Despite the unprecedented turbulence in the world’s retail markets the luxury conglomerates reported strong bounce back results this month. Both LVMH and Kering, two of the world’s largest luxury goods groups, reported extremely strong sales in the third quarter of 2020.
Left - Dior AW20 - Many luxury brands no longer have limits on how much people can buy
Considering many people aren’t even leaving the house, letting alone travelling, it was surprising to see that LVMH saw sales at its fashion and leather goods division rise 12 per cent to €5.9 billion. This was much higher than market expectations and saw standout performances from the Louis Vuitton and Dior houses. The LVMH results said Christian Dior “showed remarkable momentum.” while Louis Vuitton “continued to display exceptional momentum and creativity”.
Kering too reported better than expected results. Revenue in the third quarter totalled €3.72 billion, a fall of 4.3 per cent, but representing only a decline of 1.2 per cent in comparable terms. This represented a sharp rebound after second-quarter comparable sales had plunged by 43.7 per cent.
Kering’s main cash cow, Gucci, saw revenues rise sharply in the third quarter, compared with Q2, with revenue only down 12.1 per cent, whilst retail sales were down 4 per cent on a comparable basis. Gucci reported a 43.7 per cent rise in North America and a 10.6 per cent growth in Asia-Pacific. LVMH too saw strong spending and growth in Asia and the US.
What could be behind this huge recovery surge?
Luxury companies always had a good ‘problem' in the Chinese phenomenon of ‘Daigou’. Daigou or 'Surrogate Shopping' is a term used to describe the cross-border exporting in which an individual or a syndicated group of exporters outside China purchases commodities for customers in China. Often these are luxury goods from big-name designer houses. The main reason Diagou exists is because of the price differential in the Chinese market and buying abroad is often far cheaper even after the middle men take their cut. There is a huge amount of money to be made because of the volumes and value of the goods.
Many luxury companies tried to limit the amounts sold to Diagou so as to preserve their exclusivity and not flood the market. Rarity and scarcity naturally make things more desirable. But, it appears that some of the biggest fashion houses have opened the floodgates to these buyers and organisations, no longer limiting the amounts they can purchase. Having buyers queuing up and wanting to buy as much as you can give them looks like a temptation few brands could resist as they saw their sales fall off a cliff due to COVID 19.
At the end of 2018 it was announced that Kering was ending its joint venture with Yoox Net-a-Porter and taking charge of the e-commerce for its brands including Alexander McQueen, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Bottega Veneta. The partnership was slated for renewal in 2020, by which time Kering’s digital operation, which looked after Gucci separately, would have, hopefully, matured to an advanced level.
While many of the world’s busiest luxury streets have been quiet since the beginning of 2020, Kering has been using its stores to process online orders rather than its warehouse in Bologna, as it had done previously.
Right - Diagou sending Dior gifts to China?
These ‘distance sales’ are up 25 to 30 per cent throughout the group and, according to an unnamed source, they are now letting the Korean and Chinese Diagou traders buy everything they want.
“The fact that the traders are now allowed to get what they want definitely helps those brands. Even at Dior, they can buy without restrictions now.” they say.
“Some companies do it everywhere. Particularly Louis Vuitton. And Dior. For the Kering Group, before the confinement, they had vague procedures that were changing depending on what items were selling. For example, for whatever reasons, some stores were selling huge amounts of the same item (usually cheaper leather goods with a logo, like pouches). When that happened, some accounts were flagged by the directors. There is a system at Kering called ‘Luce’ where you can see who bought a particular item. Every time, a trader would come, the sales assistant had to check their purchase history.
"At one point, they also checked that the credit card they use matched their profile name. (Companies would send different people who would all use the same company card. That was flagged during audits). After the confinement, every company has relaxed the procedures. I know some traders and they told me that for instance, at Gucci or Moncler, there are no limits on items purchased.
“Even Dior doesn’t do limits of items anymore. Although I hear that Louis Vuitton and Goyard still check accounts. At Saint Laurent, there is a limit of 3 of the same item per transaction. (But they can come every day and buy 3 items - they couldn’t do that before). I understand it is happening everywhere. Also, brands like Dior have resumed doing export sales. But Saint Laurent still refuse export sales unless the client has a good reason (if there is no store in their country that carries what they want to buy). It used to be a huge market for the brands until about 2 years ago when they decided to stop it all ‘to protect the markets in Asia and the Middle East’ mostly.”
