When 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.”
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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A 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.
Baby-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.
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.
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Arguably 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.
Charlie 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.
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.
“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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It was while watching the Alexander McQueen documentary at the beginning of the summer - Read TheChicGeek Review here - when I wondered where the subsequent crop of young designer brands were.
The British based designers who were the generation after McQueen and showed so much promise - Christopher Kane, Jonathan Saunders, Mary Katranzhou, J.W. Anderson etc. - and despite some investment, just haven’t been able to scale up their brands in the same way McQueen and Stella McCartney were able to.
Left - Christopher Kane's only permanent store on London's Mount Street
I realised that this was a signifier of how the luxury market has changed and the days of nurturing fledgling brands into ‘Mega Brands’ are over. It illustrates the saturation in the market and it’s all about making big brands even bigger, today. “If you’re not going to be a billion dollar brand, then it’s probably not worth our time", is the new attitude. It probably explains the reason why Michael Kors recently bought Versace. Read more ChicGeek Comment here
David Watts, Founder, Watts What Magazine, says, “I suspect that this is more to do with the parent company realising that these businesses are not scaleable - or to the extent of other portfolio brands and cutting their losses.”
“In the current very challenging retail market and designer wholesale model not being as robust as it used to be, brands need to shore up cash and also give themselves a buffer,” says Watts.
“For the larger groups though, bigger really is better,” says Sandra Halliday, Editor-in-chief (UK), Fashionnetwork.com. “When they take on a brand, they want it to have billion dollar potential, or at least to occupy a strong niche that will guarantee high profit margins. The stakes these days are too high to do anything else,” she says.
When the Gucci Group invested in McQueen, Stella McCartney, Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga in 2001, it signalled the moment the luxury fashion industry was in full expansion mode and opening stores all over the globe. Following that, there was a raft of investment in the generation after, with Kering - formally Gucci Group - investing in Christopher Kane in 2013 and LVMH investing in Nicholas Kirkwood and J.W. Anderson in the same year. Everybody was billed “as the next…” but it just hasn’t materialised. Well, not in consumers’ heads anyway.
Now, brands are going into reverse; fashion’s answer to “Conscious Uncoupling”. Stella McCartney just bought back the 50 per cent she didn’t own from Kering and rumour has it, Christopher Kane, is in talks to buy back the 51 percent stake from the French group after a 5-year partnership.
Right - J.W. Anderson single store in East London
Halliday says, “I think in Stella McCartney’s case there was a genuine desire to run her own show and given the strength of her brand, that’s understandable.”
“For Christopher Kane it’s probably more about Kering focusing its resources and its time on its big winners, and that makes sense with Gucci, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga doing so well and Bottega Veneta needing lots of TLC,” she says.
“It give them a certain freedom and with the knowledge and experience learned (hopefully) as being part of a large group that they know how to be more careful with finances and astute with merchandising and keeping overheads down,” says Watts.
“Staying small, focussed and niche with a direct to consumer model could work for some brands, but it’s also very tough to make serious money at that scale,” says Watts. “Of course, there are possibly different and extenuating circumstances for why these brands find themselves in their current predicament. What does it tell you that LVMH and Kering cannot make Stella McCartney, Christopher Kane, Edun and Tomas Maier work…..gonna be tough for them as independents however the chips may fall,” he says.
Announced this year, LVMH has severed ties with Edun, Bono’s ethical fashion brand, and Kering has closed Tomas Maier, previously the Creative Director at their other brand, Bottega Veneta. These brands will have to regress back to start-up mode and think small again if they are to survive.
“In many ways, the future prospects of small designers hoping to break into the big time are quite depressing as the barriers to doing that are very high.” says Halliday. “But, on another level, the internet offers opportunities that didn’t exist just 20 years ago. The combination of a well-run e-store and a physical flagship can actually be a very cost-effective way of reaching the maximum number of consumers.” she says.
“Even if smaller labels can build profitable businesses, the chances are that the end result will be a hoped-for takeover by a bigger group, or by private equity investors, as that’s the kind of investment that’s really needed to make the transition into bona fide big-name brand,” says Halliday. “And all of that doesn’t even factor in what might happen if the luxury boom runs out of steam at any point,” she says.
