Being a geek, it goes without saying that we like a sandal and sock combo. And, we don’t let cold weather stop us when getting our geek footwear on.
Left & Below - Cheaney X Richard Biedul - Vetri - £325
Part of a new capsule collection with English shoemaker, Joseph Cheaney, and, solicitor/model turned artistic director, Richard Biedul, is this elegant 'Vietri' sandal in black rub off hi shine.
This T-Bar sandal, also known as a Gurkha sandal, has something of the jelly and fisherman sandal too and I’m all over it. The high-shine takes it up a notch.
Biedul is a man of good taste and has become one of the most photographed men during London Fashion Week Men’s both on and off the catwalk. This is a man who knows how to rock a suit or Oxford Bag trouser and further proof of his expert eye for detail is seen this new collaboration. I’m sold.
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This week sees the start of the new academic year and the return of the majority of schools in the UK. Vast numbers of the nation’s school children have not seen a classroom since March and thus the need for new school uniform became negligible. But, after almost six months away, retailers will have seen a huge spike for new school uniform and all the accoutrements that go with the ‘Back To School’ marketing push.
Left - Mendip Craft Youth Black Leather - £46
According to research by Mintel the back to school market was worth £1.16 billion in 2018. This was an increase of 36% on the previous year, when it was worth £855 million, making back to school spending the third biggest retail spending event after Christmas and Black Friday. Parents told Mintel they spent an average of £134 on school uniforms and shoes in 2018, a 6% increase compared to the average of £127 spent in 2017. Collectively, Brits spent a total of £510 million on school uniforms in 2018, up from £395 million in 2017. GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, estimated UK shoppers were set to spend £1.7bn on back to school items in 2019, with the market forecast to grow by 1.5%. This is only slightly outperforming the annual rise in the number of pupils due to population growth.
One of the biggest back to school beneficiary brands was Clarks, who for many years was the go-to source for children’s school shoes.
But, it’s been a tough few years at this still family-owned, British high-street institution, which has seen revenues and profits falling. The latest accounts show turnover to February 2019 was £790million, down 4% from 2018 at £820.4 million. The breakdown of this was UK and ROI contributing £561.1million, Asia Pacific £135.2million, Europe £96.5million and the Americas just £0.5million.
An operating loss of £48.7million was reported, up from £3.7million the previous year.
The brand reported a ‘poor’ performance and cited it was struggling in part due to the weakness in sterling which made its goods sourced from the far east more expensive when paid in US dollars. All of this was all pre-COVID.
Right - Clarks was founded in 1825 by brothers Cyrus and James Clark in Street, Somerset
Founded in 1825 by brothers Cyrus and James Clark in Street, Somerset, where it still has its headquarters, the company has over 1,000 branded stores and franchises around the world and also sells through third-party distribution in 35 countries. The Clarks family still retains 80% of the company spread amongst more than 400 family members. The world number one in ‘everyday footwear’, Clarks sells more than 50 million pairs of shoes every year.
In February 2018, Lance Clark, the head of the Clarks shoe family, largest shareholder and inventor of the firm's iconic Wallabee shoe died aged 81. He was managing director of the family shoe company until 1994. The Clarks CEO at the time, Mike Shearwood, described Mr Clark as 'an immense character' who played 'a very significant role' in the company. He said, “We have lost an immense character who will be forever prominent in our company's history.”
Lance Clark was a leader and his extensive experience gave the company direction and many credit him for the amazing growth of Clarks in the late 20th and early 21st century.
The same year, June, Shearwood was dismissed under a cloud after being accused of ‘inappropriate behaviour’ including sexist, racist and homophobic comments.
In October 2019, he lost his case for unfair dismissal after taking Clarks to an employment tribunal. Clarks said Mr Shearwood's conduct was the reason he was made to resign, and an employment panel agreed. Allegations were made by the 56-year-old against chairman Tom O'Neil, whom he claimed adjusted the minutes of board meetings.
After much fanfare, in January 2019, Clarks announced a it was closing its new manufacturing facility in Street after failing to meet manufacturing and cost targets. The state-of-the-art factory was originally scheduled to open in 2017 with Clarks hoping to make 300,000 pairs of made-in-England desert boots a year at the facility, and create up to 80 jobs. However, the opening was delayed and the factory only started production in summer 2018.