Export sales are by a foreign buyer asking for it to be shipped to their territory from a store overseas. The Korean and Chinese traders often buy closer to home in other Asian markets. The Koreans are now the biggest traders selling into China.
“When they used to call stores and ask for an export sale, they would be able to have the VAT off and the European price.” says the source.
Many Daigou are or work with sales staff, using their staff discount as an extra price differential. But, it is not really possible anymore at some brands, like YSL, because they've put a limit on staff purchases. However, the limits are not imposed throughout the Kering group and Gucci doesn’t have limits. I regularly see or hear of people buying the same products. The directors have started to flag it.” says the source.
“One would think the procedures would be the same throughout the group, but it varies drastically and depends on the CEO/ Director’s decision. There are so many odd decisions though. For instance, I heard that Gucci had cancelled the VIP discounts ... which doesn’t make a lot of sense.
There are limits in the stores but not online for Kering.... which is beyond stupid. Again, something that doesn’t make sense.
“At Kering, there is a separate online system called 'Sellsy' which is like ordering online, but through the store stock. The directors can check the accounts and stop some people from buying (if they suspect that it is for resale), but the traders can call the stores (if they cannot find items in the website) and use a different name. The credit card used cannot be checked by the stores.” says the source.
Left - Saint Laurent AW20
“Although they are starting to check the accounts again. I heard that one Korean trader got flagged and is not allowed to buy anymore. But I am sure he still does.... using various names. Some clients have more than a dozen profiles.... with same email but variations of their name. Quite surreal.” the source says.
Speaking to a Diagou reseller in China, via WeChat, they say they have direct cooperation with many of the brands, but nothing is ever ‘official’. Louis Vuitton is the best seller, followed by Dior, then Gucci. They say that COVID 19 has forced the luxury goods companies into this loose cooperation.
As for the end consumer, “Most of the clients don’t know anything about luxury. They just want to show off”. says the owner of the Diagou store on WeChat. “They don’t even have passports.”
Asked which products were most in demand at the moment and from which brands. “Every season is different. Which one is best depends how we promote.” they say.
Diagou buy and then export the goods themselves with their commission priced in. It will be interesting how the UK Tax Free shopping changes - Read more here - alters things for Daigou buying in the UK. But, then, the vast majority of reselling sales are made in more localised markets to China, hence the huge uplift in Asia.
What it does signify is the continued huge demand for named luxury goods. Which is a good sign for the industry overall.
Daigou has always been a game of cat and mouse for the brands. In one respect, this great demand is flattering for any brand, but they also want to be extremely protective of their image and how their goods are sold. COVID 19 was a massive jolt for any business and it’s understandable why many brands panicked and became more relaxed about knowingly selling to Daigou for resale into China. It could explain some of the huge bounce back in Q3 sales.
COVID created a vacuum and distorted the balance between buyer and seller. The luxury brands have turned the taps on for the Daigou market. Just don’t expect them to be on for too long.
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The Japanese word "kimono", literally means a "thing to wear”. It’s almost like an order, and, oh, what a beautiful one. This exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum charts the kimono from the 1660s to the present day. From its early influence on shapes and fabrics, its absorption of ideas from the rest of the world when Japan opened up in the 1850s, up until contemporary fashion taking it as a starting point.
The exhibition's highlights are anything by Galliano at Dior - always - some stunning art deco Cartier jewellery and make-up cases, Freddie Mercury’s lounging around kimono, Madonna’s Nothing Really Matters video garb and Bjork’s collaboration with Alexander McQueen.
There is some menswear, though the kimono is very unisex, from Thom Browne (right), Duro Olowu, T. Michael and Yohji Yamamoto.
The kimono is the original silk robe and you only have to look at designers like Dries Van Noten or Edward Crutchley to see its influence today and the tradition being carried on.
The kimono is one of fashion’s closest things to a walking work of art and this exhibition is a worthy tribute to it.
Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk runs from 29 February – 21 June 2020 - £16
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Without doubt the most famous menswear street in the world, for the uninitiated, Savile Row could be something of an anti-climax. While the name is known the world over as the home of male sartorial elegance, the reality of the street is something quite small, higgledy piggledy and with little on show to inspire or buy. It’s a mishmash of designer brands, traditional tailors and workshops, and empty shop units.
