They say the Chinese only buy the cheapest or the best. It’s simplistic, but it is the direction all retail markets seem to be headed in. The British market has been evolving into this for a while, now, and those stuck or stranded in the middle are suffering or dying.
The middle has been squeezed or forced to choose their direction of travel as we all race to the bottom or top.
The cheapest often requires huge volumes and multinationals and the best requires a perception of quality, luxury and good service.
As a brand or retailer, you have two questions to ask yourself, today: are we the cheapest? This can be split into different categories depending on where the brand sits and, are we the best? This is more complex and can mean many different things and is subjective. If you can’t say yes to both or either, they you need to start making some serious changes.
Imagine a Venn diagram: two circles, one the cheapest, one the best and price running up and the down the side axis. Any brand coming into the area where the two circles overlap is in a safer and strong position. Those within one of the circles has a focus, while those floating somewhere out of either need to work out which one they want to be in, and fast.
Let’s look at the cheapest option. This is why Sainsbury’s is getting into bed with Asda. The larger scale promises savings of around 10% to the consumer, and will help them compete with Booker/Tesco and the German food retailers, Aldi and Lidl. It’s an example of mid-market retailers needing to pair up or die.
In fashion, New Look revenue to the year 24th March 2018 was down -7.3% to £1,347.8m. New Look has not only announced store closures, but it’s also just said in its recent financial report and turnaround plan, that ‘Pricing (will be) lowered to offer significantly better value with 80% of product to retail under £20’.
Eighty percent of product under £20 will really put the brand toe-to-toe with Primark and, I think, it’s the right move for them. You have to go down fighting, but they’ll going to have to shift more product at these cheaper prices. Before, New Look wasn’t the cheapest, and it wasn’t the best in terms of being the most fashionable or desirable fast-fashion retailer. It used to be one of the cheapest, but then Primark came along.
It tried to be more fashionable, but at a time Boohoo, ASOS were growing and offering high fashionability at ridiculously low prices.
New Look says it wants to 'return to (a) value-led fast fashion and wardrobe basics offer with full price focus’. The margins will be so small they’ll need all the full price they can get.
H&M, long one of the darlings of fast retail, has seen its shares down nearly 20% this year and the company has said it will need to slash prices to reduce inventories, damaging profit margins. It has an $4.3 Billion in unsold stock and needs to be careful that its size won’t be its downfall.
It also explains its focus on different, ‘best’ sister brands like Arket and COS. H&M isn’t in the same position as New Look, yet, but they need to make sure it’s still seen as one of the best in terms of affordable fashionability and also offering value.
Marks & Spencer is another one trying this new best and cheapest approach. The clothes have arguably got much cheaper and the food is still perceived as the best, but it’s this balance that is hard to achieve within the same brand, especially knowing what consumers come to you for.
House of Fraser’s recent announcement to close 31 stores is a reflection of the growth of John Lewis both offline and online. John Lewis has continued to open in towns, in or near those House of Frasers, and House of Fraser isn’t cheaper or better. It probably explains the closure of the huge Birmingham store as John Lewis opened a shiny new shop at the railway station just a couple of years ago.
House of Fraser will need to pair up with somebody (maybe Debenhams?) or disappear altogether. Sports Direct, Mike Ashley, has shares in both and will no doubt be pushing for it and then they really can compete on price and dominate their local markets.
So, who is getting it right? Zara, for the best in fashionability and speed and John Lewis in customer service and being ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’. But, like a game of musical chairs, it’s changing all the time.
As for the ‘best’, this is what many luxury brands rely upon. This could be quality, use of materials, origin etc. Many ‘luxury’ brands have lost control of these in the race for large quantities and bigger margins. They have to be careful because a few poorly made, overpriced products will ruin the perception of any brand.
But, you can also find the cheapest within this market. For example, Johnstons of Elgin, one of the best Scottish producers of scarves and blankets. It makes for everybody from Hermès to Burberry. While a scarf from them is not cheap, say £100, it’s far cheaper than one with a designer name on. They are also the best at what they do and the reason why these brands use them.
Or, a brand like Paul Smith. When looking at a multi brand website like Mr Porter, it feels like one of the most affordable brands on there. I think its recent troubles has seen it get more competitive and tread that fine line between affordable and exclusivity. They are also the best at colour.
