Monday 25 June saw three menswear specialists join The Industry Editor in Chief, Lauretta Roberts, on stage at the W London hotel, Leicester Square, to talk all things menswear and retail in a captivating hour-long Q&A.
The event brought together the different opinions and perspectives of Simon Carter, Founder and CEO of the Simon Carter brand, Sean Dixon, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Savile Row’s Richard James, and leading menswear commentator of the blogosphere, Marcus Jaye, Founder and Creative Director of TheChicGeek.co.uk.
The Industry Editor in Chief, Lauretta Roberts, was keen to point out that the UK menswear market, while only still around half that of the women’s market, is in fact growing faster, and is up 3.3% year on year to £14.5bn. But what did the panel make of such statistics and are they feeling any impact? Simon Carter says: “We’ve actually seen steady growth in all of our stores over the last few years, which bucks a lot of the trend. A lot of my customers are in their 40’s and 50’s and, in my Mayfair store, even in their 60’s. Maybe 20 years ago, retailers would have written off that kind of customer, but these guys still want to look good and are well aware of what’s going on.”
Having previously been better known for accessories, Carter has now put the brand’s design emphasis on shirts, which he showed at the recent Pitti Uomo show in Florence. Despite generally having a more mature customer base, he is also currently selling a line of jewellery on ASOS, and has recently done a footwear collaboration with Schuh, which gives his brand recognition to a younger consumer too.
Being in the tailoring market, Richard James is perhaps finding times more challenging, but their clientele is very varied and, of course, wealthy, as well as international. Co-Founder, Sean Dixon, comments: “Tailoring is changing because our customers are not buying suits as a uniform for work, it’s more about a choice investment. They may be getting married, and men are changing how they think about what they should wear for their big day. Women spend a fortune on wedding dresses, now guys are thinking ‘why can’t I?’”
Dixon says that the great and appealing thing with bespoke tailoring is that the customer gets to have some input. He also says that there’s definitely been a move away from wearing suits, going more towards separates. “But people will spend the time and money on the right jackets and trousers, and they do want to look different, especially rich people in creative industries such as architects and musicians.”
In response, The ChicGeek’s Marcus Jaye, offers: “What’s important about Savile Row is, even though they may be charging £5,000 for a bespoke suit, it still needs to be good value. You hear a lot of stories about brands cutting corners, not just in Britain but in Italy as well, where a premium price is still being charged, but it’s not necessarily a premium product. That’s the kind of thing that undermines the whole industry for everybody.”
Looking at the global menswear market, Simon Carter has just opened five stores in India, and Richard James has a new 1,800 square foot shop in New York. Sean Dixon says Richard James has recently received some American investment, and the focus is now very much on the US, where he sees great potential in what is a huge and lucrative market. “There’s definitely a synergy between London and New York,” says Dixon. “Also, rents have become a little more realistic in New York.” America is also a market Simon Carter is looking to really crack, currently in the process of setting up a new deal with a US distributor.
India, however, is where Carter has now put a big focus. He explains: “The new shops in India are a joint venture, and it’s a deal that’s taken six years to come to fruition. We’ve had great success with India’s answer to Harvey Nichols, called The Collective, so it’s happened through them, and it’s a big expansion programme.”
Carter says he’s always been very excited about India and West Africa as markets, but not China. “They dress very conservatively, and I’m known for colour, design and pattern, which are a better fit for India and West Africa. They get it. Nigeria is Africa’s most populated nation of 100 million people, so those markets are appealing to me. In China, you’re also more likely to spend the first 10 years defending your trademarks from pirates!”
Back to the current state of the UK’s retail, amid the likes of House of Fraser needing to take the CVA route to stay afloat, TheChicGeek’s Marcus Jaye says: “Brands that aren’t very good just need to disappear. It’s the Darwin theory. In the last 20 years, John Lewis has doubled its shops, and that’s killed House of Fraser. But John Lewis is much better at doing what it does.” It has also put a huge emphasis on its menswear offer, both with own-brand and bought-in brands. On another retail note, regarding New Look’s strategy to go cheaper, Jaye offers: “It has decided that 80% of its new product will be under £20, so clearly it’s now going for the Primark customer. It’s do or die for them.” Simon Carter adds: “Rather them than me. It sounds like a fight to the bottom.”
Looking at the online threat to bricks and mortar retail, making shopping more fun and exciting, and making stores more of an experience that can’t be replicated online, is what Carter sees as very important. He offers: “I’ve made a point of employing very eccentric and unusual managers in my five UK stores. One of our stores has just seen sales growth up 42% because of a new manager and his enthusiasm, and the way he talks about the products to the customers. People come back in the shops for that. I also encourage the managers to run the stores as their own, in their own individual and unique way.”
Talking trends, TheChicGeek’s Marcus Jaye says that in the luxury end of the market there’s a trend back to more sophisticated looks. He comments: “I think there’s now an element of people thinking that if they are going to spend a lot of money on clothes they’d prefer to look grown-up and expensive. It’s a return to how it used to be and the opposite of that kind of Balenciaga 1990’s Russian charity shop look, and novelty items such as charms on bags. That looks has finally had its time. It’s maybe going to be more about quality again.”