Some of Britain’s best known, mid-sized fashion brands are up for sale. French Connection, Pretty Green and Anya Hindmarch are all rumoured to be looking for new owners. Put LK Bennett into the mix, which recently when into administration, closing five stores and making 55 redundancies, and you have a slew of established British brands trying to forge the next chapter of their existence.
While Anya Hindmarch is more in the luxury pricing category, the others are all premium high-street; asking consumers to stump up more cash for their products in a mid-market squeezed between fast-fashion and ‘luxury’ brands. This is an area that has suffered the most over recent years. Hooked on sales and discounts, many of these brands operate an unsustainable retail network, flabby business model and have suffered due to the demise of the traditional department store.
Putting themselves up for sale is timely. If you’re a foreign investor, British companies have never been so cheap, due to the weakness in the pound and Brexit, but there’s also a watch and wait attitude for most of the retail market at the moment, with many companies, particular private equity, being burnt, over the last few years, and only investing in strong, bankable billion dollar brands.
Left - Anya Hindmarch bag with her quirky sticker designs, but does the brand need to make more conservative product?
French Connection has been on the block for a while now. A brand that reached its zenith in the late 90s, thanks to their provocative and attention seeking FCUK slogan, it had lost its way. It recently went into the black, thanks to an ambitious store closure programme. Recently reported, French Connection made a slim profit of £100,000 for the year to January 31, 2018, compared with a £2.1million loss the year before. Revenues edged up 0.2% to £135.3million but its same-store sales fell 6.8%. French Connection said it will continue to close stores, having shut down more than half of its sites in the past five years. Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct has a 26% stake in the business with founder Stephen Marks, who is also chairman and chief executive, owning almost 40% of it and they say talks were “ongoing” with several potential buyers.
French Connection has done the correct and drastic decision to close the majority of it stores and department store concessions. Truly international, it is not wholly reliant on the UK market, but needs to remind people of their USP and make people feel good about paying more. It needs to decide what the sustainable size of the business is.
Liam Gallagher’s menswear brand Pretty Green, which is named after a song by The Jam, has called in Moorfields Advisory to help look at options for the company. Founded in 2009, Pretty Green channels British Mod culture into branded basics, linking the brand to music heroes and a strong Made-in-England feeling for its more premium ranges. The company said that it was “not immune to the challenges currently facing the UK high street as customers migrate from purchasing in store to online.”
It currently has 14 standalone UK stores and numerous concessions within House of Fraser department stores. The brand lost £500,000 when House of Fraser feel into administration in August 2018. “The growing overall demand for the brand, coupled with a strong online customer base, position the company well to navigate these changes and we are therefore considering all options,” they said with regards to a sale. In the 16 months to January 2018, turnover at Pretty Green rose to £38.2 million and pre-tax losses narrowed to £1.5 million following a £5.6 million loss the year before. Private equity company, Rockpool, invested £11m into Pretty Green in 2017 for a minority stake.
Pretty Green has a very distinctive British look, and, while it has its core Mod audience, it needs to develop and reintroduce itself into the larger men’s market. It has to define what it sells and make men more aware of this. Its small retail network will probably be trimmed further and it’s good they are starting to narrow their losses, but they need to tap into that rich vein of cult British style that Fred Perry and Dr Martens do so well. This cool also translates internationally. Any investor would probably want Liam Gallagher to have a more prominent role at the brand and increase his visibility in it.
Right - Liam Gallagher in Pretty Green
The British luxury goods brand, Anya Hindmarch, has been put up for sale. Mayhoola, the Qatari royal family’s investment fund, which also owns Pal Zileri, Balmain and Valentino, has decided to sell the brand it started buying into in 2012. The fund has grown its stake from 39.9% in 2012 – Mayhoola bought a controlling stake in the company for £27million - to at least 75% by the middle of last year.
Founded in 1987, Anya Hindmarch has become known for her quirky and colourful designs. The brand lost £28.2 million and reported a 10 percent decline in revenue to £37.2 million for the year in 2017, the latest year for publicly available accounts. The selling decision is said to be “mutual”.
