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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Primark SS12 Men's Lookbook

I like what Primark have done with their SS12 lookbook. The shoot is quite boldly styled and fresh looking. One of my favourite pieces is the denim shirt above. It would look simple and smart under a crew neck jumper. I really like the Navajo style detail to the pocket too. There is something quite cheap looking about this shirt; the material doesn’t look like a very nice quality and the sleeves look a little short in the arm, the collar doesn’t sit very nicely and the placket isn’t sitting flat either. I guess that’s what you get when you pay about £13 for a denim shirt though, eh!?

Primark Men's Lookbook- SS12

I like this nostalgic look too; a statement and retro shirt that fits with the season’s trend for a relaxed beach bum 1950’s going on 1970’s surf look. Such a noticeable design is only ever really going to be good for a season so why invest in a high quality shirt when you can pick this one up at Primark, wear it on your summer holiday and for that one hot day where everyone dons their short shorts and heads to the park tout suite? I mean your pals will probably rip you for it and then you’ll get a complex and never wear the shirt again anyway and all I can say is you’ll be thankful you never went all out and invested in that, frankly ridiculous, Marc by Marc Jacobs Hawaiian shirt because that would have been a fat wedge (£165) down the drain.

At the end of the day though, no matter how many people tell you it’s alright, ‘savvy’, thrifty or even cool to shop in Primark we all know it’s actually not. The clothes don’t fit well, they don’t wear well and they don’t wash well with the cool kids and no matter how banging hot you look in your orange sherbet chinos and nostalgic nautical shirt, it’s not conducive to an overall air of style and timelessness. Fine for a season, but certainly not a wardrobe favourite or a piece to cherish.

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I recently read the Business of Fashion look at the Supreme brand. The article was taken from German magazine 032c and BoF posted it in two parts (one & two). The article is certainly complimentary towards Supreme, which was nice to read and quite refreshing that it wasn’t riddled with snide comments and critisism.

I don’t class myself as a ‘cult’ follower of Supreme and I don’t see the brand through rose tinted glasses, on the other hand I’m not a hater at all and I have a lot of respect for the way the brand has been managed over the years. But this article seemed to divide and rile readers, bringing out the passion in them.

The artical follows Supreme’s rise and rise, giving us an insight into the brand and the guy behind it. My only problem with it (and it’s not really a problem) was that I don’t think it really got stuck in to look at the reasons behind why the brand has been so resiliant against the ‘brand cycle’. I belive it is a mixture of luck, strategy and restraint. I’m hoping I can demonstrate my reasoning as a support for the 032c artical, but with a focus on what I find most interseting about looking at a brand like Supreme.

The American skate scene has always petered along in the background and has walked the line between underground and mainstream. I think it helps that there are a number of different ‘tribes’ within the scene as a whole which has made it fractured enough to never have propelled it into the limelight.

Jebbia was in the right place (New York) at the right time (early nineties, when the skate scene was experiencing a certain resurgence). However this in no way makes the brand. What followed was a series of good decisions and also a lack of complete greed which propelled Supreme to its current cult status.

There are a lot of brands that have been founded in the right place at the right time. Stussy is one of these. What I believe separates Supreme from Stussy is the level of commerciality that they deem acceptable in order to stay credible.

I love Stussy. It has a rich history, a genuine story and a strong and loyal customer base which is what most brands would kill for. This is pure speculation but I can’t help but feel that there is someone there who isn’t (or wasn’t) satisfied with what they had achieved. What ensued was a series of poor commercial decisions that bastardised the brand and made it too accessible. It is still a premium brand and it still has a solid future but it’s miles apart from Supreme in this respect. The recent flood of collaborations (the Fred Perry collab being, for me, a particularly ill conceived decision, the Comme shoes were pretty bad too) and printed tees that don’t feel considered, have set my alarm bells ringing. They seem to want to appeal to everyone but at the same time I feel this might have alienated some of their really loyal customers, it’s a classic case of commerciality vs credibility and in this case credibility seems to have been popped on the back burner in favour of raking in the cash (that said, they try pretty darn hard, they create some really nice content online and are involved in projects that some brands can only ever dream of).

Supreme is so different in this respect. They have such a limited distribution and the BoF piece talks of customers not being able to touch stock, queuing round the clock and keeping the real gems in the back so that ‘those in the know’ can ask for them. Supreme are still giving the impression to consumers that this is really ‘aspirational’ stuff, for those engrossed in the culture that Supreme epitomises, never mind that should you not want to put up with the superior shop assistants and all of that tosh, you can buy it online pretty easily. It’s as accessible as any brand if you don’t have a burning desire to be one of only 100 or 1000 owners of a certain t-shirt.

The point I am trying to make is that Supreme has had the opportunity to be as ‘big’ as Stussy, Fred Perry, Vans or Dickies –they all have roots in a popular sub-culture, but in remaining more low-key and unattainable they have actually become much bigger in status and stature with their tight knit target audience than these other huge brands.

