's not that I want to hurt people by using certain things,” he said. “It’s the alphabet of fashion, which I use to create my own things. Sometimes, especially with menswear, you have to work with recognisable things. You have to make things that men know.”
His latest collection references the Danish designer Verner Panton, but what if Panton turns out to a few skeletons in his closet? For example, imagine you created a collection around the much loved Beatles’ song, Penny Lane. Referencing the fireman, the banker and nurse selling poppies from a tray, but then somebody points out the famous street in Liverpool is named after James Penny, an eighteenth-century slave trader. It’s knowing when the line of history needs to be drawn or how far back you investigate the reference. Rather than seeing people celebrating these things, many are seeing it as a hijacking, and limit people to only use the culture they identify with; making a very boring and restrictive design vocabulary.
The world moves forward and things change. Everything needs to be judged on an individual case-by-case basis and the decision is an informed and instinctive knowing when something isn’t right, appropriate or we’ve moved on as a society. We’re all learning this, all of the time.
Different cultures think differently about things and being frivolous or decorative about things with deeper meanings should be used with caution.
Right - Pixelated Michael Jackson on Louis Vuitton accessorises
Brands make things to sell, not to upset anybody, but won’t our oversensitivity limit the references we have at our disposal. We’re in an era of seeing the negative in everything and blowing it up on social media and it could lead to a very bland and beige period of fashion.
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
Ted Baker CEO and Founder, Ray Kelvin, has resigned from his position at the British company following an internal inquiry regarding alleged harassment of staff. Kelvin had been on an indefinite leave of absence since December, when the initial allegations were made, but won’t be returning to the business.
Left - Ted Baker, Founder & Former CEO, Ray Kelvin
Ted Baker was founded in Glasgow in 1988 by Kelvin, initially selling men’s shirts and later expanding into womenswear in 1995. Ted Baker’s huge success, a yearly turnover of £590m and nearly 500 stores worldwide, is undeniably down to Ray Kelvin’s individual hand. On his resignation, Kelvin said, “The past few months have been deeply distressing and I’ll now be taking time privately with my family to consider what my next adventure will be. Bye for now, Ray.”
Whether you like the brand or not, you can’t ignore its growth and consistency over the past 30 years. Kelvin’s hard work, attention to detail, quality control and quirky aesthetic has amassed a huge global fan club. While the majority of people wearing Ted Baker would never have heard of Ray Kelvin, they have definitely experienced his overriding vision and eye. It’ll be interesting how the brand maintains that momentum without him.
Founders are very important to fashion companies and they are seldom as exciting after the founder has left. Fashion businesses need strong people with personality and a determined vision of the direction they need to go in. Arguably, fashion needs these people even more than other industries because it is such an instinctive industry. It’s unpredictable and data often won’t help. You need to follow the leader’s instinct and feel for things if you are to react quickly and timely. Design and decisions by committee is often more conservative and slower and why many companies quickly flounder.
Kelvin’s long-running desire not to be photographed or uncover the fact he’s the real Ted Baker can be twisted to make him look like he was trying, or had something to hide. Ted Baker, up until recently, didn't advertise and had a distorted relationship with the press.
This is not to condone anybody’s negative actions and anything illegal should be prosecuted, but when does a dominating character become a bully? One person’s clash of personalities is another person’s intimidation. One person’s eccentric way of greeting people, or “banter”, can be another person’s sexual harassment or racist allegation. The line of unacceptability is subjective and often blurred.
Whether it’s Philip Green or another titan of industry, people are, rightly, responsible for their language and actions and companies have to be seen to take any allegations seriously. Nobody is untouchable anymore. Good. We live in an age where you can’t have any element of doubt. If in doubt, then you are automatically guilty. Which puts potentially innocent people into a indefensible grey area and they are shown the door. You shouldn’t or can't hold onto people at any cost, even if they are the founder, and it’s a verdict of guilty, instantly.
Ted Baker had a tsunami of allegations following a petition signed by 200 staff and it’s very hard to accuse somebody that doesn’t appear to have anybody to control their behaviour. Nobody should feel like they are being bullied or pressurised into anything they aren’t comfortable with. It creates a toxic environment and may explain a high turnover of staff. People make a business' culture, but it needs to come from the top down.
The shift in society is, rightly, now, controlling these people and losing their positions of power is what will be their biggest loss. This isn’t a gender issue. This isn’t about men. It’s about people in positions of power abusing those positions. It’s that feeling of knowing people have to do what you say and pushing that into a different and negative dynamic. This abuse is what is a shame, as it’s the same energy, when positive, which makes these companies great. It’s the energy of trying something new, sticking your neck out or pushing a few different buttons. Again, particularly important in the fashion and creative industries.