Those brands fitting somewhere between these smaller designers and the giant groups are making their play for their futures too. Versace has already taken shelter in a bigger American group and other Italian family brands are sensing this shift and deciding on which side of the billion dollar divide they aspire to be on. Missoni opened its ownership up to Italian state-backed investment fund FSI for a cash injection of €70 million, in exchange for a 41.5 percent stake and rumours continually circle around Ferragamo suggesting they are looking for investment or a new owner.
Belgian designer, Dries Van Noten, recently sold a majority stake in his eponymous fashion brand to Spanish cosmetics group Puig.
“Dries Van Noten is 60 and after 30 years if he keeps creative control and remains chairman of his brand, then cashing in a huge stake gives him financial security, and also Puig brings cosmetics, beauty and fragrance know-how,” says Watts. “It could be huge for a brand such as Dries Van Noten - it’s a win win for him on paper.”
“Most people who are outside of the fashion (production) industry really have no idea both how complicated it as and how hard it is to make money,” says Watts. “Fashion wholesale is broken and fashion retail is in freefall,” he says.
Disappointingly, the focus has moved away from talent to bankability. Young designers who were previously given a leg-up with investment look too high a risk and expensive for today’s investors. It seems that only those brands breaking that billon dollar turnover ceiling are worth focussing on. You can increase profit margins by making less, but in larger volumes and become a more dominant force. It is more of a risk having fewer brands, but you can win bigger and Kering is clearly taking pole position right now.
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Remainers cover your ears. One of the world’s strongest fashion brands is moving its headquarters to London despite Brexit. Yes, Brexit hasn’t put them off. Chanel has decided to close its global headquarters in New York and move it to London.
Until now, Chanel did not have a single holding company for its operations and functions were located in a number of cities. In a statement from the French company, they said, “We wanted to simplify the structure of the business and London is the appropriate place to do that for an international company. London is the most central location to our markets, uses the English language and has strong corporate governance standards with its regulatory and legal requirements.”
Left - Even London's lampposts are Chanel!
‘Chanel Limited’ became the holding company of most Chanel entities in the summer of 2017 and this is why the majority of the global functions are now located in London.
“Brexit's economic and geopolitical impacts remains a challenge for the London economy. London is still dealing with a hangover from Brexit.” says Brandon Rael, Operations Strategy & Innovations Leader & Retail Digital Strategist. “We should expect that London will experience an upswing when the economy stabilises. Moving the Chanel HQ to London is very much a long-term strategy.” he says.
Chanel could have chosen Paris, but instead chose London, and this goes against the anti-Brexit rhetoric of companies leaving in their droves. In July, Chanel revealed its financials for the first time in its 108 history. It generated nearly $10 billion in global sales in 2017, making it one of the world’s biggest luxury fashion brands. This new openness is Chanel positioning itself and facing up to the dominance of the likes of Kering and LVMH. This is for the next, digital chapter in Chanel’s history.
Brexit is so close, now, it is time to start looking beyond it and, Chanel’s decision would have been a long term decision from this globally revered company. While one company moving its headquarters to London doesn’t prove anything. In the same vein, one company moving out, doesn’t either. The major reasons companies move or stay in London won’t change post Brexit. They move to London because of geography, language, law and talent pool. This is about London competing with New York or Hong Kong and it is the only truly world city within Europe.
“London remains the world‘s most promising city for luxury retail growth, despite troubles faced by the Brexit vote,” says Rael. “A new report conducted by CBRE and Walpole has found that compared to other major luxury destinations across the globe, London still holds the greatest long-term potential,” he says.
The newly christened Capri Holdings - formerly Michael Kors - has its principal executive office in London and Condé Nast International recently choose London to cope with the new demands of its digital future. Everything catwalk related: photography, video, social media and features will be lead by Vogue International, an editorial hub established last year to lead content for the 25 editions of the magazine.
