The fashion business likes a ‘category’. The more categories the more product and the more money, hopefully. If only it was that easy.
Designers and brands like to enter a category, be it jeans, underwear or sunglasses, usually partnering with a manufacturing expert in that field, and expand their businesses one category at a time. Take Tom Ford for example, he is just about to go into underwear after mastering jeans, sunglasses, beauty and trainers, in no particular order.
Left - N/A Necessary Anywhere socks available at Oki-Ni & Harvey Nichols
Underwear is one of the biggest money spinners for brands. People will pay a premium for somebody else’s name on their waistband - not really sure why - and entire brands like Calvin Klein and Versace are built on their underwear categories. They can charge a premium for something that is cheap to make.
And while the underwear category has matured into a reliable cash cow for many, the sock business seems so much trickier. There aren’t many designers or brands who have owned the category. With the exception of Paul Smith, designers produce the odd sock for collections, but don’t fully enter or develop the category. It wasn't that long ago that Burberry pulled out of the category and they make everything.
It’s interesting how people are willing to spend on underwear, but not on socks. We do have quality sock brands such as the German Falke and the British Panterella and Corgi, but there seems to be a ceiling on the pricing. People think socks should be cheap and when brands like Vetements and Gucci do socks at high prices - think nearing three figures - they seem like one of the most frivolouss purchases you can make and are usually a one-off show piece rather than entering the category.
The branded sock market seems to fall into two categories: sports and colourful office-type socks. There’s definitely a gap for something in between. So, it was at the recent CIFF fashion trade show in Copenhagen that I found N/A from New York.
When I searched ’N/A New York’ I got plenty of Narcotics Anonymous meetings, but it actually stands for ‘Necessary Anywhere’ and is influenced by the ‘everyday grind’. To the British that's walking (thought Americans didn't do that anyway!). They believe it’s vital to get up every day with the aspiration to move ourselves forward.
Founded in 2015 by Nick Lewis with six socks, these premium knit socks marry innovative textures with classic colours and patterns. When people pay for socks they usually go for something colourful and playful, N/A seems to have produced a cool sock which marries sports and fashion. They’re about £15, which, while more than your average three pack, aren’t extortionate. They fit somewhere between your smart socks and your sports socks and could, potentially, signal a new category within this difficult category.
London’s men’s fashion week got its Ronseal title, this season, replacing the old London Collections: Men moniker. The change didn’t make any difference to the lack of content and money, unfortunately, but, hopefully, it meant more to the wider public with many still not realising there even was a men’s fashion week in London.
Left - Daniel W Fletcher Presentation
London and Britain, is good at fashion, we’re good at menswear, we should celebrate it and this is the event to do that at. Twice a year, we come together, test the temperature of the industry and move forward in the way fashion always does. There will always be ups and downs and better and worse seasons, but ultimately it’s big business, from luxury to high-street, and we’re one of the best at it. Let’s champion that.
LFWM is just more pointless than previously, yet still necessary. It needs to be done, otherwise other cities will take the focus away from London and London needs to seen as a centre of ideas and fashion.
When we leave Europe, the British Fashion Council need to lobby the government for more funding for an industry that employs so many people and encourages people to visit and shop in the UK. If we’re going to build a successful post-European future we need to focus on areas we are good at. Creativity is one of those areas. Fashion links many of these together and is the energy and catalyst for newness.
When then pedestrianise Oxford Street, fashion weeks should move there into see-through marquees and become inclusive to those interested in it and bankrolling it on the pavements either side.
What’s the opposite to ‘having a moment’? Because this is what menswear is currently facing. It’s not solely a London problem, affecting all the main fashion cities, but as fashion is a business, when it needs to change and save money, things get cut.
There was lots of talk during LFWM about whether this would be the last one, but I think if it was going to disappear it would have done so this season. The doom and gloom of the last LC:M was replaced with an optimism that things can only get better and the acceptance that those big brands, now missing, are gone. It’s okay, nobody died.
This was a medicated fashion week. A fashion week on Prozac. Things weren’t as important as before, so it felt more democratic. The must-have tickets didn’t exist so people were more equal than ever. The have and have-nots of fashion weren’t as separate and it felt more inclusive and less frantic.
One of the problems I have it predictablity. Designers showing exactly what you think they’re going to show. They don’t move their collections on. I don’t expect a 180 u-turn every season, but as nobody is really buying anything anyway what do they have to lose? They just make you wonder why you turned up. A signature style is fine, but a designer known for tasteful newness will always excel.