Whether it’s Ted Baker or Arcadia, you wonder whether these companies’ successes could be replicated as big and as quickly in the #metoo era. You have to break a few eggs to get ahead and often upset and disagree with a few people on the way. Fashion businesses need strong and successful characters to make things happen, but it doesn’t mean they can do whatever they like.
Marc, who? Exactly. Walk into the new Dior exhibition - Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams - at the Victoria & Albert Museum and you’ll be wowed by a glamourous exhibition dedicated to one of the world’s strongest fashion houses. A few rooms in, there’s a recap of the previous Dior Creative Directors, in order, from after Dior’s death in 1957 up until the present designer, Maria Grazia Chiuri. All getting equal billing and space is Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferrè, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Chiuri.
The least known, yet the longest there, is Marc Bohan. From 1958 to 1960, Bohan designed for the Christian Dior London line. In September 1960, Dior’s creative director Yves Saint Laurent was called up for military service and Bohan was promoted to replace him. He stayed at Dior until 1989 when he was replaced by Gianfranco Ferrè.
Left - Linda in Chanel. But, will we remember this in a few decades time?
Bohan’s career at Dior lasted over 30 years and yet he is almost forgotten about. Still alive, he didn’t create anything long lasting directly attributed to his hand at Dior. Or, that is widely known. And this is where I bring my comparisons to Karl Lagerfeld. He lead Chanel from 1983 up until his death. That’s a 36 year career, and yet in a few year's time, what direct influences will Lagerfeld leave on the French house? Will Karl Lagerfeld become the Marc Bohan of Chanel? #Discuss
Dr Kate Strasdin, Fashion Historian and Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies at Falmouth University, says, “I think he will be remembered just because of the length of time he was at the helm and that his time coincided with the expansion of mass media. He talked about being a caricature of himself, creating his own distinctive self-image.
“As for Lagerfeld’s legacy, many people criticised his work as derivative. but actually I think he was astute at managing a heritage brand, treading that line between designs that were recognisably ‘Chanel’ and simultaneously relevant for over 30 years....I would argue that was his distinctiveness.” she says.
Looking at Lagerfeld’s Chanel, he brought the house’s tropes into the late 20th century, but they already existed. The tweed, the camelias, the quilting, the interlocking Cs and gold chains all existed within the archive. The most famous bag shape, the 2.55, was created in 1955 and is still a juggernaut today.
Benjamin Wild, Cultural, Historian, Writer and Lecturer, says, “For sure, there are many similarities between the men - longevity and the ability to contemporise classical styles, not least - but it is interesting to note the increasing number of voices that are coming forward to comment on Lagerfeld's less savoury social attitudes and comments. In a week where major fashion brands have withdrawn items from their Spring/Summer collections because of their perceived racism and insensitivity, it seems to be a sign of the times that Lagerfeld's character and creations are also being examined in a forensic manner as people recognise that person and portfolio cannot be - and should not be - so easily disentangled; if we are to understand Lagerfeld's contribution to fashion, we need to be frank about who he was, and this will, I think, leave for a more accurate, but disputed legacy.”
Lagerfeld’s tenure at Chanel was through the boom of designer brands and luxury clothes. Bohan’s was in a much smaller industry and no doubt had to design few collections than the six Chanel creates every year. Lagerfeld’s Chanel was much bigger, so it’s interesting that even fewer designs of Lagerfeld’s have stuck. But, also, today, there is now so much more competition.
It’s often what comes after and how good it is that really pushes a designer into the background. When Galliano created his Dior, it was a fantasy of couture, yet still managed to leave behind his strong DNA - the Masai neck, the saddle bag and the famous Dior newspaper print are all Dior signatures still attributed to him today.
Chanel is privately owned by Alain Wertheimer and Gérard Wertheimer, the grandsons of Pierre Wertheimer, who was an early business partner of Coco Chanel. After Lagerfeld’s death, Virginie Viard, fashion studio director and Lagerfeld's right-hand woman at Chanel, was announced as taking over the creative leadership. No doubt she’ll be in charge to offer a respectful gap to Lagerfeld’s legacy, but, ultimately, this is one of the plummiest jobs in fashion and many designers would kill to fill those shoes and offer their own take on Chanel’s future. Like many brands, it may take a few goes to find the perfect fit and I’m not sure anybody would stick around, or be allowed to stick around, for over three decades today.