Or, you could can look at the total top, at the most expensive and exclusive. This is the pinnacle of the market and to be true to both would only be made in very limited numbers. This is chasing a very small number of big-fish consumers and, as such, it limits the size of the business. But, this can also to used to sell ranges of cheaper products, such as perfume or sunglasses, but even these categories are harder, now that people aren’t so hung up on brands.
This simplistic approach to the market cuts through some of the wood to see the trees in a highly competitive and changing retail landscape. So, the next time you look at your own brand or somebody else’s, you know which two questions to ask.
I’m always fascinated with those World Cups during the 1960s and 1970s where the players sat around drinking and smoking like they were spending two weeks on the Costa Brava. Sunning themselves and taking the missus with them, this was World Cup as lad’s holiday. Today, it’s much more serious, and if all the bungs, corruption and violence hasn’t put you off, it’s still a spectacle bringing the world together.
Left - Bobby Moore with locals on the beach 1971 NPG
As well as a sporting contest it’s also a cultural and style moment, celebrated every four years. Recently, photographs of the footballer Bobby Moore were acquired by the National Portrait Gallery and have gone on display to mark this year’s World Cup and the 25th anniversary of his death. The photographs were acquired from the collection of Roberta Moore, his daughter, and show Bobby, the golden boy of British football, throughout his career both on and off the pitch.
Right - Nike Football - England Home Vapor Match Shirt In White - £90 from ASOS
Umbro has released the 'Unforgotten' collection. Back in 1966, Umbro did a deal with all 16 competing teams in the World Cup finals to wear Umbro kit. Everyone agreed, but, when the tournament started, one team didn't wear the kit: the Russians. The Unforgotten collection is inspired by what that missing kit could've looked like and the colours and iconography of the Soviet era. Part of the collection is inspired by Lev Yashin, Russia's goalkeeper in 1966 and arguably the greatest goalkeeper ever - still the only goalkeeper to ever win the Ballon d'Or. He was also famed for always wearing head-to-toe black when playing, hence the Lev pieces in the collection are predominately black.
Left - Umbro 'Unforgotten' Collection - Prices range from £35-80
Left - 'Saturday Night Fever Pitch' by Simon Doonan, read TheChicGeek's review here
Below - Bobby Moore & Family 1975 NPG
Louis Vuitton has released a FIFA World Cup official licensed product collection - they also make the travel case for the World Cup trophy. Available in 3 colour combinations - red, black and blue, and made with the Maison’s textured Epi leather, the pattern is inspired by the official ball of the 1970 FIFA World Cup. There will also be a range of 35 country name tags - 32 qualified teams of the FIFA World Cup competition + Italy, USA, and China. It is available from the Louis Vuitton boutiques in Harrods and Manchester.
Far Left - Louis Vuitton - Keepall 50 – Epi leather - £2970
Left - Wallet - Slender Epi Leather Wallet - £460
Vilebrequin’s signature turtle shares the spotlight, this time, with an especially clever cephalopod: the octopus. With eight tentacles to dribble, he represents the famous ‘Paul’ who captivated the football fans crowds with his predictions in the 2010 World Cup.
Left - Vilebrequin - Soccer Turtles - £175
The design is based around the footballs that made, well some of us, into Ronaldo or Messi in the playground. All for the price of £19.66 to celebrate the last time England did anything!
Left - OIBOY - Super Stars Made in Playgrounds White T-Shirt - £19.66
Below - New Balance + Paul Smith Signature Stripe Leather Football - £195
See what to wear while watching - TheChicGeek's OOTD World Cup Casual
Regardless of whether you like football or not, they'll be no escaping the World Cup when it starts in Russia shortly. I can't remember how many 'years of hurt' it is now, but, expectations aren't particularly high with regards to the England team. That doesn't mean that I don't care.
Settle down in front of the TV and start shouting, "Come on, England!"
Credits - Cardigan - A Day's March, Shirt - R.M. Williams, Jeans - Paul Smith, Shoes - Base London
For Paul Smith’s new ‘Hello You!’ fragrance, perfumers Fanny Bal and Dominique Ropion say they were inspired by Paul Smith’s celebrated use of colour. The fresh, sparkling citrus opening is followed by a very British aromatic lavender heart, blended with a fruity apple accord. The base notes underline the strong masculinity of patchouli and vetiver, magnified with the sensuality of ciste absolute.
