An optimist will look at COVID 19 as a opportunity. From the current crisis in fashion and retail will come the chance to snap up valuable brands at distressed prices. But, what makes a brand truly valuable?
Left - 1950s Teddy Boy in his classic Crombie coat
It usually starts with the name and whether it has any longevity, goodwill or future.
If that name has entered everyday lexicon then it is a very rare and valuable asset indeed. Joining the likes of Sellotape and Hoover, it rarely happens in fashion when a brand becomes the generic term, but Crombie is one such brand.
Meaning a formally tailored, three-quarters length covert coat with a contrasting velvet collar, the Crombie coat had recently become associated with the likes of Nigel Farage and Del Boy and a kind of dated city boy look.
J&J Crombie Ltd. was founded by John Crombie and his son James in Aberdeen in 1805, making it one of Britain's oldest brands. Starting as a fabric manufacturer, Crombie moved into making coats to supply armies in America and the UK during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Crombie lists Cary Grant, Winston Churchill, King George VI, Dwight D Eisenhower and John F Kennedy as distinguished wearers. From 1995 to 2004, Crombie also held the Royal Warrant as a supplier to the Prince of Wales.
A modern classic, a Crombie coat was retailing for around £900, but that is now on hold.
The brand’s home page currently reads, “In light of current world events, we have now fully suspended our retail, wholesale and supporting administrative operations until further notice. We will continue to monitor the global situation and hope to resume operations in the fullness of time. We’d like to thank our many clients for their custom and patronage and wish everyone a safe and healthy summer.”
Right - 1980s Car Dealer Arthur Daley in his Crombie
The brand has been up for sale for a while. It was formally announced in March 2020, when owner, Alan Lewis, 82, through his investment company, Hartley Investment Trust, told Drapers, “We are willing to divest non-core assets such as Crombie, which we believe would be of particular interest to a focused fashion business with the infrastructure to efficiently scale up this brand internationally, or to a retail chain looking to bolster its portfolio of unique intellectual properties.
“Crombie’s worldwide trademarks allow for expansion and diversification into a wide range of product categories, including cosmetics and accessories.”
Crombie has one store located at 48 Conduit Street in London which it sold in Nov. 2019 to a private Chinese buyer for £9.9 million with the intention of Hartley Investment Trust still occupying the building. Crombie’s turnover to the year ending March 2019 was £523,000, with a loss before tax of nearly £300,000, this was an improvement on 2018 when it was nearly £400,000 on a turnover of £430,000.
Hartley Investment Trust has interests in banking, property, energy, leisure and retail. Lancashire-born Alan J Lewis, CBE, a former Conservative Party Vice-Chairman told the Yorkshire Post in 2012, “I came here (Slaithwaite, West Yorkshire) and took over Illingworth Morris which was a public company, which was in trouble and owed the banks about £50m with 6,000 people employed and I turned it around from a substantial loss to a substantial profit and shares went from 13p to 186p.
“We concentrated on ensuring that we invested in the high margin business, low volume, rather than high volume, low margin business, so really concentrating on the quality end and the creative end of the business, and that made an awful lot of money.”
In the 1980s, the group was one of the world’s biggest wool textiles manufacturers handling almost half the wool imported into the UK. The Illingworth Morris group included up-market knitwear maker Hawico, worsted spinning operations Daniel Illingworth, suiting makers Huddersfield Fine Worsteds, chemical business Westbrook Lanolin, Woolcombers, Winterbotham Strachan & Playne (the world’s leading supplier of cloth for tennis balls and billiards tables), and Crombie.
Left - Three out of the four Beatles are wearing Tommy Nutter suits on the Abbey Road cover
Mr Lewis took the company private, making vast profits and a net lender to the money market – heralding the formation of Hartley’s investment banking division, Hartley Investment Trust, in 1983.
Hartley divested many of the brands with the implosion of the UK’s textile industry, turning many of the old textile mills into residential property and business centres, but retained the ownership of Crombie.
Another important brand Lewis owns is the iconic tailor, Tommy Nutter. In 2014, after a four year high court battle, Lewis agreed to buy the rights to ‘Nutters of Savile Row’ which left him free to use the Tommy Nutter brand.