In recent news, Clarks made the decision not to reopen a ”meaningful" number of its 347 UK store estate once the government-mandated lockdown ended. As part of the “normal review” the retailer decided not to renew the leases on a small number of stores as they expired in May 2020. An exact number and locations weren’t announced. It had already closed 56 stores in 2018/19. In May 2020, Clarks announced 900 roles were going globally with 108 of those redundancies at its HQ in Street, Somerset.
Left - Scooter Speed Kid Black Leather - £48
Clarks is now under the leadership of Chief Executive Giorgio Presca, who joined in March 2019, six months after Mike Shearwood stepped down. Presca has more than 20 years' of experience in managing and developing global premium brands, previously leading Golden Goose Deluxe Brand, and was chief executive at Italian footwear brand Geox between 2012-2016, which is more relevant to Clarks’ market. Presca has also worked at Diesel, VF Corp, Citizens of Humanity, Levi Strauss & Co. and Lotto.
The vast majority of parents wouldn’t have bought any school shoes between March and August this year. That would mean a huge demand in one go for new school shoes. Currently, online, Clarks’ children’s shoes - boys and girls - range in price from £36-£58. This is often more than what parents would spend on shoes for themselves. They are willing to pay more for a pair they feel with last.
When you consider young children’s clothing and shoes don’t include any VAT - everything under the maximum size an average child will be on their 14th birthday - then the margins are big.
Clarks has had a difficult few years and has become somewhat rudderless with a lack of direction and leadership. The expensive factory debacle and the distraction of Shearwood’s tribunal would have had an effect. Clarks doesn’t include a breakdown of its children’s shoes within its figures, but it is no doubt considerable. Over 70% of Clarks’ turnover is from the UK and ROI and much of this will be the school market. With not much recent innovation in its adult ranges, the children’s shoe sector will be incredibly important to them and this will be make or break time. Without this back to school boost Clarks could be in serious trouble and they’ll be praying they all stay there wearing out those new shoes.
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Nobody wears ties anymore, especially cowboys, but this playful number, featuring the masculine stereotype du jour is a joy. In striking fuchsia pink silk and featuring cattle, Stetsons and lassos, it’s a playful take on a vintage design.
Wear with a sober business suit and plain shirt, and the style message is this isn’t your first time at the fashion rodeo.
Left & Below - Drake’s - Pink Rodeo Print Shappe Silk Tie - £135
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Firmly established as London’s main menswear trade show, Jacket Required offers a chance, midway through the main buying season, to gauge the health of wholesale. While noticeably quiet on the first day - it could be the heatwave - brands were reporting a case of quality over quantity when it came to visitors and buyers. Here’s what caught the eye at Jacket Required for SS20:
Introducing menswear for the first time, Collectif, is a specialist in new vintage. Established over 19 years ago, with its origins in Camden, and now with 3 shops in London and 1 in Brighton, Collectif is offering authentic rockabilly menswear looks inspired by the 60s and 70s. Mod style knits and rocker leather jackets come in affordable price points like polo shirts for £39 and a checked wide collar shacket for £50.
While the name doesn’t mean anything specifically, UPDFG is based in Milan and is a made in Italy skate-wear label.
Founder Adam Boita was doing some research into his family name and found that Boita comes from Piedmont in the northern Italy. The ‘boita’ is a kind of box used in agriculture to spray the vines and orchards in Italy. Inspired by this, the product comes in eco-conscious ‘vegan friendly’ leather, made in China, will full provenance, retailing for £249.
After a soft launch, last year, YSC - Your Sample Collective - is a new British menswear brand of British Caribbean origins reflecting the everyman with a quality that would comfortable sit in a luxury department store, but without the price tag. New for SS20 is Portuguese seersucker and an easy to wear hybrid bomber with contrasting back panel all made in London.
Never under estimate novelty in today’s fashion landscape. Aviation 88 takes the classic flight jacket and turns it into a generous back pack for £150. Top Gun!
