Thursday, 14 March 2019 17:39

ChicGeek Comment Time To Buy?

Anya Hindmarch up for saleSome 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 up for sale Liam Gallagher

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

best men's loafer shoes chain bertie surbitonThe 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

best men's loafer shoes chain bertie surbiton

Review 
Jo Malone solid perfume palettes tried testedJo 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!”

Palette and Refills available at Jomalone.co.uk and Selfridges.com

Disclosure - The products were gifted by Jo Malone to review

Friday, 08 March 2019 13:11

Tried & Tested Armani Code Absolu

Review 
Armani Code Absolu for men Ryan Reynolds tried testedThis 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

Review 
Clarins Men Super Moisture Collection tried testedReturning 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

best men's loafer shoes Baudoin Lange made in englandNot 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.

best men's loafer shoes Baudoin Lange made in england

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."