Happy New Year, Chic Geeks. What a crazy year. Things all went a bit Back To The Future II with our Trumpian dystopia, jaffa cakes got reduced from 12 to 10 in a box - the tragedy! - and online started to really eat into, and effect, traditional retail models.
It feels like we’re in an in-between period, right now, looking to the past, while waiting for the future. Prepare yourself, it’s definitely coming. Here’s a bit of TheChicGeek looking back, rewarding and remembering the past year.
Join in on social media with #TheChicGeekAwards
Best Label of 2017 Balenciaga
You had me at ‘rubber car mat skirt’. Anybody who can make a blue leather Ikea bag, at £1800, desirable, is on to something. Demna Gvasalia, the Georgian fashion designer, has made looking drab and unglamorous an art form. While not a massive fan of Vetements - his own label - Balenciaga still has some of the luxury polish left which makes something desirable. ‘Interesting’ could be the word, but what he does with this label is make you think about what you are looking at. It makes you question what you like and what you don’t, and that has to be interesting, no?
Left - Balenciaga Lookbook SS18 Glamour!
Best New Label of 2017 Martine Rose
Before you scream 'it’s not new' at me, I know, but this year Martine Rose broke through. After 10 years on the margins, and, I’ll be honest, I never really quite got it, everything changed and fashion turned towards her style.
She also started working at Balenciaga, above, and, used their manufacturing, giving her collections the polish it needed. She's making some of the best items of the season and if you’re into fleeces and cycle shorts, you’ll be in 90s heaven.
Left - Martine Rose SS18 - One of the must-have menswear pieces of the season - more about that later
Below - Boohoo has just launched activewear for men
Best High Street of 2017 Boohoo Man
Manchester based Boohoo has expanded hugely over the last few years. It was founded in 2006 by Mahmud Kamani and Carol Kane who previously supplied high street chains such as Primark and New Look.
Boohoo recently announced plans in June 2017 to build a 600,000 square feet (56,000 m2) warehouse, costing £150m over the next three years, and would offer the capacity to deliver annual sales of £3 billion, alongside their existing Burnley warehouse.
One of the most successful British online retailers, Boohoo has massive potential and is doing really well in the US. In fashion terms, it’s fast and cheap, and this is the only way to survive and thrive in this market, aimed at 16-24 year olds.
While they nod to the trends, Boohoo makes clothes these people want to wear and while they aren’t all hits, there’s enough choice to be able to make a selection to reflect your personality or the character you want to be that day. Affordable, yes, disposable, yes, but this market is fickle and you’re only as strong as your last product, but there’s plenty here to get excited about and it’s only going to get bigger.
Best Grooming Product 2017 La Roche-Posay Anthelios Anti-shine Invisible Fresh Mist SPF50
Anything that protects, is easy to use and you’re not conscious of wearing, is the Holy Grail of grooming products. This spray goes on like a light mist and offers a high SPF protection. Sun damage is the biggest factor in visible ageing and anything that makes it simple and quick to add a layer of protection has to a good thing. You’ll actually enjoy using this and it shouldn’t just be restricted to the summer months.
Left - Get one of these for your holiday and then carry on using it - more here
Best Grooming Brand 2017 Perricone MD
The best grooming brands are those which make you feel like you’re in a knowledgable and safe pair of hands. Dr Perricone’s MD brand launched this 3-part men's CBx range, this year, containing a face wash, post-shave product and a moisturiser.
The 'CBx' part is a reference to Phytocannabinoids. Phytocannabinoids are non-psychoactive cannabinoids derived from the cannabis sativa plant - hemp.
Expensive, but it feels like you’re getting more than fancy packaging here and with a new supplements range out this year - 2018 - and twists on his cult products, I think I’m going to carry on being a big fan.
Above - Dr Perricone's first men's range - read more here
Fragrance of the Year 2017 Tom Ford’s Fucking Fabulous
Picture the scene: Tom Ford walks into Esteé Lauder’s New York headquarters. He’s here to talk about the future of his cosmetics and fragrance business. It gets to new fragrance names. We have a new ‘oud this’, ‘something leather’ that, it’s all very predictable, and then, suddenly, somebody suggests, how about ‘Fucking Fabulous’? The room laughs. We all say it, don't we?!
