It was while watching the Alexander McQueen documentary at the beginning of the summer - Read TheChicGeek Review here - when I wondered where the subsequent crop of young designer brands were.
The British based designers who were the generation after McQueen and showed so much promise - Christopher Kane, Jonathan Saunders, Mary Katranzhou, J.W. Anderson etc. - and despite some investment, just haven’t been able to scale up their brands in the same way McQueen and Stella McCartney were able to.
Left - Christopher Kane's only permanent store on London's Mount Street
I realised that this was a signifier of how the luxury market has changed and the days of nurturing fledgling brands into ‘Mega Brands’ are over. It illustrates the saturation in the market and it’s all about making big brands even bigger, today. “If you’re not going to be a billion dollar brand, then it’s probably not worth our time", is the new attitude. It probably explains the reason why Michael Kors recently bought Versace. Read more ChicGeek Comment here
David Watts, Founder, Watts What Magazine, says, “I suspect that this is more to do with the parent company realising that these businesses are not scaleable - or to the extent of other portfolio brands and cutting their losses.”
“In the current very challenging retail market and designer wholesale model not being as robust as it used to be, brands need to shore up cash and also give themselves a buffer,” says Watts.
“For the larger groups though, bigger really is better,” says Sandra Halliday, Editor-in-chief (UK), Fashionnetwork.com. “When they take on a brand, they want it to have billion dollar potential, or at least to occupy a strong niche that will guarantee high profit margins. The stakes these days are too high to do anything else,” she says.
When the Gucci Group invested in McQueen, Stella McCartney, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga in 2001, it signalled the moment the luxury fashion industry was in full expansion mode and opening stores all over the globe. Following that, there was a raft of investment in the generation after, with Kering - formally Gucci Group - investing in Christopher Kane in 2013 and LVMH investing in Nicholas Kirkwood and J.W. Anderson in the same year. Everybody was billed “as the next…” but it just hasn’t materialised. Well, not in consumers’ heads anyway.
Now, brands are going into reverse; fashion’s answer to “Conscious Uncoupling”. Stella McCartney just bought back the 50 per cent she didn’t own from Kering and rumour has it, Christopher Kane, is in talks to buy back the 51 percent stake from the French group after a 5-year partnership.
Right - J.W. Anderson single store in East London
Halliday says, “I think in Stella McCartney’s case there was a genuine desire to run her own show and given the strength of her brand, that’s understandable.”
“For Christopher Kane it’s probably more about Kering focusing its resources and its time on its big winners, and that makes sense with Gucci, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga doing so well and Bottega Veneta needing lots of TLC,” she says.
“It give them a certain freedom and with the knowledge and experience learned (hopefully) as being part of a large group that they know how to be more careful with finances and astute with merchandising and keeping overheads down,” says Watts.
“Staying small, focussed and niche with a direct to consumer model could work for some brands, but it’s also very tough to make serious money at that scale,” says Watts. “Of course, there are possibly different and extenuating circumstances for why these brands find themselves in their current predicament. What does it tell you that LVMH and Kering cannot make Stella McCartney, Christopher Kane, Edun and Tomas Maier work…..gonna be tough for them as independents however the chips may fall,” he says.
Announced this year, LVMH has severed ties with Edun, Bono’s ethical fashion brand, and Kering has closed Tomas Maier, previously the Creative Director at their other brand, Bottega Veneta. These brands will have to regress back to start-up mode and think small again if they are to survive.
“In many ways, the future prospects of small designers hoping to break into the big time are quite depressing as the barriers to doing that are very high.” says Halliday. “But, on another level, the internet offers opportunities that didn’t exist just 20 years ago. The combination of a well-run e-store and a physical flagship can actually be a very cost-effective way of reaching the maximum number of consumers.” she says.
“Even if smaller labels can build profitable businesses, the chances are that the end result will be a hoped-for takeover by a bigger group, or by private equity investors, as that’s the kind of investment that’s really needed to make the transition into bona fide big-name brand,” says Halliday. “And all of that doesn’t even factor in what might happen if the luxury boom runs out of steam at any point,” she says.
Those brands fitting somewhere between these smaller designers and the giant groups are making their play for their futures too. Versace has already taken shelter in a bigger American group and other Italian family brands are sensing this shift and deciding on which side of the billion dollar divide they aspire to be on. Missoni opened its ownership up to Italian state-backed investment fund FSI for a cash injection of €70 million, in exchange for a 41.5 percent stake and rumours continually circle around Ferragamo suggesting they are looking for investment or a new owner.
Belgian designer, Dries Van Noten, recently sold a majority stake in his eponymous fashion brand to Spanish cosmetics group Puig.
“Dries Van Noten is 60 and after 30 years if he keeps creative control and remains chairman of his brand, then cashing in a huge stake gives him financial security, and also Puig brings cosmetics, beauty and fragrance know-how,” says Watts. “It could be huge for a brand such as Dries Van Noten - it’s a win win for him on paper.”