TheChicGeek says, “I really like Paul Smith, the man and the brand. He’s probably the nicest man in fashion. But, I’ve always got the vibe that he doesn’t really know that much about fragrance and therefore has never given it his full attention.
His past fragrances have never been that distinctive, which is strange for a man who happily paints shops fuchsia pink - LA - and Minis stripey. They were also quite young and priced too cheaply.
Anyway, there’s a new men’s one on the block called ‘Hello You!’. A play with Paul’s famous 1940s pin-ups, usually found on the interiors of his wallets, it sticks to the classic rectangular bottle with a screw cap.
I like the name, but, it feels like the kind of packaging I wanted 15 years ago from him. It’s a shame they didn’t do a choice of male or female pin-ups, it would have felt more contemporary - I was thinking ‘Cooey’ for the male one!
The fragrance is still young and it is priced to sell, but I find I’m having less and less patience for these types of fragrance. I really want something special from Paul Smith and for him to have the same confidence with fragrance that he has with colour.”
Left & Right - Paul Smith Hello You! 100ml - £45
A strange distraction robbery leaves a Stockholm art museum director chasing his wallet and phone while dealing with the woke environment of a contemporary art museum and his family life.
Winner of the Palme d’Or, last year, at Cannes, The Square’s most memorable scene is the disturbing man/artist playing an unpredictable ape, but I’ll let you find that out for yourself.
Left - Artist 'Julian' in a Q&A from the film The Square
Anyway, on the style stakes, it’s the visiting artist, Julian, played by Dominic West, who is the sartorial inspiration in a scene set in the museum where he’s there to discuss his work. An audience member with Tourette’s syndrome makes it a surreal moment.
Right - Artist Julian Schnabel which some say was the inspiration for the character
Wearing blue pyjamas, a navy double breasted jacket and yellow lensed glasses he bears a striking resemblance to American painter and film maker, Julian Schnabel.
Left - Derek Rose - Men’s Classic Fit Piped Pyjamas - £95
Sky blue cotton pyjamas worn out of the bedroom shows an easy confidence and the yellow lenses on the glasses adds the artistic element. It’s hip to be square!
Left - Reiss - Carlotta B Double-Breasted Blazer - £325
Below - Sunglasses - Paul Smith - £177, available at Sunglass Hut
Left - Sunglasses - Lunetterie Generale - £375
Left - Vans - Authentic Shoes - £47
Below - Dominic West in full 'Julian' PJ look
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
There’s something pointless about a Summer scarf and that’s exactly the point. It shows a sense of style in a really easy way. Choosing a cotton scarf makes it less precious and, obviously, more warm-weather appropriate. Just sling it around your neck and off you go.
This light blue scarf from Paul Smith caught my eye. Not only is it a really good price, it’s covered in calming embroidered koi carp, no doubt from Paul’s love of Japan, with beaded eyes and it is a nice length which will sit easily around your neck.
Wear with other pastels or make it a soft highlight with darker colours.
Left & Below - Paul Smith - Steel Blue Embroidered Cotton Scarf - £105 from Harvey Nichols
Paris men's is the home of the big fashion hitters and it didn't disappoint for AW18:
Thought leather trousers were just for the Hoff?! Think again. Leather shakes off its stereotypical rockstar image and gets smart enough for business attire.
From Far - Dunhill, Paul Smith, Hermès, Berluti, Ami, Wooyoungmi, Cerruti, Louis Vuitton
Once the sole preserve of Moncler wearing European language students, the ultra shiny puffer is the future of cold weather jackets.
Left - Dunhill
Why have one boring layer when you can have three colourful layers all showing at the same time? Rollneck, polo shirt and tank. Tick, tick, tick!
Both - Kenzo
Male Floral Twinsets
If you're going to wear a twinset, it may as well be covered with flowers.
Below - Both Kenzo
This is the season for reflection with silver accessorises. From bags to boots, choose something you can see yourself in, literally.
From Far Left - Dunhill, Kenzo, Lanvin, Louis Vuitton
No animals were harmed in the making of these. It’s not supposed to real or fake, but fun.
From Far Left - Kenzo, Pigalle, Sacai, Kenzo
Big shoulders and longer jackets continues to push the tailoring boundaries.
