Did you know Barena has a grown-up brother called CINI Venezia? Neither did I until I stumbled across the CINI stand at the January 2020 Pitti Uomo, and because CINI has Venezia - Venice - in its logo, I said the only other Venetian menswear label I knew was Barena, I’m a big fan, and they told me this was part of the same company and was their more premium offering. (Barena has built up a loyal following for its quality, well priced and thoughtfully stylish Italian menswear amongst a certain group of discerning men.)
Left - Cini Venezia - Coat Burchione Piave Black - €730
The original mill, Lanificio CINI, was founded in the 1830 by Augusto and Giacomo Cini as a humble workshop producing cloth and coarse blankets.
This is still the foundation of the collection of Italian-made outerwear. Barena founder Sandro Zara - he also owns the Venetian cloak maker Il Tabarro - bought the Lanificio CINI woollen mill, which was formerly based in Vittorio Veneto, after using it as a supplier for many years. It came complete with an incredible archive which the CINI family maintained. From fabric swatches, to astute weaving dimensions, patterns and cloth experiments, everything was kept meticulously in its original state.
CINI Venezia, the brand, first appeared in 2012 and references historical Italian menswear styles in a darker and more conservative palette than Barena's. Prices reflect the quality of the cloth.
Right - Cini Venezia - Coat Duemezzo Piave Navy - €1150
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As nearly as delayed as the Elizabeth Line, well, not quite, the new Flannels on the eastern side of Oxford Street has been the most anticipated addition to London’s busiest retail thoroughfare this year.
Sandwiched between Marks & Spencer’s Pantheon store and Matalan, this four storey, 18,000 sq ft store, selling designer clothes and accessorises, has been 3 years in the making. The entire building was purchased for £108 million in 2016 by a Sports Direct subsidiary and doubles as office space for its parent group. Part of Mike Ashley’s growing empire, it is the debut of Flannels in Central London.
Left - Veja display inside the new Oxford Street Flannels
This is Flannels' 44th store in the UK, after a lightning expansion, with a further 15 stores coming this year alone. In 2012, sportswear giant Sports Direct bought a majority 51% stake in Flannels and in September 2017 they acquired the brand in full and began investing in and opening stores.
It is worth noting Sports Direct also own other premium fashion chains such as USC, Cruise and Van Mildert, but, it is Flannels which has been chosen to lead the designer crusade to “elevate” the company. Sports Direct currently has an obsession with moving from discounted sports to full price branded.
Mike Ashley said at a recent shareholder meeting regarding Flannels, “I think they are better than any other stores in the market. Now, I might have rose-tinted glasses but one of the reasons is because I have absolutely nothing to do with it. I just sign off the money. It has nothing to do with Mike Ashley.
“It’s not just a few show stores. When you have a pipeline it takes time. I’m telling you – this is for real. The reality is, I’m telling you it is real and the proof of the pudding will be when they start to roll out. It’s happening, it’s coming. It’s just not as fast as I would like it.
“I’m going to do the same with House of Fraser and get around to elevating. The modern-day consumer – that’s what they want. It could be Stone Island, it could be Nike and Adidas – it’s all about the branded world.
“Maybe I was late to the party, I accept that. Maybe my son-in-law should’ve gone out with my daughter when she was 12, but now we’re on it, nothing’s going to get us off it.”
Oxford Street is their new flagship and is a physical testament to their ambitious intentions of becoming “the biggest global luxury retailer,”. This is what Sports Direct Group’s head of elevation, Mike Murray, Mike Ashley’s daughter’s boyfriend, told Drapers in March. He went on, “We’re in the early stages, but we have a clear vision for Flannels, we have ambition and we are willing to invest,”.
Right - Art on the second floor
The £10 million new store has been designed by Italian studio P con P, and you can see the Gucci influence in the rugs, over blown William Morris type screens, 1970s brass changing rooms and waiting areas and contrasting use of materials.
The store is split into women’s accessorises on ground, womenswear in the basement, men’s designer on first and men’s accessorise and sportswear on the second, though there wasn’t much difference between the latter two. The second-floor will also house the first ever UK retail space for US footwear brand Flight Club and the store offers services such as Click & Collect and personal styling.
One notable difference was the huge amount of staff, all dressed in black. I was told 50 members of staff currently work there. I visited on a late Tuesday afternoon and the only people seriously buying were a group of Asian tourists in the Gucci men’s section. They’d probably never heard of Flannels before.
I expected to see the usual chav labels such as Off-White and Burberry, which were there, but, interestingly, there were also brands such as Barena, Brioni, Alanui and JW Anderson. There was even a diamond necklace for nearly £60,000. I did ask how many they’d sold that week?!