“I think to get the best out of Chanel, it now needs to push the brand boundaries - not in a Balmain or Balenciaga ‘sell out’ begging-for-attention from the Instagram generation manner, but it needs to become more relevant. I feel Chanel has sunk into a comfort zone that rich women seeking affirmation or middle class basic bitch types aspire to.” says Katie Chutzpah, Fashion Blogger.
Lagerfeld is, of course, respected for his prolific and long career, but, what left is distinctively “Lagerfeld”? You have to separate the man and his designs. When his domineering character is quietened by his death, it will be his designs and collections which will have to fight with what went before, and what will, now, come after.
“If Karl Lagerfeld had just concentrated on Chanel, then I think he would've been forgotten, but his influence was so pervasive across popular culture. Despite his work at Chanel, he was actually a modernist and early-adopter of technologies. From fashion to art, photography, product design, and even music, he was always there at the edge, and I think that will be his true legacy, not reinventing a tweed jacket every three months.” says Lee Clatworthy, Fashion Writer.
This isn’t about trashing Lagerfeld’s career, it’s an unemotional look at the things we can directly attribute to him. Clearly, Chanel has been a huge success under his guidance, but it had very strong foundations on which to build. In a few decade's time, will Lagerfeld’s chapter at Chanel be remembered as vividly and fondly?
While influencing others isn’t new, the idea of an ‘Influencer’ is. We’ve seen a huge growth of individuals with large followings on social media pitching themselves as the magical conduit between brands and consumers. Vast sums have been spent, but there’s a new mood, and an anti-Influencer sentiment is building.
One of the surprise Netflix hits of recent months was the documentary, 'Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened’. It focused on the naive attempt to hold a luxury music festival on a Caribbean island. ‘Influencers’ were vilified and blamed for enticing people to part with their cash. More than regular models, because they used their huge social media following to promote the festival, they we’re given, rightly or wrongly, some of the responsibility for the festival’s spectacular failure.
Left - Fyre Festival catering, not quite as promised
Buzz Carter, Head of Outreach at Bulldog Digital Media, a digital marketing agency, says, “Negativity towards Influencers has been brewing for a while now, following multiple scandals over the past few years, like Warner Brothers paying YouTube Influencers for good reviews for ‘Shadow of Mordor’, multiple Influencers not marking paid posts as ads, Influencers pushing gambling and scams to a young audience (RiceGum & Mystery Brand) and the ongoing issue of fake followers and interaction.
“This has been in the background for a while, but with the Fyre festival documentary, it’s boiled over.” he says. “Influencers only work when their audience trusts them, but all of these have shown an untrustworthy aspect to Influencers, but I definitely think the Fyre Festival doc. was a catalyst for a lot of the negativity going around now, as it showcased the issue to people who wouldn’t have thought about it.”
The general public are finally understanding the meaning of the term ‘Influencer’. What first started with bloggers and YouTubers has morphed into ‘Influencers’ and ‘Content Creators’ over the past few years. The dictionary definition of ‘Influencer’ states; “a person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service by promoting or recommending the items on social media.” It is usually focussed on the Instagram platform.
Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CEO, Socialbakers, a social media marketing platform, says, “It is centred around Instagram because Instagram really is the social media platform from which influencers were born. Because of the highly visual nature of the content posted on the platform, it is the place where brands are seeing the most engagement on their content. Hence it is also the place where celebrities and influencers are able to interact with these brands to drive mutual benefit.”
The Advertising Standard Authority (ASA) has issued guidelines to tidy up the difference between sponsored posts and non. Recently, sixteen social media stars including Rita Ora and Alexa Chung have been warned by the Competition and Markets Authority that their posts could break consumer law. Shahriar Coupal, Director of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) said: “Responsible influencer marketing involves being upfront and clear with the audience, so people are not confused or misled and know when they’re being advertised to. The relationship between Influencers and their followers relies on trust and authenticity, so transparency is in the interests of all parties. This guide on the standards will help influencers and brands stick to the rules by being upfront with their followers.”
The guidelines state you have to declare #AD or similar, when you’ve been ‘paid’ in some way (can be freebies, doesn’t have to be money), AND, had some form of editorial ‘control’ over the content. It’s not an ‘either/or’ – there has to be both ‘payment’ and ‘control’ for this type of post to count as an #AD under the CAP Code.
The BBC’s recent broadcast of a Panorama provocatively titled ‘Million Pound Selfie Sell Off’ focused on the negative types of things Influencers are promoting like fad diets and teeth whitening. It jumped on the Influencer backlash which is rippling out to the wider public. It’s creating feeling of being hoodwinked or cheated.