The way that Supreme has chosen to be more commercial is by cutting costs in production but cleverly countering this by offering limited runs and exclusives. Instead of grumbling that the quality has gone down, just don’t buy it any more. That’s what happens to most brands, they get big and greedy and flood the market with cheap merchandise which is exactly why the brand cycle exists and is so true and predictable for so many brands. They screw themselves because they are a victim of their own success, how fast it takes affect depends on just how greedy everyone gets. Customers desert a brand in search of the next because it has become too accessible and too low quality. The reason people grumble about the quality of Supreme is because they still want to buy it. It’s still a status brand which is highly desirable on many different levels, whether it’s for the 15 year old kid that saves up for a plain white tee with the iconic branding or the ‘connoisseur’ who wants the rare pieces to flaunt in front of envious friends. I really think there is something to be said for this. It shows a combination of self restraint, creative direction and business strategy which means that Supreme has escaped the cruel grip of the brand lifecycle….. thus far.

Time will tell whether this strategy continues to work for the brand or whether they are going to have to react to developments in technology and consumer sharing which could almost lead to the bastardisation of the brand without any wrong move from the Supreme team. So what would I do in their position? Keep distribution super tight, keep up the limited runs and smaller scale collaborations and watch their ‘product placement’, because for every hip young kid who buys in to Supreme having seen Tyler the Creator wearing it at the MTV awards or plastered over Hypebeast every fortnight, there will be a hip 20-something who decides that’s enough and they don’t want to continue buying into a brand that a 15 year old is coveting. However a brand is at the mercy of its customers and so many have learnt this the hard way over the years (Cristal champagne being my all time favourite case study that makes me chuckle with glee), and if the kids run away with this one, it’s going to be nigh on impossible for Supreme to do anything about it. There will be lots of people rubbed up by Supreme’s sheer arrogance and superiority that may be wishing this fate upon them, but for some reason I think they’ll be waiting a very long time.

Farah Vintage is a historically American brand, born in the 1920’s with a fairly rich history that includes a stint making military garments. Today, I know of Farah from a distinctly British perspective, recognising their fair history and their distant love affair with the UK’s subcultures. Since 2007 when I first bought something, I have followed their progress, on and off, over the years with only mild interest. Then, a few months ago they won Drapers Menswear Brand of the Year.

I don’t know loads about Farah except that they are owned by Perry Ellis, who also own Original Penguin (it seems to be a complicated company with UK, EU and US branches and arms all over the place, dealing with all sorts of other brands). Both Farah and Penguin are American brands and they have a turbulent history falling foul of the brand cycle over and over (as many brands do). I’m going to guess that the Perry Ellis take over happened in around 2004/5 for Farah (a couple of years to do some re-structuring, a couple of years for the new collections to come through to retail), as in 2007 I picked up a lovely cashmere cardigan from TK Maxx (many great brands have been there and bounced back!). It’s a great quality item, it’s lasted brilliantly, it’s a great fit and it still looks fairly current despite being bought years ago.

At the time I was unaware of the brand, I just liked the fact the cardigan was reduced from £90 to £20. Then a year or so later I started to see Farah being stocked in Selfridges and Urban Outfitters. I don’t care what anyone says, these two stores’ buyers know what they are doing and their brand mix for their menswear is always fresh and commercial so they’re always worth a snoop around.

Someone was making a conscientious effort to turn this brand around, the product was great, but from a consumer perspective there just wasn’t enough noise about them.

The imagery that they were using was a little bit naff and cheesy but I can see what they were doing with it. The message is clear it was a hark back to their 1970’s/1980’s British sub-cultural roots. They are going for the casuals/mod/urban-deprived-youth look that was very popular around 2007-2010. This facelift was probably what they needed to get into some of these leading menswear departments in such prominent stores. Farah also released their 1920 range to remind us all of their long history, (the heritage thing has been pretty big for a while now too, you can’t move for brands trying to tell you their story) however I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a store.

Farah are probably best known for their trousers. They made work pants and work shirts during the 1930’s and 40’s and then shifted to make military uniform. These industrial, work-wear and military roots don’t seem to come through as strong influences in their collections and this does seem like a shame. They seem to focus a lot on their sub-cultural roots instead and as fickle as this sounds, I’m just a bit bored of everyone doing that. I like the way that Red Wing, Carharrt and some other American brands (albeit their European Licensee counterparts) have started to lean more heavily on their industrial past rather than dream up some relationship with a 70’s subculture like everyone else.

Farah’s chinos are a fantastic fit though. They aren’t too slim through the leg, yet they are gently tapered so that they don’t have a wide ankle opening. They also fit properly around the waist, they don’t have a dropped crotch which is quite refreshing. It seems they have stuck to a faithful shape and only made small changes to modernise the shape so that you get that slightly old fashioned feel without looking like you raided a charity shop. They are gentleman’s trousers, the epitome of ‘smart-casual’.

In 2011 Farah Vintage won Drapers Menswear Brand of the Year. Initially I was really shocked, I mean they don’t even have a functional e-commerce site (tut tut, this is 2012 Farah!) and they were also up against some reputable competition from the likes of Ben Sherman (huge investment in 2011) and Lyle and Scott. On reflection though I think it is fantastic for Farah to have won this, I feel like they deserve the recognition as on the 2 occasions I have come into contact with their products I have been very pleasantly surprised by the quality and cut, however they don’t seem to be overly prominent in the marketplace.

If you’re looking for some great fitting chinos I’d strongly recommend Farah Vintage. They are stocked in Urban Outfitters as well as having opened a store in Shoreditch’s answer to a shopping mall- BoxPark.