Left - Drake's new Savile Row store
A small side street behind elegant Regent Street, Savile Row has become much bigger than the place itself, and while brands desire to be able to put Savile Row in their addresses and on the sides of their bags, it can a difficult place to make money. There just isn’t that much traffic.
While nothing new, the street has seen something of a brand churn of late. Chester Barrie is closing down, Hardy Amies disappeared and the short lived Abercombie Kids store in the old Beatles’ Apple building is being pushed back into the larger Burlington Gardens store over the road while it turns itself back into offices for their European business.
I was recently invited to drinks at the Kilgour store on Savile Row and while on the way over I wanted to check out the new Drake’s store which had taken over from Alexander McQueen’s menswear store.
One of the bright spots of British menswear, Drake’s, the colourful accessories and preppy menswear business, has just moved around the corner from Clifford Street to a larger space and has built up a strong brand with locations from New York to Tokyo. Here, the new store has cosy striped window-type seats and an entire library of books. It looked like the kind of place you’d want to hang out in, or, heaven forbid, want to spend time in. It's welcoming. The product isn’t cheap, but it’s done properly.
Contrast this with the Kilgour store, which looks like a designer Swiss morgue, and these two juxtapositions perfectly illustrate the new mood in retail design. One reeks of personality and is overflowing with the owner’s touches, while the other is strict to the point of being a retail vacuum.
There was a time, a few year’s ago, when the majority of Savile Row brands were being snapped up by Chinese conglomerates. Fung Capital, the private investment vehicle of the Fung family that controls Hong Kong sourcing and apparel mega-corporation Li & Fung, bought the most including Gieves & Hawkes, Kilgour, Hardy Amies and Kent & Curwen. While they splashed the cash and moulded each for a particular type of customer at the beginning, things have become tougher and they show a tiring of interest. They placed Hardy Amies into administration in January, while selling to Trinity, another Chinese group, the Italian/French tailoring house Cerruti who cancelled their catwalk show and stopped the designer collection’s entire production.
What looked like little, individual outfits on London’s Savile Row often had hundreds of branded stores in China, invisible to outsiders, but they’ve all become quite bland and lacking personality with no clear direction with a continual revolving door of creative directors or in-house design teams. All these brands have become faceless.
Another new bright spark on Savile Row is the new ‘J.P. Hackett No.14 Savile Row’ store in the elegant townhouse Hardy Amies restored. The new Hackett store is warm and welcoming, and is saying “come in”, “make yourself at home” and “relax” with its homely yet elegant interior by designer Ben Pentreath with input from Jeremy Hackett.
Right - Inside Kilgour Savile Row
What Drake’s and Hackett both have is a figure head who is involved and makes decisions and menswear has always latched on to these men who lead.
Michael Hill, the current creative director of Drake’s, who is responsible for the brand's full wardrobe offerings, has a great eye and taste, while Jeremy Hackett has nearly 40 years of experience in the vintage menswear trade and then creating his own eponymous label. And this is what it all comes down to, people. You need a singular, strong vision to offer direction and also a domestic homeliness.
Stark, cold and soulless retail spaces are being replaced by the perennial idea of a traditional shopkeeper welcoming customers into their worlds. Admittedly, Hackett previously had a store on Savile Row which didn’t work, but this new bespoke concept is hoping to elevate the standard Hackett product and, moving the wholesale showroom from Bond Street and combining it with retail, will probably see them save money while in a stunning Georgian townhouse which will look good the world over.
Savile Row can be so much better and it’s always worth remembering what you thought on your first visit there. These two recent additions are adding some colour and Britishness to a street which had become something neither designer nor tailored.
Savile Row needs to hold onto what is good, but also be open to try new things. In 2016, Westminster Council said only new stores will only be allowed to open if they do not replace “bespoke tailoring uses”; “sell bespoke, unique, limited-edition or one-of-a-kind products”; and are “complementary to the character and function” of the zone, but that doesn’t mean 'The Row' should be stuck in a timewarp.
Left - Inside the ‘J.P. Hackett No.14 Savile Row’ store
This isn’t about just preserving Savile Row, it’s about making it more successful. It should be welcoming to all British brands and not look down on commercialisation. The skills that have survived this long will continue to survive and these two new additions show its about individuals going back to the idea of being a nation of shopkeepers rather than anonymous 'brands'.
