Hibernation, coma, mothballed; however you want to label it, fashion would have been in a very deep sleep before all of this is over. Even if we’re being optimistic, and life returns to a sense of normality in the spring, it would have been nearly a full year of disruption. Fashion would continue to be affected well into 2021, without fashion and trade shows in at that time to show AW22 and and we would be not fully back to normal until spring 2022 at the earliest, when the fashion cycle would have resumed.
Left - Sleeping Beauty woke up to something good, but what about fashion?
In the classic fairytale, when the princess was cursed to sleep for a hundred years she was awakened by a handsome prince, but what will be waiting for ‘fashion’ and what state or style will it be in?
Let’s recap where we were at the beginning of this disaster. All the Kering brands - Saint Laurent, Gucci, Balenciaga - were flying. Gucci was slowing but still steaming ahead and was hopeful on becoming the world’s largest luxury brand. Bottega Veneta was gaining momentum and hype was translating into sales.
At LVMH, Louis Vuitton was still the major cash cow, Dior seemed to be doing well in sales rather than critical success and Celine was doing a stealth commercialism which, I’m sure, was being reflected in sales and exactly what Slimane was hired for and what he did previously at Saint Laurent. The main style was a mix of Gucci’s dress-up maximalism and embellishment and contemporary sportswear based on fugly chunky trainers and overpriced loungewear.
So, what can we predict for the future?
It might be worth casting an eye back in history. We’re told by the Bank of England boffins that this will be biggest recession in 300 years. Based on the bank's own best estimate and historical data, the coronavirus crisis could push the British economy into the fastest and deepest recession not seen since the huge economic slump of 1706 and the Great Frost of 1709. This was a baroque period at the beginning of Georgian Britain when fashion designers became more recognisable and fashion magazines appeared for the first time. While we’re too far away to know the minutiae of hemline changes, but it was certainly the beginning of a new era of British style and design.
The most popular comparison has been with Spanish Flu in 1918-19. After that came the Roaring Twenties, one of the most modern and dynamic decades of the 20th century. After WWII we got Christian Dior’s New Look. And while it was a feminine look back, it propelled fashion forward into the next decade and was hugely influential.
The troubles of the 1970s gave us punk and the recession of the early 90s was reflected in American Grunge.
The most recent 2008 financial crash was all about the rise of China, and, undoubtedly, the growth in billon dollar brands and the associated logos and status.
Right - GDP growth of the world's three biggest economies - USA, Japan & China
While this is all simplistic, it offers some form of hope.
During the 20th century many economists cited the 'Hemline Theory'. It being the current fashion’s skirt length are a predictor of stock market direction. According to the theory, if short skirts are growing in popularity, it means the markets are going to go up.
Probably lucky everybody is wearing tracksuits right now.
And then there’s the ‘Lipstick Effect’, which is when consumers still spend money on small indulgences during recessions, economic downturns. For this reason, companies that benefit from the lipstick effect tend to be resilient even during economic downturns.
Market research firm Kline found evidence for the lipstick effect through four recessions from 1973 to 2001. Though during the financial crisis of 2008 lipstick sales dipped disproving this theory. Add a face mask and it doesn’t look like lipstick sales will be picking up anytime soon...
So, where does that leave any predictions post-COVID?
1) China will dominate even more. GDP Annual Growth Rate in China averaged 9.23 percent from 1989 until 2020. China’s gross domestic product expanded by 4.9 percent over the third quarter of 2020 on rising trade and consumption. According to the Wall Street Journal, it is “putting China’s economy back toward its pre-coronavirus trajectory half a year after the pandemic gutted its economy.” Brands are using China and Asia to currently support their businesses and as such more products will be tailored to these markets. China will fuel the growth in ‘Power Brands’ owned by the big groups and events like the Christian Dior, Designer of Dreams exhibition opening in Shanghai, following its success in Paris and London, will help to further educate and create this branding magic within this market.
2) Fashion will be more woke when it wakes, but the progress we were making on greening fashion will slow as many firms fight for survival and any expensive new initiatives will be put on the back burner. This is a fight for survival so we’ll see inexpensive greenwashing.
3) We’ll see a whole raft of new start-ups in the middle of next year, to launch later on that year, or in 2022. Many will be kitchen table brands with a strong and individual personality behind them.