“Most people who are outside of the fashion (production) industry really have no idea both how complicated it as and how hard it is to make money,” says Watts. “Fashion wholesale is broken and fashion retail is in freefall,” he says.
Disappointingly, the focus has moved away from talent to bankability. Young designers who were previously given a leg-up with investment look too high a risk and expensive for today’s investors. It seems that only those brands breaking that billon dollar turnover ceiling are worth focussing on. You can increase profit margins by making less, but in larger volumes and become a more dominant force. It is more of a risk having fewer brands, but you can win bigger and Kering is clearly taking pole position right now.
Read more ChicGeek Comments - here
When I started in this business summer shoe options consisted of cheap flimsy flip-flops or jelly-sandals for those pebbled British beaches. There was little or no choice and there certainly wasn’t any style - even though jelly sandals are kind of bad cool ATM FYI!
Anyway, let me introduce ‘CASABLANCA 1942’ who are making some of the nicest and most beautifully crafted hot weather shoes I’ve seen. Started in May 2014 by Gabriela Ligenza, and inspired by the classic film and the year it was released, the shtick is raffia.
Left - Cesare
The uppers are made from breathable natural raffia woven in Mogador, Morocco, and then construction takes place in Italy using the finest sustainable leather from French and Italian tanneries.
Right - The raffia comes from the raffia palm tree in Madagascar
The raffia fiber is obtained from the raffia palm tree, commonly found in Madagascar. The leaves of this little tree are cut into parallel lines resulting in the long fibers used in the weaving of the shoes. Unlike straw, raffia is stronger, hard-wearing and will mould to the feet when worn.
Polish-born Gabriela trained as an architect and interior designer at Fine Art Academy in Warsaw. She also designed hats before this venture. Based between London and her design studio south of Florence, Italy, she travels extensively for her inspirations and research. Gabriela has collaborated for the last 20 years with leading accessories and shoe designers for global brands like Salvatore Ferragamo, Bottega Veneta, Prada, Martin Margiela, Missoni, Paul Smith and Stella McCartney to develop hand woven raffia shoes produced using entirely traditional hand weaving techniques, but combining the craft with Italian know how and quality materials.
The idea for Casablanca 1942 was conceived whilst sitting on a beach under the stars watching the film, Casablanca, with the background sound of the Atlantic and thinking “what would Rick wear in this intense and sweltering city?”
Each pair takes at least a day to make so the shoes are made in limited editions. After all, "true luxury should be not about the price, but in the uniqueness of the product," she says.
Left - Lace Up Trainers £260
Gabriela believes that helping local cooperatives to incorporate external developments and training improves the marketability of the local skills and products, respecting its identity, distinctiveness and preserving sustainability on a grass roots level.
Gabriela says the shoe styles are inspired by “trying to design the perfect summer shoe for my husband so he can get inspired to go on holidays more!”
There are a few thing to know to get the best out of your pair. You may find that the shoes are a bit tight when you wear them the first time, but they will soon give as they moulds to your feet. You might want to wear them with socks for the first time for your own comfort, but they are designed to be worn bare foot in very hot weather.
Right - Woven Loafers - £228
If you feel that it rubs a bit too much on a certain area, it is recommended that you apply a wet cloth on this part of the shoe while it is on your foot, in order for the raffia to mould to your foot more quickly.
Raffia, being a natural fiber, will feel very comfortable without socks as the fiber will keep your feet fresh and naturally ventilated. As they become yours, “they are even more special even when they start wearing in and fraying a bit,” says Gabriela.
These are really elegant and artisanal summer shoes and I don't think the photographs do them enough justice after seeing them in person at the recent Pitti Uomo show in Florence.
Available at Harrods in the UK
Italians do it better. This seems to be the theme coming out of Milan fashion week where the Italians have taken the bull by the horns and produced some of the best menswear we’ve seen from them in a long time. You may as well go down in style!
Here are TheChicGeek’s trend highlights:
Think avocado and prawn cocktail sauce.
From Left - Gucci, Bally, Gucci
The seventies got a refresh and contemporary update. Chevrons were the order of the day.
From Far Left - Neil Barrett, Fendi, Dsquared2, Neil Barrett
(See TheChicGeek meet Neil Barrett just before this collection - here)
Knowing Fendi this is probably made from kittens. Get the robe out of the spa and take it to the street.
More bleach. It's one way of cleaning your clothes. (See how London did it - here)
From Left - Gucci, Dsquared2, MSGM, Bally
The most stylish men are always prepared. Now get over prepared!
From Left - Moncler Gamme Bleu, Ferragamo, Prada, Ferragamo
Nobody dresses up anymore, said no one, ever. It's time to get imaginative and experiment with new shapes including ruffles and tails.
From Left - Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci
Jazz, great! From literal at Dolce to art-deco Marcel waves at Fendi. I thought I'd throw a painting from the era by British artist Duncan Grant for additional inspiration.
From Left - Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Missoni, Fendi, Ralph Lauren
Rediscover your waist. Suck it in and stick a letter on it.
Left - Bally
Nobody does narcissism like the Italians!
Below - Giorgio Armani