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The idea of paying to have something made, passing it on to someone else to sell, who will then pay you in a few month’s time, sounds like the cashflow diagram from hell. Unless the profit margins are huge, and even then it’s not ideal, wholesaling in fashion is difficult. Small brands, especially, need the constant stream of cash, traditionally have tighter margins, and need the crucial feedback of information with regards to successful products that can inform future decisions and where to put their limited resources.
The fashion wholesale model is broken and, now, even the big boys are deciding to step back. Luxury brands are also realising, finally, that the true value of selling directly to consumers is growing a database of customers and understanding exactly what they want in a shorter amount of time and being more reactive to those needs. Realising something is or isn’t selling in 3 to 6 month’s time is pointless and is what will suffocate even the biggest of brands.
Many luxury brands sat back and twiddled their thumbs over the past two decades while huge fashion corporations like YOOX/Net-A-Porter and MatchesFashion.com have grown with enviable customer lists and used huge amounts of information to improve their offer and grow further.
Now, the wholesale middle man is being pushed back to a point where brands want more control, know they will make more money directly and won’t be at the whims of a fashion buyer every season as to whether they’ve made the cut or not.
Prada announced last month that is would reduce its wholesale network in Italy and Europe in a push to have uniform prices for its products across different outlets and reduce markdowns. Before that, in March, the Milan-based company said it also would stop offering end-of-season promotions at its own shops in a bid to boost margins and protect its brand. They’ve obviously been watching the success of Gucci’s no-sale model and product that continues over seasons and doesn’t seem to quickly date.
In a short filing with the Hong Kong stock exchange, where the company is listed, the company's chairman Carlo Mazzi stated, “The Prada Group considers it essential to ensure greater consistency in pricing policies across retail and digital channels. This strategic review is intended to further strengthen the Prada Group brands with the aim of supporting sustainable long-term growth.”
Prada said it would end relations with some Italian and European wholesale partners and gradually replace them with new digital and e-commerce players.
While they’ve tried to improve their website, added a broader selection and launched onto sites like Mr Porter, Prada is doing it at a time when the brand has lost momentum and isn’t quite as in demand as it once was. It said the leather goods category will be the most impacted with the changes and this is their biggest segment with the greatest margins.
This DTC (Direct To Consumer) approach is something born from the internet and social media. The brand owns the customer and has a direct relationship. It knows their e-mail and address. It also knows what they have bought before and, most likely, things that may interest them in the future. As personalisation increasingly becomes more sophisticated, this will also help to offer more choices and brands can follow their customers through their actions.
Physical retail third party wholesale accounts allow you less control and inject potential disruption in your cherished luxury supply chain to the customer and, as Prada says, you can keep the prices constant and consistent (probably higher) throughout one geographical region.
Kering, owner of Gucci, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga, has announced it will take back control of its e-commerce operations, focusing on own branded sites where it can control its image and client data. Excluding Gucci, the YOOX/Net-A-Porter group operated e-commerce websites for most of the brands within the Kering group. The joint venture will now end in the second quarter of 2020. While not completely cutting off their nose to spite their face, Kering wants to turn more of its collaborations with third-party, multi-brand retailers such as Farfetch or Matchesfashion.com into what it calls ‘online concessions’, where it controls everything from the product assortment to their presentation. "Each time we move from wholesale to a concession we see our top line increase in a material way,” said Grégory Boutté, Kering’s Chief Client & Digital Officer, and former vice President of eBay. Kering has stated it was ‘not against wholesale,’ and did not plan to end its relationships with third parties altogether.
This is will be a play of power and something that I think will be difficult especially with the complexities of something like FarFetch coming from multiple retailers in different locations. This sounds like wanting your cake and eating it; we want your database, but in our own way. I’m not sure that many retailers will relinquish that amount of control, especially when you consider how many brands they sell and also the loyalty they now instil in these hard won customers.
Kering's total online sales — when including the business done through third party platforms, calculated at retail and not at lower wholesale prices — came to 9.4 percent of the group's 2018 revenue. Web sales through its own brand websites and online concessions made up 4.7 percent of revenue. This has huge room to grow.
Boutté has built up his digital team from 4 people upon his arrival at Kering in 2017 to over 80 people, today. He has realised the power of data. “The more data we have, the more precise our algorithm is and the better the experience is. The other thing is that it should lead us to excellence in terms of our operations.” he said.
Across the luxury goods industry as a whole, e-commerce accounts for around 10 percent of business today and should reach 25 percent of sales by 2025, consultancy Bain estimates.
