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
Arguably the biggest fashion collaboration of the year, every year, H&M are masters of creating hype and buzz with whomever they choose to tie-up with. This year was the turn of British/Canadian designer, Erdem Moralioglu, just don’t ask me to say his full name, so they stuck to just “Erdem”, luckily, and they approached things differently.
Left - Short Sleeved Shirt - £69.99
Usually you don’t get to see the full collection with prices before the big reveal, and often the collection is a seen as a “greatest hits” type homage to the brand rather than bang-on-the-fashion of the season or what customers are currently buying.
H&M held a preview fashion show in L.A. a couple of weeks ago to selected press, they released images and prices of the full collection and they held a preview shopping evening for press and the public the evening before it hits stores, this week, at the glamourous and spookily beautiful Freemasons' Hall in Covent Garden.
Erdem has never sold menswear before so it was a first, and his floral signature is definitely in vogue, ATM, thanks to Gucci. This collection is basically H&M’s nod to Gucci’s current aesthetic and hedges their bets with a public who may not know the Erdem name or care.
The queues for Freemasons' Hall was full of London’s fashion folk. Once inside it was a frenetic grab for items people came specifically to buy. There was no time for browsing.
Right - If you missed or couldn’t afford the Burberry Tudor ruffle neck white shirt, here’s Erdem’s version - £49.99
When you see designer, Christopher Kane, amongst the hubbub of rails and elbows, you feel it won’t take much for his name to be in the running for next year’s collab. (Which would be very good BTW).
After the initial buying panic, the coats and tailoring didn’t seem to be very popular. It was the silk and floral pieces that people wanted and they quickly disappeared. Silk pieces seem to be very much in demand right now - See my favourite from Pretty Green - here - and checking on H&M's UK website you can’t even view the Erdem, page.
This is the right collection at the right time. People are going to be bored of this Gucci look pretty soon, so they’ve timed this collaboration right. The florals aren’t particularly standout, so don’t scream "Erdem X HM". They’re not that memorable which will work in their favour and, let's be really honest, men can never have enough floral silk pyjama sets!
Read ChicGeek Comment Erdem X H&M Menswear here
Left - Pyjama Top - £79.99
They say you can read some people like a book, well, wearing Christopher Kane's #SS15 book-leaf sweatshirt, it's literally the case.
TheChicGeek has gone for clean white sneaks and matching sweatshirt in this streetwear look amongst the grime of Factory Lane. Always one to standout, TheChicGeek's monochrome look with flashes of ginger is perfect streetwear, just don't lean against the fence!
Credits - Sweatshirt - Christopher Kane from MatchesFashion.com, White T-Shirt - Porsche Design X adidas, Joggers - Majestic Athletic, Belt - Y3, Trainers - Raf Simons X adidas, Watch - Briston.
Shot by Robin Forster on #OlympusPEN
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