Another, is this idea that fashion collections look a certain way. It’s all a bit graduate Fashion Scout, and was new sometime in the Thatcher era. The bong-bong-bong music and po-faced press releases suck the life out of the spectacle and the audience and has the bullshit detector on max. Fashion always needs its wanky, taking-itself-too-seriously label, I get that, but there’s only so much eye rolling one can do.
So, let’s think positive. When things hit rock bottom things can only go up. This half glass full attitude to men’s is what will keep it going. Those big brands disappearing will create room for something new: a vacuum for the future. The future is close, we just need to entertain ourselves until it arrives.
Yesterday, The Evening Standard reported the new chief executive of Debenhams, Sergio Bucher, is cutting back on some of the older fashion designers who have been selling ranges at the department store for decades as he tries to freshen up its cool credentials.
About time. They desperately need a clear out. They haven’t named who is going yet, but they’ve already said they want to shift the focus of the stores away from fashion to more experiences like dining and beauty.
Left - Who is for the chop at Debenhams?
When ‘Designers at Debenhams’ started Debenhams was one of the first retailers on the British high-street to acknowledge and react to the growing demand from consumers for a ‘name’ on a product. It was a genius move at the time. After seeing their success, other retailers such as Marks & Spencer copied with Autograph, while, strangely, never put anybody’s name on it?!
That was 23 years ago and Debenhams hasn’t moved it on. They’ve stuck with the same crop of designers and 23 years in fashion is a couple of lifetimes, especially how fast it is today. The menswear, in particular, with the exception of Hammond & Co. hasn’t seen any new life or blood for years.
At past press days, where they preview their new collections, they’ve shown me 4 rails of men's clothes, all different ‘designers’, but all looking the same because they are designed by the same people.
Many of these designers have grown fat and lazy with Debenhams. Making millions while Debenhams has become a sea of grey, black and navy. While the men’s high-street has embraced so much over this time, Debenhams has stuck with an older customer who they disappointly underestimate with their product mix. A 45 year old man today is very different from the 45 year old man in 1993.
It has lost any form of excitement and point of difference. This seems an obvious and much needed step in the right direction. Department stores are looking old-fashioned at the moment: they have to make themselves relevant if they are to survive. You have to create newness all the time with the likes of John Lewis and Amazon biting at your heels.
Bucher will update on his strategic plan for Debenhams in April.
I have a theory about magazines.
I’m not anti-magazines or printed media just because I’m a blogger, but, the fact is people are buying fewer magazines and newspapers and the younger generation hasn’t grown up with the habit of paying money for magazines or printed media.
Left ChicGeek Records - You spin me write round, baby, write round...
Many people, especially in the big cities, are happy with the free printed copies they are given. Publications have gone free to increase circulation and this impresses the advertisers, but anybody who has seen the piles of uncollected Evening Standards at the end of the day will realise that many of these numbers may not ring true.
Even some of the free ones, in a crowded market, are closing - see the men’s free magazine, Coach, which announced it was going online only last week.
People only have so much time and inclination to read something instead of draining their phone battery getting the same information the day before. What will happen to the numbers of copies picked up with increased wifi and internet speeds on public transport, I wonder?
Anyway, records sales hit £2.5m last week compared with £2.1m for digital, with the surge partly attributed to Christmas gift buying. Vinyl has also experienced eight consecutive years of growth, despite almost dying out around 2006.
There are many reasons for this. People are streaming music and no longer downloading and the cost of vinyl is much higher than digital music. Also, the older generation who haven’t got used to storing music on computers and downloading, and have a high disposal income, have rediscovered their love of vinyl and have started buying again and not just old, classic albums. Comparing monetary sales skews the results. Obviously sales of digital music is higher in volume than vinyl, but, it’s still increasing and shows the power in nostalgia.
It’s not all hipsters.
Anyway, back to my magazine theory. More glossy magazines are going fold and disappear and I think this is going to only speed up. Many publishers are merging editorial and advertorial teams to reduce costs, but they've been doing this for years and many are leaner than a butcher’s pencil with no fat left to trim. They've been too focused on the bottom line and not on delivering what people want. It's like they don't know what people want, anymore, and have become too advertiser facing.
The industry will hit its own 2006, like vinyl, and then they’ll be a niche revival of magazines and printed media featuring great photography and things you need to touch, feel and see in print. Much like vinyl, selling for £25 a time, we’ll be prepared to pay the going rate for a magazine, which is much more than what we’re paying for it now. What do you say?