This is about information and control. Controlling discount, controlling points of sale and controlling presentation. You can control more online, even with third parties. You can see it from anywhere. It's those pockets of physical wholesale boutiques or department stores in small towns that are harder to police and often unsold stock disappears into the grey market and ends up on discount sites and with other retailers.
Where once luxury retailers didn’t want to get their hands dirty, they are now rolling up their sleeves and have their eyes on the online prize; higher prices, more full price sell-throughs and control of that all important ‘data’. This will get more ferocious as the market becomes more saturated, growth slows and customers get increasingly more expensive to acquire.
I predict many brands will try to be exclusive to their mono-brand websites if they don’t get what they want with their third party partners, or possibly try the LVMH 24 Sèvres, now rebranded as 24S, route, but it will be hard. And expensive.
Retailers like FarFetch and MatchesFashion.com are decades ahead and thrive on new and small designers adding that colour and point of difference online. Luxury mono-brand websites often look boring, sterile and empty. People don’t shop in single brands, particularly when they are browsing. While the idea is logical and makes sense to reduce wholesale and take back more control, it will be far more complicated than that and add multiple costs to their business models.
As London’s men’s fashion week gets ever smaller it becomes even harder for designers to make an impact. The four day event is really only two days with a mix of established brands and young designers trying to pad out the schedule. Like a Summer pond retreating, due to lack of rain (funding), with LFWM's decreasing pull the audiences are smaller and less important. Under this handicap, designers have a few short minutes to grab people's attention and resonate further outside of the room. When you look at the expense, you do wonder why anybody is crazy enough to do it, but that’s what makes you love the ‘art’ of fashion even more. LFWM is as much about getting together and looking at each other as it is about trends and looking forward. It’s not really even about selling clothes anymore, it’s like a social event or festival.
Left - RCA Graduates Gráinne Walley, Right - Clara Chu
On London Fashion Week Men’s opening night, the Royal College of Art graduates held a show called ‘All at Once’. The 50 MA graduates each had one look each which gradually rotated around the room. Held at a new retail development on Cork Street in Mayfair, this new way of showing ever increasing volumes of students makes it increasingly hard to see a story in people’s ideas or only gives them one chance to grab your attention. They were saying it was a reflection of the cost it takes for students to produce these collections and, possibly, a reflection of the times of not making huge amounts of stuff with one student offering ‘Extinction Rebellion’ as a reason for not producing anything physical at all.
It’s a tough task to show this amount of students in a realistic amount of time, but it might be better to possibly break them up and give them 5 looks to show in differing categories. Unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the more stuff you produce, the more opportunity you have to mentally sell something to somebody. Desire triggers people sharing and buying things. Noted highlights were Irish graduate Gráinne Walley’s Game of Thrones type armour and Clara Chu’s food inspired accessories.
For the remainder of the fashion week, the front rows were still sprinkled with Burberry check and Balenciaga Triple S trainers, all seen this time last year, and a sign of the lack of hit replacements even though fashion giants continue to churn out incredible amounts of product and ideas.
Here are some brief highlights of LFWM SS20:
This South Korean label, established in 2013, and with creative direction by Hyun-Min Han, made its London catwalk debut. An alumni of Wooyoungmi, Han showed a sophisticated collection mixing pinstripe tailoring and sportswear with flourishes of ruching and ruffles with a finale of models all wearing branded Münn suit bags.
Following her first collection as part of Fashion East, last season, the Dublin-born returned with more of her stylish normcore. This time it was summer towelling mixed with traditional Irish knits and sports fabrics in her mono-coloured looks which are fast becoming her signature.
Nicholas Daley gave LFWM a tribal jazz happening in a 18th century church in the City of London. The ‘Sons Of Kemet’ band dressed in a warm, bold checks made from British fabrics created a crescendo of music and that quickly fell into a party atmosphere with looks referencing his Jamaican heritage.
McQueen came back to London town with its usual exquisite tailoring and its fashion as art raison d’être. As well as the all ultra smart evening wear, there was watercolour symmetry prints and bold fuchsia pink florals in the charming surroundings of the C1348 Charterhouse in Farringdon. I just wish McQueen’s accessorises were as elegant as the clothes. Those chunky trainers and boots just don’t sit right and aren’t the best of their type.