The execs at Esteé Lauder look at each other, want to carry on laughing and then move over the joke. But, Tom’s feeling cheeky and he wants the name to stick.
No other brand would do it and that’s the power of having your name, and the power that goes with it, on the product. Nobody is going to question Mr Ford. What he says goes and this is why many fashion companies struggle. It’s all bit beige, a bit done by committee, nobody is willing to stick their neck out. Especially in conservative America.
Okay, so I’ve made this story up. But, this will be the fragrance people will remember from 2017. It’s just a shame the actual scent doesn’t live up to the name and is a cult for more than its name. If this had a memorable and individual scent it would be unstoppable. I just love how they have to blank out the f-word on the adverts.
Above - More than a name? Fucking Fabulous by Tom Ford
Most Stylish Programme 2017 The Deuce
If you know me, you’ll know I love a bit of 70s style. Think the pimps from ‘Live & Let Die’, and you’ll get an idea about the wardrobe for The Deuce. James Franco, annoyingly, and unnecessarily, plays twins in this, but Maggie Gyllenhaal steals the show. It’s a mix of mafia, prostitutes, pimps and punters in this grimy yet quite glamourous take on bankrupt 70s New York.
Left - The Deuce's pimps getting pimped
Best Menswear Collaboration 2017 Topman X Stranger Things
The right product, at the right time, driven by a massively popular Netflix series made this a big success for Topman and Topshop. It’s been a tough year for Topman and they need to think clever in order to take on the ASOSs and Boohoos of this digital world. Think ringer tees and washed denim in a collection of early 80s teen-wear.
Left - Taking a trip to Hawkin
Special ChicGeek Award 2017 - Christopher Bailey
Bailey is Burberry and Burberry is Bailey. The giant luxury goods company we see today has been created thanks to his creative design, direction and his attention to detail. This doesn’t mean it can’t change, it just means, in my opinion, it will never be as good.
For many years, Burberry was flying high. It tightened up its licensing and became a must-have for the newly rich Chinese.
It’s hit the buffers recently, so it’s probably time for something new, but some of those Bailey/Burberry collections were some of the best of their time. Leather sleeves on jackets? Yes, Mr Bailey. He made heritage Britishness modern and exportable and gave it a gloss that made you proud that Burberry was British. Read more here
Left - 2018 is the year Burberry waves goodbye to Christopher Bailey, what will he do next?
Turkey of 2017
Jeff Koons for Louis Vuitton was a double take when it first appeared on Twitter. What looked like a collection of bags straight from the back of a Chinese counterfeit operation, was, in fact, a collaboration with one of the world’s most successful artists. This tacky collection hijacked some of the world’s greatest artists and their most famous paintings and then emblazoned their name all over it: as if you were too dumb to recognise them. If you need a gold “DA VINCI” on your Mona Lisa then this collection was for you.
Left - Never actually seen one on the street, maybe rarer than the real thing?!
What are your thoughts? #TheChicGeekAwards
At a recent press day, previewing the new SS18 collection from the Swiss brand, Bally, I got thinking about how you can slip between the gap. Bally has followed the Gucci model of Wes Anderson statement pieces in bold colours and look-at-me graphics and slogans. But, Bally’s problem is, it isn’t Gucci, and just doesn’t have the attraction as a “name”- I actually like it more for this reason. Therefore they can’t charge the prices Gucci ask and sell in the volumes too. They also have another issue, well, it’s actually a good thing, they are offering a quality made product.
Left - Gucci Cruise 18
I’m going to call it out. Gucci isn’t good quality. I like Gucci’s ideas, I just don’t think it’s executed to reflect the prices they charge. I’m not naive, I know luxury goods have huge margins, but there’s margins and then there’s margins. No wonder Gucci’s profits are through the roof, they are making products that aren’t as good as they should be in that price category.
There’s enough Gucci out there, now, to hear of plenty of quality control issues: shoes than run in the rain, tiger patches on jeans repeatedly fixed, leather belts that feel like a free school belt. It’s not just Gucci doing this, but they’re the label flying high and drawing in the masses. They are also creating complicated product that requires time and a level of expertise to make it well and quickly shows its quality.
The article said “Balenciaga has stolen Gucci’s crown to become the hottest brand in fashion. According to the latest data analysed by BoF in partnership with search platform Lyst — which tracks 4.5 million data points per hour from over 65 million annual consumers, five million products and 12,000 brands — the Demna Gvasalia-designed brand climbed two places to top the hottest brand ranking in the third quarter of 2017.”