The year before, David Mason's 'Nutters Holdings' won the right from the UK's Intellectual Property Office for the Tommy Nutter trademark to be revoked from J&J Crombie due to non-use. Mr Lewis was ordered to pay costs of more than £3,000. However, he appealed against the decision, arguing that he had kept the name in use. A spokesman for Mr Lewis said at the time, "Crombie owns the Tommy Nutter brand, and every season a range of Tommy Nutter branded clothing is available in Crombie stores in the UK."
Previously, Mr Lewis had been in talks to sell ‘Tommy Nutter’, a brand he had started with Tommy Nutter in the early 1980s when he had parted ways with business partner Edward Sexton and ‘Nutters of Savile Row’, to a subsidiary of Fung Capital - the private investment arm of the billionaire Fung family of Hong Kong. The deal never materialised.
Tommy Nutter produced a variety of legendary designs under his own name - including Jack Nicholson's Joker costumes for the 1989 Batman movie - while Crombie supplied him with the cloth. He died in 1992.
What we have here, if sold together, are two of Britain’s greatest sleeping menswear brands. One traditional, loaded in history, the other, a pioneer and icon of tailored fashion, but both heaving in icons from statesman to superstars. Confucius once said, “The gem cannot be polished without friction” and, while it would take substantial investment to bring these menswear two brands back, they have a natural sparkle and value most brands don't.
Buy TheChicGeek's new book FashionWankers - HERE
For those of us who want to express our taste, get something different and also, possibly, invest, vintage is the place to be, right now. I love a rummage around a vintage store or on eBay, but finding something decent, that fits, is tough, but that’s part of the fun and makes something good all that more special. Book -
One of the easiest ways of finding something special is to look at a specialist online auction and Kerry Taylor Auctions in Bermondsey is probably the best specialist fashion seller in the UK. Admittedly, it is reflected in the prices, but they aren't crazy, especially when you compare them to today's designer prices. I always have a look at their online catalogue, not only to look at what is in the sale, but also for style ideas from the past.
Here are TheChicGeek’s picks of the sale and why:
TheChicGeek says, “While I probably wouldn’t get into this dress… it’s the 1960s & 1970s optical prints that are all the rage at the moment. Just look at Dries Van Noten’s Verner Panton inspired collection for SS19 to understand how fresh these are looking right now. I'd love this print in a shirt.” See Thom Yorke in Dries Van Noten SS19 it here
Lot 202 : A Pierre Balmain couture printed organza evening dress, 1972
A Pierre Balmain couture printed organza evening dress, 1972. labelled and numbered 154665, boldly printed with 'target' medallions.
Estimate: £300 - £500
TheChicGeek says, “Vintage Tommy Nutter is very hard to come by. These aren’t particularly exciting, but, it’s the shapes you’re buying into: huge, exaggerated lapels and flared trousers. I particularly like the multiple vents on the back.”
Book - You need to read the House of Nutter here
Lot 252 : Two Tommy Nutter gentleman's wool suits, 1975-76
Two Tommy Nutter gentleman's wool suits, 1975-76. un-labelled, of similar design, the first in sage-green, the second beige, both jackets with exaggerated lapels, inverted pleat detailing to front pockets and rear; together with an original 'Nutters' hanger and photocopy showing the original owner.
Estimate: £300 - £500
TheChicGeek says, “These are a fashion museum piece, so I’d expect them to go for much more than the estimate. The late 1960s sci-fi/retro-future styles still fascinate and these are one of the iconic eyewear styles of that era.”
See more inspiration from 2001 Space Odyssey here
Lot 267 : A pair of Courrèges cream plastic 'eskimo' sunglasses, 1964
A pair of Courrèges cream plastic 'eskimo' sunglasses, 1964. signed along one arm, the solid lenses with horizontal slits, in a Courrèges plastic glasses case.
Estimate: £200 - £300
TheChicGeek says, “While this isn’t an original Pearly King outfit, and more a stage costume, the allure is the style’s place in London’s working class street culture. While an original East London ‘Pearly’ suit would be the dream, it would be hard to find one in as good condition as this one.”
