Displaying items by tag: LVMH

Wednesday, 04 November 2020 13:23

ChicGeek Comment How Will Fashion Wake?

how will fashion wake post covidHibernation, 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.

China luxury fashion gdp

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?

Here goes:

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.

Buy TheChicGeek's latest book FashionWankers - HERE

Read more expert ChicGeek Comment - HERE

Published in Comment

Diagou reseller DiorDespite 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.

Diagou reseller Dior

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.

Diagou reseller YSL China Chinese consumer Covid luxury brandsThere 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.

Buy TheChicGeek's latest book FashionWankers - HERE

Published in Comment
Friday, 16 October 2020 12:21

Can Raf Kickstart Prada to Growth?

can raf simons kickstart Prada to growth

When designer Raf Simons was announced as the new ‘co-creative director’, working alongside Miuccia Prada, at Prada, it was welcomed as a meeting of two intellectual fashion minds. His first show, SS21, shown last week in Milan, in a digital format, was a return to Prada’s minimalist carpeted and matching curtained 1990s aesthetic. It was the most anticipated show of the new womenswear season.

Left - Prada SS21

Prada has had a growth problem in recent years, so, will this new creative impetus make a difference to a luxury group that is in danger of being left behind within the luxury segment?

The Prada S.p.A. group owns the Prada, Miu Miu, Church’s and Car Shoe brands and produces and distributes luxury leather goods, footwear and apparel, benefitting from a supply chain which includes 22 owned industrial sites. It also operates in the food sector with Marchesi 1824 and in the eyewear and fragrance industries under licensing agreements. The group employs nearly 14,000 people and its products are sold in 70 countries worldwide through 641 directly operated stores as of December 31, 2019.

Prada has been trying to inject growth in recent years by reducing wholesale and discounting, but it is trailing its rivals. For example, Prada and Gucci were once neck and neck as brands, both creatively and financially. They were the juggernaut fashion phoenixes of the 1990s. When one was name checked, the other wasn’t far behind. What changed?

In the 12 months ended Dec. 31, 2019 revenues at Prada S.p.A. totalled €3.22 billion, up +2.7% compared with €3.14 billion in the same period a year earlier. Retail sales grew +4.1% to 2.63 billion euros. This is for the entire Prada Spa group which also includes Miu Miu, Church’s and Car Shoe.

amber valletta 1997 prada glen luchfordFor the same year, 2019, Gucci revenue was €9.63 billion, revenue climbed by +13.3% on a like-for-like basis (+16.2% reported) and operating income leapt by +19.8%. The brand now accounts for over 60% of it owner Kering's revenues.

Right - Prada 1997

All of Gucci’s growth stems from 2016 when it was comparable in size to Prada in terms of revenue. Over the past 4 years, Gucci has grown its revenues to be three times that of Prada. Admittedly, Gucci has had unusually meteoric growth, but the Prada brand has been pretty much flat over these past 4 years.

While the Prada share price, listed in Hong Kong, has increased recently, it has bobbed along the 24HKD- 35HKD range over the past 5 years. Its highs were back in 2013, when the stock hit around 75HKD. During the five years over which the share price declined, Prada’s earnings per share (EPS) dropped by 18% each year. The TSR (Total Shareholder Return) gives a more comprehensive picture of the return generated by a stock. In the case of Prada, it has a TSR of -23% for the last 5 years. While the Prada share price has struggled to rise, Kering’s and LVMH’s has soared.

can raf simons kickstart Prada to growth adidas

Prada is in that predicament where it is big, but isn’t quite big enough. It’s luxurious, but not luxurious enough and, while it was once a leader, it hasn’t produced much that has stuck in recent years. It felt like Miuccia Prada had checked out, creatively, of the brand years ago. The last show by Miuccia Prada, AW20, before Simons arrived, put the signature triangular logo centre stage and was its most commercial for years.

Above -  A sign of things to come? adidas Consortium + Prada Superstar 450 Leather Sneakers - £400 from MRPORTER.COM

In a statement up to June 30th 2020, Prada CEO, Patrizio Bertelli talks of ‘growth trajectory temporarily interrupted’ due to COVID 19. He said, “The first half of 2020 saw a temporary interruption of our growth trajectory which, in a situation of progressive control of the pandemic, we are confident will gradually resume from the second half of 2020, when our store network will again be fully operational. The excellent response of local consumers after the re-openings, confirms the desirability of our products and the strong relationship with our customers, which has been further strengthened by our continued focus on digital technology. The recent positive trends in all markets, combined with our solid balance sheet and financial position, allow us to look to the future with confidence today.”

