There will be life after COVID 19, but it’s guesswork to how much and how quickly it resumes to pre-virus levels. American designer, Tom Ford, told WWD today, “In China, for example, with our cosmetics, we’ve completely recovered. We’re back to 100 percent. And our ready-to-wear and accessories, which was down about 95 percent, it’s now back up to 50 percent.”
That is in just over a month. The Chinese saw a spike in infections on 12th February.
Tom Ford has just 4 own brand stores in China. His beauty brand, in partnership with Estée Lauder, will be available more widely. Tom Ford Beauty was projected to turn over $1 billion in global sales by 2020.
Admittedly, the person who can afford Tom Ford might be slightly more immune to a downturn than others, but it’s more the attitude and feel good factored needed to buy an expensive handbag that is interesting here. It’s a strong bounce back and one many other luxury brands will be looking and hoping for.
Tom Ford, while a big name, is relatively mid-sized in terms of luxury with very select (limited) distribution. The brand generates an estimated $500 million in yearly revenues for its men's and women's ready-to-wear and accessorises. But, he will be sat alongside, in retail terms, the best of the world’s brands and designers, so it shows the Chinese shopper is back out.
Italy, the worst-affected country in Europe, is starting to see the number of new cases of Coronavirus cases start to fall. The peak in the country was four days ago, on March 21, when 6,557 new cases of the virus were reported. Two days later the number was down to 4,789 and, although yesterday the number increased again to 5,249, that is still 20% below the peak.
A week after South Korea hit its peak, which was much lower than major European countries at just 851 cases on March 3, the number of new recorded cases had dropped by 87%.
In Germany, the peak number of new cases was on March 21 at 4,528 cases. Yesterday, 24th March, the number of new cases was down to 3,935, a drop of 17%.
While we have to take Chinese virus numbers with a pinch of salt, it might not be as bad as we think for the fashion business after all. A strong domestic consumer bounceback will be the catalyst the fashion industry needs.
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When China sneezes, the world catches a cold. So, when China caught the new coronavirus, or COVID-19 virus, there was going to be major economic repercussions. With the world’s second largest economy on virtual lockdown, its effect on both domestic and international sales for fashion companies will be seismic.
While there is no way to predict how long it will take to runs its course, companies have already started to make tentative statements about how it is affecting their bottom line. Those companies heavily reliant on the Chinese market and high spending Chinese tourists will be particularly affected and be crossing their fingers that this is over quickly.
While it is hard to predict the length of the outbreak and its impact, we can look back at the last major virus outbreak, SARS, which originated in China in 2002. It's thought that this strain of the coronavirus usually only found in small mammals mutated, enabling it to infect humans in the same way as COVID-19 has. By the end of the nine-month long SARS outbreak, the virus had spread to several other Asian countries as well as the UK and Canada, killing 775 and infecting more than 8,000 people.
The current stats for COVID-19 are 71,499 confirmed cases and 1,776 deaths, that’s a 1 in 40 death rate compared to over 1 in 10 for SARS. In terms of stats it looks less serious, with many people being carriers and displaying no symptoms. The under reporting of Chinese authorities has been questioned and how they are trying to minimise the severity of the outbreak, but they seem to be taking swift action to prevent contagion.
The world in 2020 is very different from 2002. The Chinese are travelling much more and have become some of the world’s highest spending tourists. In 2005, there were 95,000 Chinese visitors to the UK, in 2018 that number had reached 391,000 and was continuing to grow. Chinese tourists make up the largest share of visitors to the UK (32%) and they have one of the highest average spends of any national group. In 2018, the latest set of statistics, the average spend of a Chinese tourist in the UK amounted to £1,373. They were only surpassed by visitors from Qatar and UAE.
In London’s West End, accounting for a quarter of all non-EU tax-free spend in 2018, on average, Chinese customers spent £1,630 per shopping trip, making them 59% more valuable than other international shoppers.
