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?
Read more ChicGeek Comments - here
Quite possibly the collab. of the season. One of the finest mills in Scotland, Johnstons of Elgin, has been trying to move into the ready-to-wear menswear market for a few seasons, now. They have the finest cloth and it makes sense to want to control the final product. Scotland’s answer to Zegna, maybe?
Finding the skills to manufacturers garments to the high standards these fabrics deserve isn’t easy in the UK, so it’s great to see they’ve teamed up with one of the best coat manufacturers, Private White V.C. in Manchester.
Left & Right - Black Single Breasted Ventile Men’s Trench Coat & Gilet - £1795
The new collection features two jackets: a single-breasted trench coat featuring a seam sealed waterproof external fabric with a detachable quilted gilet complete with a contrasting lambswool tartan lining and cashmere knit collar and the waxed country jacket using a 1402 Halley Stevenson premium wax fabric boasting weatherproof and thornproof qualities. Lined with Johnstons of Elgin 100% cashmere velour, it features details of punched leather elbow patches and trim on the collar. Both jackets feature Johnstons of Elgin’s 100% cashmere velour.
Alan Scott, Creative Director at Johnstons of Elgin said: “I am very proud to present these two key men's outerwear pieces from the Private White x JoE collaboration for AW18. We are very excited to showcase and celebrate the best of British quality garment manufacturing and specialist cashmere textiles all made entirely in the U.K. We value the unique expertise and authenticity that Private White embody and for helping to bring our cloth to life. Our parallel stories and family owned history create the perfect partnership.”
James Eden, Brand Director at Private White V.C said: “We’re delighted to be collaborating with one of the most esteemed cashmere manufacturers in the world; Johnstons of Elgin. Together we have struck the perfect blend of luxurious fabrics and quality craftsmanship- these are pieces of outerwear that have been made to last a lifetime and I believe they will be cherished by whoever is lucky enough to wear them for just as long.”
The only negative, these jackets are crazy expensive and I almost wish they were bursting with more Johnstons’ fabrics. If you do want a beautiful Johnstons of Elgin blanket type coat look at Gieves & Hawkes’ new AW18 collection.
Left & Right - Olive Country Style Men’s Wet Wax Jacket - Private White Collaboration - £1795
They say the Chinese only buy the cheapest or the best. It’s simplistic, but it is the direction all retail markets seem to be headed in. The British market has been evolving into this for a while, now, and those stuck or stranded in the middle are suffering or dying.
The middle has been squeezed or forced to choose their direction of travel as we all race to the bottom or top.
The cheapest often requires huge volumes and multinationals and the best requires a perception of quality, luxury and good service.
As a brand or retailer, you have two questions to ask yourself, today: are we the cheapest? This can be split into different categories depending on where the brand sits and, are we the best? This is more complex and can mean many different things and is subjective. If you can’t say yes to both or either, they you need to start making some serious changes.
Imagine a Venn diagram: two circles, one the cheapest, one the best and price running up and the down the side axis. Any brand coming into the area where the two circles overlap is in a safer and strong position. Those within one of the circles has a focus, while those floating somewhere out of either need to work out which one they want to be in, and fast.
Let’s look at the cheapest option. This is why Sainsbury’s is getting into bed with Asda. The larger scale promises savings of around 10% to the consumer, and will help them compete with Booker/Tesco and the German food retailers, Aldi and Lidl. It’s an example of mid-market retailers needing to pair up or die.
In fashion, New Look revenue to the year 24th March 2018 was down -7.3% to £1,347.8m. New Look has not only announced store closures, but it’s also just said in its recent financial report and turnaround plan, that ‘Pricing (will be) lowered to offer significantly better value with 80% of product to retail under £20’.
Eighty percent of product under £20 will really put the brand toe-to-toe with Primark and, I think, it’s the right move for them. You have to go down fighting, but they’ll going to have to shift more product at these cheaper prices. Before, New Look wasn’t the cheapest, and it wasn’t the best in terms of being the most fashionable or desirable fast-fashion retailer. It used to be one of the cheapest, but then Primark came along.
It tried to be more fashionable, but at a time Boohoo, ASOS were growing and offering high fashionability at ridiculously low prices.
New Look says it wants to 'return to (a) value-led fast fashion and wardrobe basics offer with full price focus’. The margins will be so small they’ll need all the full price they can get.
H&M, long one of the darlings of fast retail, has seen its shares down nearly 20% this year and the company has said it will need to slash prices to reduce inventories, damaging profit margins. It has an $4.3 Billion in unsold stock and needs to be careful that its size won’t be its downfall.
It also explains its focus on different, ‘best’ sister brands like Arket and COS. H&M isn’t in the same position as New Look, yet, but they need to make sure it’s still seen as one of the best in terms of affordable fashionability and also offering value.
