Luxury brand names were once a signifier of quality and craftsmanship. In the race to grow and hit those billion dollar turnovers many luxury fashion brands have diminished their quality to a point where you can no longer tell the difference between a real or fake product.
In the Evening Standard, this week, columnist, Charlotte Edwardes, spoke about the difference she’s noticed in the quality of designer clothes. “Yani at my local dry cleaner informs me: ‘Clothes don’t last any more.’ We are standing on either side of the counter in his shop with an almost-new shirt lying between us. It is silk, but like some reverse sow’s ear, it has developed the consistency of polyester.” she writes.
Left - Bombinate homepage
“I tell him that two beautiful Celine shirts (don’t judge: they were 70 per cent off in Bicester) were stripped of their vibrant colour and silky texture after a few runs through the ‘gold standard’ service. The trousers I am wearing in the picture accompanying this column have also lost their shape. Yani shakes his head. It’s the fault of the manufacturers and not his new - ‘organic’ - machines. In the 65 years and three generations that his family have run this business ‘we’ve noticed a sharp decline in the quality of clothes.’ What, even expensive brands? ‘Especially expensive brands.’”
Edwardes goes on to say that her contact at Net-a-Porter confirms that the quality of clothes is in decline with two famous fashion houses being the worst offenders.
Personally, I’ve even heard of a story where the cotton logo-ed T-shirts of one huge “luxury’ brand were so thin and, of such poor quality, that the department store they were in couldn’t attach security tags without making a hole in the garment.
This all confirms something I’ve long suspected and, something, I expect, you may have noticed.
All is not lost, though, there are still some amazing producers and manufacturers out there and there’s a new trend in bringing these, often unknown, labels and makers to a wider audience.
The Bombinate marketplace, launched in 2017, and, recently relaunched, specialises in brands of quality for men and has secured an alliance of 100+ brands.
“The main stipulation for being part of the Bombinate community is that each brand aligns with Bombinate’s quality criteria and have a compelling story. Men from around the world can now easily discover a curated selection of European brands that all share the same commitment to quality and design.” says the website.
Founded by European entrepreneurs, Massimiliano Gritti and Elliott Aeschlimann, who were both students studying marketing and finance at different universities in London. “The story of Bombinate started on a bumpy road, somewhere between Russia and Mongolia. Something during these two months traversing the legendary Silk Road inspired us to take the plunge,” says Gritti. “Driving at night didn’t prevent us from having a clear vision of what we wanted to create: an online destination that would be both a home for high-quality brands and a source of inspiration for men who care about quality,” he says. “Back to London, we set sail again to discover the finest menswear and lifestyle goods Europe has to offer. We soon realised that the future of craftsmanship lies in the hands of extraordinary people, and made it our promise to promote them and deliver their craft from their workshop to your door,” says Gritti.
The word “Bombinate” means to make a humming or buzzing noise and the website offers a platform to quality producers, but how do they decide which brands make the cut? “The promise to bring the world’s finest craftsmanship brands to men who care about quality does not come without its challenges,” says Gritti. “At Bombinate we have created a scorecard to source craftsmanship brands. It is based on 5 different factors: Design, Story, Materials, Founders, Skills,” he says.
Many of the brands on the website, such as Arkitaip, Juch and Oscar Deen aren’t well known, and that’s really the point. You’re trusting Bombinate as the umbrella brand for quality and therefore it’s very important for this nascent online brand to fulfil the expectations of its customers. While you’re not paying for a designer name, you are paying for quality and the majority of people know quality when they see it and these brands need to over deliver on this front.
“The real issue at hand is discoverability and accessibility of quality pieces at a fair price today,” says Gritti.
Bombinate has secured investment from a former Richemont Group and Cartier CEO and lastminute.com’s founder and has the potential to sweep up shoppers disillusioned with the quality of some luxury goods at the moment.
Another website offering luxury quality without the name is ‘Italic’. Italic is a marketplace that lets consumers shop unbranded luxury goods. They say by removing brands and labels from the equation, manufacturers earn significantly higher profits while passing "brand markup” savings onto customers.
