Often traditional luxury houses have a strange perception of the maple leaf country. Funny enough already its name “Canada” comes directly from how, already in 1545, a local french explorer, Jacques Cartier, started to call these lands: probably he would have been very proud to know that 470 years later, someone with his name would have opened a luxury jewellery store in the country he helped to discover.
Second largest in the world, but with a population which is almost half of the Italian one, Canada is a tough cookie to handle for most part of the brands operating in high end apparel and accessories business.
First of all it is important to underline that this country is, it self, already an historical luxury generator, a great brand builder and a well organized manufacturing hub: if we rank the worldwide top 25 companies within the fashion apparel, accessories and luxury goods segment, who all together boast a market capitalisation of $448 billion and generate $228 billion per year, two of them are Canadian: Vancouver-based yoga and athletic wear brand Lululemon , and the Montreal-based Gildan Activewear.
For those unfamiliar, Gildan manufactures and markets branded clothing, like New Balance and Under Armour, with approximately 34,000 employees. But these are not the only examples of the well known reputation of Canadians retailers: Canada Goose, Aldo, Joe Fresh, Aritzia are just some of the great entrepreneurial ventures that are not only very powerful locally but that have been already successfully exported abroad.
Secondly, Canada has started only in the recent 10 years to present and develop in its territory a luxury good offer coming from abroad. Department and specialty stores like Holt Renfrew, Nordstrom, Saks, Hudson Bay and Harry Rosen have build a strong presence in the main canadian cities, not to mention e-commerce luxury players like S-sense or The September, who have become in very short times, powerful high end resellers, in a vast country where, to buy a pair of Manolos, you might need to cross 4 time zones.
As in many other countries, it does not come as a surprise that e-commerce business is a fast growing sector: revenues from the web are estimated at more than $20bln, or about 7% of the the nation’s $352bln in total retail spending in 2017 (by comparison US ecommerce makes up over 10% of retail spending). On this base, market operators estimate that online channels will deliver in the next years more than 35% of all Canadian retail sales growth, even if customers already showed frustration in browsing Canadian websites, discovering that Us e-retailers have ten times wider assortment.
Without doubt, upon recent studies, Canada is an important luxury market because of its steady economic growth: the number of top household incomes grew 15% in 2017 with a rising number young affluent consumers, who are very fashion focused, highly educated, and demand excellence in the products they choose. As many local operators state, above all in cities like Vancouver, where more than 40% of the population is asian descent (many having emigrated years ago), luxury market has heated up with new stores opening as well as renovations of the exiting ones. This rise of sales is largely due to the above mentioned Asian customers, who represent the number one and fastest growing nationality for luxury goods worldwide and quality and craftsmanship are at the top of their expectations.
Many luxury brands in the recent years opened giant flagship stores in Toronto and Vancouver, all of them over 10.000 sqft size. From Dior to Vuitton, from Gucci to Prada, the colonisation of the luxury empires seems to be just and its beginning, even if already many report that the brand experience and product customisation capabilities are still unfortunately far from the ones customers can find in Europe.
But, right in the country that was famous for the gold rush at the beginning of the xx century, is not a nugget everything sparkles and, apparently, the growth of the luxury business in this constitutional monarchy – yes, Queen Elisabeth ll is the head of state and officially the monarch – is already slowing down. Industry watchers say Canada’s retail clothing sector is expected to slow in the coming few years even though the battle for luxury shoppers is revving up. After two years of growth approaching four per cent, sales are forecast to slow and bottom out to a mere one per cent increase in 2018. Just recently, Target abruptly announced it was shutting down all 133 of its Canadian stores only two years after its highly anticipated arrival in the country and some of the criticisms leveled against the U.S. retailer were that it expanded too quickly and did not understand the Canadian customers.
On the other hand, Canadian apparel retailers, who still maintain strong market positions, as they know very well Canadian consumers and quickly respond to shifting lifestyle’s trends, are not facing a threat from international department stores and internet retailers only , but are also experiencing more competition from new players in the market, like COS, Zara and H&M, who, by adopting a just in time inventory strategy and presenting the last fashion designs, have the power to attract more sophisticated customers.