Marks & Spencer is another one trying this new best and cheapest approach. The clothes have arguably got much cheaper and the food is still perceived as the best, but it’s this balance that is hard to achieve within the same brand, especially knowing what consumers come to you for.
House of Fraser’s recent announcement to close 31 stores is a reflection of the growth of John Lewis both offline and online. John Lewis has continued to open in towns, in or near those House of Frasers, and House of Fraser isn’t cheaper or better. It probably explains the closure of the huge Birmingham store as John Lewis opened a shiny new shop at the railway station just a couple of years ago.
House of Fraser will need to pair up with somebody (maybe Debenhams?) or disappear altogether. Sports Direct, Mike Ashley, has shares in both and will no doubt be pushing for it and then they really can compete on price and dominate their local markets.
So, who is getting it right? Zara, for the best in fashionability and speed and John Lewis in customer service and being ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’. But, like a game of musical chairs, it’s changing all the time.
As for the ‘best’, this is what many luxury brands rely upon. This could be quality, use of materials, origin etc. Many ‘luxury’ brands have lost control of these in the race for large quantities and bigger margins. They have to be careful because a few poorly made, overpriced products will ruin the perception of any brand.
But, you can also find the cheapest within this market. For example, Johnstons of Elgin, one of the best Scottish producers of scarves and blankets. It makes for everybody from Hermès to Burberry. While a scarf from them is not cheap, say £100, it’s far cheaper than one with a designer name on. They are also the best at what they do and the reason why these brands use them.
Or, a brand like Paul Smith. When looking at a multi brand website like Mr Porter, it feels like one of the most affordable brands on there. I think its recent troubles has seen it get more competitive and tread that fine line between affordable and exclusivity. They are also the best at colour.
Or, you could can look at the total top, at the most expensive and exclusive. This is the pinnacle of the market and to be true to both would only be made in very limited numbers. This is chasing a very small number of big-fish consumers and, as such, it limits the size of the business. But, this can also to used to sell ranges of cheaper products, such as perfume or sunglasses, but even these categories are harder, now that people aren’t so hung up on brands.
This simplistic approach to the market cuts through some of the wood to see the trees in a highly competitive and changing retail landscape. So, the next time you look at your own brand or somebody else’s, you know which two questions to ask.
The jacket is dead, long live the jacket! Well, not quite. But brands or designers who produce rails and rails of coats and jackets are realising, to their cost, that people don't really need or wear them that often. What we want is something easy and warm that transcends seasons and can be used as a layer.
Enter the 'cardigan bomber'. I've championed this before, but when you find a cashmere one by Johnstons of Elgin, one of the best Scottish knitwear specialists, you know it's going to be good and goes straight to the top of my seasonal Hot List.
Left & Below - Johnstons of Elgin - Cashmere Mens American Navy Zip Cardigan - £425
If you go down to the woods today you're sure of a big surprise...
TheChicGeek has been putting his best festive foot forward and decorating the trees in the forest. In an abstract Christmas jumper, cosy snood and sturdy boots, TheChicGeek knows less is more definitely more when it comes to casual Christmas attire.
Credits - Jumper - Paul Smith, Watch - Swatch, Trousers - New Look, Boots - Aigle, Snood - Johnstons of Elgin, Long-Johns - ABOUT, Tobacco Absolute Body Wash - Molton Brown, Face Masks - Kiehl's, Shampoo & Conditioner - Mojo Hair
Shot by Robin Forster on OlympusPEN
More images below
Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it's off to work we go...
TheChicGeek has this woody target firmly in his sights. Dressed in classic forest style of checked flannel shirt, quilted parka and sturdy hiking boots, TheChicGeek whistles Norwegian Wood while he works. What a handsome feller!
Get involved - #LumberGEEK
Credits - Coat - Aigle, Vest - ABOUT, Shirt - Paul Smith, Belt - Brydon Brothers, Gloves - Johnstons of Elgin, Blanket - Aigle, Watch - Swatch, Trousers - Aigle, Boots - Aigle
Shot by Robin Forster on OlympusPEN
More images below
Never one to be shy about getting his chopper out, TheChicGeek is armed and dangerous in this lumberjack inspired OOTD.
Those towering pines don’t stand a chance with TheChicGeek in his classic black and red buffalo check. Legend has it this distinctive Scottish pattern, known for centuries as Rob Roy, was dubbed ‘Buffalo Check Plaid’ by American outdoor specialist Woolrich (circa 1850) in honour of the small herd of buffalo the designer owned in central Pennsylvania.
Get involved - #LumberGEEK
Credits - Coat - Aigle, Bobble Hat - Johnstons of Elgin, Boots - Palladium, Shirt - Aigle, Trousers - Elemental, Jumper - Gloverall, Watch -Swatch, Socks - Johnstons of Elgin, Vest - ABOUT
Shot by Robin Forster on OlympusPEN
More images below