4) Local will continue to be a focus and we’ll see more ‘luxury’ Bond Street type brands consider smaller stores in affluent neighbourhoods and design them in a less international and generic style and more of the locale.
5) They’ll be a slower reaction to the bad quality of most ‘luxury’ fashion, which will further fuel ‘fast fashion’.
On a purely aesthetic level, will people continue to want the escapist approach from brands like Gucci and what we saw during the glam 1970s downturn, or will we see a more austere and minimal look mirroring the rise in unemployment and shrinking of people’s disposable incomes? Well just have to see. Whatever happens it can't be too literal or obvious. The consumer is more sophisticated than that.
Fashion is too big now to follow the dictatorial approach of hemlines and lipsticks theories of the previous century. But, what is positive is the desire for consumption. That hasn't gone anyway. While remaining, big brands will try and monopolise for a while, we’ll see fast growing start-ups, from the most unexpected of places, give them a run for their money in a less competitive landscape which will have plenty of scope for growth due to brands disappearing.
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Despite the unprecedented turbulence in the world’s retail markets the luxury conglomerates reported strong bounce back results this month. Both LVMH and Kering, two of the world’s largest luxury goods groups, reported extremely strong sales in the third quarter of 2020.
Left - Dior AW20 - Many luxury brands no longer have limits on how much people can buy
Considering many people aren’t even leaving the house, letting alone travelling, it was surprising to see that LVMH saw sales at its fashion and leather goods division rise 12 per cent to €5.9 billion. This was much higher than market expectations and saw standout performances from the Louis Vuitton and Dior houses. The LVMH results said Christian Dior “showed remarkable momentum.” while Louis Vuitton “continued to display exceptional momentum and creativity”.
Kering too reported better than expected results. Revenue in the third quarter totalled €3.72 billion, a fall of 4.3 per cent, but representing only a decline of 1.2 per cent in comparable terms. This represented a sharp rebound after second-quarter comparable sales had plunged by 43.7 per cent.
Kering’s main cash cow, Gucci, saw revenues rise sharply in the third quarter, compared with Q2, with revenue only down 12.1 per cent, whilst retail sales were down 4 per cent on a comparable basis. Gucci reported a 43.7 per cent rise in North America and a 10.6 per cent growth in Asia-Pacific. LVMH too saw strong spending and growth in Asia and the US.
What could be behind this huge recovery surge?
Luxury companies always had a good ‘problem' in the Chinese phenomenon of ‘Daigou’. Daigou or 'Surrogate Shopping' is a term used to describe the cross-border exporting in which an individual or a syndicated group of exporters outside China purchases commodities for customers in China. Often these are luxury goods from big-name designer houses. The main reason Diagou exists is because of the price differential in the Chinese market and buying abroad is often far cheaper even after the middle men take their cut. There is a huge amount of money to be made because of the volumes and value of the goods.
Many luxury companies tried to limit the amounts sold to Diagou so as to preserve their exclusivity and not flood the market. Rarity and scarcity naturally make things more desirable. But, it appears that some of the biggest fashion houses have opened the floodgates to these buyers and organisations, no longer limiting the amounts they can purchase. Having buyers queuing up and wanting to buy as much as you can give them looks like a temptation few brands could resist as they saw their sales fall off a cliff due to COVID 19.
At the end of 2018 it was announced that Kering was ending its joint venture with Yoox Net-a-Porter and taking charge of the e-commerce for its brands including Alexander McQueen, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Bottega Veneta. The partnership was slated for renewal in 2020, by which time Kering’s digital operation, which looked after Gucci separately, would have, hopefully, matured to an advanced level.
While many of the world’s busiest luxury streets have been quiet since the beginning of 2020, Kering has been using its stores to process online orders rather than its warehouse in Bologna, as it had done previously.
Right - Diagou sending Dior gifts to China?
These ‘distance sales’ are up 25 to 30 per cent throughout the group and, according to an unnamed source, they are now letting the Korean and Chinese Diagou traders buy everything they want.
“The fact that the traders are now allowed to get what they want definitely helps those brands. Even at Dior, they can buy without restrictions now.” they say.