On average, 40% of Prada’s retail network was closed from February to May 2020, reaching a peak of 70% in April. Its wholesale channel was heavily reduced, following the strategic decision taken in 2019 to strictly control all distribution channels to protect brand positioning and discounting. Prada said e-commerce had delivered triple-digit sales growth during and after the global lockdowns, while retail sales were down 32% and wholesale sales were down 71%.

Prada has seen double-digit sales growth since April in Mainland China, while South Korea and Taiwan, which didn’t experience store closures, showed a consistent double-digit trend throughout the period. Thanks to the contribution of these markets, the entire Asia Pacific region reported double-digit growth in June. The rest of the world was negative. In April 2020, Prada’s Board of Directors withdrew its recommendation to pay a dividend for 2019.

Prada’s difficulties during the COVID lockdowns aren’t unusual and will have been replicated by other luxury brands, but it doesn’t help its desirability and also the inability for Raf Simons’ new show to make an impact during this difficult time. According to the Business of Fashion, just 10,000 viewers tuned into the Prada Instagram live feed of the SS21 show and, according to analytics firm Tribe Dynamics, the show’s earned media value in the first 48 hours, an industry measure of third-party social media engagement, was 59 percent lower than the Spring/Summer 2020 show a year ago.

Many people have switched off from fashion, currently, and this will not have helped Prada make a splash with Simons’ collection. His first collection received warm reviews in a season without much competition. But, his return to the pared pack 90s Prada doesn’t answer the problem of growth. One good shoe is not enough, you need hundreds, and they need to roll over many seasons like the Gucci model. Gucci’s lack of seasons and huge choice of product shows how maximalism in fashion increases venues. Looks that have more accessories than a Christmas tree are going to generate more sales. More choice is the answer for growth. It also appeals to more customers.

can raf simons kickstart Prada to growth

Prada has followed this model too, previously. Prada only really started to make money and get bigger when it moved from mink trimmed nylon to colourful striped fox fur scarves and crystal embellished dresses in the noughties. When the ‘Pradasphere’ exhibit opened in Harrods in 2014 it illustrated what really sold to the contemporary Prada customer and it wasn’t minimalism. Minimalism hasn’t really made big money for any fashion business. Less isn’t more revenue.

Unfortunately for the brand, the planned Design Museum exhibition in London, planned for 2020, has been cancelled, which would have given it a boost. Details of a new collaboration between the Design Museum and Prada will be revealed in 2021.

Simons is a good designer and an influence, but his track record at Dior and Calvin Klein shows a limited understanding of what is commercial. When commercial, as illustrated with the collab with adidas above, it verges on the repetitive and boring.

Prada CEO, Bertelli’s relationships with past designers, such as Helmut Lang and Jil Sander, once owned by the Prada Group, was turbulent and Simons won’t hang around if the going gets tough (again).

Prada was once one of the world's coolest brands, but it didn’t innovate when the likes of Michael Kors started copying its famous saffiano leather. Simons is undoubtedly cool, but will he be enough for Prada to catch up with its rivals?

Buy TheChicGeek's new book FashionWankers - HERE

Published in News
Tuesday, 29 September 2020 15:18

Can Raf Kickstart Prada to Growth?

can raf simons kickstart Prada to growth

When designer Raf Simons was announced as the new ‘co-creative director’, working alongside Miuccia Prada, at Prada, it was welcomed as a meeting of two intellectual fashion minds. His first show, SS21, shown last week in Milan, in a digital format, was a return to Prada’s minimalist carpeted and matching curtained 1990s aesthetic. It was the most anticipated show of the new womenswear season.

Left - Prada SS21

Prada has had a growth problem in recent years, so, will this new creative impetus make a difference to a luxury group that is in danger of being left behind within the luxury segment?

The Prada S.p.A. group owns the Prada, Miu Miu, Church’s and Car Shoe brands and produces and distributes luxury leather goods, footwear and apparel, benefitting from a supply chain which includes 22 owned industrial sites. It also operates in the food sector with Marchesi 1824 and in the eyewear and fragrance industries under licensing agreements. The group employs nearly 14,000 people and its products are sold in 70 countries worldwide through 641 directly operated stores as of December 31, 2019.

Prada has been trying to inject growth in recent years by reducing wholesale and discounting, but it is trailing its rivals. For example, Prada and Gucci were once neck and neck as brands, both creatively and financially. They were the juggernaut fashion phoenixes of the 1990s. When one was name checked, the other wasn’t far behind. What changed?