Anya Hindmarch has plenty of fun ideas, but, they, as a brand, just need to establish who the customer is. It has a lot of potential, but, unusually for a leather goods company, it needs to focus on more conservative product. Sometimes it’s hard to find a plain, elegant black bag, which means they are missing out on a huge amount of sales. The prices are premium, so the high-fashion, seasonal and quirky fashion product has a limited audience, while more classic and trans-seasonal product would sell well too.
Their £40 stickers were a surprise hit, but, as an example, their candle range has a strange disconnect between customers. I don’t think many of the older women carrying the bags want cartoon eyes and rainbow decorated candles on their coffee tables. It needs to balance the fun with the sophisticated.
This brand would sit well with Burberry - there are rumours they are looking to buy something - or maybe a Mulberry, and drill down into that affordable luxury market more. I think they will have plenty of interest, possibly from the Americans - Tapestry, Capri Holdings - growing their brand portfolios.
If retailers can survive 2019, there is a strong chance they’ll be okay. Investors will want to see that losses are stabilising, or reducing, and there is a clear strategy for the future. Skeleton retail networks, offering enough brand awareness while pushing people online with good product will be the future for these brands. Being less reliant on the department store model and taking your quality product direct to consumers will be the only way to make these brands profitable. You need a point of difference to make people pay more and a feeling they can’t get what you offer anywhere else. The days of chucking huge amounts of money at growing brands is over and private equity will opt for more realistic, tidy returns rather than huge growth.
These brands have that problem of being too big to be nimble and streamlined, while not big or glamourous enough to catch the eye of the big investors to take it somewhere big. Mike Ashley can’t buy everything. Or can he?!
Read more of TheChicGeek's expert comment here
The snaffle loafer was over, I was busy gushing over Tom Ford’s chain loafer, last summer - here - and the high-street was playing catch up. Now, their versions have hit the shops and Bertie has this ‘Surbiton’ version and it is far from suburban. The suede square toe loafer in this rich brown is in an elegant, tapered shape with the chain making this an update of this masculine classic. Get in the Good Life!
Left & Below - Bertie - Surbiton - Brown - £110
Jo Malone has launched solid perfume travel-ready palettes featuring some of their most popular fragrances. A light, smooth texture, containing pure beeswax, ensures a rich scent when applied to the skin. Customers can fill their palettes with their choice of two Jo Malone London scents from Lime Basil & Mandarin, Basil & Neroli, Pomegranate Noir, English Pear & Freesia, Blackberry & Bay, Nectarine Blossom & Honey, Peony & Blush Suede, Mimosa & Cardamom, Wood Sage & Sea Salt and Oud & Bergamot. When it’s time to try a new combination, simply use the enclosed pin to pop the two scents out of the palette.
Left - Fragrance Combining Palette - £24, Solid Perfume - Cologne - £14, Solid Perfume - Cologne Intense - £16
TheChicGeek says, “Something new from Jo Malone. Affordable and fun, these solid perfume palettes are perfect for travel - you no longer have to worry about fragrance eating into your toiletries liquid allowance for hand luggage and also means you can have two fragrances at the same time, which works with Jo Malone’s famous ‘Fragrance Combining’ (Trademark!).
The formula is soft and creamy and allows for a different, more intimate way of applying fragrance. This feels like more about fragrance for you, than for others. The palettes aren’t huge, and I don’t think they’ll last very long if you’re using them all the time, but, I think constant refresh is part of the point.
They’ve missed a trick not designing the palette so the pin, to remove the fragrance, can clip onto it. But you could just use any pin if you lose it. This is a really fun idea and makes a new entry product for Jo Malone. It feels younger and I think they could have had more fun with the packaging and maybe they could offer palettes in brighter colours or designs. I guess, if this is a success, this will become their equivalent of a jewellery charm bar. It could also become the Nespresso of fragrance!”