Erica Davies, a former newspaper fashion editor and womenswear and home Influencer with 130K followers on Instagram, commented on Twitter in response to the Panorama programme, “Transparency and honesty is key. But equally, the playing field needs to be level. If one platform is under the microscope, then there should be a united set of rules targeting ALL advertising across newspaper and magazine journalism, print titles AND social media.
A few people’s untrustworthy ethics on social media platforms is bringing negative heat onto Influencers in general. “There are a lot of responsible, trustworthy people trying to provide interesting, creative content on social media, that doesn’t just involve ‘selling stuff.’ It’s a shame #BBCPanorama didn’t talk to any of them.” she says.
Anybody can be an Influencer, and there are many crossovers between jobs, but it’s the fixation on the numbers of followers and engagement that is creating an environment for people to cheat the system. There have been recent articles calling out people for buying followers and “cheating” the system. Is this a sign of the bubble bursting for Influencers and the saturation of the market or is this an element of jealousy of those “living their best life”?
If you consider yourself to be an Influencer then everything is self-promotion. Your entire business is based on pushing yourself and proving your influence and trying to monetise that. But, people are growing tired and suspicious of vacuous content.
William Matthews, Menswear Marketing Specialist, says “Anti-Influencer sentiment is being fuelled by opportunistic, uninformed individuals who can’t base their opinions on relevant frames of reference or experience. “I love this” means nothing unless you can explain in a meaningful, informed way why that is.
"Hats off to the fantastic influencers who have worked hard to evolve their taste, opinions and truly understand their subject matter (in the same way journalists/editors do) with hard-won experience and relevant frames of reference. They add huge value to the media mix for brands.” he says
Consumers are also switching off. According to a report by Mindshare, Google Trends queries like “social media harms your mental health” and “social media seriously harms your mental health” have risen in the last 12 months, by +5,000% and +4,000% respectively. The report by Mindshare entitled ‘Trends 2019’, which holds quantitative research from more than 6,000 consumers aged 18+ across the UK found 61% of consumers are doing more to monitor their own screen time, 72% of consumers have begun to unfollow certain people and accounts altogether and 66% of people have started to hide social media posts from people with differing views.
With the decline of print, digital, including social media, is going to be a more important way to reach consumers for brands. “While influencer marketing has been around in some form or another for a long time, it's really only in the last year or so that it has become such an important tactic for marketers.” says Ben-Itzhak. “As with anything that involves exchanging money for a service, the practise is open to a certain amount of fraud and misbehaviour. It will bring greater dependency on marketing technologies to help brands identify the right Influencer and as to help Influencers vet the brands before they work with them.
"If you look at celebrity throughout the ages, there has always been competition from within and jealousy from the outside. Influencers are very much an extension of that. What will be interesting to see in the next months/years is how much credibility consumers will continue to give to macro influencers, such as the big name celebrities who have a high price tag for each post, versus the micro-influencers, who have smaller follower numbers but greater credibility with their niche communities.” says Ben-Itzhak.
Influencers wear many hats and celebrities promoting products isn’t a new concept. What Influencers have to realise is, this direct dialogue with their followers makes them look more responsible. How much do brands employ Bella Hadid or Kendall Jenner for their modelling skills rather than their social media numbers?
“For the future of the industry, I can see Influencer marketing being put under tighter regulations on what they can promote and how they promote, as well a crackdown on fake followers, Social Chain are actually working on a tool to see through follower fraud. So in the future I think influencer marketing will thrive, but it will be more carefully used by brands than it has been over the last few years.” says Carter.
These documentaries and programmes have put a spotlight onto this Influencer world and is making the general public become more cynical and wary of social media Influencers. It will be interesting to see whether this new toxic environment makes brands want to distance themselves and implodes the entire market entirely.
I’ve also written - Digital Hindsight
It was while at Barcelona Fashion Week, looking over a German Influencer’s shoulder, that the digital world looked incredibly small. She was busy scrolling, liking and commenting on pictures on Instagram. All the images looked like fellow Influencers.
We’ve had all this talk of “engagement", and brouhaha about methods of promotion, see bots, but it dawned on me that this is an audience invested in their own engagement. It’s real, but then what is real in the virtual, social media world? What is the correct form of “engagement”?
Left - No Likey
It’s basically people engaging with themselves and why are we surprised that people who like their own self-image are doing it? People have created pods to allow groups of other people to know when they have posted and to mutually like and comment the posts, increasing engagement. It’s basically what you do with your friends, but more organised and business like. It’s fine if you’ve got the energy for it. I haven’t.