In the 12 months ended Dec. 31, 2019 revenues at Prada S.p.A. totalled €3.22 billion, up +2.7% compared with €3.14 billion in the same period a year earlier. Retail sales grew +4.1% to 2.63 billion euros. This is for the entire Prada Spa group which also includes Miu Miu, Church’s and Car Shoe.

amber valletta 1997 prada glen luchfordFor the same year, 2019, Gucci revenue was €9.63 billion, revenue climbed by +13.3% on a like-for-like basis (+16.2% reported) and operating income leapt by +19.8%. The brand now accounts for over 60% of it owner Kering's revenues.

Right - Prada 1997

All of Gucci’s growth stems from 2016 when it was comparable in size to Prada in terms of revenue. Over the past 4 years, Gucci has grown its revenues to be three times that of Prada. Admittedly, Gucci has had unusually meteoric growth, but the Prada brand has been pretty much flat over these past 4 years.

While the Prada share price, listed in Hong Kong, has increased recently, it has bobbed along the 24HKD- 35HKD range over the past 5 years. Its highs were back in 2013, when the stock hit around 75HKD. During the five years over which the share price declined, Prada’s earnings per share (EPS) dropped by 18% each year. The TSR (Total Shareholder Return) gives a more comprehensive picture of the return generated by a stock. In the case of Prada, it has a TSR of -23% for the last 5 years. While the Prada share price has struggled to rise, Kering’s and LVMH’s has soared.

can raf simons kickstart Prada to growth adidas

Prada is in that predicament where it is big, but isn’t quite big enough. It’s luxurious, but not luxurious enough and, while it was once a leader, it hasn’t produced much that has stuck in recent years. It felt like Miuccia Prada had checked out, creatively, of the brand years ago. The last show by Miuccia Prada, AW20, before Simons arrived, put the signature triangular logo centre stage and was its most commercial for years.

Above -  A sign of things to come? adidas Consortium + Prada Superstar 450 Leather Sneakers - £400 from MRPORTER.COM

In a statement up to June 30th 2020, Prada CEO, Patrizio Bertelli talks of ‘growth trajectory temporarily interrupted’ due to COVID 19. He said, “The first half of 2020 saw a temporary interruption of our growth trajectory which, in a situation of progressive control of the pandemic, we are confident will gradually resume from the second half of 2020, when our store network will again be fully operational. The excellent response of local consumers after the re-openings, confirms the desirability of our products and the strong relationship with our customers, which has been further strengthened by our continued focus on digital technology. The recent positive trends in all markets, combined with our solid balance sheet and financial position, allow us to look to the future with confidence today.”

On average, 40% of Prada’s retail network was closed from February to May 2020, reaching a peak of 70% in April. Its wholesale channel was heavily reduced, following the strategic decision taken in 2019 to strictly control all distribution channels to protect brand positioning and discounting. Prada said e-commerce had delivered triple-digit sales growth during and after the global lockdowns, while retail sales were down 32% and wholesale sales were down 71%.

Prada has seen double-digit sales growth since April in Mainland China, while South Korea and Taiwan, which didn’t experience store closures, showed a consistent double-digit trend throughout the period. Thanks to the contribution of these markets, the entire Asia Pacific region reported double-digit growth in June. The rest of the world was negative. In April 2020, Prada’s Board of Directors withdrew its recommendation to pay a dividend for 2019.

Prada’s difficulties during the COVID lockdowns aren’t unusual and will have been replicated by other luxury brands, but it doesn’t help its desirability and also the inability for Raf Simons’ new show to make an impact during this difficult time. According to the Business of Fashion, just 10,000 viewers tuned into the Prada Instagram live feed of the SS21 show and, according to analytics firm Tribe Dynamics, the show’s earned media value in the first 48 hours, an industry measure of third-party social media engagement, was 59 percent lower than the Spring/Summer 2020 show a year ago.

Many people have switched off from fashion, currently, and this will not have helped Prada make a splash with Simons’ collection. His first collection received warm reviews in a season without much competition. But, his return to the pared pack 90s Prada doesn’t answer the problem of growth. One good shoe is not enough, you need hundreds, and they need to roll over many seasons like the Gucci model. Gucci’s lack of seasons and huge choice of product shows how maximalism in fashion increases venues. Looks that have more accessories than a Christmas tree are going to generate more sales. More choice is the answer for growth. It also appeals to more customers.

can raf simons kickstart Prada to growth

Prada has followed this model too, previously. Prada only really started to make money and get bigger when it moved from mink trimmed nylon to colourful striped fox fur scarves and crystal embellished dresses in the noughties. When the ‘Pradasphere’ exhibit opened in Harrods in 2014 it illustrated what really sold to the contemporary Prada customer and it wasn’t minimalism. Minimalism hasn’t really made big money for any fashion business. Less isn’t more revenue.

Unfortunately for the brand, the planned Design Museum exhibition in London, planned for 2020, has been cancelled, which would have given it a boost. Details of a new collaboration between the Design Museum and Prada will be revealed in 2021.

