I’m a believer that Black Friday is a good way for fashion retailers to get rid of stuff. Let’s be honest, if you haven’t got rid of most of this season’s fashion by the end of November it’s probably going into the sale anyway. Rather than wait until after the Christmas glut and the fatigue that takes the shine off most of these items, it’s a fresh and early sale that can still make the current season look alluring and new-ish. A late mid-season, maybe?
Left - Somewhere in the world there is a sale on
For an important season it is very short. It really only has between September and November to shift fashion. By the time you get to December fashion is dead and it’s all about Christmas. Many brands, now, deliver their new season in November, so again, another reason to mark down on Black Friday and ride the hysteria of, mostly, internet sales.
For some reason, unbeknownst to me, many retailers still think the clock strikes September and we all crave polo necks and thick tweed coats. Autumn is warm, now. Maybe a few more layers, but the idea that it nosedives to below zero the minute summer is over seems old-fashioned or stupid and people don’t want to plan or buy ahead, they want to wear now.
Men like discounts and a bargain and I think there’s enough time between Black Friday and Boxing Day to probably get the sale driven person twice.
Black Friday may not work for all types of retailers. but, for fashion retailers, it’s another sales opportunity basket to put their eggs in and they need as much help as they can get at the moment.
Something occurred to me the other day with regards to the watch business. Much like the oil industry which continues to pump out millions of barrels of oil, despite the price falling, in order to fend off or weaken the burgeoning fracking industry, (it’s a lost cause, btw, but what other options are there?) the watch industry is doing much the same thing: pumping out large volumes of product at all different price levels trying to keep themselves desirable and relevant.
Left - Are luxury watches sinking for good?
The smartwatch was a catalyst, and while it hasn’t really dented the traditional watch market, it was already under threat from people using their phones to tell the time and the slightly old-fashioned, pompous and alienating approach many Swiss brands/makers have.
Global Blue’s latest data for the third quarter of 2016 show global spending on watches is down -32%. The UK aside, which is experiencing a blip due to the weakness of the pound, Global Blue’s latest year-to-date data shows that the W&J (Watches & Jewellery) category has been hardest hit by the global luxury spending slowdown.
The reasons they give are: Chinese are buying fewer watches due to the conspicuous consumption crackdown, higher import duties are a major deterrent, as is the dual effect of less attractive product and lack of price differentials. Plus the landscape is dramatically different now that global shoppers are deterred from visiting Europe due to the persistent perception of reduced safety and threat of terrorism.
Like all industries that experience rapid growth it will inevitably lose momentum and stall. They are trying to offer something special, but in volume, which is an oxymoron. They are also not very transparent at helping consumers know what they are buying and paying big bucks for.
They’ve opened huge flagships to showcase their brands in insulation, so as not to be contaminated by any others, but it’s not sustainable. Recently, Mike France, co-founder of internet watch retailer Christopher Ward, said, when talking about mono-brand watch stores, the “Regent Street model cannot be economically viable”. He said: “Ultimately they will die. Some of them will remain, but most of them will die. At the moment stores are flags for the brands; most of them lose a fortune.”
The volumes the industry are churning out are unsustainable too and has taken the 'luxury' halo off the industry. They are in a damned if they do and damned if they don’t situation.
Lots of consumers are turned off by the prices and are turning towards the ‘pre owned watches’ or 'second hand watches' market for something different or if they still want a status symbol-type brand at a price that they can afford and justify.
I’ve also heard branded/licensed watches in the mid-market are struggling and many brands and fashion companies which don’t specialise in this area are leaving the category all together.
Luxury watches are at a crossroads. Will we look back in a few years and find it funny that people used to wear lumps of mechanical metal on their wrists? Only time will tell.
Traditional print publishers are having problems, we all know that. Seeing their traditional revenue streams shrink, and not replaced by the digital, has made many disappear or radically reduce their cost bases.
Left - Page from Carine Roitfeld's CRFashionBook by Bruce Weber
The future of publishers, and brands in general, is personality and while publishers have long had columnists and featured writers and contributors, it was all under the umbrella of a trusted masthead.