Cire Trudon candles, Acqua Di Parma fragrances and Ganni dresses were also spied, and while nothing particularly revolutionary, it is difficult to pick holes in.
“His whole plan for 100 Flannels stores is bonkers. Knock a nought off, mate!” says Eric Musgrave, former editor of Drapers and fashion industry consultant. “It will be a ghost town for 5 or 6 days a week. Wrong location. Too big. Offering nothing you can't get in the West End or Knightsbridge already.” he says.
“My guess is that they will leave it as it is for two or three years, then reorganise it, making the Flannels area smaller and bringing in USC and SD. But, I believe Ashley owns the building, so he can run it as a vanity project.” says Musgrave.
Left - Display in collaboration with artist, Alec Monopoly
The simile I would use is, it’s like an Essex nightclub, which, if playing the right music, you’d have a good time in. And that’s what the clothes and buy is, the music.
(The security guards do look a bit like bouncers though, and one made me delete a picture I took on my phone of the new store *eyeroll*).
There’s nothing to fault in the design and money spent, it feels premium and everything is nicely presented, but Flannels has a problem with the snobby stigma London has towards Mike Ashley. He needs to distance himself like he says above.
People will need persuading to part with their cash here, unless it is product they can’t get anywhere else. Flannels needs to change perceptions so people are happy to be seen swinging a Flannels bag when they leave. It’s just not cool right now. They need to turn into leaders rather than just flogging the same old mega brands to punters.
Right - That £60,000 necklace
They own the building here, so are here for the long haul, but it will be interesting to see how it develops and how long they stick to this initial format. Flannels recorded sales of £173.9 million in its latest financial year, up 12 per cent from 2018. It’s growing because it is rapidly expanding, it obviously wants to get to the point where is it more powerful than the brands, rather than the other way around currently. I can imagine many luxury brands, currently, being cautious about choosing them as a stockist, but watch this space as they grow.
Flannels will also struggle with some of the quality of the product, and disappointed consumers. Read Gucci Quality Is Rubbish - here - which isn’t their fault.
Left - Flannels Oxford Street exterior. Sports Direct own the entire building
Sports Direct want more elevation than the Wright brothers, but it’s going to be expensive and I can't help think that 100 stores is too many, especially when you’re trying to sell £900 Gucci hoodies. Even though this is on Oxford Street, it needs to become a destination. It feels like the kind of store going against the retail tide, but I certainly admire the ambition.
Below - Interior shot of the new Flannels Oxford Street store
Somewhere in the depths of rainy Kent, TheChicGeek, was a Lego-like vision of colour.
When we think of bold colours we often get sidetracked by prints and pattens. Plain primaries, like these, should be looked at like children's building blocks, all adding up to a balanced whole. Don't be frightened by bold trousers, because, when they're balanced, like here with other just as strong colours, they don't feel as bright and daring. It says confidence and references masters of colour like David Hockney and Luke Edward Hall.
Credits - #Gifted Shirt - Barena, Sandals - Grenson, Socks - Falke, Jacket - Slowear #NotGifted Trousers - Polo Ralph Lauren
With Italy tip-toeing in and out of recession, Pitti Uomo felt a little skittish on confidence. It had an atmosphere of brands holding on by their finger nails, with many hoping for a strong SS20 season to help pull them through.
Sadly, it’s the quality makers who seem most susceptible to failure. Their high costs, lower margins and small quantities make it a difficult balancing act to continue to stay strong and produce quality product in Italy. These are the brands who are barely known yet sing through the quality on the hanger and all at a fair price. Today, you rarely get this kind of care and attention with a designer name. Here are five made-in-Italy menswear makers we should all be supporting:
Left - Pitti Uomo 96 soaking up the sunshine
Founded in 1957 by current creative director Guido Biondi’s grandfather as ‘7 Bell S.p.A’, a Tuscan atelier, it was the very first producer of Italian denim. Today, they make colourful and contemporary menswear instilled with the best made-in-Italy production.
Right - President's - For the SS20 season, there were bold minimal orange jackets, tie-dyed shirting and hand sketched T-shirts
Based in Venice, Barena, the Italian for ‘mudflat’, has been steadily making inroads into the UK with its stylish and original menswear. Inspired by the Venetian lagoon, Barena says it mimics the qualities of traditional workwear with a modern aesthetic. Loose shapes, quiet precise tailoring, exquisite fabrics, attention to detail and confident versatility are the pillars of their design philosophy.
The menswear designer is Massimo Pigozzo who has been with the Barena family for over twenty years. Trained as a tailor, for Pigozzo it is important to create designs that are simple, understated and easy to wear. Deep fabric research, pattern work and soft tailoring are key to his approach and he says it is not about reproductions or constant alterations.