Simons is a good designer and an influence, but his track record at Dior and Calvin Klein shows a limited understanding of what is commercial. When commercial, as illustrated with the collab with adidas above, it verges on the repetitive and boring.

Prada CEO, Bertelli’s relationships with past designers, such as Helmut Lang and Jil Sander, once owned by the Prada Group, was turbulent and Simons won’t hang around if the going gets tough (again).

Prada was once one of the world's coolest brands, but it didn’t innovate when the likes of Michael Kors started copying its famous saffiano leather. Simons is undoubtedly cool, but will he be enough for Prada to catch up with its rivals?

Buy TheChicGeek's new book FashionWankers - HERE

Published in Fashion

boring mono luxury websitesWhen 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.”

boring mono luxury websites saint laurent

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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Published in Fashion
Tuesday, 27 August 2019 13:31

ChicGeek Comment Fashion Pact Mañana

Fashion Pact G7 Pinault FrancoisA large bulk of the fashion industry is feeling pretty smug with itself. The just-gone G7 summit in Biarritz, France, a meeting of the world’s largest economies, saw French President Emmanuel Macron, accompanied by Economy and Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire, Minister of Labour, Muriel Pénicaud, and Deputy Minister of Ecological and Solidary Transition, Brune Poirson, launch the ‘Fashion Pact’. An initiative to minimise the environmental impact of the fashion industry, the Fashion Pact, signed by various fashion companies and brands, made numerous commitments regarding sustainability, renewable energy and biodiversity.

Left - Tall glass of Pinault?! The 'Fashion Pact' launch at the recent G7 summit

Making plenty of noise, and, while anything in the right direction, particularly while the Amazon rainforest is burning, is welcome, it’s worth looking at some of the detail.

Thirty two companies representing around 150 brands and roughly 30% of the fashion industry committed to:

“100% renewable energy across own operations with the ambition to incentivise implementation of renewables in all high impact manufacturing processes along the entire supply chain by 2030.”

“Protect the oceans: by reducing the fashion industry’s negative impact on the world’s oceans through practical initiatives, such as gradually removing the usage of single-use plastics.”

“Restore biodiversity: by achieving objectives that use Science-Based Targets to restore natural ecosystems and protect species.”

“Stop global warming: by creating and deploying an action plan for achieving the objective of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, in order to keep global warming below a 1.5°C pathway between now and 2100.”

These all feel like the least they can do. Words like ‘gradually’ and ‘ambition’ make most of this wishful thinking. But, waiting until 2050 to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions is laughable. Most of the signatories will be dead by then. It’s 31 years away!!! Who’s to say any of these companies will still be in business?

We live in a very stressful and confusing time. Environmental paralysis is understandable amongst consumers not sure exactly what they can do to combat climate change. But, waiting until 2050 to ‘possibly’ make that new handbag zero carbon emissions ain’t one of them. Green lip service is becoming increasingly frustrating and brands are going to have to give definite and distinct decisions while updating consumers on progress and fact based information much faster than this. People want to see something.

The brands involved include adidas, Bestseller, Burberry, Capri Holding Limited, Carrefour, Chanel, Ermenegildo Zegna, Everybody & Everyone, Fashion3, Fung Group, Galeries Lafayette, Gap Inc, Giorgio Armani, H&M Group, Hermès, Inditex, Karl Lagerfeld, Kering, La Redoute, matchesfashion.com, Moncler, Nike, Nordstrom, Prada Group, Puma, PVH Corp., Ralph Lauren, Ruyi, Salvatore Ferragamo, Selfridges Group, Stella McCartney and Tapestry.

In April 2019, ahead of the G7 meeting, Emmanuel Macron gave François-Henri Pinault, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Kering, a mission to bring together the leading players in fashion and textile, with the aim of setting practical objectives for reducing the environmental impact of their industry. And the Fashion Pact was born.

This goes someway to explain the most noticable luxury absentee from the list, the LVMH group. LVMH, Kering's main luxury competition, announced in May that it was partnering with Unesco on a five-year deal, allowing the fashion houses in the group access to “a network of experts at the regional level and in different disciplines to drive the development and success of their initiatives to protect biodiversity” and secure transparent supply chains. They’ve also recently cemented a tie-up with British designer Stella McCartney to lead their charge in sustainable luxury.

The majority of these brands don’t know what the eco-future looks like, but they know they need to start making the right noises yet want to continue to generate billions of dollars in yearly turnovers. Signing up to things like the ‘Fashion Pact’ focuses minds, but the time frame makes it a case of we’ll start tomorrow, which goes against the current urgent 'Climate Emergency' feeling felt within the wider population.