Atlanta Mocassin is a Portuguese-based footwear label established in 1987 specialising in moccasin type slip-ons. Hoping to push their men’s styles into the UK market for the first time, these are locally handmade in the north of Portugal use the finest materials in car shoe and casual loafer styles. Prices around £130.
With CBD being the flavour of the month in nutrition and beauty, it was inevitable that hemp would start to become more common as a resource for clothing. Australian label, Afends, says “no tree or plant species on earth has the commercial, economic, and environmental potential of hemp.” They want you to join their ‘Hemp Revolution’ in their loose basic styles, all proudly displaying their hemp origins.
R.M. WILLIAMS x MARC NEWSON
Australian made Chelsea boot specialist, R.M. Williams has teamed up with product designer, Marc Newson, on a pair of contemporary boots in a full range of colours. Retailing for an entry price of £275, they have the back tug ingeniously knitted into the side elastic.
A Sheffield based footwear manufacturer has launched its own brand of luxury trainers under the family name, Goral. Handmade with 200 manufacturing steps, the standout is the ‘Boulsover’ in Dunlop green.
FROM THE FIRST
Based around the fashion Chelsea boot, From The First, is a British brand making in Italy. Built on the concept of combining classic Italian traditions, whilst celebrating the authentic, laid back feel of early American rock ‘n’ roll culture, these boots could easily be double the price with a designer name attached. Retailing for around £400.
After a 12 year hiatus, Mephisto relaunches the ‘Jumper’ in a wide rainbow of colours. All made by hand with natural materials in that solid Mephisto way.
The horizontal striped camp collar shirt has become a staple of men’s summer wardrobes over the past few summers. It’s become a ‘Basic’ basic, if you know what I mean, but, honestly, they still look good.
I first met Scott Fraser of Scott Fraser Collection at the Goodwood Revival and he looked every bit the king of vintage he has become; sitting on his moped with his perfectly mid-century look. A stickler for the details, his own label is a fabulous collection of reproduced vintage inspired pieces and this shirt is no different.
Made from two newly-discovered 20-metre rolls of vintage fabric, perfectly wrapped and stored in the back of a mill, this ‘Lido collar’ includes two chest pockets, rear waist-band adjusters, v-split cuff details and mother-of-pearl buttons throughout. A Linen/cotton mix and made in London, the idea is to look like a walking sun-bleached deckchair this summer and this looks as good as anything made back when.
The style world can never have enough fancy candles and blankets, it gives us #FashionWankers a break from the clothes. Along with Luke Edward Hall, John Booth is one of the artists du jour of the fashion set. This, his second collaboration with Scottish textile maker, Begg & Co, I’ll admit, I missed the first one, features John Booth’s famous FA Cup eared male portrait found on many of his pottery and artworks.
Made from a special blend of lambswool and cashmere yarns, the Valatzu's supersoft style has contrast blanket stitching – a traditional finish used on bound-edge blankets. All proudly made in Scotland.
Not since the Mr Hare brand disappeared have I seen such elegant loafers. These Made in England loafers were a welcome discovery at the recent Pitti Uomo in Florence. Delicate and well made, they are by Baudoin & Lange, a new shoe brand on me.
Left & Below - Lusitanias Dark Brown Loafers - £305 - www.baudoinandlange.com
Baudoin & Lange was founded in 2016 by Allan Baudoin and Bo van Langeveld. Allan Baudoin, a computer scientist and Apple alumni turned self-trained bespoke shoe maker, designed and handcrafted the first ‘Sagan’ - their classic loafer - in 2014. After hundreds of prototypes and two years of development later, the brand was born.
When he and Bo van Langeveld, an ex-racing driver turned financier who was tired of suffering in his formal office shoes, met - they together developed the idea of a modern shoe brand that would combine the best of both worlds: comfort and style.
TheChicGeek says, "These are those delicate type of loafers that look almost like the male equivalent of a ballet pump - and just as comfortable. With tailoring starting to return, we should see a return to more formal shoes. These could be good for those who have spent their life in trainers. They are also a reasonable price for made in England."