Lot 381 : A good 'Pearly King' outfit for 'The Yorkshire Coster', English, circa 1910
A good 'Pearly King' outfit for 'The Yorkshire Coster', English, circa 1910. of dark grey herringbone tweed and covered entirely with pearlised buttons, comprising jacket, waistcoat and trousers with buttons by 'Scarboro Etches'; together with an original photograph and pocket map of London. Provenance: The Castle Howard Collection, ex lot 210, Sotheby's, 7th October 2003. This suit belonged to William Wedgwood Fenwick (1886-1960) who was born in Scarborough to Methodist parents. He wanted a stage career and went to London where he trained as understudy to the performer Albert Chevalier. Eventually due to pressure from his family he returned to Scarborough where he opened a draper's shop. He used to entertain friends wearing this suit.
Estimate: £350 - £500
TheChicGeek says, “Pre-20th century items have a preciousness knowing that the majority of clothing or accessorises fell apart through wear and never made it through the decades of time. These pairs of braces are really cute and show the whimsy in menswear going way back into history. These are pure dandy and would be fun to wear, if the condition allows.”
Lot 419 : Three pairs of men's braces, mid-late 19th century
Three pairs of men's braces, mid-late 19th century. comprising: petit point pair with motifs including matadors, galleons, native figures with feathers; another pair embroidered with forget me knots, both with elasticated and leather straps; a woven blue and white Edelweiss patterned pair; and a single poor condition petit point panel.
Estimate: £250 - £400
TheChicGeek says, “This is giving me pure Gucci vibes, especially the yellow one. Saying that, Michele’s probably already ticked these off his list of references and he’s already ransacked Northern India from the first half of the 20th century for SS17!!!!”
See more about this AW18 season’s trend of Balaclavas here
Lot 464 : Two quilted hats, Ladakhi, Northern India, first half of the 20th century
Two quilted hats, Ladakhi, Northern India, first half of the 20th century. the first of golden-yellow silk damask; the second in black velvet with fauna stems stitched in gilt thread; both lined in red cotton. This style of hat is worn sitting high on the crown of the head, with the flaps curving outwards, during festivals.
Estimate: £100 - £150
The man who defined the tailored look of the 1970s, Tommy Nutter, is a little bit like Beau Brummell in so far as he always seems like an enigma, as a person, yet his name runs throughout the history of menswear and is continually name checked. Anything bold with large lapels is always a reminder of Nutter’s style. The classic Tom Ford suit is basically a rip-off of Tommy Nutter.
This biography doesn’t just look at one Nutter’s life, but two. Tommy’s brother, David, a photographer and also gay, is the main source of first-hand information and the book follows both lives, intertwining throughout. The comical jobs they both do and the situations they seem to find themselves in makes for a really fun biography.
While Tommy is the centre, it’s great to hear about both their lives at the whims of the rich and famous of that era. From Bianca Jagger to John Lennon to Elton John, they were all wearing Tommy’s clothes while being photographed by David.
Left - Tommy Nutter modelling his own design
Tommy feels like a true creative which means he lacked the business skills and ruthlessness often needed in the fashion business to get anywhere. You get a sense that while a pioneer of the suit, Tommy was also constrained by it. He was constrained to bespoke suiting, particularly, which, due to the quality and labour intensiveness, would only ever be on a small scale and his dreams of creating a bigger ‘brand’ was restricted by centring around this one garment.
Whenever he tried anything else, outside of this area, he didn’t seem to grasp it or be able to make it work. The strong shoulder, huge lapels and contrasting fabrics became not only his signature, but his style straight jacket.
This book is great, you’ll speed through it. The best bits feature Elton John. I knew Tommy had created Elton’s 1980’s straw-boater, 'I’m Still Standing' era clothes, but I hadn’t realised he was there from the start. David became one of his inner circle and follows him around the world with manic energy. Everybody is in here: Beatles, Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono, Diana Ross.
Unfortunately, having died from that big disease with a little name, Tommy’s voice isn’t here and it would have been nice to hear from Cilla Black as she seemed to have a lot of love for him. But, the main voices are: Edward Sexton, his main cutter and Peter Brown, his boyfriend and the Beatles' manager, even when conflicting, but, that’s, ultimately, history and people’s differing viewpoints.