“Some companies do it everywhere. Particularly Louis Vuitton. And Dior. For the Kering Group, before the confinement, they had vague procedures that were changing depending on what items were selling. For example, for whatever reasons, some stores were selling huge amounts of the same item (usually cheaper leather goods with a logo, like pouches). When that happened, some accounts were flagged by the directors. There is a system at Kering called ‘Luce’ where you can see who bought a particular item. Every time, a trader would come, the sales assistant had to check their purchase history.
"At one point, they also checked that the credit card they use matched their profile name. (Companies would send different people who would all use the same company card. That was flagged during audits). After the confinement, every company has relaxed the procedures. I know some traders and they told me that for instance, at Gucci or Moncler, there are no limits on items purchased.
“Even Dior doesn’t do limits of items anymore. Although I hear that Louis Vuitton and Goyard still check accounts. At Saint Laurent, there is a limit of 3 of the same item per transaction. (But they can come every day and buy 3 items - they couldn’t do that before). I understand it is happening everywhere. Also, brands like Dior have resumed doing export sales. But Saint Laurent still refuse export sales unless the client has a good reason (if there is no store in their country that carries what they want to buy). It used to be a huge market for the brands until about 2 years ago when they decided to stop it all ‘to protect the markets in Asia and the Middle East’ mostly.”
Export sales are by a foreign buyer asking for it to be shipped to their territory from a store overseas. The Korean and Chinese traders often buy closer to home in other Asian markets. The Koreans are now the biggest traders selling into China.
“When they used to call stores and ask for an export sale, they would be able to have the VAT off and the European price.” says the source.
Many Daigou are or work with sales staff, using their staff discount as an extra price differential. But, it is not really possible anymore at some brands, like YSL, because they've put a limit on staff purchases. However, the limits are not imposed throughout the Kering group and Gucci doesn’t have limits. I regularly see or hear of people buying the same products. The directors have started to flag it.” says the source.
“One would think the procedures would be the same throughout the group, but it varies drastically and depends on the CEO/ Director’s decision. There are so many odd decisions though. For instance, I heard that Gucci had cancelled the VIP discounts ... which doesn’t make a lot of sense.
There are limits in the stores but not online for Kering.... which is beyond stupid. Again, something that doesn’t make sense.
“At Kering, there is a separate online system called 'Sellsy' which is like ordering online, but through the store stock. The directors can check the accounts and stop some people from buying (if they suspect that it is for resale), but the traders can call the stores (if they cannot find items in the website) and use a different name. The credit card used cannot be checked by the stores.” says the source.
Left - Saint Laurent AW20
“Although they are starting to check the accounts again. I heard that one Korean trader got flagged and is not allowed to buy anymore. But I am sure he still does.... using various names. Some clients have more than a dozen profiles.... with same email but variations of their name. Quite surreal.” the source says.
Speaking to a Diagou reseller in China, via WeChat, they say they have direct cooperation with many of the brands, but nothing is ever ‘official’. Louis Vuitton is the best seller, followed by Dior, then Gucci. They say that COVID 19 has forced the luxury goods companies into this loose cooperation.
As for the end consumer, “Most of the clients don’t know anything about luxury. They just want to show off”. says the owner of the Diagou store on WeChat. “They don’t even have passports.”
Asked which products were most in demand at the moment and from which brands. “Every season is different. Which one is best depends how we promote.” they say.
Diagou buy and then export the goods themselves with their commission priced in. It will be interesting how the UK Tax Free shopping changes - Read more here - alters things for Daigou buying in the UK. But, then, the vast majority of reselling sales are made in more localised markets to China, hence the huge uplift in Asia.
What it does signify is the continued huge demand for named luxury goods. Which is a good sign for the industry overall.
Daigou has always been a game of cat and mouse for the brands. In one respect, this great demand is flattering for any brand, but they also want to be extremely protective of their image and how their goods are sold. COVID 19 was a massive jolt for any business and it’s understandable why many brands panicked and became more relaxed about knowingly selling to Daigou for resale into China. It could explain some of the huge bounce back in Q3 sales.
COVID created a vacuum and distorted the balance between buyer and seller. The luxury brands have turned the taps on for the Daigou market. Just don’t expect them to be on for too long.
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When was the last time you felt truly inspired by a luxury brand’s website? Regardless of the cute little illustrations or achingly cool ad campaign flipping past, mono-luxury e-tail hasn’t really moved on over the past decade. It’s as though they still feel the brand is enough.