The website proudly announces, “Shop luxury goods straight from the source”, and “Handbags made by the same factory as Prada and Celine”, but this only really means something if the factories and suppliers are of quality. “Based in sunny Los Angeles and fast-paced Shenzhen, Italic is a members-only marketplace where normal people (not sure what that means) can shop for luxury goods directly from the manufacturers behind the most desired brands and designers.” says the website.
Right - Italic homepage - This only works if Prada and Celine use a decent factory, which is often debatable today
Shoppers pay a $120 annual membership fee, this is free for a year for early sign-ups, and can choose from a selection of unbranded luxury goods, from bags and wallets to sheets and toothbrushes.
The company’s investors include Index Ventures, Ludlow Ventures, Comcast Ventures and Global Founders Capital among them. The company says 100,000 people have joined a waiting list to be notified when membership opens, and is initially limited to the US.
What these platforms both suggest is a growing movement back to quality. Consumers are growing dissatisfied with luxury goods which seem to grow forever more expensive. This growing niche needs curation and also control, but if they can deliver what they promise they can expect to grow rapidly. Trust is paramount here.
A 2017 Deloitte study of over 1,000 millennial consumers aged 20-30 across the US, UK, Italy and China found that “quality and uniqueness” are the most important factors that attract them to a luxury brand. Good luck finding that!
When I saw an article advertising a new fashion documentary on André Leon Talley I knew we’d reached 'peak fashion documentary' territory. The larger-than-life (in-life?) American Vogue editor-at-large has a film called “The Gospel According To André” coming out in May.
Left - The new Alexander McQueen documentary by Embankment Films Read TheChicGeek Review - here
It charts his humble beginnings growing up in North Carolina to being one of America’s most well known fashion characters.
He just adds to the many designers, brands and egos who have released documentaries over the last few years. We all know how the treatment goes: a new designer diarising their first ‘crucial’ collection, a celebration of an eccentric fashion ‘icon’ or a big opening or event and the drama surrounding it. It’s all played out in the 90 minutes or so of devoted film. Done.
It’s all very watchable content, even for those who wouldn’t know their Simone Rocha from their Ferrero Rocher. Most recently we’ve had Westwood, Blahnik and Noten get the fash-doc once over, and with a new McQueen one on it’s way, the output shows no signs of slowing down.
"Fashion has become something of an entertainment industry, and the fashion doco' is an effective way of educating an audience keen on learning about the fashion industry's players, its big brands and the myths that surround them. Expect a lot more,” says Jamie Huckbody, European Editor for Harper's BAZAAR Australia.
Netflix and the like needs content and fashion is a truly visual medium with many can’t-make-them-up type characters perfectly cast in their Devil Wears Prada roles.
I wanted to write something about the rise of the fash-doc and its growth for while, but it was a visit to the London Book Fair that got me thinking about the reason why we’ve hit peak fashion documentary.
It’s basically replaced the fashion book for the younger generation.
There are definitely less fashion monographs being produced on brands and designers ATM. Large, definitive books just don’t seem as cool anymore, and feel almost dead in comparison to the documentary.
There’s also been a generational shift. Under the elegant expanse of Olympia, I looked at all these books and I thought, who is buying them? It’s the older, wealthier generations. The ones who have the luxury of time, money and space.
Right - The Gospel According To André, coming out in May
‘Generation Rent’ - younger people - aren’t buying these books anymore. Even if they could afford them, they’ve got nowhere to store them and they certainly don’t want the additional baggage of cart shelves of expensive books around every time they move. They often don’t even have enough room for the coffee table, let alone the door stopper books to go on it.
Why buy a weighty and expensive Taschen or Assouline when you can watch the documentary? You’re only going to look at the book once, anyway, most probably. You can stream a video anytime you like, plus we are all so used to consuming content in this way.