From the metrosexual’s early foray into light trimming to the porn-star-bald-as-a-coot look of today, it turns out our love of messing with our pubes could actually be bad for us.
Shaving, trimming, or otherwise grooming pubic hair may be associated with an increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), according to a study of more than 7,500 American men and women, published in Sexually Transmitted Infections.
Left - It seems it maybe better to be a cheeky monkey than as bald as a coot!
‘Extreme groomers’ - sounds like a Louis Theroux documentary - those who remove all their pubic hair at least 11 times a year are most at risk.
The study, although observational in nature, suggests a potential link between frequent, intense pubic hair grooming and increased exposure to a host of STIs.
“Such a relation is plausible because the act of grooming with razors or shavers causes epidermal microtears, which may permit epithelial penetrance by bacterial or viral STIs,” E. Charles Osterberg of the University of Texas and colleagues wrote in their study.
“Irrespective of the underlying mechanism—whether a casual relation or statistical association—understanding the possible link between pubic hair grooming and STI acquisition could be useful for developing strategies to reduce STI rates.”
Osterberg and colleagues surveyed 7,580 men and women, 74 percent of whom reported at least some pubic hair grooming. The researchers found that groomers were often younger and more sexually active than non-groomers, and that those ‘extreme groomers’ reported the greatest number of sexual partners.
The researchers concluded that any type of grooming is associated with an 80 percent increased risk of contracting any of eight STIs evaluated, including HIV, herpes, gonorrhea, and genital lice.
Extreme grooming was associated with a 3.5- to four-fold increased risk, especially for cutaneous - relating to the skin - STIs, such as herpes and HPV.
Because of the study’s observational design, it is impossible to determine causation based on these results. And although the authors attempted to control for lifetime sexual partners and other confounding variables, it remains possible that pubic hair grooming is a marker not of increased STI risk, but of increased likelihood of engaging in risky sexual behaviors. “Several mechanisms may work together to explain our findings,” the authors wrote. “For instance, our stronger findings for cutaneous STIs may be explained by both microtears and residual confounding.”
There are a lot of variables here. The people who admitted to trimming their pubes were younger and more sexually active and the extreme groomers had the most sexual partners so increasing their risk. It could also be said that those in a monogamous relationship may not be as worried about being as tidy downstairs as those who are single and meeting more people more frequently.
But, let’s be honest, trimming down there isn’t easy. No matter what you use, body groomer, razor, waxing etc., there is always a possibility of nicks and tears and it makes physical sense that this could make you more vulnerable of exposure to an STI.
It’s funny how, over the last few years, guys became fixated on facial hair and growing it and downstairs went in the opposite direction. Looking at this study, there’s definitely an argument to being lazy.
The 90s are back!!!! I thought I’d get in there early before all the headlines, like these, hit the internet when Raf Simons shows his first collection for Calvin Klein in February. See more here
Left - Pulp - Something Changed!
The 90s revival has been bubbling along for a while now. It was inevitable, everything else has comeback, after all. Over the last few years we've seen a few grunge or washed denim throwbacks. Looking back, it was something of a golden era. Sandwiched between the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11, the 90s was a time of minimalism, Britpop and dance music. While it didn't feel particularly original, at the time, what with the large ‘Groove Is In The Heart’ 1970s revival and the return to live music, it still had enough original music and fashion to be distinctive when looking back retrospectively.
Right - Where did I leave my cardy? Kurt Cobain, the poster boy of American grunge
It was also the start of designer fashion as we know it today. This period of rapid expansion and no internet was a golden era of shopping centres and brands reaching their zenith with a purity that almost looks like nothing, today.
The landscape has changed. What was fresh and rare in the 90s is now tired and saturated. People’s attention spans are shorter and what was sexy and provocative then is just an Instagram away.
Left - Noel Gallagher - The 1990s was a mix of 70s, sportswear & minimalism
What could just be hype or a fresh start, it’s not just Calvin Klein that needs the 90s back. Brands like Gap and DKNY require a time when it was cool to wear a simple white T-shirt and a pair of washed jeans. What no tigers or themed gimmick? How will 2017 deal with that?!
It was easier then to impress. There was less competition and it was a slower pace of ideas and consumption.
DKNY just let their design team and Chief Ex. go and Gap has been trying to stem the decline in their sales for many years, closing stores and reducing its retail footprint. The basics market has been a race to the bottom in terms of price and the competition keeps those prices low. Will 2017 see the big 90s revival wave that these brands will ride back to popularity? Or, will it be all hype trying to shift a few pairs of overpriced pants?