I remember sitting next to Jeremy Hackett at a dinner once, he started his company selling vintage clothes, and I asked him if he ever came across any Tommy Nutter, as you never see it anywhere. He said he once had some from Andrew Lloyd Webber, but it wasn’t particularly interesting. It feels like all the best pieces were commissioned by the rock stars and celebrities of that era and are probably still languishing in their storage warehouses somewhere.
There was an exhibition at The Fashion & Textile Museum in Bermondsey, a few year’s ago, which brought together some of Tommy’s best clothes. Cilla Black’s were there and I remember how small Ringo Star’s and Mick Jagger’s mannequins were.
This feels comprehensive and very well researched by Lance Richardson. The majority of the book takes place in some of the most exciting times and places of the 20th century: London in the 1960s and New York in the 1970s and this energy is what makes the book flow.
I’d love to hear what Elton John remembers. His shopping addiction seems to keep Tommy in pinstripe trousers for a while and his partying and 1970s wardrobe are all off the chart.
David Nutter is still alive and living in New York, and while Tommy died in 1992, this end segment of the book is very emotional, the glamour and era makes this a must-read for anybody interested in not only men’s clothes, but photography, music and the fashion business.
House of Nutter: The Rebel Tailor of Savile Row by Lance Richardson - Chatto & Windus - £25
If somebody said they could make you any suit you wanted, that fitted perfectly, simply by sending a few photographs of yourself, you’d be sceptical, right?
That’s how I felt when “The Drop” got in touch. The Drop is a startup that allows men to create their clothes, in their sizes at a price which suits their budget.
I’ve seen many apps, come and go, that allow you to take a picture of an item you see in the street. Like Shazam for clothes, they let you know where you can buy it from. Unfortunately, this only works for clothes in season and available in your size, so can be a disappointing search. It also doesn’t allow for you imagination or dream item.
Left - TheChicGeek smiling in his finished suit
The Drop business was founded on the premise that lots of men know what they want when they see it (whether on Instagram, Pinterest or on the street) but often find it hard to locate it in stores, in their size - a fundamental disconnect between supply and demand.
Right - Inspiration - Burberry - But I wanted it cut like a Tom Ford
The Drop enables customers to submit an image of their ideal suit (from styles they've seen online, in store or on the street) along with images of themselves so that correct measurements can be assessed. Their suit is then made & delivered in their size in under three weeks. Prices start from around the £300 mark.
They can make a single item in Asia, and then they allow a small budget for you to take the finished item to be altered, if it needs any additional work, at a place of your choosing.
I wanted something different yet also something that I knew they could make. It would be pointless going all out Gucci if they didn’t offer those kinds of fabrics.
I wanted a brown flannel suit as it’s really hard to find a good chocolate brown suit. I found an old picture from a previous Burberry campaign, but I wanted a longer jacket and wider lapels.
I also wanted the fit based on a Tom Ford suit that I already own. After a couple of e-mails, swatches were sent through, which is difficult to choose online admittedly and they said they didn’t have brown flannel, so I just asked for a plain chocolate coloured suit.
I sent three pictures - front, side, back - of me in fitted clothing and then chose the lining and other details on the suit. I went for a peaked lapel two button wool suit with a pink lining.
They may get in touch to ask a few further questions and just to clarify the order.
Far Left - Tailored Made - Chic Geek - Pink lining with green lettering
Left - The Edward Sexton/Tommy Nutter/Tom Ford lapels that I wanted
A few weeks later the suit was ready. It was shinier than I envisioned, but not detrimental. The lapels were good, very Tom Ford/Edward Sexton like - move over Harry Styles! As for fit, the waist on the trousers and the jacket was too tight. They kindly had this altered for me, when in reality you would do this yourself and then bill The Drop.
Overall, the suit is good, I know I couldn’t buy another brown wool suit with a pink lining for the price they are asking.
Verdict - For the price of a high-street suit you get something individual and one-off. You could get something for a special occasion or if you find it hard to get standard suits to fit, but at these prices you could use this service everytime you want a new suit. This concept has the potential to play around and copy designer items quickly if the choice of fabrics allows.