Huckbody disagrees, saying “"Over the past three years, I've been working very closely with the millennial generation as a university lecturer, and there is still a huge appetite for books; especially books that offer an insight into 'other worlds'. This might be anything from the black and white photography of Karlheinz Weinberger to the books that are published alongside fashion exhibitions such as the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty book. For a lot of 'Generation Rent', the book offers a different experience to a picture glanced momentarily on social media."
I agree that social media is a very quick, disposable and, sometimes, unsatisfactory medium for fashion history and I’m not going to go to the extreme and pronounce the book dead, (just yet!), I’m just saying the fashion documentary has proven massively popular and it’s a modern case of you've bought the designer T-shirt now watch the documentary on it.
Traditional forms of consuming information are changing and adapting and the fashion book was always ripe to be replaced by film. Film can illustrate movement, show catwalks, people and really gives consumers a feel for what they are seeing. Add the music of the time, interviews and you get a 360 view, albeit one the brand or designer wants you to see, but then, hey, books can be just as commissioned or narcissistic.
Not all films meet with the subject’s approval. We recently saw Westwood fall out with the makers of her documentary and encourage people not to see it. It had the opposite effect, gave it more exposure and we all know that it’s good for her anarchic image.
Some of these documentaries won’t do its subjects justice, others will surprise you with how interesting they actually are.
What is great is, by replacing the book, fashion has got a much larger audience. It would have been a select, passionate few buying these books originally, but now everybody has access to give the documentary the first 10 mins and see if it piques their interest enough to watch it until the end.
What do you think? Tell me on social media @thechicgeekcouk
Talking of fashion documentaries, TheChicGeek just reviewed Antonio Lopez: Sex, Fashion & Disco
Read more expert ChicGeek Comments - here
It’s subjective, I know, but if you’ve bought something from a ‘luxury’ brand, recently, you will probably notice the quality isn’t quite what it once was. On the unstoppable growth trajectory of higher prices and sales, the quality hasn’t stayed consistent: no doubt increasing already inflated margins.
I’m not naive, I understand you pay a premium for a designer name or brand, but there was always a minimum quality to the product, leaving you, the customer, satisfied and at least without the feeling of being ripped off.
I’ll give you an example. I bought one of those new GG buckle Gucci belts online, 18 months ago. I hadn’t felt it, or seen it, I just ordered it online. It was a simple black belt after all. You think you know what will arrive.
What turned up felt like a free pleather school belt. I’m not being facetious, but there was no quality there. When you’re charging £250 and you can’t even offer a decent strip of leather to take the strain of holding your trousers up, there’s clearly something wrong.
Why didn’t I send it back? When it arrived at home, in insolation, seduced by the packaging, and Gucci was so-hot-right-now, you just shrug your shoulders and think, "okay, so it’s not the best, but it’s what I wanted and it’s cool ATM". (Damn you hype!)
It’s when I look back, and think about that belt, I feel, that if I’d handled and seen it in the shop, I probably wouldn’t have bought it in the first place. I would have felt the quality and moved on.
And, so to my theory - the growth of online is allowing mainstream luxury brands to get away with lower quality products. Consumers are more accepting in their own homes, they have nothing to compare it to at the time and the thought and hassle of sending something back is making people keep things they wouldn’t have necessarily bought in a physical store.
“Shopping is very much a human multi-sensory experience so it follows that we want to use as many of our senses. Emotion plays the dominant role in our buying decisions so the in-store experience will always be far superior to the online experience. As Boxpark MD Roger Wade put it ‘Shopping online is like watching fireworks on TV’ says Andrew Busby, Founder & CEO of Retail Reflections.
There’s no doubt online has contributed to the massive growth of these brands, whether on their own websites or third parties. Last year Gucci’s online sales posted triple-digit growth on their branded website and that’s without all the other online retailers. Gucci didn’t hit €6.2 billion turnover in 2017 on physical stores alone.
“This all depends on your definition of ‘Mainstream Luxury’. The word ‘Luxury’ is banded around all too often. True luxury is confined, generally, to bricks and mortar shopping, hence the resistance of major houses to enter the online market. When I consider ‘Luxury’ I think of brands such as LV, Chanel, Loewe etc,” says Darren Skey, Founder/Director of Nieuway Limited, and former Head of Menswear at Harvey Nichols.