She needs to like and engage with other influencers, and vice versa, to keep the momentum up, but are the numbers outside these circles actually worthy of note? It’s really hard to know. It’s pretty much the same with magazine circulation figures.
It’s also like the Fyre Festival. How were the influencers to know that a festival, scheduled months in advance, was going to be a disaster? People promote things in good faith and hope people stick behind their promises and obligations. We can all look back in hindsight and wish to do things differently or not at all.
The “Instagram police” are busy telling people what they should and shouldn’t do, but people are manipulating things all of the time. Who made the rules for the game in the first place? It’s the nature of SEO, or even more old fashioned, people buying mailing lists. It’s businesses trying to promote themselves, which certainly isn’t new.
I would never condone buying followers, that’s plain wrong, on any platform, but getting software to do what you could do yourself is a clever use of time, isn’t it? I tried the follow/unfollow method a few years ago, when I was struggling to grow followers and asked a friend how they were growing their’s. I saw it like scheduling posts or using something automated. I stopped when I realised I really didn’t care enough. Others saw it as cheating. I’ve never denied it.
We’re all at the whims of giant corporations moving the digital goalposts all of the time. Whether it’s Google or Facebook or whoever, people are continually adapting and trying new things. It’s the nature of the business. It’s how they promote themselves and work things to their advantage. We’re all digital micro-plankton bobbing along on their electronic sea.
In the decade since I started TheChicGeek I’ve always valued words and opinion and that’s why Instagram never really worked for me. It did give me TheChicGeek character, though, which I’m grateful for. I pride myself on having a distinct point of view and opinion and it would be odd if I didn’t have an opinion on this subject. I feel like I owe some sort of explanation to the people and brands I’ve worked with over the years. This blog has always been my passion and focus and always will.
We’ll probably look back on this hysterical witch hunt in a few years and wonder why anybody really cared. Hopefully, all this negative energy will implode the whole darn thing. It’s time for something new anyway.
Read - You're Fyred! The Anti-Influencer Backlash has begun...
Fashion trends come and go, it’s in their nature, but, every so often, there is a trend which seems to carry on, continue to grow, get bigger and bigger, look unstoppable and you can’t judge when it’s going to run out of steam. One thing for certain is, they always will, but it’s just trying to pinpoint the moment when something peaks.
Left - Buy? Bye, Balenciaga?! - Zapatillas Triple S - € 725
The trend I'm referring to is the chunky, fugly trainer. The have proliferated so far down the fashion food chain that every designer, brand and retailer has brought out their own version, so, it was obvious to ask, when will this fugly trainer madness end?
This is a trend that started building three years ago, which, in fashion trend terms, is a long time. During that time we’ve seen them get bigger and badder, with the end result of people looking like they were wearing concrete blocks on their feet. I’m looking at you, the Triple S!
Learning when to call a trend in fashion takes experience, but, also, a lot of guess work. It takes instinct, an amount chutzpah and the early data to say when something is about to start its descent.
“It’s a “trend” that will see people paying £150 for a pair of shoes which they won’t be wearing in about 4 weeks time. I think many are over it already.” says Katie Owen, Founder, Sargasso & Grey, a British shoe company that create fashionable wide fitting shoes for women who have wide feet.
Right Tod’s - Shoeker No_Code_02 in High Tech Fabric - £450
I knew it was all over when I saw a chunky trainer from LK Bennett. Yes, the home of the home counties kitten heel has moved into the chunky trainer arena. A stylist friend had been to their #SS19 press day preview, before Christmas, and had taken an image of the shoe and put it on their Instagram Stories. Instantly images of Sam Cam in a Roland Mouret or Kate Middleton picking Prince George up from school flashed across my mind, and it was then that I knew it was over. Stabbing a stiletto into the heart of this youth driven trend, this is what kills trends; when the parents start to wear it.
Another case in point, Tod’s, long the bastion of the nobbly driving shoe, flew the fashion press over to Milan for the big reveal of a new product in October, 2018. It turned out all the fuss was over a new trainer/sneaker or “shoeker”, as they’re calling it. The Tod’s “No_Code”, they said, “represents the constantly evolving change we’re seeing in the design industry, a progressive more elastic world that has no boundaries. We are living in a world where we are constantly on the move, whether it’s a boardroom meeting or weekend coffee with friends, the way we dress needs to adapt with ease.”