People don’t dress like this, and just to replicate the physical store online is to create a glorified warehouse or catalogue, which doesn’t take into account the element of personality, pampering and leisure which makes physical shopping a pleasure for many and the reason most people desire these brands in the first place. It’s not seductive.
Left - Celine.com - Have mono-luxury sites moved on in the last decade?
During this same time period, multi-brand luxury retailers such as matchesfashion.com, Far Fetch and Net-A-Porter have grown their turnovers into the hundreds of millions of dollars thanks to their ability to tap into people’s desires for newness and vast amounts of choice. These retailers are basically online fashion department stores just minus the fridges and toasters. People like to skip between brands and cherry pick items across them in the most efficient use of their time. Going onto individual, mono-brand websites, especially if you don’t know what you want, feels like a blinkered process and like you’re not getting a full view of the fashion landscape. It also feels, on the majority of sites, as though there isn’t much on there. It is just isn’t very satisfying.
Last week, Farfetch Chief Executive, Jose Neves, predicted that brands would pull out of multi-brand retailers online and operate as e-concessions on marketplaces instead, much as they have done in bricks-and-mortar department stores. And, last year, Kering announced it would take some of its biggest e-commerce websites in house, by the first half of 2020, putting an end to a seven-year joint venture with Yoox Net-a-Porter (YNAP).
Kering’s online sales made up just 6% - this is against 18% of UK retail as a whole - of its 6.4 billion euro turnover in the first half of 2018, but it did grow by 80 percent in the third quarter, faster than revenue growth in department stores or its own shops. If these brands want to reflect general online retail sales they will need to double or triple the percentage of sales coming from online.
Taking back control of the Alexander McQueen, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga websites will allow Kering full access to information such as client data.While this is great for the brands and the back-end, tech side, customers will notice little difference unless they have a radical rethink of how they present their brands on the front-end. Consumers are used to scrolling and discount incentives to drive sales which many of these brands, outside of sales season, won’t offer. It can also feel very clinical.
According to a report by Deloitte “Big data may help luxury brands to provide personalized and superior customer service through consumer segmentation, behaviour and sentiment analysis, and predictive analytics. Several luxury brands, such as Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, Dior and Estée Lauder, have already started to take advantage of these technologies, using AI-powered technologies, such as machine learning and analytics, to offer more personalized and timely customer services. They implemented their own AI-powered chatbots and now can sell products using targeted marketing, personalization, and timely automation.”
In November 2018, Kering created a data science team at group level to improve the service and shopping experience of its clients. Kering intends to get real-time 360-degree view of its customers to deliver rich and personalised experiences and meet their specific needs. LVMH, doesn’t break out separate online sales information, but they did reveal that the group's online sales rose by more than 30 percent in 2018. Ian Rogers, the first ever chief digital officer of the LVMH group, told Wired, last year, that he doesn’t like the word "digital" and he has the very tricky job of matching the luxury online customer journey with the pampered, indulgent experience IRL.
“It’s not the case that luxury shopping becomes self-serve on the internet: if I do buy something I expect a high level of service, even if I’m remote.” he said “You can see it's definitely strategic for us to invest in remote customer support, and it's directly downstream of our Internet strategy. There's this nonsense land of digital transformation where people wave their hands and they talk in impractical terms. Keep drilling until you have something practical that works and then rinse and repeat. Lose these nonsense words like "digital", like "data", like "social media". You have to get rid of this digital umbrella because it's just too broad. When somebody says, "We're really behind on digital", my response is, "You're behind in every aspect of your business?” he said.
Right - Spot the difference - YSL.com
According to Kering’s Chief Client & Digital Officer, Grégory Boutté, “Digital can be many different things at once - a distribution channel; a platform for offering seamless omni-channel services to clients; a driver of brand image and visibility; and a tool for engaging with customers in a personalized way. Digital technology, data science and innovation provide a way of offering our customers the best possible experience – on every touchpoint” he said.
Online and off-line isn’t separate, most brands now offer services such as check availability, reserve in-store, make store appointment, pick-up in-store, return in-store, exchange in-store, and buy online in-store. Kering said it will continue to develop partnerships with third-party e-commerce platforms "when relevant", but we’re seeing the beginnings of a power struggle between brands and retailers. They both need each other.