I think The Drop needs to brand their name more on the items, as I couldn’t remember the name throughout the process, and they should also offer more inspiration and fabric choices to capture the more experimental and directional customers or for those guys who know what they want, but want a few images to base it upon. It would also be good to photograph the suits they make to give you more of a feel of what they do and create a community of passionate guys wanting something individual.
Left - Brown & pink suit from The Drop from around £300
See the full The Drop OOTD here
Another year, another crop of prestigious ChicGeek Awards. Fashion years are longer than dog years, crammed full of so much celebrity, business and unpredictability, it feels like a never-ending rollercoaster of stylish ups and downs.
And, what a stylish year 2015 was. This was the year the Apple Watch arrived, Gucci became cool again and the British high-street took over the world. Here’s what TheChicGeek rated for 2015:
Get involved #TheChicGeekAwards
Best Label of 2015 - GUCCI
Creative directors of fashion brands get replaced all the time. They come and go quicker than many football managers, but without as much drama! Historical Italian house, Gucci, was crying out for a fresh injection of ideas for a very long time, but it’s the speed and quality of the turnaround that has made it TheChicGeek’s Label of the Year.
Thanks to Alessandro Michele, the new Creative Director, it completed an 180 degree turnaround into the ultimate geek-chic look of fantasy dressing within one and a half seasons. Gone was the obviously sexual to something that is sophisticated, clever and interesting.
When you’re the world’s second largest luxury goods company and you decide to change this drastically, it has a huge global influence. I was just pleasantly surprised how radical and comprehensive it has been.
His first collection (AW15) of androgyny had many of us thinking "we’ve seen this before", but it’s the subsequent Cruise collections, campaigns and store refurbishments that has cemented this new look of vintage maximalism.
Gucci has become the buzziest label of late and looks set to continue its dominance. Unfortunately, high-street menswear isn’t copying it straight away, but expect to see details and influences in the coming few months. You can always add a simple grosgrain ribbon to your silk shirt!
A double GG belt buckle hasn’t been this cool since the 90s, but this one is in a more delicate font finished in vintage brass.
Gucci has added much needed excitement back into fashion, but there are so many ideas in each collection I’m scared there aren’t enough ideas to go around. Let’s just hope it doesn’t run out of steam anytime soon. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.
Best New Label of 2015 - DANIEL W. FLETCHER
Selling designer menswear is a difficult business. Men with deep enough pockets are traditionally conservative and those with the will often don’t have the way. So, any new designer menswear label that appears has to be admired.
A new menswear label that caught my eye was Daniel W. Fletcher. Originally from Chester, the brand was founded shortly after Daniel finished at Central Saint Martins, this year, after studying Fashion Design: Menswear, and his graduate collection was picked up by Opening Ceremony who will be the exclusive stockist of a capsule of 8 pieces from this first SS16 collection.
The collection - Peckham Pony Club - is a reaction to the gentrification and re-development of urban space in London. The writings of Ruth Glass and witnessing first hand the gentrification of London neighbourhoods inspired a collection which aims to capture the essence of the urban gentry which Glass defined.
Peckham, in South-East London, provided a backdrop for a collection which reflects the mix of cultures and styles as a result of socio-economic change, whilst highlighting the effects of regeneration schemes and the displacement of long term residents.
Featuring shaved mink collars, silk pyjama shirts and stretch leggings in a palette of baby blue, white and black, it has a retro-futurism quality with humorous touches with the ‘Peckham Pony Club’ branding. I’m wearing a look in a forthcoming OOTD and it sure beats all those Peckham hipsters in their Barbour jackets.
Best High Street of 2015 - NEW LOOK
After a few false starts, this was the year New Look’s menswear finally made it into the pantheon of men’s British high-street retailers. Menswear became a new focus of their business with 4 standalone men’s stores opening across the UK and another 20 are planned for the new year.
The collections became more trend lead and sophisticated with some of the best suede pieces I’d seen this season regardless of price point.
New Look menswear grew up without losing its youthful side and became a bonafide menswear player in what must be the most competitive affordable menswear market in the world.
As if we weren’t spoilt enough with affordable menswear retailers, in 2015 New Look became another great place to find well-fitted, affordable and fashionable menswear.