While not exactly a chunky trainer, the Shoeker - this name is not going to catch on - showed the attention these middle aged brands are giving to casual footwear and trainers. It was unveiled as part of the Tod’s No_Code brand umbrella, designed by Korean designer Yong Bae Seok who before joining the world of footwear at Tod’s, worked in the automotive industry. This is a trainer or sneaker for dads, who want to spend £450 on a pair and wear it to work along with their Donegal tweed jackets and slim jeans.
“Fashion is constantly trying to reinvent and occasionally we come across a novelty style that sticks. It then doesn’t matter if it’s flattering or a clever design, the hype takes over and makes it a sellout. The chunky trainer is a classic case of shoe marketing that we will look back at, and.. well, cringe, in all honesty,” says Paula O’Connor, Fashion Director. “You wouldn’t see Sarah Harris.. Jackie Kennedy , or (all hail ) Kate Moss in a pair, so leave we’ll alone .. “ she says.
When “Sneakers” is the first drop down on the shoes section on zegna.co.uk you know what the brand’s new priorities are. Another luxury “dad brand", the minute the kids see their parents in these, they’ll be ditching them faster than you can say “Jeremy Clarkson”.
When ASOS announced its shock slowing of growth before Christmas, one of the most interesting snippets of information from ASOS CEO, Nick Beighton, was that, in menswear, they had seen "a slowdown in sneaker brands, which has been quite dramatic”, he said.
It is well known the young male shoe buyer was becoming the biggest consumer of footwear - read more here - and it was trainers and sneakers he was buying. There could be many factors at work here, but undeniably the market is saturated and the trend has run its course. Trainers will continue to be a huge business, but it won’t be a “thing” anymore.
Left - Ermenegildo Zegna - Leather Cesare Sneakers - £540
Designer brands liked this trend because they could increase the prices for chunkier styles and nobody would complain that they were made from plastic and glue. The margins and volumes are huge.
There was interesting data from the NPD - the industry authority for the footwear market - on Q4 2018 footwear: "The 'democratization' of Adidas’s Yeezy franchise also led unexpected gains, with sales up more than 6X. Whether Yeezy can withstand the pressure of the expanded allocation remains to be seen.”
This is a classic case of over exposure and the generation gap killing a trend. The clock on your chunky trainers is counting down, so get stomping in them now.
London Fashion Week Men’s - LFWM - was stripped back in more ways than one, this season. While the bones of the skeleton schedule were showing through, it was the lack of themes on the catwalks that really raised questions. What we were given was a genderless, season-less and sex less display of menswear: a casstratrated men’s fashion week. The rumour mill was flying that LFWM will soon be merged with the women’s London Fashion Week. It’s worth noting, there were as many female models as men, so, if gender is becoming less of a differentiation, then London Fashion Week will become just that, and the two separate halves could make a whole.
Left - Alex Mullins AW19 - Girls for Boys?
If the men do return to the women, it needs to be as equals and not just a day tagged on at the end. Menswear is outgrowing womenswear, and is always seen as the less established and important sibling from brands who see ii as an add-on and not a priority. It’ll be interesting to see which brands are brave enough to give menswear equal billing.
Men’s fashion needs stereotypes to challenge, it needs boundaries to push and lines to blur, if all the lines have been erased, aren’t you just floating into nothingness? And that’s what it felt like a bit here. Menswear collections entirely shown on females models - Alex Mullins produced an entire men's show featuring only female models - more non-binary club kids dressing up in dated womenswear or six pack revealing T-shirts for the coldest months of the year: it was the male minimised.
As for gender, the whole big reveal of a chick-with-a-dick is no longer shocking, nor interesting, nor original. Art School showed a collection that didn’t look good on either gender and, Charles Jeffrey, the Uri Geller of the London scene, continued with more theatrics, but, in his defence, when the feathers stopped flying and the smoke and mirrors were turned off, the collection looked more accomplished and could hold its own alongside any other designer in-store.
This lack of focus made for a schizoid season, and it was brands like E. Tautz, which didn’t do anything particularly new, that created a pull and yearning for collections featuring something beautiful again. Bored with sports, bored with fugly, the next men’s movement will be a return to something you want to enjoy and cherish rather than Instagram and discard.
That most British thing of all, the weather, was totally missing during LFWM. It’s all about “drops”, and “Autumn/Winter” is delivered in the middle of the summer, but, before, many brands and designers would start with this idea of “Winter” or, rain, which made Burberry. That probably had something to do with bigger budgets and fancier staging. Larger and more established brands used to like to ram home the cold weather feel, already visualising the windows, and while this idea is dated, at this LFWM, many of the clothes could have been for any month, anywhere, at anytime. So, what makes it 2019?
