On a chilly January Florentine night besides the swollen river Arno, the modernist Palazzo della Borsa played host to the first ever K-Way catwalk show. Known for it colourful and affordable rainwear and its signature yellow-orange-blue striped taping, this was K-Way’s way of celebrating the revamp of the brand and a sort of anniversary for them. (The brand was founded in 1965)
Left - The Classic pac-a-mac - K-Way's first catwalk show - Pitti Uomo 97 Jan. 2020
While many think of Pitti Uomo as a place for peacocks to pose by the curved pebbled concrete and classic made-in-Italy tailoring, the real money is being made by brands that offer mass appeal and big margins. This is aspirational, usually, made-in-China fashion, that has multiple variations on the same product. The consumer feels like and is happy that they have a lot of choice, while the brand’s core is simplified and strengthens the idea of ‘owning’ a category. Customers are clear on what they do, yet want to know what the new variations or collaborations are for each season. They are happy to have multiples of the same styles and shapes and have the same things as everybody else. It’s like joining a club.
It was founder Leon Claude Duhamel’s decision to brand the lightweight, nylon pac-a-mac that gave birth to K-Way after seeing people struggling in the rain through the streets of 1960s Paris.
At the Florence show, both Duhamel, and the Italian Boglione family, which now owns it, were present after a collection featuring youthful and fashion-lead rainwear. Italian influencers in Coyote-lined K-Ways watched as every variable of a K-Way was sent down the catwalk. These weren’t the pac-a-mac types of old, though it will sell plenty of those, but more the limited runs of fashion product with the K-Way DNA centre stage, even if it was taped prominently to the models’ flies.
The Bogliones - who also own Petersham Nurseries in Richmond - own K-Way as part of their BasicNet business. This Italian sportswear group owns Kappa, Robe di Kappa, Superga, and, recently bought Sebago from Wolverine. The group produced consolidated revenue growth of 14.7% in the 2018 financial year. In the first three months, Q1 2019, revenue was €74.6 million, a 38.9% increase driven by the recent acquisition of Sport Finance, the group’s distributor in France, UK and Spain.
Right - More directional K-Way for AW20
BasicNet saw strong 2018 growth globally; USA revenue increased by 36%, Europe 13.4%, Asia-Oceania 17.1% and Middle East and Africa 56.3%.
The founder of BasicNet, Marco Boglione, was only 20 when he was invited to join the company Maglificio Calzificio Torinese (MCT). MCT specialised in hosiery and underwear until seeing the potential of designer jeans during the 1970s boom and came up with ‘Jesus Jeans’.
Marco applied himself to the sportswear side of the company and was part of the nascent industry of sponsoring athletes with branded product. Under the Kappa brand they sponsored American Carl Lewis as well as football teams such as Juventus, AC Milan and Barcelona.
Marco left MCT to start a company making football merchandise, but when MCT started to struggle he, along with his brothers, bought it out of receivership and created BasicNet in 1995. Since then it has been acquiring brands with K-Way having been acquired in 2004.
K-Way’s signature ‘Le Vrai Claude 3.0’ jacket is £75. Made in China of a simple, lightweight pac-a-mac material, the margins must be huge. Success breeds success and dominance in this sector of mid-priced branded sportswear. You can sell huge volumes and retailers like the ease of brands being clear on what they do. It’s also a fun and colourful product. The same could be said for brands such Crocs, Eastpak, Herschel and Sebago. Lots of colours and finishes in the same consistent, known and liked styles.
While many new fashion brands aim for ‘luxury’, it is too dominated by the three main groups - LVMH, Kering, Richemont - who will only increase their muscle and monopolies. The volumes are too small to grow quickly and too much money is tied up in less product. The ideal is to scale quickly and this is what BasicNet has cleverly done with its brands. It’s tapped into the desire for brands at a price people are happy to pay while making good profits.
While without the overt branding, a newish brand trying this idea of lots of colours with simplicity in styles is Colorful Standard. Made in Portugal, it recently opened a store with Oi Polloi in London. Founded by Danish entrepreneur, Tue Deleuran, in 2017, it is now sold by 500 retailers across Europe with stores in Paris and Zurich.
Colorful Standard organic T-shirts retail at €30 and the sweatshirts are between €60 and €80 in a rainbow of colours. Made in Portugal in a factory Deleuran bought in 2008, he also produces private label for many luxury brands.
Left - Colorful Standard for quality organic basics in lots of colours
Expanding, new Colourful Standard categories for AW20 include boxer briefs, socks and Oxford shirts. By having the illusion of lots of choice it entices the consumer to be happy to add to their 'collection'. It also becomes a go-to when the product is good and people are satisfied. Asking people to pay 4 times the prices of Uniqlo with feel good extras of organic cotton and charitable associations seems to be working. It looks Helvetica familiar and fills the American Apparel gap or that once held by the likes of GAP.
What these two examples illustrate is the opportunities in this mid-priced market. Healthy margins in large volumes is the dream for any fashion business. Despite the naysayers, people will still pay for product they like, it just needs to be good. Oh, and colourful!
It was most likely those wrinkly Ugg boots, looking like an oversized Shar-Pei, that garnered Y/Project its recent and biggest amount of attention. The Paris based label, headed by Belgian designer, Glenn Martens, has been lumped in with that Off-White/Balenciaga cool wave of recent years. Martens, 35, has been at Y/Project for the past 5 years, taking over from founder, Yohan Serfaty, when he died in 2013. His first assistant, Martens, was an Interior Architecture graduate and an alumni from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp.