Disclosure - The products were gifted by Jo Malone to review
This is the sixth edition in the Armani Code line-up which was launched in 2004. Armani Code Absolu for men is an oriental fragrance, in which the classic Code base fragrance has been amplified and warmed. Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu from Givaudan has constructed a fragrance which opens with sparkling notes of green mandarin and apple, which guide us towards the heart. Here, orange blossom, nutmeg and carrot seeds unite with Armani Code signature ingredient tonka bean, unveiling a liquorish accord of rum. The dry down reveals a touch of suede, the tonka bean intensity and sweetness of tinted vanilla.
Armani Code Absolu - 30ml - £51, 60ml - £69, 110ml - £84 - Available nationwide from 24th April 2019
TheChicGeek says, “This is definitely an evening fragrance. Gourmand. with a warm vanilla dominating, it has a slight orange blossom wetness on the top. Tonka bean has become a stalwart of men’s mainstream fragrance, but here it’s less metallic and much warmer and lip-lickingly fragrant.
Armani has opted for Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds, as the new face of Code, which could be confusing when he was the face of Boss Bottled and is dressed roughly the same in both commercials. I’m not sure if this is deliberate or not.
I’ve never given Armani’s fragrances much time before because, like the rest of the label, they seemed all quite safe and it doesn’t fire me up like other brands. With this, I’m pleasantly surprised. The bottle is very tactile, very Armani, and even has a grained cummerbund wrapped around the top. You don’t get more 'evening' than that!”
Disclosure - The product was gifted by Armani to review
Returning to the classic moisturiser, ClarinsMen new ‘Super Moisture Collection’ contains 3 products all containing ‘Hydra Resist Phyto Complex’ a unique complex combining two plant extracts selected for their super hydrating ability. Organic houseleek lends its super hydro-resistant power to help offset the negative effects of testosterone, helping retain moisture even in extreme conditons, by reinforcing the skin’s surface barrier. Organic leaf of life encourages the natural hydration of the skin to help promote the production of ‘sponge molecules’ in every skin layer.
A ClarinsMen Complex contains a blend of gymnema extract and bison grass extract offering soothing and energising properties, stimulating and preserving skin’s energy while the Anti-Pollution Complex has extracts of nipplewort and furcellaria to help shield the skin from pollutants.
Left - ClarinsMen Super Moisture Collection - 50ml - £30
TheChicGeek says, “When a brand launches three identical looking products and it takes a few seconds of concentrated study to distinguish them, it would make sense to try and make them look slightly different.
There are three moisturisers here: Super Moisture Balm, Super Moisture Gel, Super Moisture Lotion SPF 20.
I opted for the one with SPF, and so should you, to test. It has that classic ClarinsMen smell, and goes on like a lightweight sun protection product. While nothing revolutionary, it still a classic white lotion, it would be nicer if the gel format had an SPF, especially for the facial hair fans amongst us, this is perfectly acceptable daily moisturiser and at a decent price from Clarins.”
Disclosure - The products were gifted by Clarins to review
Not since the Mr Hare brand disappeared have I seen such elegant loafers. These Made in England loafers were a welcome discovery at the recent Pitti Uomo in Florence. Delicate and well made, they are by Baudoin & Lange, a new shoe brand on me.
Left & Below - Lusitanias Dark Brown Loafers - £305 - www.baudoinandlange.com
Baudoin & Lange was founded in 2016 by Allan Baudoin and Bo van Langeveld. Allan Baudoin, a computer scientist and Apple alumni turned self-trained bespoke shoe maker, designed and handcrafted the first ‘Sagan’ - their classic loafer - in 2014. After hundreds of prototypes and two years of development later, the brand was born.
When he and Bo van Langeveld, an ex-racing driver turned financier who was tired of suffering in his formal office shoes, met - they together developed the idea of a modern shoe brand that would combine the best of both worlds: comfort and style.
TheChicGeek says, "These are those delicate type of loafers that look almost like the male equivalent of a ballet pump - and just as comfortable. With tailoring starting to return, we should see a return to more formal shoes. These could be good for those who have spent their life in trainers. They are also a reasonable price for made in England."