Hong Kong-based airline, Cathay Pacific, has already cut 90% of its capacity into mainland China and announced that overall capacity would be slashed by 30% as a result of falling demand related to the outbreak. British Airways announced that it would temporarily suspend its flights to mainland China, following the UK Foreign Office’s advice against all but essential travel to the country.
The most visited country in Europe was France with 2.2 million Chinese nationals visiting in 2018. Paris was already having to contend with transport strikes and gilet jaunes protests and now one of its most valuable visitors is staying away. The same could be said about Hong Kong; months of riots now followed by COVID-19 will have taken its toll on this important luxury retail location. The majority of the world’s major cities will be affected by the lack of Chinese tourists.
For British luxury giant, Burberry, Chinese consumers account for 40 per cent of revenues worldwide. Burberry Group plc released a statement at the beginning of February saying, “The outbreak of the coronavirus in Mainland China is having a material negative effect on luxury demand. While we cannot currently predict how long this situation will last, we remain confident in our strategy.” said Marco Gobbetti, Chief Executive Officer.
Currently 24 of Burberry’s 64 stores in Mainland China are closed with remaining stores operating with reduced hours and seeing significant footfall declines. This is impacting retail sales in both Mainland China and Hong Kong “The spending patterns of Chinese customers in Europe and other tourist destinations have been less impacted to date but given widening travel restrictions, we anticipate these to worsen over the coming weeks.” the statement said. Burberry was planning to hold a fashion show in Shanghai in March but that has been put on indefinite hold, while Chanel has cancelled its May Métiers d’Art show scheduled for Beijing.
Estée Lauder gave a recent update to the markets saying it it expects adjusted earnings of $5.60 to $5.70 per share in 2020, down from a previous estimate of $5.85 to $5.93 citing the coronavirus. Fabrizo Freda, Estee Lauder president and chief executive, said: “The global situation will also affect our financial results in the near term, so we are updating our fiscal year outlook. We will be ready to return to our growth momentum as the global coronavirus is resolved.”
Other brands who have focussed on growth in China will feel the effects. Luxury outerwear brand, Moncler, warned that footfall at its stores in China had plunged 80% since the coronavirus outbreak and it earns 43% of its total revenues from Asia. Michael Kors and Versace owner Capri Holdings saying it would take a $100m hit from coronavirus in China, where it was forced to close more than 150 stores.
Right - Off-White - Logo Print Face Mask - £65 from Farfetch
Kering makes 34% of its sales in Asia Pacific, excluding Japan. Kering’s chief executive officer, François-Henri Pinault, said - on the 12th February - the group - Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta - had experienced a strong drop in sales over the past 10 days. Many of the group’s stores in China are closed or running reduced hours. The company said it will halt advertising spend and postpone new openings in China in the near-term in a bid to limit the damage caused by the virus. Pinault said that planned product launches might also be reconsidered and is also shifting inventory to other regions to make sure stocks don't pile up in China. Without giving an estimate for any impact from the virus on earnings, he said online shopping was not really making up for the decline in store footfall. "The warehouses are shut. People can place orders but there are no deliveries," he said.
While being strong in China and in the Chinese market has been a boon for many years, this outbreak shows the danger of having all your eggs in the Chinese basket. Once a high growth area, this is a double whammy for brands; you have the domestic market closed and the free spending tourists are no longer shopping.
China’s growth was already slowing, but it was just about to come out of the trade wars with America. Even if this outbreak is over in a relatively short window of time, it’s the momentum it has lost that will take the longest time to get back. Getting those Chinese tourists to rebook their flights and travel plans, brands reworking expansion plans and product and consumers getting that feel good factor to spend will take months to correct. Many brands are downplaying the current impact to protect their share price. Hopefully, the epidemic will be over shortly, but the repercussions of COVID-19 will be felt by the fashion industry well into 2020.