On the light to the above, it seems pretty clear that for a luxury brand, willing to land in Canada, things might not be so easy. Many made big mistakes while evaluating to be able to handle Canadian retail stores directly from US: they underestimated the huge logistic, custom, transportation and storage problems that might happen while crossing the border, not to mention that Canadian shopping mentality can be very challenging to absorb and handle, not only from a product offer point of view but also in terms of attitude: Hudson bay company, who led almost 31% of the adult Canadians luxury buying in the past year, reported that usually more than 70% per cent of Canadians wait for sales to shop at Department Stores, reflecting the national budget conscious propensity. In addition, on the base of recent studies, it seems that more than 35 per cent of the local customers in the canadian cities feel the Department Store concept is too big, tired and dated.
Probably, as this beautiful yet still very challenging market is far from having reached a stable and mature relationship with luxury goods, fashion and jewellery conglomerates like Max Mara or Pomellato did a right choice when decided to sign long term franchising partnerships with powerful local operators like the giant Vancouver Group Vestis: honestly, who better than the grand nephews of Monsieur Jaques Cartier can sell a golden ring to their fellow citizens?
Tuxedo vs Smoking vs Dinner jacket
In the past it was the ambiguous uniform of Marlene Dietrich, then of Catherine Deneuve during her times as a muse of Yves Saint Laurent. Today even Angelina Jolie and Monica Bellucci look very sexy in it. Still, we are talking about the most masculine piece of garment on earth, so elegant that almost any man gains ten points in beauty and appeal, while wearing it. We talk about Tuxedo, or Smoking, or Dinner Jacket: that kind of suit that is required, when you receive an invitation mentioning a “black tie” dress code.
In a fashion world where everything has turned into a more casual and relaxed attire in offices and theatres, it seems a miracle that tuxedo performances are still holding their market positions. In specific, only in the last year, the increased informality in the men’s wear has caused a job loss to more than 400 people at Brioni, has caused serious cash problems to Caruso and to Michelangelo (the sister manufacturing company of Isaia), and it was the reason Zegna revenues fell down to 1.2 billion. So the question is: if millennials and men in general feel nowadays more comfortable in hoodie&sneakers look, if they would never wear a tie again and if they are accepted by their girlfriends in a constant chinos-meets-t-shirt outfit, a black formal suit, with shining satin lapels, has still a reason to exist?
Roots go back to 18th century, when, almost at the same time (around 1860) in both UK and USA tailors were developing a new suit shape, out of a “penguin jacket” which was the norm for a gentleman, while attending a formal dinner (and therefore called “dinner jacket”).
In England, prince Edward Vll requested the tails of the jacket to be cut in order to create an over coat he could wear while smoking the cigar, after dinner, in order to preserve from smoke smell the suit underneath. This is how “smoking ” saw the light.
In the U.S, around the same years, the millionaire James Potter, after visiting England and meeting Prince Edward, developed the use of the same piece of garment, creating such an allure around it (after all it was coming directly from Buckingham Palace), that it soon became the ultimate choice for an American gentleman. The new name “tuxedo” came from the name of the country club of the said millionaire in New Jersey – Tuxedo Park – where this attire became immediately mandatory.
After Mr Potter and Prince Edward, thousands are, in the following century, the male icons a man compares himself to, while wearing a smoking and looking him self in the mirror: from Hercule Poirot, to Frank Sinatra, from Robert Redford to James Bond, we, the boys, always feel kind of sexy, adventurous, irresistible and invincible if we happen to wear a tuxedo.
Of course there have been, along the years, many variations of it, to the point that this dinner jacket left its “after dark” role, to join several other occasion of use: The Beatles were singing in a light blue smoking, the young American boys started wearing it in the fanciest colors for their first Prom Ball, and “tux” has become the regular groom outfit in many countries in the world, no matter if the wedding happens while the sun still shines.