Hussein Chalayan celebrated 25 years with a walk on the street near his store in Mayfair. Lucky with the weather, and with the backdrop of a textured stone wall clean striped shirting - something that continues to look fresh - in simple shapes and a minimal palette was a reminder of this experienced technician of a designer.
For the past few seasons Lou Dalton’s collections have been dominated by her collaborations with British fine knit manufacturer, John Smedley. This season, she returned to a fuller offer with outerwear, shirting, tailoring and, of course, knitwear, but this time in fine rugby shapes, in a collection of easy and stylish clothes which don’t scream ‘designer’. A return to beautiful things?
While the majority of UK cities are struggling to deal with the implosion of their high-streets, London is a juggernaut that keeps people spending. Thanks to tourist dollars and and an increasingly high-spending visitor, Bond Street, arguably London’s premier luxury shopping street, has seen a raft of new openings hoping to tap into London as the global retail destination. From Alexander McQueen to Loewe, this historical street has seen glorious new retail spaces tailored to this exclusive location open to entice more money from shoppers.
Left - Alexander McQueen's new three storey store
The Office for National Statistics has just released the final International Passenger Survey (IPS) results covering 2018 and it’s still looking good for London. While the number of visits to the UK in 2018 fell slightly (-3%) - 2017 was a record - to 37.9 million, the data from the last 10 months shows visitors spending huge amounts and are visiting Bond Street, in particular.
Data from Global Blue, a tourism shopping tax refund company headquartered in Nyon, Switzerland, shows that the average spend on Bond Street among international visitors increased by 4% year-on-year from January to October 2018. International shoppers spent a huge average of £1,341 per transaction during this time.
Global Blue has also just opened its first VIP Globe Shopper Lounge on Albemarle Street in Mayfair, just a stone’s throw from Bond Street. According to their figures, the top spenders were visitors from the UAE, Qatar and Hong Kong. UAE shoppers spent £2,074 per transaction, up 19% year-on-year. Qatari shoppers spent £1,964 per transaction (up 7%), while Hong Kong shoppers spent £1,837 per transaction (up 15%).
Interestingly, the biggest increase was seen amongst Indonesian visitors, averaging £1,551 per transaction, up 20% compared to 2017.
Right - Staircase in the new Celine menswear store
Paris is London’s closest luxury shopping competition and the 'yellow vests’ or Gilet Jaunes protests have been affecting its attractiveness and is putting off visitors. "We lost between one and two growth points in 2018 due to the yellow vests," said Mathieu Grac, Global Blue's vice president of intelligence strategy.
The weakness of the pound is making shopping in London more attractive and better value for money. The Chinese, in particular, have always chosen Paris over London, but this could be starting to change with new stats show record breaking results for the end of 2018 for London. Visits to the UK from China in this period were up 52% to 94,000 – the 9th consecutive record quarter for visits. These visitors spent £160 million in the UK between October and December 2018 – 30% up compared to the same period in 2017. In total there were a record 391,000 visits from China to the UK in 2018, up 16% on 2017.
Overall, UK visitor spend in 2019 is forecast to be £24.9B, up 7.8%, on a forecast of 38.8m visitors.
While many designer brands are closing stores and trimming their global retail network, others are realising that in order to stay ahead, you need to invest heavily in the world’s finest locations. The days of copy-cat, identikit stores are over and brands know they need to make something unique for its location.
Proving this point is the new ‘Casa Loewe’. The Spanish brand, Loewe, owned by LVMH, and famous for its puzzle bags, has opened a three storey boutique designed in the vision of creative director, Jonathan Anderson. Like an art gallery with clothes, but with a personality and warmth, the London store features work by a selection of internationally renowned artists, including three oak sculptures by Ernst Gamperl (winner of the LOEWE FOUNDATION Craft Prize in 2017) alongside 15 photographs by Alair Gomes, the ‘Vulcano Table’ by Anthea Hamilton, a long- standing LOEWE collaborator, William Turnbull’s 1956 sculpture ‘Idol 4’ and Grayson Perry’s ‘Mum and Dad’ vase.
Left - Casa Loewe showing Anthea Hamilton's 'Vulcano Table'
It feels a very creative space and is one of the few luxury boutiques on Bond Street to give you this full idea of a lifestyle. The sales assistant I spoke to said Anderson was often in the store talking to them through the product and also making sure things were working correctly. She also said they had a great many Chinese customers.