Now these luxury groups are focusing on their websites they need to rethink the entire thing. Their rigid ‘aesthetics’ and branding doesn’t allow for personality. Mono-brand luxury sites are restricted by the volume of product and while it changes, it doesn’t change often enough to the levels today’s customers have become used to.
Brands, such as Prada, Saint Laurent and Celine, also sell a lot of black, which doesn’t shoot well and doesn’t make the most inspiring of online images. Add in ‘collab. fatigue’ and these brands really need to develop a new idea for websites if they want to increase sales and move away from multi-brand sites.
Luxury brands have built themselves a boring digital straight-jacket and need to start thinking differently. They could offer FaceTime with sales associates in people’s local stores, or offer a live view way of browsing in-store and matching to items online. It’s going to be about making the virtual real and vice versa. There are many possibilities, but they need to unthink the “brand”.
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The idea of paying to have something made, passing it on to someone else to sell, who will then pay you in a few month’s time, sounds like the cashflow diagram from hell. Unless the profit margins are huge, and even then it’s not ideal, wholesaling in fashion is difficult. Small brands, especially, need the constant stream of cash, traditionally have tighter margins, and need the crucial feedback of information with regards to successful products that can inform future decisions and where to put their limited resources.
The fashion wholesale model is broken and, now, even the big boys are deciding to step back. Luxury brands are also realising, finally, that the true value of selling directly to consumers is growing a database of customers and understanding exactly what they want in a shorter amount of time and being more reactive to those needs. Realising something is or isn’t selling in 3 to 6 month’s time is pointless and is what will suffocate even the biggest of brands.
Many luxury brands sat back and twiddled their thumbs over the past two decades while huge fashion corporations like YOOX/Net-A-Porter and MatchesFashion.com have grown with enviable customer lists and used huge amounts of information to improve their offer and grow further.
Now, the wholesale middle man is being pushed back to a point where brands want more control, know they will make more money directly and won’t be at the whims of a fashion buyer every season as to whether they’ve made the cut or not.
Prada announced last month that is would reduce its wholesale network in Italy and Europe in a push to have uniform prices for its products across different outlets and reduce markdowns. Before that, in March, the Milan-based company said it also would stop offering end-of-season promotions at its own shops in a bid to boost margins and protect its brand. They’ve obviously been watching the success of Gucci’s no-sale model and product that continues over seasons and doesn’t seem to quickly date.
In a short filing with the Hong Kong stock exchange, where the company is listed, the company's chairman Carlo Mazzi stated, “The Prada Group considers it essential to ensure greater consistency in pricing policies across retail and digital channels. This strategic review is intended to further strengthen the Prada Group brands with the aim of supporting sustainable long-term growth.”
Prada said it would end relations with some Italian and European wholesale partners and gradually replace them with new digital and e-commerce players.
While they’ve tried to improve their website, added a broader selection and launched onto sites like Mr Porter, Prada is doing it at a time when the brand has lost momentum and isn’t quite as in demand as it once was. It said the leather goods category will be the most impacted with the changes and this is their biggest segment with the greatest margins.
This DTC (Direct To Consumer) approach is something born from the internet and social media. The brand owns the customer and has a direct relationship. It knows their e-mail and address. It also knows what they have bought before and, most likely, things that may interest them in the future. As personalisation increasingly becomes more sophisticated, this will also help to offer more choices and brands can follow their customers through their actions.
Physical retail third party wholesale accounts allow you less control and inject potential disruption in your cherished luxury supply chain to the customer and, as Prada says, you can keep the prices constant and consistent (probably higher) throughout one geographical region.
Kering, owner of Gucci, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga, has announced it will take back control of its e-commerce operations, focusing on own branded sites where it can control its image and client data. Excluding Gucci, the YOOX/Net-A-Porter group operated e-commerce websites for most of the brands within the Kering group. The joint venture will now end in the second quarter of 2020. While not completely cutting off their nose to spite their face, Kering wants to turn more of its collaborations with third-party, multi-brand retailers such as Farfetch or Matchesfashion.com into what it calls ‘online concessions’, where it controls everything from the product assortment to their presentation. "Each time we move from wholesale to a concession we see our top line increase in a material way,” said Grégory Boutté, Kering’s Chief Client & Digital Officer, and former vice President of eBay. Kering has stated it was ‘not against wholesale,’ and did not plan to end its relationships with third parties altogether.