Ted Baker CEO and Founder, Ray Kelvin, has resigned from his position at the British company following an internal inquiry regarding alleged harassment of staff. Kelvin had been on an indefinite leave of absence since December, when the initial allegations were made, but won’t be returning to the business.
Left - Ted Baker, Founder & Former CEO, Ray Kelvin
Ted Baker was founded in Glasgow in 1988 by Kelvin, initially selling men’s shirts and later expanding into womenswear in 1995. Ted Baker’s huge success, a yearly turnover of £590m and nearly 500 stores worldwide, is undeniably down to Ray Kelvin’s individual hand. On his resignation, Kelvin said, “The past few months have been deeply distressing and I’ll now be taking time privately with my family to consider what my next adventure will be. Bye for now, Ray.”
Whether you like the brand or not, you can’t ignore its growth and consistency over the past 30 years. Kelvin’s hard work, attention to detail, quality control and quirky aesthetic has amassed a huge global fan club. While the majority of people wearing Ted Baker would never have heard of Ray Kelvin, they have definitely experienced his overriding vision and eye. It’ll be interesting how the brand maintains that momentum without him.
Founders are very important to fashion companies and they are seldom as exciting after the founder has left. Fashion businesses need strong people with personality and a determined vision of the direction they need to go in. Arguably, fashion needs these people even more than other industries because it is such an instinctive industry. It’s unpredictable and data often won’t help. You need to follow the leader’s instinct and feel for things if you are to react quickly and timely. Design and decisions by committee is often more conservative and slower and why many companies quickly flounder.
Kelvin’s long-running desire not to be photographed or uncover the fact he’s the real Ted Baker can be twisted to make him look like he was trying, or had something to hide. Ted Baker, up until recently, didn't advertise and had a distorted relationship with the press.
This is not to condone anybody’s negative actions and anything illegal should be prosecuted, but when does a dominating character become a bully? One person’s clash of personalities is another person’s intimidation. One person’s eccentric way of greeting people, or “banter”, can be another person’s sexual harassment or racist allegation. The line of unacceptability is subjective and often blurred.
Whether it’s Philip Green or another titan of industry, people are, rightly, responsible for their language and actions and companies have to be seen to take any allegations seriously. Nobody is untouchable anymore. Good. We live in an age where you can’t have any element of doubt. If in doubt, then you are automatically guilty. Which puts potentially innocent people into a indefensible grey area and they are shown the door. You shouldn’t or can't hold onto people at any cost, even if they are the founder, and it’s a verdict of guilty, instantly.
Ted Baker had a tsunami of allegations following a petition signed by 200 staff and it’s very hard to accuse somebody that doesn’t appear to have anybody to control their behaviour. Nobody should feel like they are being bullied or pressurised into anything they aren’t comfortable with. It creates a toxic environment and may explain a high turnover of staff. People make a business' culture, but it needs to come from the top down.
The shift in society is, rightly, now, controlling these people and losing their positions of power is what will be their biggest loss. This isn’t a gender issue. This isn’t about men. It’s about people in positions of power abusing those positions. It’s that feeling of knowing people have to do what you say and pushing that into a different and negative dynamic. This abuse is what is a shame, as it’s the same energy, when positive, which makes these companies great. It’s the energy of trying something new, sticking your neck out or pushing a few different buttons. Again, particularly important in the fashion and creative industries.
Whether it’s Ted Baker or Arcadia, you wonder whether these companies’ successes could be replicated as big and as quickly in the #metoo era. You have to break a few eggs to get ahead and often upset and disagree with a few people on the way. Fashion businesses need strong and successful characters to make things happen, but it doesn’t mean they can do whatever they like.
Garbstore’s newest label is 'Drop Out Sports'. Spotted at the men’s trade shows in Paris, last summer, I was first taken with the name, we're all a dropout somewhere along the line, and then their collection of handsome and modern rugby shirts, all authentically English.