Kering issued a statement saying, “Private companies, working alongside nation states, have an essential role to play in protecting the planet. With the Fashion Pact, some leading players in the fashion and textile sector are joining forces for the first time to launch an unprecedented movement. A collective endeavour by its nature, the Fashion Pact is open to any company that wants to help to fundamentally transform the practices of the fashion and textile industry, and to meet the environmental challenges of our century.”

If these luxury companies worked as quickly as they did when chucking money at Notre-Dame, after its fire, then we’d really be getting somewhere. Pinault found €100m (£90m) down the back of the sofa and the Arnault family stumped up €200m within hours of the flames being put out.

Governments will need to bring in legislation much sooner to force these companies to do more. We’re going to look back at this period of history and wonder how we got through it sanely, but what we know is, we have to start today.

Published in Fashion
Tuesday, 04 June 2019 13:12

ChicGeek Comment The Young Old

Young Old Baby Boomers target audience democraphicBaby-Boomer bashing has become a favourite Millennial and Gen Z past time. Yes, yes, we know they’ve taken our futures, they own everything, have everything and our lives won’t materialistically match theirs, but they should be aspired to rather than looked at enviously and begrudgingly. This is the youngest generation of older people ever and they are staying in good health for longer. 

Left - The Young Old - It's very hard to find an image which isn't patronising or a stereotype of the elderly 

They are also choosing to work longer. A recent survey by jobs website, ‘Rest Less’, shows almost one in 12 of people in their 70s are working, compared with one in 22 a decade ago. Admittedly, there are more older people, overall, but, it is a growing trend driven partially by skills shortages. There has been an increase of 285,000 workers over 70 over the past ten years.

Due to better health and an appetite for a certain standard of lifestyle many of this generation is lucky enough to enjoy working and are using the additional income on luxury holidays and prestige cars. I look at my parents and they are both working past traditional retirement ages. Mortgages paid off, free travel, fuel allowance! and in good health, they see no reason to retire. This is the energetic generation of the 1960s and they don’t want to slow down just because they are getting older.

Stuart Lewis, of Rest Less, said, ‘Gone are the days of working hard five days a week for four and a half decades before suddenly stopping. We can see that part-time work is growing in popularity among the over-70s, both male and female.’

Baby boomers were born between 1944 and 1964. They're currently between 55-75 years old. They are the most successful generation of people ever and represent nearly 20% of the American and UK public.

Netwealth, a wealth manager, analysed the Office for National Statistics’ Wealth and Assets surveys between 2006 and 2016 (the most recent data available) and found those aged over 65 owned 28 per cent of the UK’s household wealth in 2006, a figure which had increased to 36 per cent 10 years later. The analysis also found that one in five (20 per cent) of over-65s in the UK to be a millionaire, compared with 7 per cent in 2006. The total wealth owned by over 65s nearly doubled - from £2.4trillion to £4.7trillion - in the decade between 2006 and 2016, while in comparison, those between 25 and 54 years old saw their wealth increase by just 9 per cent in real terms during the same time. That means that for every £1 of UK household wealth, Baby Boomers own the biggest share of 36p.

Author, Camilla Cavendish, has just published a new book called ‘Extra Time: 10 Lessons For An Ageing World’. She cites Mick Jagger, still touring at the age of 75, as an example of the so-called “young-old”; the growing number of people who extend an active and healthy middle age into their late Seventies. According to Cavendish, dementia rates have actually fallen by 20 per cent in the past 20 years in the UK. 

“It’s not old age that’s getting longer, it’s middle age,” she writes. “We need to . . . stop lumping everyone from 60 to 100 together, and accept its normal to be vibrant and capable in your 70s”.

During the same period we’ve seen a massive decrease in traditional killers of older men and women. According to the British Medical Journal, between 1990 and 2013 cardio vascular disease death rates in England declined by 52%, coronary heart disease (CHD) by 60%, and stroke by 46%. The reason has been attributed to the reduction in smokers and also the banning of smoking in public places in 2007.

Many people lose their sense of purpose when they no longer work and if you don’t want to retire why should you when we live in a country of record employment and the demand is there for workers with experience? Old age should be a balance and many of these people are choosing to work part time which goes to pay for their more indulgent free time. So, what does it mean for businesses and brands?

I think we saw an example late last year when LVMH bought the travel company Belmond. LVMH, paid $25 per Belmond share, a premium of more than 40 percent on the company’s closing price, a deal valued at $2.6 billion. Established over 40 years ago with the Hotel Cipriani in Venice, Belmond owns and operates a collection of the world’s finest hotels and luxury travel companies in 24 countries including Hotel Splendido in Portofino, Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire, plus the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and Belmond Royal Scotsman luxury trains and cruises such as Belmond Afloat in France fleet and Belmond Road to Mandalay.