Sex was missing too. Even the hyper masculine muscle boys at Astrid Andersen were covered up for a luxury pyjama party. It was as though men were getting ready to go into hibernation until all this woke madness blows over. Though, Per Götesson, showed T-shirts pulled up to reveal the stomach, perfect for those social media body fascists. “It’s about equal parts vanity and fragility.” he says. “Each piece is designed three dimensionally around the body. We are applying techniques perhaps more common in womenswear and couture where lines and proportions in movement are taken into consideration. The jersey pieces are developed using this process, it is about finding a balance between strength and fragility.” And, there was me just thinking it was about likes on Instagram. Back to creating a male pecking order, As soon as one thing disappears, a new line or goal is revealed to differentiate the masses: that unattainable 8-pack separating the men from the boys.
Right - Art School AW19
Fashion is about selling change and, as a designer or brand, you need to create desire for that change into what you are presenting at that moment in time. Genderless, season-less, sexless, can equal nothingness. Just please don’t make men redundant.
At the end of a tumultuous year for traditional retail, and at the start of another, which doesn’t appear to offer much respite, there’s been a distinct trend in rebranding for both luxury and high-street brands. While you’d expect them to want to stand out, it seems as though they all want to blend into one another. This homogenisation is a case of an expensive “reblanding” exercise. Rebranding means creating a different identity for a brand, from its competitors, in the market, which, in fashion, is even more important especially when you're trying to flog luxury goods and the idea of difference and individuality. This feels like the opposite.
The recent rebland list is long: Belstaff, Celine, Calvin Klein, John Lewis, Burberry, Berluti and Balmain have all gone for simple and bolded logos without any of the details and distinct serifs. Playing it safe, what these new logos and fonts say is a lack of confidence and often change for change’s sake.
Left - The recent logo "reblands"
In August, Burberry unveiled its new logo. Replacing the Burberry Equestrian Knight logo with its bespoke Bodoni font, which had been used by the clothing company since 1901, the new logo is the work of celebrated British graphic designer, Peter Saville. It’s also worth noting he rebranded Calvin Klein with a similar font when Raf Simons took over and wanted to refresh.
"The new logotype is a complete step-change, an identity that taps into the heritage of the company in a way that suggests the twenty-first-century cultural coordinates of what Burberry could be," Saville exclusively told Dezeen. Somewhat cryptic and full of marketing speak, he describes what he and Riccardo Tisci, the new Burberry Creative Director, settled on as “modern utility,” adding, “It looks like it’s been there forever, but it’s still contemporary.”
Right - Hedi's masterstroke?!
Tisci said on Instagram ‘Peter is one of our generation’s greatest design geniuses. I’m so happy to have collaborated together to reimagine the new visual language for the house.’
Burberry are in the throes of changing everything way before the new Creative Director’s impact has been proven. As his first collection hits stores to a rather muted response by the fashion press, it’ll be interesting to see how it sells, especially the items with this new logo on.
Seb Law, Fashion Copywriter & Journalist, says, “I really hate that they’ve added’ ENGLAND’ to the Burberry logo after London. As if it’s London, Texas or something.”
It “Seems like an attempt to look ‘international’ and more premium, but also it’s now becoming an established way of a new designer starting at a different house to mark the start of their chapter. Does the general consumer care about this, or is it dive behaviour? Also rebrands cause plenty of chatter in fashion circles and build publicity – see Hedi’s previous rebrand of SLP. All press is good press, apparently.” says Law.
Hedi Slimane is a designer who likes to put his mark onto a brand and in September it was announced that the French house, Celine would be, controversially, losing its accent. Law and others have been defacing the brand’s posters by returning the accent to the first e.
“For me, it’s a matter of good use of language. As a copywriter and journalist (with a degree in French), diacritics aren’t just a pretty typographic tool to be played around with at the will of a designer, they’re an integral part of the word.” says Law. “‘Celine’ and ‘Céline’ are different words, pronounced differently (‘sell-een’ and ‘say-lean’, respectively). he says.
“It’s a continuation of the cult of personality over brand, in both cases. Causing a splash, in whatever way possible, seems to be the aim of the game. With Burberry, I’m disappointed that the logo doesn’t have a more uniquely British feeling, which the old one did IMO – I do love the interlocking TB print though.” says Law. “With Céline, it’s a classic case of Hedi doing whatever he wants. Brands should be aiming to exercise their unique personalities; this uniqueness is what attracts customers and maintains a brand’s personality. Homogenisation might attract sales, at least initially, and while change is obviously necessary, and often good, these two rebrand exercises feel like they’re a bit half-arsed. They’ve succeeded at building publicity, but is that what a logo redesign should do?” he says.