Left - Y/Project's signature waders
This season’s guest designer at Florence’s Pitti Uomo, this was the label’s AW19 show of men’s and womenswear, bringing forward their usual date from Paris.
Forget the museum, it was a night at Florence’s famous Santa Maria Novella monastery, next to the central station and known for its smellies. Guests were given torches as they entered the huge, darkened church and we followed the hundreds of mini flashlights into the cloistered quadrant where the catwalk ran around the four sides with the models ending up like chess pieces in the middle.
Divine despite the cold, the columns and erect cypresses were silhouetted onto the shaded honey walls as the models took a turn on what has to be one of the longest catwalks ever. One model was hobbling in her lemon yellow stilettos before she’d reached the fourth side and on into the soil centre.
What we saw was a delight of design. Yes, a designer actually trying to design something and, the majority of times, pulling it off. There’s such a difference between a designer, here, and an editor, the majority of brands, who just reconfigure and fine tune things. The word here was reconstruction. Your eye followed seams and there was an itching want to open it all up and look inside: seeing where things were going to and how they worked. This is the kind of stuff that interests us fashion geeks and isn’t something Zara can easily replicate, and, as such, makes you crave the original.
Right - Y/Project AW19 - First men's bag and shoe collection
This was the debut of the brand’s men’s footwear and bag line, both hand-crafted in Italy.
The signature waders were there, but in rigid, shiny plastic, almost like creased trousers with the shoes attached. There was plenty for the tailoring revivalists. A new tuxedo jacket appeared where the satin label was pulled out to create a 3D effect with the button. This is difficult stuff to get looking right. Fringed scarves resembling Turkish carpets added to accessorises, plus pinstripes and this season’s pattern du jour, tartan.
This was contemporary cool, bit not aching or gimmicky. You could see different age groups in these clothes and wearers enjoying the newness and the details. It felt like the direction we’re headed in. From the deconstructed and harsh reality of recent years, back to a glamour of construction and playing with new ideas while still keeping it real.
This feels like the last of this type of designer we’ll see at Pitti Uomo, as I predict a return to more tailoring and Italian industry brands, but, Martens, lead us into temptation and away from the sportswear grunge to a higher sophistication. Could Martens become the Y/Prophet?
I first saw The Silted Company over a year ago at the SS18 SEEK trade show in Berlin. I was taken with the striped 'Cali' shirt for SS18 - pictured - and the liked the idea of a relaxed, surfer brand yet with the slick manufacturing of Italy. Time flew by and I didn’t get a chance to feature them. When I saw them again at this year’s Pitti Uomo in Florence it reminded me what a good, young brand this is. Especially for summer.
Left - SS18 Cali Shirt
The brand is strongly inspired and influenced by the culture of surfing. Their collective is made up of surfers, designers, musicians, photographers and innovative directors, "embracing the curious side of the way of thinking and positive changes in the world”.
Right - SS18 Alar Jacket - €195
"Perceiving Endless" is their motto, it contains the past, present and future.
Born in Emilia Romagna in Northeast Italy, The Silted Company did not immediately taste the world of surfing, but it was their admiration towards the sport and the culture that brought them to "feel the sea inside”. This label feels young, contemporary and sporty while retaining the quality, which I love, from made in Italy.
Left - Preview of SS19
Fashion doesn’t happen in isolation. Large corporations can influence fashion and push their aesthetic through with the help of wads of cash. This, sometimes, makes the companies bigger and more money and so the cycle continues. But, a shift can often beach the whale and sportswear has thrown the preppy baby out with the bath water. Apologises.
I’ve written about the troubles with preppy before, Read more here, usually focussing on Ralph Lauren as the flag bearer, quite literally, of the look and its reluctance to change or evolve to suit the current taste in comfort and dress down.
Left - Brooks Brothers' 200th Anniversary Show at Pitti Uomo 93
That was a while ago, and with people soon to get bored of looking like a charity shop reject or a retro sportsperson, it’s inevitable that it will return.
So, we move to Florence for the 93rd edition of Pitti Uomo. Brooks Brothers is one of the chosen brands to show and they are celebrating their 200th year. Which, for any retailer, let alone an American one, is something to be very proud of.
Under the painted ceiling of the Palazzo Vecchio, a deep presidential blue curtain pulled back to reveal an orchestra playing ‘Empire State Of Mind’. So far, so good. Out came the models in various guises of preppy, yet it had been styled to mute their greatest hits. Cable knits over jackets and suit jackets tucked into trousers, it looked like a collection embarrassed to brushed with the preppy magic.
Brooks Brothers can lay claim to dressing presidents and charting the evolution of American style over the last 200 years. This should have been preppy so good that you’d bounce out of the show and be googling ‘John F Kennedy Jnr’ before you hit the cobbles of Florence’s Piazza della Signoria.
Unfortunately, this wasn't the case. This should have been a celebration of America’s 20th century power and the handsome, dashing evolution of that dressed style into preppy and the history of American fashion.
Brands like Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren need to push in order to return to fashion favour. There’s no point in sitting back and waiting for the tide to come back in on your style. Push preppy, push suiting, push people looking like they give a shit. There was was no fight here.
Preppy isn’t fully dead, it just needs to be really good. There are new American brands like Rowing Blazers, and British brand, Drake’s, is a perfect example. They manage to make preppy feel artistic, creative and beautiful. It’s the colours, the prints and the detail that makes you want to explore the fun and exaggerated side of preppy and, shock horror, put a tie on! Maybe.