Hearst recently announced is will host Carine Roitfeld's CRFashionBook.com on its publishing platform, MediaOS, and oversee distribution and digital advertising. Business of Fashion reports that while all editorial content for both print and digital channels will continue to be produced by CR Fashion Book’s own editorial staff under editor-in-chief Roitfeld, Hearst will take on the task of monetising the title's digital and social media content and syndicate it across Hearst Magazines' digital portfolio.
Hearst has a similar agreement with Lenny, the newsletter launched by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner in 2015: LennyLetter.com is hosted by MediaOS and Hearst has exclusive rights to monetise the content, which is also syndicated across its portfolio of sites.
Even if the content is produced by a team it is under the name of a personality. These personalities wouldn’t work for a traditional publisher or give as much of themselves if they did, so this is a good way for publishers to tap this market.
As a blogger, I could be called biased towards this type of publishing, but it’s the future. Anonymous posts without the confidence and voice of a single individual with experience and knowledge just don’t resonate. People want to know who they are listening to. Opinion formers with an opinion is the future and publishers are finally waking up to it.
Am I premature or too late, but does the closure of American Apparel signal the beginning of the end of the hipster?
Left - American Apparel is disappearing from British high-streets
This Terry Richardson-type wank fantasy of sports socks and short shorts, with a dash of the ethically made, didn’t quite make it. It had potential. It rode that early wave of ethical consumerism and sold items people need and use in volume. Basics.
It shoulda/coulda been a Gap for hipsters, but thought itself too cool for that and in the process shot themselves in the foot. If you didn’t wear gold meggings and a towelling headband you weren’t going to quite cut it in an average branch of American Apparel.
Right - Ironic? Were you cool enough to wear these?
You can aim for hipsters, but, ultimately, you want everybody, something that Uniqlo seems to have mastered. And, if you're charging a premium you need to remind consumers what the extra is for, in this case, it was made in the USA. Selling basics is a tough job, these days, as it is so price sensitive. Retailers, like Gap, are struggling to reinvent themselves in this post-hipster market. Maybe they should adopt the best bits of American Apparel and add some contemporary sex appeal to their image.
American Apparel was like one of those scowling cool kids who doesn’t say much, looks the part, but you realise, quite quickly, they have nothing to say.
To quote the supermarkets, the space race is over. Much like the frenetic expansion we saw in the food sector with supermarkets opening store after store in a saturated market, which didn’t increase sales and just cannibalised those they already had, the same could be said for social media.
We’ve seen a huge appetite for volume since its inception. Followers, subscribers, likes etc., brands and companies have spent lots of time, effort and money on growing their social following to as big as possible and, for many, continues to be the main focus of their attention. This isn’t sustainable.
Twitter has stalled in its growth of users at around the 300 million mark and Instagram, which just passed its 500 million users threshold, will no doubt start to slow or stall. There are only so many people in the world, after all.
This October, Condé Nast International’s chief digital officer, Wolfgang Blau, said, “You can’t win a race for reach,” at the Digiday Publishing Summit in Nice. He said that Vogue does not have to be gigantic to be very influential. For too long, too many were “drunk on reach” and forgot to focus instead on deeply understanding their readers.
This is a change in language and tactic from the one of the world's main digital publishers and a welcome one.
What is an 'acceptable' number of followers? Many people/brands look to others for this competitive and, sometimes not honest, number. It’s never enough.
The new age of social media will be healthy niches influencing people and rippling out into the wider population. Engagement will become key and producing content that is original, clever and contemporary will be the way to stand out. They'll be new ways to monitor engagement which don't require as much effort from the recipient.
What’s that inspirational quote about Jesus only having 12 followers? Okay, one did unfollow him! But, the space race is over and big isn’t always best.
Fashion has been saturated for a while now. The industry has accepted this and is trying to accommodate and change while saving face and putting on a positive new one.
We’ve seen a massive growth in retailers offering people choice, both online and offline, since the beginning of this century. Nearly two decades later, people don't need anymore stuff and the want, that seldom matched with the need, especially in fashion terms, has also waned, especially when you feel like you’re not seeing anything new.
How many things in your wardrobe still have the tags on or are in their boxes? You’re not a shopaholic or a hoarder, you’re an average person who has more than they need and is showing the middle aged spread of affordable clothes and easy availabiity.