Best Grooming Product 2015 - GILLETTE FUSION PROGLIDE FLEXBALL RAZOR
Razor brands often herald something ‘new’ with great fanfare when in fact it’s the same old tired concept in a new colour way or they’ve added more blades. Revolutionary.
Gillette, this year, really did come up with something new and it works.
It’s a simple concept really - a sprung ball that can move up, down and sideways following the different contours of the face.
The FlexBall is a little bit like the Dyson of the shaving world allowing for ease of movement and a close, safer shave.
When the hipsters rediscover shaving again they’ll be pleased to know it’s got a lot easier and more comfortable since they last did it thanks to this.
Best Grooming Brand 2015 - KIEHL’S
American grooming brand, Kiehl’s, seemed to have the most innovation this year. Admittedly, a lot of it was unisex, but it still introduced me to facial oils and leave on overnight masks.
Kiehl’s has cornered the market in that pharmacy stroke skincare brand with attractive stores and simple yet recognisable packaging. They’ve expanded yet still managed to keep it cult.
I also particularly liked the Peter Max psychedelic makeover they gave their packaging for Christmas 2015.
Most Stylish Man 2015 - HARRY STYLES
Harry gets an A for effort. A stylist can take a star to water, but they certainly can’t make them drink. Harry took a tall glass of water, this year, with his floral suits from Gucci and silk pyjama shirts from Daniel W. Fletcher (above).
He’s owning that Saint Laurent/Gucci rocker look that is one part timeless and one part contemporary. It’s a tough ask being the new Mick Jagger, but it needs to come easy especially when it comes to the clothes.
He’s been cleverly distancing himself from the rest of One Direction and using his wardrobe and hair to do this. While not every outfit hits the mark, it’s the experimentation and interest that he gets TheChicGeek recognition for.
Best Fragrance 2015 - DUNHILL ICON
This was an early release in the year. dunhill ICON opens with top notes of Italian bergamot and neroli absolute intertwine with a black pepper, fusing the mid notes of cardamom lavender de Provence.
The dunhill brand was given a refresh by new designer John Ray and this was the first fragrance to complement that. The advertising for this matched the advertising for the main brand. The bottle perfectly reflected dunhill’s art-deco heritage while the fragrance was mainstream yet sophisticated and wearable.
It sits up there with Mont Blanc Legend. A modern classic.
Most Stylish Film 2015 - CRIMSON PEAK
Director Guillermo Del Toro’s spooky, gothic thriller Crimson Peak gets TheChicGeek award because of its attention to detail. While the beginning American section is a little bit Titanic, the rest is a visual feast in high-Victorian gothic.
Costume designer, Kate Hawley, fills the film with late Victorian menswear and while it does take a back-seat to the women’s costumes, it adds to the many layers of this visual feast of incest and gory mass murders.
Best Menswear Collaboration 2015 - MONCLER A
Menswear is suffering from something that I can only describe as ‘Collaboration Fatigue’, right now, so this year wasn’t as perky as it once was in the world of collaborations.
One that caught my eye was Moncler A. A Wes Anderson like exaggeration of logos and colours, Moncler A is tie-up with AMI, founded in 2011 by Parisian menswear designer Alexandre Mattiussi.
Playing with the tricolour palette - red, white and blue - of Moncler, Moncler A was a tasteful and handsome take on Moncler’s outerwear classics.
Special ChicGeek Award 2015 - CILLA BLACK
What’s Cilla Black doing on TheChicGeek Awards, you may ask, but she was instrumental in one of the most exciting periods of British menswear.
Savile Row tailor Tommy Nutter and master cutter Edward Sexton teamed up and opened ‘Nutters’ on Savile Row in 1969, and was financially backed by British pop singer Cilla Black and Beatles’ executive Peter Brown.
She introduced the label to her long-standing friends, the Beatles, three of them are wearing Tommy Nutter on the cover of Abbey Road and others within her pop-star circle.
This was and still is the most influential of 1960s tailors and gave rise to the Peacock Revolution and the huge lapelled and flared suits of the 1970s.
Her friendship and financial support of Tommy Nutter left us with one of the most exciting episodes of 20th century menswear. I bet she has left one of the best vintage collections of Tommy Nutter.