Bernard Arnault, Chairman and Chief Executive Offer of LVMH, said, “Belmond delivers unique experiences to discerning travellers and owns a number of exceptional assets in the most desirable destinations. Its heritage, its innovative services, its excellence in execution and its entrepreneurship resonates well with the values of the Group and is complementary to our own Cheval Blanc maisons and the Bvlgari hotels activities. This acquisition will significantly increase LVMH’s presence in the ultimate hospitality world.”

This “ultimate hospitality world” is targeted squarely at those with the time and disposable incomes. LVMH has just unveiled plans to open a Cheval Blanc hotel in Mayfair. The Cheval Blanc brand was created in 2006 and has locations in Courchevel, the Maldives, Saint-Barthelemy and Saint Tropez. The former department store La Samaritaine in Paris is due to reopen as a Cheval Blanc hotel later this year. Estimated to cost £500 million, the development would be a joint project between LVMH and real instate investor O and H Group, which owns the sites on 8-14 Grafton Street, 163-164 New Bond Street and 22-24 Bruton Lane. If planning permission for the London hotel is granted, work would begin at the start of 2020, with a view to opening the Foster and Partners designed hotel in the third quarter of 2022.

Young Old Baby Boomers target audience democraphic

A natural progression from owning and running the luxury retail stores of Bond Street for LVMH, another new luxury hotel and apartment development is The Residences at Mandarin Oriental Mayfair. Currently being built, and due to open in 2021, they are next door to Fenwicks on Hanover Square and residents will enjoy privileged access to a full suite of services and amenities provided by the integrated Mandarin Oriental Mayfair Hotel, including in-residence dining & house keeping, 24/7 Concierge, valet parking, an opulent spa and roof terrace bar overlooking Mayfair.

Left - The Old Old - One way not to hit 100?!

A big opportunity for brands is there. A move away from material goods to holidays and experiences actually makes more sense for this older generation than it does for Millennials. These people have enough stuff and they’ve often outgrown the novelty and fripperies of fashion while at the same time having the leisure time to take more holidays and at higher price points. This ‘Young Old’ generation has the luxury of time and money. They are healthier and more active. They’ve worked hard and have been blessed with the rise of property values and generous pension schemes. By choosing to work longer they are topping up their incomes and as such are a very attractive demographic for businesses specialising in life's luxuries. Sadly, for subsequent generations, working past traditional retirement ages could be less of an option and more of a necessity.

Read more expert ChicGeek Comments - here

Published in Fashion
Thursday, 16 May 2019 14:33

ChicGeek Comment New Burberry Working?

Is new burberry working? Gigi HadidArguably the finest looking retail street in London, Regent Street’s sweeping thoroughfare is home to the world’s largest Burberry store. The former theatre and cinema is a huge, cavernous stage for the only domestic luxury mega-brand the UK has. What you’ll notice recently, as you walk past, there is never anybody in it. Worryingly, the store always looks empty of customers, and, as is often the case in fashion, you don’t need to see financials or figures to see whether something is instinctively selling or not. 

After two distinctly underwhelming, but vast collections under new Creative Director Riccardo Tisci, the first results are in and it doesn’t bode well. Sales are flat in a market that has seen stellar performances from Kering and LVMH. Burberry’s sales grew by just 2% to £2.7B over the year to March 2019 with an adjusted operating profit of £438m. According to Bain & Company, the luxury goods and experiences market grew by 5% in 2018 and to put this into further context, LVMH was up 10% and Kering was up an incredible 26.3% over the same period.

Left - Gigi Hadid in Burberry's latest campaign. The collection could easily be confused with Fendi

After Burberry’s huge growth under previous Creative Director, Christopher Bailey, the brand’s new strategy is to take the brand more upmarket and completely change the feeling and identity of the brand. Marco Gobbetti, Chief Executive Officer, who hired Tisci, puts a positive spin on it in the brand’s latest financial release, “We made excellent progress in the first year of our plan to transform Burberry, while at the same time delivering financial performance in line with expectations. Riccardo Tisci’s first collections arrived in stores at the end of February and the initial reaction from customers is very encouraging. The implementation of our plan is on track, we are energised by the early results and we confirm our outlook for FY 2020.”

The two stores Burberry had in Knightsbridge have closed and are now a trashy souvenir shop and while they said they are taking a new store above the Tube station, it is a long way off from opening with only the facade currently standing.