This is will be a play of power and something that I think will be difficult especially with the complexities of something like FarFetch coming from multiple retailers in different locations. This sounds like wanting your cake and eating it; we want your database, but in our own way. I’m not sure that many retailers will relinquish that amount of control, especially when you consider how many brands they sell and also the loyalty they now instil in these hard won customers.
Kering's total online sales — when including the business done through third party platforms, calculated at retail and not at lower wholesale prices — came to 9.4 percent of the group's 2018 revenue. Web sales through its own brand websites and online concessions made up 4.7 percent of revenue. This has huge room to grow.
Boutté has built up his digital team from 4 people upon his arrival at Kering in 2017 to over 80 people, today. He has realised the power of data. “The more data we have, the more precise our algorithm is and the better the experience is. The other thing is that it should lead us to excellence in terms of our operations.” he said.
Across the luxury goods industry as a whole, e-commerce accounts for around 10 percent of business today and should reach 25 percent of sales by 2025, consultancy Bain estimates.
This is about information and control. Controlling discount, controlling points of sale and controlling presentation. You can control more online, even with third parties. You can see it from anywhere. It's those pockets of physical wholesale boutiques or department stores in small towns that are harder to police and often unsold stock disappears into the grey market and ends up on discount sites and with other retailers.
Where once luxury retailers didn’t want to get their hands dirty, they are now rolling up their sleeves and have their eyes on the online prize; higher prices, more full price sell-throughs and control of that all important ‘data’. This will get more ferocious as the market becomes more saturated, growth slows and customers get increasingly more expensive to acquire.
I predict many brands will try to be exclusive to their mono-brand websites if they don’t get what they want with their third party partners, or possibly try the LVMH 24 Sèvres, now rebranded as 24S, route, but it will be hard. And expensive.
Retailers like FarFetch and MatchesFashion.com are decades ahead and thrive on new and small designers adding that colour and point of difference online. Luxury mono-brand websites often look boring, sterile and empty. People don’t shop in single brands, particularly when they are browsing. While the idea is logical and makes sense to reduce wholesale and take back more control, it will be far more complicated than that and add multiple costs to their business models.
If you hadn’t already heard it’s time to start buying back into Bottega Veneta. The Italian luxury goods brand known for more weave than Beyoncé, they call it ‘Intrecciato’, has a new Brit designer at the helm, Daniel Lee.
The replacement for Tomas Maier, Lee, 32, was previously director of ready-to-wear at Céline, but a relative unknown. He is a graduate of Central Saint Martins and has worked at Maison Marginal, Balenciaga and Donna Karan, before joining Céline in 2012.
His first full show of AW19 luxe-grunge caused a frisson when it was shown in February, but the pre-fall collection is available now.
Leather trousers are something that have been bubbling up for a few seasons. They fit into that naff, retro aesthetic pioneered by Balenciaga. These are subtly Bottega with the woven knees and will tell everybody you’re in the know with the hottest label right now. Wear with biker boots and oversized anything.
Left & Below - Bottega Veneta - Trousers In Lamb Satiné - £3825
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?
Fashion trends come and go, it’s in their nature, but, every so often, there is a trend which seems to carry on, continue to grow, get bigger and bigger, look unstoppable and you can’t judge when it’s going to run out of steam. One thing for certain is, they always will, but it’s just trying to pinpoint the moment when something peaks.
Left - Buy? Bye, Balenciaga?! - Zapatillas Triple S - € 725
The trend I'm referring to is the chunky, fugly trainer. The have proliferated so far down the fashion food chain that every designer, brand and retailer has brought out their own version, so, it was obvious to ask, when will this fugly trainer madness end?
This is a trend that started building three years ago, which, in fashion trend terms, is a long time. During that time we’ve seen them get bigger and badder, with the end result of people looking like they were wearing concrete blocks on their feet. I’m looking at you, the Triple S!
Learning when to call a trend in fashion takes experience, but, also, a lot of guess work. It takes instinct, an amount chutzpah and the early data to say when something is about to start its descent.
“It’s a “trend” that will see people paying £150 for a pair of shoes which they won’t be wearing in about 4 weeks time. I think many are over it already.” says Katie Owen, Founder, Sargasso & Grey, a British shoe company that create fashionable wide fitting shoes for women who have wide feet.