In an interview in the New York Times with Wolfgang Blau, Chief Digital Officer of Condé Nast International, he said two-hundred editorial and engineering staff members had been hired, and next year, he wants to have a Vogue presence at about 900 runway shows all feeding back to London. This is Condé Nast cutting costs and becoming more efficient while focussing its global fashion content in London. This will only get bigger. Its travel magazine, Condé Nast Traveler has moved onto a new single platform, and it too would be overseen not from its birthplace of New York, but from London.
Right - London, not New York, is the global centre for all digital content
We were told that "Brexit would make us poorer”, but since the vote, and with a background of caution and underinvestment, Britain has a joint record high employment rate of 75.6% with 32.39 million people now in work according to the latest official statistics. (June 2018). There were 488,000 unemployed people aged from 16 to 24 for May to July 2018, the lowest figure since records began for youth unemployment in 1992. Overall, unemployment fell by another 55,000 between May and July to 1.36 million. Wages saw faster than expected growth in the three months to July. Excluding bonuses, wages grew by 2.9%, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), well above the inflation rate.
Business is doing well. UK Trade benefitted from a goods export boom in July. Official figures showed the deficit in goods dropped to £10 billion in July from £10.7 billion the previous month. Including service, the overall trade gap fell to just £111 million, one of the best monthly results in the past 20 years. In the three months to July overall goods exports grew by £4.3 billion while imports rose by £3.7 billion. This came largely from trading with countries outside the EU.
“It looks like Brexit is going to be a good thing for luxury fashion as people in the US and China take advantage on preferential tariffs coming from the UK.” says Fleur Hicks, Managing Director of onefourzero, a data analytics and digital research agency.
Eurotunnel recorded its best ever August for freight traffic and the number of passengers passing through Heathrow’s terminals jumped to 7.5 million last month, boosted by new services to China. Europe’s biggest airport, said August customer numbers were up 2.6% from a year earlier and cargo volumes were up 1.2%. Asia saw the biggest increase in passenger numbers, up 6.3%, with new services from Hainan Airlines, Tianjin Airlines and Beijing Capital. Gatwick also saw a 0.4% rise in passenger numbers to 4.9 million and its cargo traffic soared a whopping 22.3%.
Irina Bragin, from Made of Carpet, who specialises is making luxury carpet bags, says “I think I have one advantage of Brexit in mind. Today selling to the EU as retailer (to the end buyer) we pay VAT, same as we sell in UK. After Brexit, it will be the same as selling to US, or Canada, or Australia - no VAT to pay.”
I know it’s fashionable not to be positive about Brexit, but, it’s 6 months away and it’s time to turn the negativity into optimism. Global businesses are looking past Brexit, for the longer term, and what makes London great to do business in hasn’t really changed. Brexit is something new and unknown, but, in Britain’s true entrepreneurial spirit, we can do this!
Versace is a trophy brand and I can imagine many a green eye coming from the offices of LVMH, Kering and other fashion conglomerates asking why they hadn’t claimed this prize themselves. While the price isn’t a snip - approximately US$2.12 billion - and nobody knows the details of Donatella’s contract - it would have be something special in order to entice her to sell the family’s 80% stake - it is one of the few brands which resonates on to the lips and minds of everyday consumers. This happens for very few brands and is very hard to achieve.
Left - In Donatella's image? Versace advertising
Versace has a strong identity and tropes which are continually referenced - you only have to look at the continual ‘baroque’ collections from ASOS, Boohoo and River Island to see that - yet it never seems to fully capitalise on them itself. It can’t turn that into money. The profits are small - 15 million euro in 2017 - and it was always a brand which seemed to play musical chairs with its store portfolio; continually opening and closing stores.
On the other hand, Michael Kors is a well run accessorises company. The minute they knew their mid-market brand had peaked, and their market was saturated, they started closing stores - between 100 and 125 over two years. They knew the landscape changed, the brand was fatigued, and you need to make hay while the sun shines, which they’ve done. It’s knowing when to start putting your money into new areas and elevating. Everything is about ‘elevating’ ATM!
The confidence of buying Jimmy Choo, and that seems to be doing well, has maintained the momentum of this spending spree. While not likely partners, many groups have disparate brands and, if Michael Kors knows one thing, it’s how to grow.