“I wouldn’t class brands such as Off White, Amiri, Vetements as ‘Luxury’. What we are seeing is the luxury brands such as Loewe and LV seeing the growth potential of hype products and as such are designing products with this in mind. This leads to more quantity produced and a lower quality, compared to their main ranges, Fashion details are hard to produce on a large scale. Unfortunately, there is no correlation in price reductions, as you would expect with economies of scale,” says Skey.
It’s hard to prove this point, but it’s an interesting factor to think about. Net-a-Porter group recently introduced a new service for their “Extremely Important People”, where the delivery person waits to see whether you want the item or not, after they deliver it. It’s an instant reaction to the item(s) and it would be interesting to know whether this has increased or decreased returns. Obviously, they want the latter.
Quality is subjective and brands vary. But I think we’re seeing an overarching trend towards higher margins and lower quality from brands trying to still offer ‘luxury’ and compete with other brands’ stratospheric growth in turnovers.
There’s also a generational shift to think about. Since 2016, the global luxury market has grown by 5%, with 85% of this growth generated by Millennials according to a report by A LINE, a global branding & design studio. These younger consumers don't have as much experience and product to compare the quality to and brands are taking advantage of this.
“The expectation of the younger consumer is also changing and I think this is an interesting observation. For the younger consumers it is more important to have the latest hype piece regardless of the quality. And, as we know, the majority of the Millennials shop online,” says Skey.
Brands have made it easier to return products, but unless it’s the wrong size or nothing like pictured, I think people are more accepting in terms of quality.
“I don't think that shoppers are unwilling to send things back once purchased online. Fashion is not cheap and I don't believe we are in an economy where this can be an option. I also think retailers are making the process of sending product back easier,” says Skey.
‘I am predicting a backlash to the returns culture we are currently witnessing - both from retailers and environmentalists. The average returned purchase in the UK passes through seven pairs of hands before it is listed for resale. According to Iain Prince, supply chain director at KPMG, "It can cost double the amount for a product to be returned into the supply chain as it does to deliver it”.’ says Busby.
What brands have to remember: when you’re not cool or hot anymore, the thing that will keep consumers returning is quality. This lowering of quality is short-termism and greedy and will ultimately be a big factor is diminishing future sales and brand loyalty.
I’ve also written about brands which offer great value, like Fiorucci. here
There’s something very millennial, and also sexy, about pink pants. We’ve not had a pair of desirable hipster Y-fronts since American Apparel closed its doors.
Left & Below Left - Boy Smells Men’s Blush Brief - $25
Boy Smells from LA, known for their candles, has expanded with intimate apparel called ‘Unmentionables’. All styles are made in Peru out of premium Pima cotton. For colour, Boy Smells has chosen to further expand the brand’s signature pink with other neo-naturalistic tones: bone, buff, bare, and blush.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Ron Dorff, the Franco/Swedish basics brand, has a pair of pink Y-fronts that will make everybody wink. Think pink for that underwear drawer refresh.
Below Right & Bottom - Ron Dorff - Y-Front Briefs - £28
To call it a recession is maybe a little extreme, but let’s call it a contraction. Menswear is struggling. Some are mouthing the word #brexit but this was coming way before that and affecting international markets too, most notably America.
Like everything that goes in cycles, you have your ups and you have your downs. We’re definitely in a down cycle as brands merge their men’s and women’s and reduce the amount of labels within their brands.
Left - Inside menswear is screaming
Many are private companies so they don’t disclose profits, but when you have menswear giants like Armani and Ralph Lauren losing labels - Collezioni and Armani Jeans in the case of Armani and store closures - in the case of Ralph Lauren - then things are clearly unsustainable.
Why is this happening? The first big answer is a saturated market. Do we need much more ‘stuff’? When Ikea’s head of sustainability, Steve Howard, said we’d reached “peak stuff”, he hit the nail on the head. We’ve seen expansion online and offline and our wardrobes are bursting with clothes at every price point.