Further down Bond Street is the new Celine menswear boutique. The first time Celine has done menswear under new creative head, Hedi Slimane, it feels very déjà vu in the Saint Laurent mould and looks like all those other marbled minimal retail palaces from brands such as Neil Barrett or End Clothing in Soho. On the corner of New Bond Street and Grafton street, in the old Boucheron store, it is exactly what fans of Slimane will want and the quality of the clothes do look good. Downstairs is a compact tailoring area and while none of the extra skinny clothes had a price tag on, the raised front doors are automatic, just in-case those super-skinny rockstars don’t have enough strength to open them. Disappointly, this concept will look the same the world over.
Into Old Bond Street, Alexander McQueen has amalgamated all three of their London stores into the large, former DKNY outlet. The three storey boutique is a beautiful, sweeping space by Chilean architect Smiljan Radic, his first retail project. It truly flows with giant glass tubes linking the floors and acres of matt walnut covering every surface including the two spiral staircases.
The ground floor is home to womenswear and the first floor to menswear. The top floor is like a museum, probably hoping to capitalise on the popularity of ‘Savage Beauty’, it illustrates the artistry of the current collections while being dotted with archive pieces. This area will also be used to host a programme of exhibitions and talks aimed specifically at inspiring students. It left me with a renewed respect of the work of the brand which I’ve often dismissed since McQueen’s death. There was a men’s coat, hand embroidered with silver graffiti, on sale for £100,000.
Stella McCartney has moved her store from the Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby designed Bruton Street to Old Bond Street. A difficult space, it is linked by a huge metal staircase reminiscent of the tanks at Tate Modern. More concrete and terrazzo, the front ground floor is peppered by giant boulders and moss. A small glade of silver birches decorate a roof garden and 'Airlabs' technology makes this the first indoor commercial space in London with the cleanest air possible.
The store carries all the brand’s collections including women’s and menswear ready-to-wear, accessories, lingerie, swimwear, kids, eyewear, fragrance and adidas by Stella McCartney. Stella McCartney said, “Old Bond street, it’s probably one of the most prestigious retail locations in the world. And for me being born and bred in London and having our business headquarters there and design studio, it’s an incredible honour for us. This store really tells the story of the World of Stella McCartney; incorporating sustainability, fashion and luxury.” Louis Vuitton’s giant Bond Street store is also being refurbished and will hopefully offer something bespoke to this prestigious location.
Right - Stella McCartney's ground floor showing boulders running through the centre
What this group of shops show is the huge investment still going into physical retail. If you’re going to entice those shoppers, you'll need to offer something original, something they'll want to investigate and explore and ultimately an experience of buying something truly great and memorable. By working and competing as a group, it gives more incentive to brands and people to make this the greatest destination and a positive cycle of openings and continued openings will keep this firmly as one of the most thriving luxury retail destinations in the world.
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.
Read more ChicGeek Comments - here
Hollywood’s golden boy, and probably one of the coolest actors of the moment, Timothée Chalamet, is currently on his press junket for the new film ‘Beautiful Boy’. When you’re this in demand you can have your pick of the newest and best clothes, so it’s always interesting what they choose.
He’s quoted as saying, “I can wear cool clothes from some of the nicest designers in the world. [So why] am I going to pay someone to figure out what I should be wearing?”
True, Tim, but sometimes you need somebody to help with the logistics and the ringing around, oh, and the returns!
This beautiful boy has got a lot to learn, but looking at him, he’s doing a pretty good job at stylising himself and is the perfect leggy shape for designer clothes.
Be inspired by Timothée in Call Me By Your Name - here
Left - Louis Vuitton SS19
Right - Alexander McQueen AW18
Below - Saint Laurent AW18
Part of the Topman sponsored ‘MAN’ show, Stefan Cooke, in his second outing here, went from his super-tight, Gaultier style AW18 season to something, while still fitted, that played with hype-colour tartans, half ruffs on the necks and small mirrors dotted randomly across the pieces. Winner of the H&M designer prize in 2017, Cooke, from the UK, is a designer to continue watching.
Part of the BFC showrooms and also with a presentation at Charing Cross Library, Bethany Williams took inspiration from all those books and book binding and managed to thread real, physical paperbacks into her SS19 collection. Working with The Quaker Mobile Library, which lend books to people with no fixed address, her collection showed the hand-ons, painstaking craft element to fashion.