John D. Idol, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Michael Kors Holdings Limited, said, “With the full resources of our group, we believe that Versace will grow to over US$2.0 billion in revenues (from 668 million euro currently). We believe that the strength of the Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo brands, and the acquisition of Versace, position us to deliver multiple years of revenue and earnings growth.”
“Donatella’s iconic style is at the heart of the design aesthetic of Versace. She will continue to lead the company’s creative vision.” he says.
It’s interesting to remember LVMH used to own a third of Michael Kors before he went for the masstige market and the company blew up and he was also the Creative Director of the LVMH owned Celine in the late 1990s.
The new group will be called ‘Capri Holdings Limited’. (Didn’t Michael Kors once do a mink beach towel with ‘CAPRI’ on it?) The new group says there is an opportunity to grow the group’s revenues to US$8.0 billion in the long-term, which would make it one of the largest fashion companies.
Right - Vintage Versace advertising - Gianni Versace is forever associated with the Supermodels
Donatella Versace says, “Santo (brother), Allegra (daughter) and I will become shareholders in Capri Holdings Limited. This demonstrates our belief in the long-term success of Versace and commitment to this new global fashion luxury group.”
Michael Kors’ expertise is accessorises. They say they want to expand Versace men’s and women’s accessories and footwear from 35% to 60% of revenues. Versace has never really resonated in these areas, often looking more tacky than desirable. Jimmy Choo will also offer synergies in luxury footwear and bags.
There’s also going to be a filip back to dressing up at some point and Versace is well placed, particularly in a sexually charged, Italian way.
As for more affordable products, they could expand underwear, home, sunglasses and perfume. The perfumes, since the very beginning, have never matched the quality and branding of the rest of the brand. Versace needs to choose areas and do them well, rather than the light licensing it has often achieved since its inception in 1978. Versace was one of those brands that had such disparate product - from cheap looking tins of perfume to the most luxurious Italian printed silk.
Capri Holdings say they want to “build on Versace’s luxury runway momentum”, - *books Supermodels* - and want to be less reliant on its home market of the US, grow in Asia and become more global.
Versace must have had numerous takeover offers through the years and it would be interesting to know the reasons of, why now? Why Michael Kors? The brand is 40 this year, so maybe the family want to fully maximise its potential, maybe it was pressure from the private equity investors to get out, or maybe it’s the realisation that you have to turn into a billion dollar brand to survive. Grow or die.
Below - The Versace ladies by Steven Meisel
Annoyingly, when practicality rears its head, design is often compromised. But not this time. I first noticed the ‘McCaffrey’ brand, very recently, in Paris at the men’s trade shows. What looked like a selection of beautifully made shoes was quickly shown to offer an extra, simple and effective detail for cyclists.
At the back of each shoe is a reflective tab you can simply flip up when on your bike. It would even work when worn as a pedestrian during the darker evenings.
Left & Right - McCaffrey - Suede Derby Shoes - £370 from MRPORTER.COM
Founded by Robert McCaffrey, and available exclusively at MRPORTER.COM, the concept arose on Robert’s first day as a design lecturer at Glasgow School of Art. His formal shoes were unsuitable for even the short journey by bicycle so development began on enhancing traditional shoes to become suitable for city cycling.
Robert's background includes roles as Design Chief for Belgian fashion designer Dirk Bikkembergs and senior footwear consultant for LVMH and Adidas Y-3.
McCaffrey footwear combines technical innovation with world-class craftsmanship - they are made in Portugal, near Porto, in the historic shoe making district, by a 3-generation, family run company - to provide performance and elegance for today’s smart city traveller. Said to be inspired by today’s zeitgeist movement of ‘active-travel’ which encourages walking and cycling, McCaffrey has developed and patented an exclusive range of features for pavement and pedal.
Left - McCaffrey - Leather-Panelled Suede Slip-On Sneakers - £275 from MRPORTER.COM
Right - McCaffrey - Leather Boots - £440 from MRPORTER.COM
Anti-slip soles and handy side zips increase their practicality and showcase Robert’s 20 years’ design experience in the fashion, luxury and sports industries.
It's not often safety looks this good. I don’t even own a bike and I want these.
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.