Designer fashion isn’t coming up with many new ideas and this has lead to the high-street bringing the new ideas and offering improved quality that many men are happy with. I think companies like ASOS are doing well because people are trading down to cheaper and more fun fashion and don't really wear it long enough to care about the quality.
Brands like Topman have got more and more expensive and are not reactive enough to trends and the latest gimmicks and fashions. They’ve believed in their own ‘cool’ which is dangerous for any brand. Arcadia, Topman’s parent company, has seen many high profile departures lately. Craig McGregor left his role as retail director at Topshop/Topman, after eight years, and Topshop/Topman global commercial director Matt Brewster is leaving the company. Wesley Taylor left his role as managing director of Burton and Yasmin Yusuf left as creative director of Miss Selfridge, both after more than 10 years at the business. Which all suggests the epic growth Arcadia has experienced over the last few decades has now ground to a halt. They are no longer the darling of the British high-street.
Another reason for the men’s downturn is competition is fierce and this had lead to a discount environment. People know they can wait for the sale or search the internet for a discount code. This makes margins smaller for companies which then need to sell even larger volumes. We’ve also seen growth in companies like TK Maxx that offer people the brands they want, but with heavy discounts.
Fashion has changed too. It’s very sportswear/dress down driven. These are cheap or old clothes. Looking ‘expensive’ has gone out of fashion. Brands like Balenciaga and Gosha Rubchinskiy have pioneered this style of fugly fashion and while not cheap they have prices that are more realistic and attainable.
Millennials are all about ‘experiences’ and are less materialistic, or so we’re are told. All those selfies tell a different story, but I think they want to eat out and wear something new, which ultimately means spending less. This big group of young consumers is squeezed by rents, student loans and low wages and this isn’t going to change for the foreseeable future.
In the Evening Standard on Monday, Net-a-Porter/Mr Porter boss, Alison Loehnis, said when they measured “zeitgeist buying” in the Mr Porter team they discovered the number one item was socks. “Followed by Ray-Bans and trainers.” Socks?!! Now, that is worrying. Unless Mr Porter is selling hundreds of millions of dollars worth of socks, which I doubt, then it’s a signifier of the market. It’s too expensive and they are the cheapest things they sell. It’s also one of the main gifting items and something you don’t need to try on.
Online is still only 10% of the retail market so has huge potential, but that still means 9 in every 10 pounds is spent on the high street.
Net-a-Porter/Mr Porter call their top customers ‘EIPs’, (EXTREMELY IMPORTANT PERSON) and these EIPs are the two per cent of customers who account for 40 per cent of NAP revenue. It’s dangerous to have all your eggs in a few baskets, particularly a fickle customer which many others are chasing. They’re now offering a service where the driver waits while these EIPs try things on. It’s a gimmick, but at least it shows they’re trying. These EIPS are the people shopping in Selfridges and Harrods too, while the rest of us have seen our wage packets shrink or not go as far and designer prices continue to rise. #Brexit will make imports to the UK more expensive, temporarily, but fashion will just find somewhere cheaper to make it, but it’s true the weakest wont survive this price hike or margin cut.
Brands have been trimming the fat over the last few years and many are down to the bare bones. The recent christmas was good for retailers and I think that kept many afloat, for now.
Jaeger just announced its bankruptcy. I don’t think there’s much hope for it to survive as it is, but it’ll become a brand within Edinburgh Woollen Mill or the like. It’s the sign of the times and also the cycle of brands. There are times when a brand runs its course and no matter how much investment or time, it’s just time to let it go.
Okay, enough doom and gloom. On a positive note from a down you have an up and when a gap appears something new will come into fill it. But, our addiction to cheap clothes isn’t going anywhere which will make it very difficult for new, smaller brands or labels to compete. I think short term we’ll see more closures and less choice or a choice masked by the fact it’s a sub brand from a big retailer. H&M is just about to launch Arket.
One thing is for sure, fashion is unpredictable and that’s why I love it.