We’re facing an obesity crisis in our consumption and it’s starting to make people feel gluttonous and suffocated with stuff: baggage, quite literally.
I think the average person could probably go a whole year (okay, easily 6 months) without buying anything new for their wardrobe and outwardly showing it. A retail detox, if you will, which is a cleanse of overconsumption and quantity over quality.
You’d often see people outside of Primark having their Pretty Woman moment with armfuls of brown paper carrier bags, but even that sight seems to be scarcer.
It’s a great thing that people can buy what they want when they want it. Clothes have never been so cheap, but the novelty is over and people are seeking alternatives.
Next recently revealed bad sales figures, which probably means the same for retailers such as John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Debenhams. They cited people spending their money on eating out, travel and experiences and not clothes. Debenhams is focussing more of its shop space on food and restaurants and for good reason and I expect other retailers to follow suit.
Over in America large numbers of department stores are being shut and shopping malls are replacing them with a different mix away from retail.
On another note, people’s houses or living accommodation is getting smaller so there is even less space to store even a regular amount of things.
I’m not sure what the solution is to all of this, but I think technology will play a part and make this all look very last century. Maybe it’s a more disposable, but environmentally conscious one? Drones could deliver newly laundered and ironed clothes that we hire rather than own. It seems so Victorian to wash our clothes, dry them, iron them and waste valuable living space storing them. It’s laborious and time hungry and it could easily be replaced with a new service industry along the lines of Uber or Air BnB.
Maybe it’s a brandless future that just focuses on keeping us covered, protected and warm? The majority of people buy clothes and not fashion anyway and many groups aren’t well catered for at the moment.
I think in the new year we’ll see many brands and retailers contracting or going out of business. A survival of the fittest and what capitalism thrives on. The fashion industry that involves us buying more of what we don't need is eating itself and is starting to feel and look stale. Fashion is having an ouroboros moment and it’s turning people off.
I’ve never really liked the term ‘grooming’. It always felt more reflective of animal lovers than contemporary guys wanting to look their best. More Pets At Home than the modern, touchy-feely man, wouldn’t you say?
Walking past this hoarding on Covent Garden’s Earlham Street (left), a new business called Beast is opening that proclaims to be ‘changing the way men shop for beauty’. I asked the guy outside what was new, and he said it would be a one-stop place with all men’s grooming products in one place.
This isn’t new. The majority of men call it Superdrug or Boots. I'm being facetious. Yes, I know this will be higher-end, but there were previous attempts at this concept with a store on South Molton Street, which I can’t for the life of me remember the name of, and one on Bond Street, which, again, I’ve forgotten the name. They both closed a few years ago.
Many prospective businessmen look at the men’s grooming market as half of the adult population. This is far from the truth. Men’s grooming is a growing niche which seems to have flourished online. For big brands, such as Clinique, men’s represents about 5% of their business, so it’s still pretty small. That being said, the guys who are into it, are really into it, so, while a smaller number, they do splash the cash.
To compete with online this place needs to offer the theatre of retail, something new and great customer service and advice. Recommending products is so individual and subjective and many times guys don’t really need what their needs are, let alone why they need to pay a premium for something.
I’m not judging this place before I've seen it, but the term ‘beauty’ is new and for the first time feels right. The new softer, more confident and emotionally aware male is able to approach looking after themselves without pseudo-macho words to sprinkle their moisturising and eye creams with a pretension of overt masculinity.
Proving this point further, a new beauty and grooming destination for Generation Z and young Millennials is 'Very Good Light'. ‘Refining Male Beauty’, it is a space for guys aged 16-26 to share beauty tips. Founder, David Yi, says it’s “a safe haven and a non-judgemental space for guys to talk about manly things from all spectrums of manhood,”. This feels fresh. It’s a move on from that hard, Men’s Health type language that is all competitive and chest beating. This feels open and inclusive.
Finally, male beauty is here and it feels right.
I’m not going to lie, photographer, Glen Luchford’s, name wasn’t in my style vocab. until he teamed up with Alessandro Michele for the recent maximalist makeover at Gucci.
Left - Making minimalism sexy in Prada's 1997 campaign
When you don’t read glossy magazines, anymore, it becomes more difficult to learn and credit the images with the photographer, even though he’s been working way before the digital revolution.