Right - Bally SS18
The feedback on Twitter, from many passionate people, was that they wanted Gucci and couldn’t understand this. It must be wrong. Clearly, Gucci is still in demand and they need to maximise this while they can, but this quality issue will speed up their “hot” lifecycle. People will question what they are paying for and many will feel cheated. The fashion crowd are already over Gucci.
A friend recently had a scarf, retailing, probably, for around £400, and it was so thin, it was clearly nowhere near the best quality scarf of that type. It’s almost laughable, and while people have “Brand Blindness” it’s okay, but you free-fall quickly after without quality. Quality makes people return to a brand.
And, this takes me back to Bally. Currently looking for a new owner, they need to decide whether to offer quality and an acceptable price or chase the higher margins, slash quality and see what happens. They’ll never be a Gucci, but they can clearly maximise sales, but increasing margins like many of its competitors. It'll be interesting to see who the new owner is and which direction they decide to take.
Not all logos are created equal and one that is hot one minute, can quickly, for various reasons, become fashion deadly nightshade. Fashion goes through waves of logomania and then decides it's over, done that and goes subtle and that usually lasts about two minutes with most brands when they see sales falling.
Anyway, the hot logo for AW17 and SS18 is the full name running diagonally across. Think of a branded piece of tissue paper and you get the idea.
When Balenciaga relaunched under new designer Demna Gvasalia the website was given a tasteful tasteless makeover with the name 'Balenciaga Paris' running diagonally across. It then made its way onto clothes and accessories.
I'm not sure how long this is going to last, but, right now, it's cool.
Far Left - Bally SS18
Left - Palm Angels SS18
Below - Balenciaga SS18
Left - MSGM SS18
Below - Balenciaga - Intarsia Wool-Blend Scarf - £365 from MRPORTER.COM
The first ever UK exhibition on the Spanish fashion designer, Cristóbal Balenciaga, and his continuing influence on modern fashion opens at the V&A. The exhibition marks the centenary of the opening of Balenciaga’s first fashion house in San Sebastian, Spain and the 80th anniversary of the opening of his famous fashion house in Paris.
Left - The man himself, Cristóbal Balenciaga
TheChicGeek says, “While I love the V&A’s Fashion Gallery, the big exhibition space, where Pink Floyd currently is, is usually larger and something to get more excited about. But, this exhibition feels less cramped than previous exhibitions in the space - see Underwear here - and upstairs has a nice, spacious flow.
Balenciaga, as a designer, was serious. Those black voluminous gowns seem to sum up his lack of fun. He feels strict in that Spanish Catholic way, manifesting itself in his designs using lace and the Spanish Mantilla. You don’t get much feel for the man or his personality, but I think that’s how he liked it. He only gave one interview in his life, and that was just before he died.
Left - Known for his elegant volumes, Balenciaga was one of the great couturiers of the 20th century
The name disappeared into the history books when he closed his house and only came back into common culture with its revival around 20 year's ago when Gucci’s parent company, Kering, bought it alongside Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen.
Downstairs is a collection of pieces, mostly coats and dresses, from his most prolific period the 1960s. These are sculptural clothes for pictures and striking as they are, when they become practical, to enter the real world, particularly the commissions by the rich Americans, they look dated and frumpy. His volumes work on their own, but on people they add bulk and often swallow the wearer. These aren't easy wearing pieces.
Some of his pieces aren’t practical either. The wearer couldn’t sit down or go to the toilet in 'Envelope' dress, for example, but this doesn't detract from its beauty.
This was the golden age of 20th century of couture and while he produced ready-to-wear with his 'Eisa' range, his heart was in his exacting standards and the fine fabrics he used.
Left - The 'Envelope' dress, 1967, a design you couldn't sit down or go to the toilet in
Balenciaga is more a collection of one-off greatest hits than themed seasons in the vain of Saint Laurent. These weren’t particularly well documented, even though they were huge, between 150 to 200 looks, as the press weren’t allowed into his shows, so the main imagery is striking black and white shoots in the magazines at the time which have entered in the common psyche of 20th century fashion images.