From Left - Kenzo, Wooyoungmi
Look like walking Matchesfashion.com packaging!
From Left - Louis Vuitton, Dries van Noten
Yves Klein blue is the bold, primary accent colour of the season.
Below - Officine Generale, Hermes, Acne, Facetasm
The AW18 colour of the season.
From Left - Paul Smith, Facetasm, Paul Smith
Boxer Waisted Short
A true boxer worn high over the hips.
Left - SSS World Corp
PVC, trust me, is the material and finish of the season. Black bin bag? Yes, please!
From Far Left - Balmain, Acne, Wooyoungmi, Louis Vuitton, CMMN SWDN, Haider Ackermann, Walter van Beirendonck, GMBH
The worst wash, in the worst cut. Hello, new jean.
From Far Left - Dior Homme, Vetements, Vetements, Wooyoungmi, Cerruti, Louis Vuitton, Facetasm, GMBH
Landscape Poster Knits
JW Anderson may have done this first, but I still like it.
Both - Hermes
Game of Thrones Coats
Jon Snow way?! Look like a warrior
Left - Alexander McQueen
This is granny mac territory, and I love it!
Below both - Maison Margeila
Don't over think this. Just turn your coat inside out.
From Left - Vetements, Maison Margiela
Weak calves?! This could be your winter leg solution.
Below - All Thom Browne
TheChicGeek took a trip to sunny Marrakech to see the new YSL Museum - read more here - while there, he thought it rude not to show you one of the big trends of the 2018 season - Vertical Stripes.
Think 'stylish deckchair', designers such as Marni, Balmain, Etudes, Haider Ackermann, Paul Smith, Cerruti 1881 and Ami all did their vertical variations on the trend.
With the Jardin Marjorelle as the backdrop, bold vertical stripes are not only a statement, but they elongate the wearer. Don't be scared, you can clash them, as seen here, just make sure they're wide and colourful.
This is perfect for holiday wardrobes in both shorts and T-shirts, as well as shirts and trousers, as seen here on TheChicGeek.
Credits - Trousers - Pretty Green, Shirt - ASOS - T-Shirt - Topman X Stranger Things, Bumbag - Eastpak, Watch - Swatch, Shoes - Dune London, Sunglasses - Vintage Gucci
See more SS18 Menswear Trends - here
Want more Vertical Stripes? here
TheChicGeek was a guest at Le Palais Paysan around 25 minutes from central Marrakech by car with stunning views of the Atlas Mountains and surrounding countryside. See more here
The Crystal Maze Jumpsuit
The all-in-one becomes a style adventure as the jumpsuit, finally, makes into men's wardrobes. Think of it as a cost saver, as you get a top and bottom in one.
From Left - Rochas, Prada, Prada, Lanvin,
Below - From Left - Ralph Lauren, Facetasm, Ami, Cerruti1881
The shirt is back! -you heard it here first - so that also means the collar is too. Wear it messy and open.
From Left - Prada, Marni, Wooyoungmi, Valentino
This trend followed on from London - here
Left - Prada
The Soviet Shoulder
Forget the Cold War, it's all about the cold shoulder for SS18. Think big and high. More hunched than hench!
From Left - Prada, Thom Browne, Rick Owens, Paul Smith
Below Left - Balenciaga, Wooyoungmi, Dries van Noten
Return of the Tie
We've seen the shirt - above - is back, so it only seems fitting that the neck tie makes a reappearance.
From Left - Marni, Marni, Kenzo, SSS World Corp
From Below - Paul Smith, Wooyoungmi, Fendi, Antonio Marras
The less it matches the better.
Left - Marni, Sacai
They make you taller & thinner? Where do I sign?!
Left - Marni, Balmain, Etudes, Haider Ackermann
Below Left - Paul Smith, Cerruti 1881, Ami
Long & loose. Just don't call it 'long-line'!
From Left - Thom Browne, Alexander McQueen, Dries van Noten, Officine Generale
Florals on Mephedrone!
Below - Kenzo, Ami, DSquared2
Long Short Sleeves
It's all part of the larger-than-life, oversized trend of trying to make your polo shirt sleeves touch your wrists.
From Left - Balenciaga, Balenciaga, DSquared2, MSGM, Neil Barrett