It turns out the British-born photographer produced one of my favourite images of the 90s. Model, Amber Valletta, slouched in a boat for Prada's 1997 AW campaign was a seminal image. It heralded the start of minimalism. A new sexy and seductive minimalism and the start of Prada entering the pantheon of luxury brands.
I remember seeing it take up a full double-page spread of the broadsheet newspaper I was reading at the time and it was part of my awakening to fashion and the power of fashion images. It was the end of 1997 and luxury fashion was on the cusp of reaching into the mainstream of people’s lives and this image seemed to define the introverted sexuality of the time.
Fast forward nearly 20 years and Luchford has gone to the other end of the fashion spectrum by teaming up with Gucci’s new Creative Director and giving the great clothes Gucci are producing the life and context needed to really lose yourself in the OTT images.
Right - Tom Hiddleston in the latest AW16 Gucci Tailoring campaign
Each campaign has continued to develop the Gucci fantasy of symbols, colour, print and geek-chic sophistication. From peacocks to flamingos to chickens to Afghan hounds, Luchford’s images are a menagerie of people and interiors too. This is the age of dress-up: a clashing of influences and inspiration, Luchford's campaigns are a lesson in richness while feeling light and not being the sole preserve of money, but an eccentricity in taste.
In the age of Instagram, producing images that make you stop and pause is getting harder and harder. It helps that I like the clothes, yes, but these images are really defining this moment in fashion and style.
Below - Shot at Chatsworth and starring actress, Vanessa Redgrave, the new Cruise 17 Gucci campaign
The new Cruise campaign - below - has a Pre-Raphaelite busyness that would satisfy the most fussy of kleptomaniac Victorians. And, this brings us full circle to the Prada image - above - even though the time was 90s minimalism it could have just as easily been inspired by Millais' Ophelia or Waterhouse's Lady of Shallot. It's not just beautiful, it's also clever.
Since its inception, e-commerce has been a difficult nut to crack. When it was growing fast and taking market share, from offline, it was easy to justify spending vast sums laying the foundations for something that you will reap the benefit of later on.
Today, the luxury market is contracting, so trying to grow, whether offline or online, is particular hard, at this moment in time, especially when you're not in control of the choice of products.
Luxury fashion was slow to get fully behind e-commerce and only now are the brands giving it the attention and respect it deserves. The reasons for the change being companies like Net-a-porter and matchesfashion.com having pioneered this area and shown the riches to be made and also being able to communicate with a future consumer and grow a direct database.
Publishing house, Condé Nast, has just launched its e-commerce offering in the form of style.com This has been coming for the past couple of years and has been put back and put back and then, it surprised me, two weeks ago, by appearing on my Twitter timeline. A reported £75 million has been spent - The Times - and with over 100 employees - The FT - this is a big commitment.
There’s always room for something different/good or both, in any form of retail and the idea to combine trusted editorial with shopping is a good one, especially in a tastemaker environment like this. It makes sense.
Unfortunately, the launch site looks nothing different from a luxury site from 10 years ago. The choice is limited and being run on affiliates - which means they earn a commission on each sale - all the items are distributed from various sellers at different costs in different locations. It’s going to be a nightmare for Condé Nast to deal with returns. They want the money, but don’t want to get their hands dirty. Don't we all?!
The biggest surprise is, where is all the editorial? People have tried shoppable magazines before, they don’t work. That’s fine. But, use the budget and teams of Vogue and GQ and give me the best of the season’s images and shoots and if there’s only one shoppable product, then so be it. It’s the magic that people buy into. It’s the world that these magazines live in.
It feels as though the editors aren’t playing ball and have washed their hands of it. It probably doesn't help that style.com is based in Camden and the magazines are over in Hanover Square.
After the delayed launch, the launch now feels rushed. I think they would have been better off keeping style.com as it was - runway reports and party pictures - to keep the traffic up and instead, now, they have to cannibalise digital advertising, which is hard to generate money from at the best of times, in order to push shoppers over to the site from the magazines' individual websites.
