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.
A recent wrap on the Evening Standard’s ES Magazine by fashion portal, Lyst, got me thinking about how fashion is currently being bought and marketed. Armed with streams of data on sales and searches, the company fine tunes its offering to predict what you want before you even know it yourself selling from different retailers and sites in one place.
Left - Recent advert for Lyst
The advert says things like - “This week on Lyst: New York men spending 25% more on rubber-soled sneakers than New York women on high heels”.
Is this kind of information really useful? While any additional information empowers buyers and retailers to think about what is selling and what to buy again, it has be remembered that fashion isn’t a logical beast.
You can’t solely predict and buy fashion on previous sales and best-sellers. It’s a bit like trying to please a search engine, how can people search for something they don’t even know they want yet or actually exists? It’s the digital equivalent of the chicken and the egg.
Right - Can algorithms predict fashion?
Annoyingly, as fashion becomes more saturated and speeds up, the number of major changes and ideas seems to be slowing. Is it these types of buying patterns and data information that is stalling fashion? Are retailers being too cautious in order to maintain sales and offer more guaranteed return on sales?
Algorithms will never be able to replace instinct. Fashion is about instinct, a gut feeling. It’s about influential people - be they celebrities, designers, best friends - asking themselves “what do I want now?” or “I want that!”.
This starts the wave of influence along the chain across brands, designers and people which then results in the trends and then, hopefully, end sales for the retailers.
As fashion becomes more competitive and saturated it will be those with the instinct to go in their own direction who will really standout.
Knightsbridge based department store, Harvey Nichols, has been busy excavating their basement. Long the home of their menswear offering, this cavernous yet claustrophobic space is, we are told, being completely made over ready for its unveiling in spring 2016.
Left - Harvey Nichols' new store in Birmingham which gives us the direction stylistically of the Knightsbridge store's new men's basement.
So, what’s new? I recently attended a presentation of theirs describing how the new spaces are going to look. Bye, bye shop-in-shops and branded concessions: long the bastion of mega-brands, physically claiming prime spots in-store to be replaced by easily changeable spaces and the mixing of brands.
I'd like to think of it as a more democratic form of shopping: allowing labels to speak to people solely on product alone without the pre-judgement of walking over to a branded section or the muscling out of smaller brands by placing them in the parts of the store these mega-brands don’t want.
The big brands won’t like this. They will sell less. There will now be an equal playing field between them and whichever new brands Harvey Nichols decide to stock. It also allows Harvey Nichols to drop brands faster, regardless of size, to keep pace with the speed of fashion and allowing new brands to bring excitement and interest into their physical store.
People are tired of seeing the same brands everywhere regardless of how expensive they are. It also allows a form of curation rather than simply a mini-mall of the same designer names which you can find the world over.
Harvey Nichols know they can’t compete with the likes of Harrods and Selfridges on menswear floor space, so, they are making theirs more flexible and less static. This is a very clever idea.
Right - More interiors from Harvey Nichols Birmingham. Let's hope London looks this good
In order to survive shops need to become destinations. They need to offer something you can’t find anywhere else: something new, fresh and inspiring. They also have to flow, both visibly and physically, and, ultimately, part time-poor people with their cash.
One of the more interesting ideas they have is putting all the same things together. So, white T-shirts, tuxedos etc., all at different price points, selected by Harvey Nichols, are together with the sales assistants explaining the differences between them all.
Fashion’s big names have long earnt their corners of the big stores, but they sell more and remain powerful because they have the best positions and are, therefore, stuck in a positive cycle which is very hard to break, making retail spaces look the same every time and everywhere. It all becomes quite predictable and menswear buyers and the retailers want something different and exciting while still retaining the spend.
Harvey Nichols is seeing this refresh as an opportunity to try something new. No doubt they’ll be some difficult discussions with brands, but I hope they hold their ground and give these ideas a chance to prove that the customer, now, buys into good product rather than brands. Menswear just got a level playing field!
Opening April 2016
So, news just in, the global market for luxury goods is heading for its weakest year since 2009. Sales will rise by as little as 1 percent to 253 billion euros ($280 billion) in 2015, according to Bain & Co., which in May forecast growth of 2 percent to 4 percent. The projection, on a basis that excludes currency swings, would be the weakest gain since sales fell 11 percent in the year after Lehman Brothers’ collapse.
Left - All the gear and no idea - The 'luxury' customer, Footballer Balotelli
What does this really mean? Is it the wobbles in China or are people becoming bored of ‘luxury’? Whatever 'luxury' means today. The type of products these companies have been producing plus the never ending escalation in prices has taken its customer for granted. The higher the price, the shorter the shelf life, it seems, for product which just continues to get more and more expensive. Some of the entry prices for these brands are frankly ridiculous.
Brands think they can make more money by producing more product, but in fact it just puts people off. (See ChicGeek Comment - Exclusive Not Excluding)
It has also produced a customer, which while a high-spender, isn’t necessarily the look others aspire to. In other words fashion victims.
So, where is style now? The term ‘style’ is as subjective and has as many incarnations as people. But it does shift. While luxury brands have been busy peddling their wares to the international tourist, the style set has been discovering the high-street: the low-cost disposable side of fashion.
It is simplistic, but the only way I can describe style, now, is the best item from the worst shop.
It’s about being clever: the opposite to obvious. Labels and logos have become less important and it’s about how the individual looks in the clothes. The silly prices has just speeded up this process and because the designers aren’t coming up with anything really new, people are happy to get their things from lower priced retailers.
Look at it as the stylish show off by buying and finding great things in less obvious places. The high-street and lower priced retailers have mastered the fit and who really cares that much about the quality of the material when it will be gone before that becomes an issue.
I predict these luxury retailers to start producing lower entry priced product and become less reliant on these few, higher-spending shoppers. The Russians have disappeared, the Chinese aren’t being as frivolous and those oil rich nations in Africa aren’t making as much from every barrel. It's time for luxury brands to get real.