Billed as 'The Authentic Rugby Collection for the Unconventional Sportsman' , Drop Out Sports centres on an original turn-of-the-century rugby shirt. Made using 100% organic yarns and sustainable textiles woven in England whilst retaining the authentic weight and feel of the original. Real men play in pink.
TheChicGeek says, "Preppy sportswear is returning and nothing is as easy as a white collared rugby shirt to make you look handsome. Go up a size because you'll want to wear this fuller and looser."
Left & Below - Drop Out Sports - Stripe Rugby - £150
Marc, who? Exactly. Walk into the new Dior exhibition - Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams - at the Victoria & Albert Museum and you’ll be wowed by a glamourous exhibition dedicated to one of the world’s strongest fashion houses. A few rooms in, there’s a recap of the previous Dior Creative Directors, in order, from after Dior’s death in 1957 up until the present designer, Maria Grazia Chiuri. All getting equal billing and space is Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferrè, John Galliano, Raf Simons and Chiuri.
The least known, yet the longest there, is Marc Bohan. From 1958 to 1960, Bohan designed for the Christian Dior London line. In September 1960, Dior’s creative director Yves Saint Laurent was called up for military service and Bohan was promoted to replace him. He stayed at Dior until 1989 when he was replaced by Gianfranco Ferrè.
Left - Linda in Chanel. But, will we remember this in a few decades time?
Bohan’s career at Dior lasted over 30 years and yet he is almost forgotten about. Still alive, he didn’t create anything long lasting directly attributed to his hand at Dior. Or, that is widely known. And this is where I bring my comparisons to Karl Lagerfeld. He lead Chanel from 1983 up until his death. That’s a 36 year career, and yet in a few year's time, what direct influences will Lagerfeld leave on the French house? Will Karl Lagerfeld become the Marc Bohan of Chanel? #Discuss
Dr Kate Strasdin, Fashion Historian and Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies at Falmouth University, says, “I think he will be remembered just because of the length of time he was at the helm and that his time coincided with the expansion of mass media. He talked about being a caricature of himself, creating his own distinctive self-image.
“As for Lagerfeld’s legacy, many people criticised his work as derivative. but actually I think he was astute at managing a heritage brand, treading that line between designs that were recognisably ‘Chanel’ and simultaneously relevant for over 30 years....I would argue that was his distinctiveness.” she says.
Looking at Lagerfeld’s Chanel, he brought the house’s tropes into the late 20th century, but they already existed. The tweed, the camelias, the quilting, the interlocking Cs and gold chains all existed within the archive. The most famous bag shape, the 2.55, was created in 1955 and is still a juggernaut today.
Benjamin Wild, Cultural, Historian, Writer and Lecturer, says, “For sure, there are many similarities between the men - longevity and the ability to contemporise classical styles, not least - but it is interesting to note the increasing number of voices that are coming forward to comment on Lagerfeld's less savoury social attitudes and comments. In a week where major fashion brands have withdrawn items from their Spring/Summer collections because of their perceived racism and insensitivity, it seems to be a sign of the times that Lagerfeld's character and creations are also being examined in a forensic manner as people recognise that person and portfolio cannot be - and should not be - so easily disentangled; if we are to understand Lagerfeld's contribution to fashion, we need to be frank about who he was, and this will, I think, leave for a more accurate, but disputed legacy.”
Lagerfeld’s tenure at Chanel was through the boom of designer brands and luxury clothes. Bohan’s was in a much smaller industry and no doubt had to design few collections than the six Chanel creates every year. Lagerfeld’s Chanel was much bigger, so it’s interesting that even fewer designs of Lagerfeld’s have stuck. But, also, today, there is now so much more competition.
It’s often what comes after and how good it is that really pushes a designer into the background. When Galliano created his Dior, it was a fantasy of couture, yet still managed to leave behind his strong DNA - the Masai neck, the saddle bag and the famous Dior newspaper print are all Dior signatures still attributed to him today.