It launched with free shipping on orders over £350, very generous! Now, it’s free shipping and returns on all orders. Clearly taking some feedback. (Mr Porter had the same issue when it launched). It has only launched in the UK, atm, and there is nothing on there you can’t get anywhere else. It's interesting too that Condé Nast invested in FarFetch.com, another high-fashion portal, and is, now, technically a competitor. Maybe the two will merge?
I think style.com is too little, too late. They’ll spend the next 18 months finding out that this business model is particularly hard to make money from, while blowing millions and millions of pounds. They'll be lucky is they ever make a profit. This could be the Ocado of fashion! In hindsight, it would have been better to have had a chat with Natalie Massenet about 15 years ago.
When it was first touted, a few months ago, that designer, Raf Simons, was going to Calvin Klein I put it down to the usual fashion rumour mill working on overdrive. Why would somebody leave Christian Dior and its atelier and move to a brand built on discount underwear and cheap perfume? It didn’t make creative sense and it doesn't make business sense.
The days of buying back licenses, regaining control and taking a brand ‘upmarket’ with the help of a superstar designer are over, especially, if you have shareholders to please. Brands like Calvin Klein are built on volumes. If you want to hit the billions in sales in fashion it needs to be everywhere, quite literally: on the shelves of Boots and in the bargain bin at TK Maxx.
If Raf wants to do ‘real’ shows and make great fashion, that’s fine, but how that translates into the bread and butter product will be interesting. It may alienate its existing consumer while not replacing the sales in the difficult-to-please and fickle designer fashion market.
It must be remembered that minimalism is a hard sell. Even Prada is struggling. Justifying the price of a designer white shirt is difficult, today, especially with the rise of the high-street and brands like Uniqlo. The landscape has changed.
Calvin Klein’s brand pillars and DNA was always the image and not the product. The product was the afterthought.
The brand, probably, hit its peak around the mid-nineties. The time of CK One which took the pretension out of perfume, by adding a screw top, and a fluid, unisex advertising campaign featuring Kate Moss. Nobody bought the clothes. You couldn’t, even if you wanted to. The grey concrete John Pawson shops, Christy Turlington, Marky Mark’s six-pack, spaghetti-strapped minimalism, which looked so fresh, streamlined and cool, at the time, was all about selling pants and Unilever produced fragrance. This was the chapter of fashion history featuring jersey dresses in taupe or dove grey and the rise of the American mega brands such as Ralph, Tommy and Donna.
Calvin Klein was always the most forward and directional of all these brands and thus resonated further, especially in the UK. It was also the most visible with its Escape, Eternity and Obsession fragrance campaigns. This was the birth of ‘designer’ fashion and consumers wanted to buy into it at a price they could afford. It was a bit grungy, a bit street, yet still retained enough Americana to make it attractive. It was cool.
When fashion companies get as big as Calvin Klein they become conglomerates. These beasts of a business are difficult for any singular individual to have much input into. They roll on regardless of what was shown on the catwalk in New York or Milan and the fashion crowd turn up and clap just because the fragrance advertising is paying their wages.
I’m guessing Raf will want to work from Europe, probably Antwerp. He’ll probably show in Paris. (New York for the first season - *claps hands furiously*). The Americans will think he’s their great white hope, give him whatever he wants and haemorrhage money finding out that the tide went out on designer fashion.
So, he didn’t have the creative freedom at Dior that he wanted, and it’s a shame they didn’t give him more scope to make the brand his own and see what he could do with the shops and advertising etc., but, Calvin Klein is completely on the other side of that ‘designer’ scale.
Calvin Klein isn’t in the same category of recent revivals like Gucci, Valentino or Saint Laurent. These brands have a great retail network of the best stores on the best streets in the world. When they do something it is replicated in hundreds of shops, the world over, in very little time. This creates fashion. This creates the energy the fashion industry needs and means it actually gets into people's hands and onto their bodies. Calvin Klein would start from near zero on this front, even if every major department store took it, and it would take years to get even one store in every major city of the world.
Calvin Klein invented masstige before it was even a word. When Calvin Klein, himself, left they should have followed the Coach/Michael Kors route when they saw the ‘accessible’ luxury market growing, over a decade ago.
The fashion industry will do what it usually does, nod and smile while taking the money, but, whatever happens it’s going to be interesting.