The only hope is that they are still selling in China. There was a report in Jing Daily, the leading digital publication on luxury consumer trends in China, in April, that said Burberry had shut down four retail stores in Shanghai since August 2018, with the latest closure occurring on March 31, when the brand ceased the operation of its flagship store at the city’s L’Avenue, which it opened in 2013. The article said “the company had been laying off Chinese staff in preparation for the closure until only seven of them remained”. The publication also said the permanent closure of the L’Avenue store represented a “landmark event” in Burberry’s perceived exit from Shanghai. 

According to the results, in Asia, it’s seen low single digit growth in Asia Pacific, Korea and China, stable in Hong Kong and declining in Japan. Which is worrying. Burberry is also cutting costs to shore up the balance sheet.

The company is pinning all its hopes on the new Tisci product. The statement said “The first deliveries of Riccardo Tisci’s products arrived in stores at the end of February. Although it is currently a small portion of our offer, the initial reaction from customers has been very positive with sales of the new collections delivering strong double-digit percentage growth.” It’s not clear what the growth is in comparison to.

The company says it is currently on a multi-year journey to transform and reposition Burberry. “FY 2019 and FY 2020 are foundational years where we will re-energise the brand, rationalise and invest in our distribution and manage through the creative transition, after which we will accelerate and grow.”

In retail, they say they are focused on refreshing flagship stores, with over 80 retail doors expected to be “aligned” by the end of FY 2020. "To ensure we are focusing our resources on the most impactful locations, we will also be closing 38 smaller, non-strategic retail stores in secondary locations. In wholesale, we stepped up our wholesale rationalisation in the second half of the year, phasing out non-luxury doors.” says the financial statement. In total, Burberry closed a net 18 stores (seven mainline, nine concessions and two outlets) in the year and new openings included the relocation and expansion of the Dubai flagship and openings in Shin Kong Place, Xian (China). Fourteen retail stores had been aligned to the new aesthetic by the end of the period. 

Tisci’s first collection ‘Kingdom’ hit stores in February, but it didn’t create the much needed desire within the fashion community which ripples out to consumers. In that period, we’ve seen Givenchy fly, Gucci continue to power on and Bottega Veneta get a new designer and start to make waves. Unless you make positive gains from the energy around a new star creative designer, the energy quickly falls flat and the new Burberry seems to have been striped of identity during its rebrand. 

Riccardo Tisci’s and Christoper Bailey’s Burberrys were always going to be very different. One was incredibly successful and turned the company into a global, billion dollar player, the other, was a fresh start, hoping to equal the growth and appeal of its predecessor but with a new, more street-like aesthetic while trying to elevate the brand. 

Burberry feels like a brand going into reverse and unless new collections start to create some form of excitement people won’t be willing to pay more. The momentum it has built up over the past decade will disappear and it will be a tough job to get that back. This feels like a brand to ‘sell’ before the evidence of the failure of this new strategy becomes even clearer.

Published in Fashion
Friday, 02 November 2018 17:11

ChicGeek Comment Tours De Force

Fashion factory tours Private White ManchesterCharlie Bucket spent his last coin on a chocolate bar in the hope that it would contain a golden ticket and gain entry behind the guarded gates of Wonka’s magical factory. If Roald Dahl were to write the story, today, Veruca Salt, the spoilt brat with the "I want it NOW, daddy!!!" attitude, would probably want to see behind the walls of Louis Vuitton or Chanel rather than Cadbury’s or Nestlé.

Her wishes were granted, last month, when LVMH expanded the fourth edition of its ‘Les Journées Particulières’ open days event. Seventy six venues across four continents held 'open days', with 38 never having been open to the public previously.

The event saw 56 fashion houses, including Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Tag Heuer and Nicholas Kirkwood, taking part. New experiences included the opening of the Les Fontaines Parfumées in Grasse, the perfume creation workshop shared by Parfums Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton, the Louis Vuitton prototype workshop in the centre of Paris and the Louis Vuitton workshop in Ducey, Normandy. It was also possible to reserve an exclusive tour of La Colle Noire, Christian Dior’s last residence in Montauroux.

Left - Inside Private White V.C. in Manchester

‘Les Journées Particulières' launched in 2011 and is a LVMH marketing exercise in harnessing the desire and interest from people to see the inner workings of brands they admire and respect. It’s this element of being able to see things you feel aren’t usually on display, demystifying the processes and laying bare the inner workings of these brands that gets people to make the effort to visit.

Watchmaker, Vacheron Constantin, recently tapped into this enthusiasm by auctioning the ultimate watchmaking experience by putting two VIP tours of its workshop in Switzerland up for sale. The brand hired Sotheby’s to auction the experiences, which comprise two separate lots that it claims represent a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to witness its work up close. Each involves a behind-the-scenes tour through the Vacheron Constantin Maison, accompanied by style and heritage director Christian Selmoni.