Upstairs is a large display with a varied selection of designers, both old and new, paying homage to the volumes that Balenciaga pioneered. There are a couple of men’s pieces by JW Anderson and Rory Parnell-Mooney to illustrate that his influence isn’t restricted solely to womenswear.
Left - JW Anderson paying homage to Balenciaga with his tulip trousers
There are a couple of pieces from the new Balenciaga, under Demna Gvasalia, who is producing great things and referencing the house while making it feel contemporary. Unfortunately, there isn't a blue Ikea bag in sight!
Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion until 18th February 2018. Admission £12
Fashion always surprises and reinterprets. We all have our preconceptions about things and it’s that willingness to change that separates the leaders from the followers. I love it when something you think couldn’t be less cool is presented in a new way that makes it desirable. This is what good designers do.
Far Left - Balenciaga SS17, Left - Striped Cotton-Poplin Cropped Shirt - £285 from Matchesfashion.com
When Georgian designer, Demna Gvasalia, of Vetements fame, started working as Creative Director of Balenciaga, I was a bit sceptical. I thought they - the parent company Kering - were chasing the latest cool wave and it was more about column inches and gimmicks than making great clothes. I’ll put my hands up and say I was wrong and they are making interesting clothes at more realistic prices. It’s also the first time that new designers have brought in some of the DNA of the house into the present.
What he has done is play with proportions and shapes, that at first sight seem comedic, but when they start to sink in become desirable and cool. It feels fresh, which brings me to the easiest way to buy into this collection.
Fashion has got basic, and that’s basic as in #basicbitch. Items you wouldn’t have given a second thought are now at the forefront of menswear thanks to Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga.
Long the wardrobe of the postman or the office dad, the short sleeve shirt, slightly oversized, is the style you should be going for. You want those nerdy triangular sleeves, this isn’t a gun show, and I would team with a pair of tailored sweat pants to stop it looking too dress-down office.
You can opt for the original or find a standard short sleeved shirt in most men’s shops like this like blue version from Esprit.
Left - Esprit - Poplin Shirt With Short Sleeves - £29
French fashion house, Givenchy, has a new Creative Director. British designer, Clare Waight Keller, was announced as Riccardo Tisci’s replacement last week.
I remember her at Pringle of Scotland, but because of the way the company was run, and never really made any of the interesting pieces, it was hard to judge her menswear. She then went to Chloe, and while I look at womenswear, there wasn’t much noise or attention so I didn't really pay much attention. But, she seems like a good caretaker, at the very least.
Right - Who-bert? Hubert de Givenchy outside his chateau
While not a revolutionary appointment, I think, they - Givenchy (LVMH) , obviously, want to re-feminise the brand, most probably targeted at the women's accessories. Tisci’s aesthetic was severe, harsh and a masculine form of sexuality which probably didn’t resonate with that many women or the type of women Givenchy see as their customer. Kim K, anyone?!
I remember being told that he wasn’t under contract to use Givenchy beauty products in his shows which seems ridiculous when this is the cash cow of the business. There was also a disconnect between the fashion and the beauty side.
The menswear pioneered that designer-sweatshirt-with-a-seasonal-image look and the slide of high-fashion into sportswear. When it was good, it was good, and the menswear had never been on the radar before. Remember when Ozwald Boateng was there for a while?!! Those £500 sweatshirts were jumping off the rails.
So, this leads me to the new menswear, which, excitingly, I don't know what to expect. The first season must be SS18, to be shown in Paris in June. Givenchy is a strange brand in that it has a very strong name, but it is not matched with any identity or imagery. The majority of people wouldn't know who Hubert de Givenchy was from a line-up - Who-bert de Givenchy?! and, apart from Audrey Hepburn, many people wouldn’t know a single item of clothing.
So, what should they do? Well, look at Balenciaga. While a newer ‘old’ brand than Givenchy, this is the first time, under Demna Gvasalia, that its archive has been referenced, but in a way that isn’t backward looking. There’s a link which makes sense when you’re buying a historical name. You want that DNA to move forward and make the label mean something. It gives it a certain weight and grounding yet far from 'archive'.
Givenchy menswear doesn’t really have anything direct to reference, but that’s the exciting part. There must be plenty in the archive to inspire and bring forward and refresh that we don't know about. Givenchy should look back to look forward. It should also ask the new creative director to oversee all aspects of the business and maybe use the odd lipstick in her show.