So, what did we like about the 90s? I think we’re about to find out. Get ready for curtains, again!
It’s hard and premature to judge a brand on their first collection. It takes around 2 or 3, ideally, to be able to assess properly and get a median point of view or an idea on whether you like it or not and want to commit, i.e. buy. The fashion set usually rush to rave, if it's good, or sit back, offer non-committal politeness and hope they advertise, if it isn't.
Far Left - Stella McCartney swallow print shirt - £485, Left - Twisting her melons! Chloe, circa Spring 2001, when Stella McCartney was the chief designer
I, unfortunately, couldn’t make the launch of Stella McCartney’s new menswear collection, so I’m judging on the SS17 lookbook and the couple of pieces they had at the recent matchesfashion.com press day.
Stella McCartney is a feminine label and because I’ve known this has been coming for a while, I’ve got my head around that being in the neck of the garment.
If you had asked me a few months ago what this was going to look like, I would have said something like Roland Mouret’s now defunct Mr. men’s collection: all dark, navy suits, safe and quality basics modelled on Stella's very stylish husband, Alasdhair Willis, who is in charge at Hunter.
Surprisingly, it’s a big collection that isn’t playing safe and is offering something for ‘members’ and ‘non-members’. It's just the entrance fee that many may have a problem with!
It’s expensive, which makes sense because of the womenswear positioning. Is the target customer the male to the female customer or the partner of the female Stella customer? If he's the male equivalent, he'll want to buy his own clothes. If he's the partner, you'd be a confident woman taking quite a risk taking this lot home. Zipper trousers, anybody?!
What we have is something that looks like West London’s version of East London. It's all a bit 'popping out for a pint of milk and a packet of fags on Primrose Hill', which is Stella McCartney's set. When I saw the swallow shirt, pictured, it brought to mind one of Stella McCartney's Chloe tops with bananas on from her time at the French fashion house.
It's a tough time to launch menswear. Many well established brands are finding it difficult to shift fashion at these prices. It needs to be the best or special, or both. Kering, McCartney's parent company, obviously want her to expand. First kid's, now men's.
This could falter by falling in the gap between not being fashion enough for those who want serious, standout pieces and not being wearable enough for those men with deep enough pockets to afford it. Let's see how this develops.
You can pre-order the SS17 collection now.
Left - Stella McCartney - Bonded technical trench coat - £1605
Right - Will you join Stella McCartney's menswear club?
Right - The kind of bag most brands giveaway for free. Yours for £290 - Stella McCartney - Tomorrow Print Backpack
Below - Stella recreated the famous Beatles crossing at Abbey Road, London for the launch of her new men's collection. Grooming by Aveda
You walk into the new Coach store on Regent Street and the first thing to confront you is Rexy, Coach’s T-Rex dinosaur. This isn’t the replacement for Dippy the Diplodocus, the Natural History Museum’s famous dinosaur, which is going on a regional tour, but it’s just as magnetic.
Left - Putting the sexy into Rexy!
The new store is impressive. It feels like a one-off. Coach has always been a perfectly acceptable, mid-market and luxury with a small l, brand.
Right - The handbags move around the Heath Robinson-type contraption
But, with this new store they’ve really stepped it up a gear. It shows a Creative Director - Stuart Vevers - putting himself into the brand and being allowed to do so. What they’ve done is thought about injecting personality and identity rather than focus solely on ‘luxury’.
So many brands get fixated on luxury and forget about identity and personality. For some, it’s all about the Carrara marble and shiny finishes and they’ve started to look soulless, empty and, ultimately, boring.
Left - Coach Regent Street's giant Rexy is going to be auctioned off
The new Coach store has a mechanical track with bags running along it, a giant pink neon dinosaur in the window and special product, downstairs, designed with British tourist badges and travel souvenir symbols. It’s fun without being gimmicky. It feels like somebody has thought about it rather than simply rolling out a format the world over. Yawn.
In contrast, I popped into the new handbag hall in Selfridges. The biggest in the world, when finished, it has all the usual suspects: Valentino, Celine, Balenciaga, Chanel, Burberry, all with their signature shop-fits. It all feels so predictable and formulaic. The only one of interest was Gucci with a mosaic floor featuring their, now, signature wasps.
Luxury needs personality. It needs a strong individual to lead with instinct and intuition. Brands need to create newness and not just consistency. Coach seems to not only made Rexy sexy, but also fun. It's approachable and welcoming. If brands are going to get us off our sofas, offline and outside, there needs to be something worthy of going out for.
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.