Right Tod’s - Shoeker No_Code_02 in High Tech Fabric - £450
I knew it was all over when I saw a chunky trainer from LK Bennett. Yes, the home of the home counties kitten heel has moved into the chunky trainer arena. A stylist friend had been to their #SS19 press day preview, before Christmas, and had taken an image of the shoe and put it on their Instagram Stories. Instantly images of Sam Cam in a Roland Mouret or Kate Middleton picking Prince George up from school flashed across my mind, and it was then that I knew it was over. Stabbing a stiletto into the heart of this youth driven trend, this is what kills trends; when the parents start to wear it.
Another case in point, Tod’s, long the bastion of the nobbly driving shoe, flew the fashion press over to Milan for the big reveal of a new product in October, 2018. It turned out all the fuss was over a new trainer/sneaker or “shoeker”, as they’re calling it. The Tod’s “No_Code”, they said, “represents the constantly evolving change we’re seeing in the design industry, a progressive more elastic world that has no boundaries. We are living in a world where we are constantly on the move, whether it’s a boardroom meeting or weekend coffee with friends, the way we dress needs to adapt with ease.”
While not exactly a chunky trainer, the Shoeker - this name is not going to catch on - showed the attention these middle aged brands are giving to casual footwear and trainers. It was unveiled as part of the Tod’s No_Code brand umbrella, designed by Korean designer Yong Bae Seok who before joining the world of footwear at Tod’s, worked in the automotive industry. This is a trainer or sneaker for dads, who want to spend £450 on a pair and wear it to work along with their Donegal tweed jackets and slim jeans.
“Fashion is constantly trying to reinvent and occasionally we come across a novelty style that sticks. It then doesn’t matter if it’s flattering or a clever design, the hype takes over and makes it a sellout. The chunky trainer is a classic case of shoe marketing that we will look back at, and.. well, cringe, in all honesty,” says Paula O’Connor, Fashion Director. “You wouldn’t see Sarah Harris.. Jackie Kennedy , or (all hail ) Kate Moss in a pair, so leave we’ll alone .. “ she says.
When “Sneakers” is the first drop down on the shoes section on zegna.co.uk you know what the brand’s new priorities are. Another luxury “dad brand", the minute the kids see their parents in these, they’ll be ditching them faster than you can say “Jeremy Clarkson”.
When ASOS announced its shock slowing of growth before Christmas, one of the most interesting snippets of information from ASOS CEO, Nick Beighton, was that, in menswear, they had seen "a slowdown in sneaker brands, which has been quite dramatic”, he said.
It is well known the young male shoe buyer was becoming the biggest consumer of footwear - read more here - and it was trainers and sneakers he was buying. There could be many factors at work here, but undeniably the market is saturated and the trend has run its course. Trainers will continue to be a huge business, but it won’t be a “thing” anymore.
Left - Ermenegildo Zegna - Leather Cesare Sneakers - £540
Designer brands liked this trend because they could increase the prices for chunkier styles and nobody would complain that they were made from plastic and glue. The margins and volumes are huge.
There was interesting data from the NPD - the industry authority for the footwear market - on Q4 2018 footwear: "The 'democratization' of Adidas’s Yeezy franchise also led unexpected gains, with sales up more than 6X. Whether Yeezy can withstand the pressure of the expanded allocation remains to be seen.”
This is a classic case of over exposure and the generation gap killing a trend. The clock on your chunky trainers is counting down, so get stomping in them now.
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?
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
Young men are officially the biggest consumers of footwear in the UK. Move over Carrie Bradshaw, or is that reference way too old when you consider many of these 16-24 year old men weren’t even born when she started shopping for her Manolos.
According to the latest research from Mintel on footwear retailing, 95% of British males aged 16-24 bought shoes last year, making them Britain’s number one footwear buyers.
There’s been a revolution in men buying shoes and while women (86%) are still more likely to purchase footwear than men (78%), females aged 16-24 (10%) are twice as likely to have not purchased footwear in the last year compared to their male counterparts (5%), as the continuation of the casual and ‘athleisure’ trends drive men’s footwear sales.