With the skinny trouser shape safely out of the door, - bye, Hedi! - it’s time to put our cards on the table and decide what's next. Daniel W. Fletcher, one of London’s menswear talents, has been pushing this smart, side-poppered trouser for a few seasons now.
I spied model, Richard Biedul, in a black Daniel Fletcher suit during the last LFWM and it all started to make sense. That flick on a trouser just looks right and the contrast stitching gives these trousers a less dressy feel. The studded poppers allows you to wear them closed and they're proudly made in England. They're poppers o'clock!
Left & Below - Daniel W. Fletcher - Black Split Hem Tailored Trousers - £380
Below - Model Richard Biedul in the full Daniel W. Fletcher suit at LFWM Jan. 2019
All fashion roads lead to Paris. While the Paris landscape is fractured with many smaller trade shows and showrooms competing for people’s time, it’s also the place where orders are written and retailers and people finally commit to the season. Word on the street was brands were deciding to forgo Florence’s Pitti Uomo for showrooms in Paris to justify the time and expense of doing the men’s fashion week circuit.
Left - Outside one of the Paris trade shows, Tranoi
Here are the trends and brands to know from Paris for AW19:
British fabrics are having a huge renaissance, none more so than for the AW19 season. E. Tautz has reworked the traditional black and white tweed into a vortex design that is both contemporary and respects the qualities and attraction of this type of fabric. Charles Jeffrey Loverboy turned up the dial on tartan with bold blue and red. This is a designer making the transition from the conceptual to beautifully cut and made pieces.
Right - E.Tautz tweed
Left - Charles Jeffrey Loverboy tartan
People are beginning to yearn for dressing up again. Tired of sportswear and the grunge aesthetic, this is a new idea of wearing something more dressed at anytime of the day. British designer, Bianca Saunders, captured this perfectly with extra ruched shirts a dark palette.
Left - Bianca Saunders AW19
Following on from Mary Katrantzou’s chesterfield sofa coats and Anya Hindmarch’s chubby hearts, it’s the men’s turn for something to take the cushion in a world full of sharp edges. This is from Virgil Abloh’s second collection for Louis Vuitton which was inspired by Michael Jackson. Overinflated much?!
Left - Louis Vuitton AW19
Heat bonded pockets and steel poppers are some of the details on menswear to make it perform and look high-tech. Mammunt Delta X is a new label, it debuts this SS19, from Swiss heritage mountaineering company Mammut. Using their 150 years of outdoor expertise, it is offering something younger and more urban to satisfy the insatiable thirst for element protecting products.
Left - Mammunt Delta X AW19
Jupe by Jackie has become come something of a cult label known for its hand embroidery. Established in 2010 by Dutch fashion designer Jackie Villevoye, Jupe by Jackie uses master embroiderers from the Indian province of Uttar Pradesh to work her designs onto items of clothing. J-B-J is a new, younger brand, from Jackie’s son, offering the signature embroidery on T-shirts and more casual pieces.
Left - J-B-J yeti, all hand embroidered
Made from plastic waste, Norden is a new outer label made entirely of single use plastic. Their “U-Trust” verification program provides customers with comprehensive certification designed for a high level of transparency. The Fiber Print technology validates the authenticity of the products, with complete analysis of all fabrications to support the certifications. All of the garments are free of fur, feathers, leather and all other animal by-products. There’s even an internal water bottle!
From Left - Norden - All made from plastic waste and include a water bottle
Part of London’s Fashion East show during LFWM, Dublin designer and recent MA Westminster graduate, Robyn Lynch, referenced old football supporter footage from the Irish television channel RTE in her first collection. This tone-on-tone, normcore collection took the best of Ireland and injected sports and technical details. This sleeveless Aran sweater with side adjusters is a perfect example of this.
From Left - Fashion East debut collection from Irish designer, Robyn Lynch
Finding stylish American basics is much harder than you think. Those grey army sweats which make any man look like Steve McQueen are very subtle to get right. Knickerbocker says it is a “factory born brand” and is transparent about its manufacturers which are mostly in Portugal, but do include the USA.
The standout item is the sailor-like hooded grey sweatshirt to wear On The Town a la Frank Sinatra!
See the SS20 Paris Report - here
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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