Left - The new logos are all very similar
On the high-street, John Lewis, in September, rebranded as John Lewis & Partners at a reported cost of £10m. Its first rebrand in 18 years and inspired by the company's 1960s "diamond pattern" motif, John Lewis managed to not only complicate its name but also lose its trademark dark green. Opting for safe black, it was yet another example of this reblanding trend.
In an age when these brands should really be trying to expressive confidence in themselves, these boring logos show a striving for safety and an anti-criticism blandness. It’s hard to be critical and negative about something so simple, yet they aren’t memorable or standing out. These aren't utility companies. Fashion’s current love of the sans-serif is definitely missing something.
The darling of British online retail, ASOS, today, issued a statement saying it saw “significant deterioration” in trading in the run-up to Christmas. Blaming the weather and a high level of discounting and promotional activity across the market, it said it lead it to increase its own special offers, which typically eat into profit margins.
November 2018 is set to go down as one of the worst retail months in recent memory. Mike Ashley, the Sports Direct boss, was recently quoted as saying, “November was the worst on record, unbelievably bad”. He said “No one could have budgeted for that. Retailers just cannot take that kind of November. It will literally smash them to pieces.”
Left - ASOS' HQ - Black cats for Black Friday?
While ASOS only saw a slowing in sales growth - it now expects sales growth of 15% for the year to August 2019, down from 20% to 25% - it also shows the chill running through the entire retail sector.
A perfect storm of lower footfall, Black Friday discounts, Brexit shaking consumer confidence and a highly competitive market in general, is making things very dicey for the retail sector. Retailer, Stuart Rose, formerly of Marks & Spencer, told ITV News, “I sense this is a very slow Christmas … You have the uncertainty of Brexit, people are uncertain about what the future is going to look like next year. [Consumers] have their hands in their pockets. Car sales? Down. House sales? Down. Big ticket sales? Down. I suspect there will be some uncomfortable trading statements in the early part of January.”
Even the juggernaut of Primark is reporting a slowdown. It has warned of “challenging” trading conditions. John Bason, the finance director of Primark’s parent Associated British Foods (ABF), said “I think it is a call on quite mild weather during November and I think it’s affected footfall.” This is important to Primark because it doesn’t sell online. Bason told Reuters that while sales at stores open more than one year were “just positive” in September and October, they had turned negative in November.
On a brighter note, overall consumer spending rose 3.3% year on year in November, but it was the lowest growth since March, despite the boost from Black Friday, according to Barclaycard. Clothing spending contracted by 2.9%, the biggest fall since October 2017, while spending on household appliances was down by 14%.
One thing interesting to note is ASOS mentioning its slowdown in Europe. It said trading conditions across Germany and France, which account for 60% of the retailer’s EU sales, have become significantly more challenging, which means this is a wider problem than Brexit. ASOS said “The current backdrop of economic uncertainty across many of our major markets together with a weakening in consumer confidence has led to the weakest growth in online clothing sales in recent years. We have recalibrated our expectations for the current year accordingly.”
So, let’s look at this weather. According to the Met Office, “November began with relatively cold quiet weather, but from the 3rd to 14th it was mild with a predominance of southerly winds. It was cold with easterly winds from the 19th to 26th, with frequent rain or showers for the east and south-west. It turned very mild, wet and windy in all parts of the country from the 27th onwards. The provisional UK mean temperature was 7.3 °C.” This up and down weather isn’t particularly unusual for November and we had two decent cold spells to help shift more seasonal, colder weather stock. The weather is always an easy excuse for retailers reporting bad figures.
Right - Primark is opening its largest store in the world in Birmingham this month
Black Friday, though, is wiping out profit margins for retailers with consumers expecting huge discounts and it’s stopping people from hitting the high-street. UK retail endured the biggest drop in footfall for the month of November since 2009. It also marked the 12th consecutive month of footfall decline. Discounts were made for online; no pushing and shoving to then leave disappointed. If they’ve got it, it’s in the basket, and you probably don’t buy anything else while you’re there unlike if you’d gone to the high-street or a shopping centre.
Laura Ashley just announced it was closing a further 40 stores and, last week, Bonmarché issued a profit warning and Blue Inc fell into administration.
Many retailers will be praying for a good Christmas, but to make up these sales in the three weeks to Christmas will be tough, especially with so many factors working against them. Primark and ASOS are strong retailers and will weather this storm, but many will not. To continue the weather metaphors, this could be the hardest frost to hit the retail sector in many years and anybody small or not hardy enough will be dead before the winter is out.