Mullins is on a roll. His AW18 collection was one of the best of the season and, this, the new SS19, had plenty of ideas to keep you wanting more. Standouts include rock shaped portfolio bags and asymmetric slashed shirts showing just a glimpse of the shoulder. 2019, the year of the male shoulder, maybe?!
Day - What Did TheChicGeek wear? Credits - Suit - Arket, T-Shirt - Oiboy, Cap - Arc'Teryx, Sunglasses - Illesteva
If expensive looking black bin bags are your thing, then Berthold could be the place to look. I’m just joking, but the fascination with anything black and shiny seems to be taking hold within menswear and Raimund Berthold is running with it. He showed plenty for AW18 and, now, this was the summer version. Think parachute light black coats and matching accessorises in a sport-luxe - there, I said it! - collection for those who like fashion as uniform.
Martine Rose took us to Norf London, St Leonards Square in NW5 to be exact, which looked perfect for street parties and carnivals. This was working class Victorian square with no fancy greenery in the middle, no even Albert Square sized.
The catwalk was the road and the neighbours looked on, perched on their front garden walls or down quizzically from an upstairs window while doing the tea-time washing up.
This was the show of the week for a designer that waited for fashion to come to them. Now, with her own label and working on Balenciaga’s menswear, Rose has become a chief exponent of fashion’s obsession with bad taste.
There was plenty here, but it’s done in a way that’s still desirable. How much it has left to run is anybody’s guess, but I don’t think the retailers are getting bored. I saw a new ‘hybrid’ - because we all love one of those - a half-jean, half-trackie trouser - rodeo at the front, scally at the back!
Rose’s 90s ‘Geezer’ was going out, out; clear plastic trousers, squared-toed snakeskin chain loafers with no backs and Motorcross trousers with loud taping will definitely get you noticed. This was ‘Out-On-The-Tann’ man, probably down to his local boozer, looking to impress and living it up with gold chains, tucked in shirts and smart-ish shoes. I still want in.
Evening - What Did TheChicGeek wear? Credits - Suit - Pretty Green, Shirt - ASOS, Sunglasses - Kaleos, Shoes - Vintage Alexander McQueen
See LFWM Day 1 - here
See LFWM Day 2 - here
It would be hard for a documentary about Alexander McQueen not to be good. His talent was such that, twenty year’s later, the clothes and production can still hold their own against anything produced since.
I can remember watching CNN Style with Elsa Klensch - fashion, beauty and decorating! - this was the 90s remember: no internet and hardly any fashion on TV or in the media - when the ’13’ show with Shalom Harlow being sprayed by the robots was shown and I can remember looking at the TV and feeling the energy through the television. This was fashion as performance, as art, yet relatable and totally modern and contemporary. It opened my eyes and raised the bar.
This documentary is much more personal than the sell-out exhibitions at the Met and, subsequently, at the V&A, and that’s the joy of fashion documentaries - read #ChicGeekComment Is ‘Peak Fashion Documentary’ Killing The Fashion Tome?
The ‘brand’ doesn’t dominate and this is McQueen’s life story split into different sections while highlighting specific shows. His family features heavily - his sister and his nephew - who talk open and honestly about McQueen and things that shaped him, affected him and motivated him.
It was interesting to be reminded of the raw yobbishness of 90s McQueen. The Burberry check shirts, the gold necklaces and the complete lack of self image. For somebody with such good taste in designing and cutting clothes, it never really moved onto him or around him He didn’t seem interested in dressing the part or living that kind of life surrounding by beautiful things and I think this is where Isabella Blow came in. She was everything he wasn’t: obsessed with how she looked, aristocratic, living surrounded by antiques and beautiful heirlooms in her country house.
Opposites attracted, but they had an affinity with their darker sides. Both committed suicide and would use their creativity as a mask as well as a crutch.
This documentary is intense and it’s comprehensive - about 95 minutes - I think by the time it hits Netflix I would split it into 2 episodes. People like looking forward to watching a second instalment.
What Alexander McQueen had was not only imagination, but the technical skills to make clothes worth spending money on. As Tom Ford says in the film, when the theatrics and show-pieces were stripped back what was left on the hanger was some of the best cut and more stylish clothes ever.
Eight years after his death we’re still just as fascinated by his life and his place in the fashion history books alongside people like Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga is assured. It’s just a shame his career wasn’t as long, because, being selfish, I wanted so much more.