Chanel is privately owned by Alain Wertheimer and Gérard Wertheimer, the grandsons of Pierre Wertheimer, who was an early business partner of Coco Chanel. After Lagerfeld’s death, Virginie Viard, fashion studio director and Lagerfeld's right-hand woman at Chanel, was announced as taking over the creative leadership. No doubt she’ll be in charge to offer a respectful gap to Lagerfeld’s legacy, but, ultimately, this is one of the plummiest jobs in fashion and many designers would kill to fill those shoes and offer their own take on Chanel’s future. Like many brands, it may take a few goes to find the perfect fit and I’m not sure anybody would stick around, or be allowed to stick around, for over three decades today.
“I think to get the best out of Chanel, it now needs to push the brand boundaries - not in a Balmain or Balenciaga ‘sell out’ begging-for-attention from the Instagram generation manner, but it needs to become more relevant. I feel Chanel has sunk into a comfort zone that rich women seeking affirmation or middle class basic bitch types aspire to.” says Katie Chutzpah, Fashion Blogger.
Lagerfeld is, of course, respected for his prolific and long career, but, what left is distinctively “Lagerfeld”? You have to separate the man and his designs. When his domineering character is quietened by his death, it will be his designs and collections which will have to fight with what went before, and what will, now, come after.
“If Karl Lagerfeld had just concentrated on Chanel, then I think he would've been forgotten, but his influence was so pervasive across popular culture. Despite his work at Chanel, he was actually a modernist and early-adopter of technologies. From fashion to art, photography, product design, and even music, he was always there at the edge, and I think that will be his true legacy, not reinventing a tweed jacket every three months.” says Lee Clatworthy, Fashion Writer.
This isn’t about trashing Lagerfeld’s career, it’s an unemotional look at the things we can directly attribute to him. Clearly, Chanel has been a huge success under his guidance, but it had very strong foundations on which to build. In a few decade's time, will Lagerfeld’s chapter at Chanel be remembered as vividly and fondly?
Hoping to reintroduce men to the joys of the safety razor, 'Primal Shave' is a new online razor supplier offering a ‘Primal Shave Safety Razor Starter Kit’ which includes a safety razor, 5 blades, shaving brush and shave cream, as well as individual products to reorder.
Founder, Andrew Barrett, says feedback from customers, so far, cite a close, irritation-free shave, even on sensitive skin. The single sharp blade of our safety razor allows a clean, crisp shave, whereas multi-blade razors can tug hairs and cause razor burn. The replacement blades are much more cost effective than razor cartridges. A year’s worth of safety razor blades cost less than a tenner. The razor and blades are plastic-free, helping reduce the huge number of plastic razor cartridges that end up in landfill. No subscription. No contract. No tie in.
Left - Primal Shave - Safety Razor Starter Kit - £24.95 www.primalshave.com
TheChicGeek says, “Believe it or not, but I’ve never used a safety razor before. Nearly 140 years after its invention, it is still an effective and cheap way to shave.
There are clear instructions in the box and its all pretty straightforward. You unscrew the top, drop the razor blade in, screw it back on and you’re ready to go. They recommend a new razor blade every week. and at these prices, you really don’t mind.
This isn’t a shave to rush. This is a shave to take your time and carefully contour the face. Unlike modern razors, this razor is very rigid and, so therefore, the areas around the chin and neck need some more time and attention. You’ll need to feel with your fingers where you need to go back to, but the shave is close and comfortable. The razor is easy to wash. The shave cream and brush, are Italian, but I don't recognise the brand.
It certainly reduces wastage and plastic consumption with the tiny packs of razor blades. This is old-school shaving at around £2 a month. Pitching itself as an affordable alternative to Gillette and Harry’s, the Primal Shave box costs £24.95 and is worth around £37, when individually priced. A pack of 5 blades, is under £2, so Primal Shave should offer this as a subscription as you’d barely notice £2 every 5 weeks and they could be delivered in a tiny envelope.
Primal Shave need to brand this stronger and own the box and contents more, otherwise, when the box is discarded, Primal Shave is nowhere to be seen. They could be really playful with older imagery and tap into that nostalgia associated with the safety razor."
Disclosure - The products were gifted by Primal Shave to review