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It was the mid-nineties, I’d been shopping on a Saturday afternoon and somehow I’d found myself locked out of my house. I took refuge with the neighbours next door. Surrounded by shopping bags, my older neighbour took umbrage at something written on the side of one of them. In large, bold lettering, the white paper bag read ‘F.C.U.K.’. I thought nothing of it because I’d been a fan of French Connection for a few years and naively thought everybody knew what it stood for. I didn’t think it was rude, he clearly didn’t agree.
Left - French Connection brings back FCUK with Urban Outfitters
This simple shock tactic abbreviation devised by advertising executive Trevor Beattie, having noticed FCHK (French Connection Hong Kong) on an internal memo, was a revolution for French Connection’s marketing campaigns. It really was one of the best and most fashionable upper high street stores at the time and condensing French Connection United Kingdom down to this four letter word in 1997 came to symbolise the division between those who got it and those who didn’t. It was brilliant. The subsequent poster campaign, which read "FCUK fashion", received complaints from the Advertising Standard Authority, MPs and even the Church of England at the time.
Unfortunately, French Connection didn’t know when to let it go. It’s about to come around yet again with a new, exclusive collection with US Urban Outfitters. The FCUK + Urban Outfitters collaboration is taping into 90s nostalgia with a collection ranging in price from $39 to $129 and featuring the FCUK slogan loud and proud.
“Our brand has always been driven by innovation and change,” said Stephen Marks, founder and chairman of French Connection. “When FCUK launched in the ‘90s, it pushed boundaries and was wildly popular with a youth that celebrated individuality and self- expression. The timing is right to bring this back and introduce it to a new generation that shares this attitude and energy.” he said.
FCUK looks comparatively tame today. Fast forward over 20 years and we’re in an age of ‘Fucking Fabulous’ and ‘Bollocks To Brexit’. In a time of ‘alternative facts’ and fake news, people and brands are starting to say it exactly how it is. It feels like there isn’t time for tip-toeing around and the B.S. of previous generations.
Tom Ford originally launched his perfume ‘Fucking Fabulous’ as a limited edition for his Spring Summer 2018 catwalk presentation.
Right - Tom Ford saying how we all feel (sometimes)
According to American website Coveteur on how the name came about; “We were sitting in a meeting smelling the fragrance and Tom said, ‘This is fucking fabulous,’” recalls John Demsey, executive group president of the Estee Lauder Companies, which owns Tom Ford Beauty. “I said, ‘Yeah, it is fucking fabulous.’ He said, ‘Well, why not [call it] Fucking Fabulous?’ So we did. It’s a descriptive. Some people talk about fragrance ingredients; we talk about how it smells.”
For the conservative, American beauty giant Estée Lauder to sign this off was a bold move, especially considering how sensitive the middle of America can be.
“Tom Ford is the consummate gentleman. No one cares more about manners than he does,” adds Demsey. “I understand that this could be offensive to people, but it’s been done in a super elegant, high-end way with good taste. There is a very fine line between what’s salacious and what’s pornographic, what’s erotic and what has a sense of humour. Tom is one of those people who has the ability to do both.”
The PR at Tom Ford Beauty told Coveteur when I asked whether there was any resistance to the name: “This was 100% a Tom decision. We don’t negotiate with Tom Ford.”
Tom Ford has the power and track record to get what he wants and there wouldn’t be many brands or designers brave enough or powerful enough for this to make it through to market. ‘Fucking Fabulous’ has become a cult product even though the scent isn’t particularly memorable.
“I haven’t had this many requests since Tom first went into business with us ten years ago,” Demsey told Coveteur. “Everyone’s asking me, ‘Aren’t I fucking fabulous?’” he said.