Male shoe addicts are fast catching up on women. Men’s footwear accounted for 37% of all footwear sales in 2017, up from 34% in 2015. Valued at £4.38 billion in 2017, sales of men’s shoes increased an impressive 31% between 2015 and 2017. In comparison, sales of women’s shoes grew by only 10% over the same period to reach £5.48 billion in 2017.
“Men’s footwear, particularly among younger age groups, is really fuelling growth in the footwear sector.” says Chana Baram, Retail Analyst at Mintel. “In fact, our research shows that men aged 16-24 are more likely to be swayed by big brand names than women of the same age.” says Baram. “With trainers such a popular category for men as a whole, young men in particular are likely to respond positively to advertising campaigns by the big sports brands that feature their favourite male sports personalities.” she says.
This footwear sales growth is being fuelled by trainers, trainers and more trainers. Casual shoes and trainers are now the most popular shoe styles purchased by men.
“These are not just essential buys, but, got-to-have-it buys,” says Richard Wharton, footwear veteran and founder of Office & Offspring. “It’s all about the latest sneaker, there are millions version of that: the luxe trend, the Balenciaga Triple S, Off-White, Converse or Vans or whatever.” says Wharton. “These young guys have never worn formal shoes or been forced into wearing them at school. They buy what they want,” he says.
“Sneaker culture has really grown, from being a niche market to having mass appeal,” says Pamela Dunn, Senior Buyer, Schuh. “The rise of exclusive collabs and hard-to-get releases from brands like Nike/Adidas has fuelled the sneaker market.” she says.
In our age of sportswear and dress-down, our footwear choices have mirrored this and what was once unacceptable in certain social situations has now become mainstream and mass. Comfort is key.
“In modern offices nobody wears any other formal attire anymore so it’s acceptable to wear sneakers,” says Wharton. “Hype’s there. Before you didn’t have trainers for different occasions,” says Wharton. “Where you had that in formal wear, you, now, have that in sneakers: all black sneaker for work, weekend, something casual, or a club, maybe Dior or Louboutin,” he says.
The trainer market has grown to such as size that there is now multiple categories within this market and men are buying a full wardrobe of trainers for every social occasion. Designer brands have piled into this market seeing big margins and huge volumes. But what are these guys buying into?
“Big brands at a more mass market level like Nike/Adidas or more top level brands include Off-White / Gucci / LV etc.” says Dunn.
“It’s so broad. They are buying high-end street couture to basic Vans or Converse,” says Wharton. “Nike rules with guys buy into their new technology. There are huge queues waiting for the next thing and Nike limit it, so they drip feed it in.” he says.
Boys are buying brands and this may go someway to explain the latest movements within the men’s footwear market. Ted Baker recently bought back its shoe license for £21 million. The fashion brand bought ‘No Ordinary Shoes’, the worldwide licensee, from the Pentland Group. “This is an exciting opportunity to drive further growth in our footwear business by leveraging our global footprint and infrastructure, in line with our strategy to further develop Ted Baker as a global lifestyle brand,” said Ted Baker founder Ray Kelvin.
As Pentland lost Ted Baker, it appointed Marc Hare as the new ‘Product Director of the Lacoste Footwear Joint Venture’. He will be leading the new ‘Mainline’ and ‘Future Concepts’ product teams and working with Lacoste JV CEO, Gianni Georgiades, to support the company's vision for the brand. Marc Hare is known for his luxury evening styles and his, now, defunct Mr Hare footwear label. It’ll be interesting to see whether Pentland want to grow Lacoste further out from its sporty origins or use Hare’s skill by giving those sports shoes an elevation to compete within the luxury sneaker market.
What these brands see is growth, but is there further room for expansion or is the market becoming saturated?
“I think males will increasingly buy into footwear in the future, but the market will change,” says Dunn. “I think exclusive products may become less desirable, but brands that are big now will become even more dominant e.g. nike/adidas.” she says.
“It depends when it becomes saturation point,” says Wharton. “So many people want comfort that looks cool and there are multiple sub-genres such as Japanese sneakers, and Palace/Supreme collabs,” he says.
While the sports brands continue to offer newness, limit 'exclusive' product and raid their archives for classic styles, the trainer market seems healthy and will sustain the desire of men to keep adding to their collections. But, this rise of young men becoming the largest consumers of footwear is skewed towards one category and it will be interesting to see how the footwear industry gets this entire generation off their sport wears addiction and into a pair of leather lace-ups.