It’s this ‘magic’ that people want to see and the attraction and interest in seeing how things are made and a celebration our industrial history is expanding as more brands open up their factories to the public. It gives products a halo effect of ‘special’ and really cements the brands into people’s minds and memories in a positive way.

I always say, when you go to a factory, it’s a bit like going to a friend’s house for the first time: you really get a fully rounded and immersive experience and a lasting memory. It’s a familiarity you can’t get in a shop or by simply wearing the product.

Fashion factory tours

Solovair produce their shoes in Northampton under their parental badge of The Northamptonshire Productive Society (NPS) founded in 1881 by five men in Wollaston, Northamptonshire. Ashleigh Liversage, Online Marketing Manager, NPS Shoes Ltd. says, “As more and more brands move their manufacturing outside of the UK it is important to us that our customers can come see for themselves how their footwear is made by our skilled workers in our factory in Wollaston, Northamptonshire.

Right - Exterior of the Private White V.C. factory in Manchester

“Our Managing Director takes the group on a tour through the factory offering an exciting insight into all areas of shoe production,” says Liversage. “The NPS Factory tour follows specific content-related criteria, giving guests access to all shoe production technologies: the ‘Clicking’ or cutting Room, Closing room, Levelling / Making Room, Shoe Room, while machines have made production more efficient, the fundamental process has remained the same at our factory for over a century,” she says.

“The feedback from our customers is why we continue to offer the tour, they love to see how and where their footwear is made and hear about the history and heritage of NPS Shoes,” says Liversage. “Even those with no particular interest in footwear have commented how interesting the tour is. We have people come from all over the UK to attend our tours and even had visitors from Canada once!” she says.

Over in Manchester, Private White V.C., has the last remaining clothing factory in the world’s first industrial city. Mike Stoll, Factory MD, says the reason they have a factory tour is, “To raise awareness: we actually are real and make our special garments near Manchester City centre.”

“Most people that make the tour either make a purchase or send someone who does. It spreads the word,” says Stoll, but, “It only works if you have something to see. This building is unusual and the way we currently manufacture is unique.”

North of the border, Johnstons of Elgin produce some of the world's finest knitwear and blankets. George McNeil, Johnstons of Elgin, Retail Managing Director, says, “Rarely does the public get an insight into how their products are made, and the entire craft behind the process, and so this is a chance to see quality in the making and also to understand our rich and unique history.”

Visitors get to see “Everything!” says McNeil. “Our cashmere goes from raw fibre, through dying, teasing, carding, spinning and hand finishing by the latest generation of craftsmen, all in our Elgin mill.”

“If a brand has the personal touch to each and every product, like ours, it is hugely beneficial to educate the consumer,” says McNeil. “We are in fact the last remaining vertical mill in Scotland to take raw fibre to finished product – from goat to garment – making this traditional process unique in current times. As consumers continue to prioritise where their belongings come from, and become more curious about the work that goes into them, they will demand to know more and brands will answer.” he says.

Not all brands can offer this openness though. Brands often produce for other people, called ‘Private Label’, and many brands like to keep their producers and suppliers out of the public domain.

Fashion factory tours Johnstons of Elgin

“As a manufacturer for over 160 different brands, we actually don't allow factory visits because of the issues they can cause,” says Rob Williams, Founder & Chief Financial Officer, Hawthorn International, who produce apparel for various brands. “Many fashion brands prefer for their manufacturer to keep their identity private, so that their costs cannot be revealed and so that their designs can't be shared between brands who all use the same manufacturer,” says Williams.

“Because privacy and confidentiality is so important to our clients, we found that it caused a huge logistical problem to organise factory visits without the visitor seeing any intellectual property of our other clients,” he says.

Left - Johnstons of Elgin's mill in Elgin, Scotland

Factory tours work because of a growing niche of people’s fascination with being educated about the things they buy. It works for brands who want to tell their story and, often, explain why you are paying a premium for the products. Admittedly, you get shown what they want you to see, but, it's this openness and sharing that creates an atmosphere people want to buy into.

This is the National Trust for the fashion geeks amongst us and it’s growing in popularity. Johnstons of Elgin has tea shops and restaurants attached to their mills which can also be a revenue maker for the company.

The tour makes the product come alive, you can picture what you’re buying being made and this really is the ultimate souvenir. People love a factory tour with a final stop at the factory shop for a bargain. Who needs a stately home when you can have a Victorian shoe factory?

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Published in Fashion
Wednesday, 24 October 2018 09:56

ChicGeek Comment Only Billion Dollar Brands

Christopher Kane divesting from KeringIt 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.

J W Anderson divesting from Kering

“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.

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