This is a case of saying exactly what people think or what you hope they will think, and so it turns to the forthcoming European Elections. The Liberal Democrats slogan ‘Bollocks To Brexit’ isn’t original to them. People have been using it since the referendum, but they have been brave enough to use it and tap into people’s frustrations. It’s definitely a first for politics to be this brave and out there when it comes to campaign slogans. Some have describe it as “coarse” or “crass”, but it’s a very clear message and is exactly what people need today with so much noise on social media and confusing issues and conflicting arguments. It’s decisive.
Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable has defended titling the party manifesto “Bollocks to Brexit”, after the BBC’s Andrew Marr refused to read out the name on-air. Marr said: “This is the first manifesto whose title I cannot read out on Sunday morning television. Do you not feel a little embarrassed about the coarseness of your main election slogan?” Sir Vince responded: “A few people objected to it. I looked up the etymology of ‘bollocks to Brexit’ and the first thing I read was it was a word with a long and distinguished history going back to the 18th century.”
Left - Liberal Democrats slogan for the European Elections 2019
What was pioneered by French Connection’s FCUK, has been taken and run with by Tom Ford’s 'Fucking Fabulous’ and the Lib Dems' ‘Bollocks To Brexit’ and shows there isn’t time to pussy-foot around to get your message across. For brands and companies, labels, slogans and names like these are a risk, but this bravery, when it pays off, is rewarded with the both positive and negative energy needed to gain attention in today’s crowded and fractured marketing mix.
Making people feels a little bit uncomfortable and pushing the envelope of polite language and what is deemed acceptable, resonates, leaves a lasting impression and gets people to remember your product. But, it’s a gamble, some will fall fantastically flat. It’s a question of judgement, but the potential gains are worth it.
It’s the modern version of shouting and waving. Staying safe now means getting lost in the middle somewhere. This is like the classic Ronseal type of marketing, saying exactly what’s on the tin, but, now, it’s just what you would say to those closest to you or in private. Say it like it is.
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In the modern Orwellian landscape it often feels like it’s a battle of the overly confident male egos. From Trump to Putin to Kim Jong-un, puffing your chest out and beating it hard has become an everyday occurrence. I thought - hoped - we’d left this in the last century, but it feels like we’re reliving the worst of the 20th century, every day.
There’s nothing wrong with being and feeling confident. It’s what gets you ahead, or so we are told. But, a delusional sense of entitlement and pride often ends with many cases of cutting your nose off to spite your face.
Last night, Zegna launched a new collection of premium fragrances. Titled #ElementsofMan, it contains 5 new fragrances named “Talent”, “Integrity”, “Passion”, “Wisdom” and "Strength".
Left - Wisdom, anybody?
While I can see the overall idea, it doesn’t feel very contemporary. Where’s “Vulnerability” & “Sensitivity”?
It feels like the Donald Trump collection of fragrances, which is ironic because Trump’s first fragrance, "Donald Trump, The Fragrance” was produced in partnership with Estée Lauder, who also produce the fragrances for Zegna. Launched in 2004, he also had others, now discontinued, called “Success” and “Empire”.
He’d probably wear all five of these, layered á la Jo Malone, yet he’ll think it was his original idea. More is more when you’re reeking of “Strength” & “Wisdom”, don't you think? No room for "Arrogance"?
It feels like an idea dreamt up between Lauder HQ in “Never Sleeps” New York and Zegna HQ in “Macho” Milan with little thought for the rest of the world. Successful men do wear Zegna’s clothes, you need a certain depth of pocket to be able to afford it, but let’s leave the 80s arrogance to Gordon Gekko.
Right - The full Zegna #Elementsofman line-up
“Talent”, for example, in isolation just seems a little strange. My British modesty and cynicism couldn’t wear a fragrance called “Integrity” without a little smirk.
Zegna is a premium menswear brand and they manufacture the most beautiful Italian clothes and fabrics worn by some of the world's most successful men. I think men today are more complex than these allow. These, at £180 for 50ml, are a premium fragrance offering, it just feels a shame that they’ve handicapped them with their names before you’ve even opened the bottle.