Left - Barena - For the SS20 season, it was all about contrast with playful tailoring and short sleeved shirts with contrasting collars
Meaning double A in Italian and named after two friends, Alain and Albert, Doppiaa is designed for the whole family, for all ages and all occasions. Based in Milan, Doppiaa has two essential cornerstones: 100% Italian manufacturing, and the painstakingly executed pinpointing and selecting of the highest quality fabrics.
Right - Doppiaa - For the SS20 season, it was brightly coloured towelling tops, pyjama style piped printed shirts and strikingly striped trousers
This is everything the more famous Missoni should be; colourful, stylish and contemporary. Designed by Simonetta Bocelli and Franco Santarini and based in Florence, Sunhouse is a specialist in Italian made knitwear in a rainbow of colours in classic menswear shapes.
Sunhouse is one of the few companies in the world to use traditional 720-yarn looms to 'reinvent' the culture of knitwear. The production is carried out in their workshops in Montecosaro, in the Marche Region. Each individual jacket is cut and sewn by hand.
Left - Sunhouse - For the SS20 season, it was about bold colour stories in signature zig-zagged blazers and delicate polo shirts
BOB is an Italian sportswear brand created by two young Italian guys, Alessio Bonaiuti and Tommaso Bellini. They started their adventure 11 years ago in Prato, with the idea developing from going around vintage warehouses where huge quantities of second hand clothes were divided by colours and then recycled. Going through these warehouses was like being absorbed in a spectacular coloured market that resembled a field of flowers they thought and it was this image was the starting idea to develop a new concept of eclectic and colourful menswear.
Right - BOB - For the SS20 season, it was all about bold, pattern blazers and colourful separates
These are simply beautiful clothes made with care from great ingredients. While you are paying a premium, you are, in fact, getting great value when you consider the expertise and pedigree of these makers. These are the kind of clothes that are a joy to wear and will last you a very long time.
These were some of my favourite pieces from the SS19 trade shows. First seen at Pitti in Florence and then later in Copenhagen on the Barena, the Venice-based fashion brand, stand, they hadn’t disappeared out of my head and I was itching for them to drop.
Featuring a stunning print of Venice, one of the most beautiful and individual cities in the world, they are stylish, oversized linen garments which you could wear separately or all together for that complete Peggy Guggenheim look.
Left & Below - Barena - BERMUDA (Shorts) AGRO SCHIAVON UNICO - €195, CAMICIA (Shirt) SOLANA MARTINO UNICO - €235
The Venice-based Barena is one of those brands that wasn’t made for the internet. It doesn’t shout ‘look at me’ and it’s hard to get across, online, the quality and tactile nature of the garments. This is true made-in-Italy quality and design without paying extortionate prices for the name.
Faux fur, fun fur, sheepskins and and generally anything furry or shaggy is very fashionable in both men’s and womenswear at the moment. I noticed this jacket the other day in Liberty, but couldn’t find it on their website. It’s really cute and the perfect length of shagpile. This, being in a cropped jacket shape, feels different and is perfect for this transition period of cool mornings and evenings. Add a rollneck and it’ll take you all the way into winter.
Left & Below - Barena - Lightweight Teddy Jacket - £338 from Farfetch
It’s time to show chest - see also TheChicGeek’s obsession with silk shirts - here - and, so, we’ve seen the stealth rise of the camp collar shirt over the last couple of summers. What first arrived in classic Hawaiian styles and floral patterns has morphed into fashion shirts and smarter plain versions.
If you thought a camp shirt featured pink flamingoes, drank Pina Coladas and listened to ABBA, you’d be wrong. This is the shirt style of the summer and you need to get involved. It’ll continue over into summer 2019 too.
Also known as a Cuban, Cabin, Cabana, Bowling or Lounge shirt, it’s a square shaped, short-sleeved, simple placket shirt worn untucked. I’m not really sure where the camp bit is from the origins are from warmer climes and it suits a more relaxed yet dressed approach.
Left - Basic Rights - Short Sleeve Camp Collar Shirt Mustard - £99
Left - Neighbourhood - Camp-Collar Printed Voile Shirt - £185 from MRPORTER.COM
Below - Commas - Camp-Collar Cotton Short - £191 from matchesfashion.com
Left - Reiss - Haydon Cuban Collar Shirt - £85
Left - Orlebar Brown - Travis Towelling - £175
Below - Barena - Camp-Collar Mélange Linen-Blend Shirt - £215 from MRPORTER.COM
Left - Dunhill - Paisley Print Short-Sleeved Lounge Shirt - £250
Left - Gucci - Oxford Bowling Shirt With Patches - £700
Left - River Island - Green Stripe Short Sleeve Revere Shirt - £25
Left - Topman - Pink Sunset Short Sleeve Shirt - £30