On the light of the above, we can then definitely affirm that, while the whole men formal wear industry is today obliged to reinvent itself, focusing on other categories, still tuxedo holds a centre stage and it is even promoted to new roles of seduction by the millennials. Fresh in our memory is the stunning advertising campaign of Dolce&Gabbana last season, showing young handsome bloggers in bright embroidered velvet dinner jackets, and unforgettable are the catwalks of Tom Ford, where damned naughty boys were sent out with a cigarette and a whisky glass in their hands, during endless nights of pleasure.
Nevertheless, we also have to the take into consideration that, despite the dinner jacket business still shows a positive sales performance, as Eva Green says in Casino Royale: “There is a dinner and a dinner jacket”, as tuxedos are nowadays available anywhere.
In actual facts, as unfortunately happened to denim pants, also tuxedos have quickly left “mono category” producers, to join nearly any designer collection: from Dior to Prada, every brand today has its own smoking proposal and even Zara and Massimo Dutti made them too, for their fashionable but budget-conscious clients. In addition, a strong phenomenon started to become very popular, already years ago: the tuxedo rental business.
In USA, where probably many Americans have to wear it once in their life (for their wedding), renting a smoking is, since a while, not only accepted, but probably the best choice for a groom. But also this business has soon showed its weakness: firstly, according to the retailers, People are getting married less and later than ever before and there are indicators that the overall wedding business is slowly shrinking due to shifting cultural attitudes toward traditional weddings; secondly, Black-tie seems to be no longer the norm, as increasingly , destination, beach, and farm weddings have become more popular than traditional black-tie events.
Almost two centuries later Prince Edward imagined it, smoking, born from a result of real sartorial revolution, still remains a symbol of elegance and masculinity for all formal affairs and is refreshing to see that in order to keep this tradition going and well protected, Brunello Cucinelli bought the factories of formalwear D’Avenza and Zegna acquired wool farms in Australia, to produce the finest yarn for elegant midnight blue tuxedos. After all, even if Vetements pushes all of us to look like street skaters, there still is a bit of James Bond in every man.
There are no more middle seasons in fashion
There are no more middle seasons, and, as it seems, soon there will be no more seasons at all in fashion. Burberry cancelled seasons, Moncler cancelled seasons and now even Katherine Hamnett and Gosha Rubchinskiy cancel seasons.
Who reads these headlines is pushed to answer “And so what”? But the question is serious.
I often have the feeling that fashion business, instead of being a rich mix of individual brands, sometimes acts like a big flock in front of any small change, not even fully understanding the reason why things happen.
It is like the “fur free” campaign that became very quickly an epidemic. Don’t get me wrong: the choice of a company to move into a fur free segment, or at least to start an industrial process in this sense, is a very strong message and a very important engagement, that has to be taken very seriously. Not so serious is the aim, when the message is given for marketing purposes only and counting on the lack of knowledge of the public.
For instance: how many brands, who till now declared to go fur free, were great producers of fur products and, after their “hard” choice, had to cut a good portion of their turnover? How many incredible and beautiful fur pieces you remember, made by these brands? And how many of these brands still produce items made from croco/alligator skin or even own their internal tanneries? Despite the answers to these questions are left to the public opinion, have you ever checked on how cruel and violent is the way crocodile skin is removed from the animal? Have you ever seen the way even sheeps are violently sheared? If you carefully check, these methods are way more intolerable than killing a mink. On the light of the above, it seems pretty clear that, beside companies that take a very serious engagement towards their customers, there are some others who, unfortunately, use the same statements to create additional press presence only.
The same happened, a couple of years ago, with another epidemic: the “see now-buy now” effect. Big names of the fashion business had announced it (as well as very small ones), claiming that this would have been the new mandatory business model of the future. The problem is, that, after the “flash in the pan” created by the press and the thousand lines written by all editors, if you enter today the store of one of the said designers, expecting to find the pieces of “yesterday show”, you might unfortunately be left high and dry.
So, to come back to the headlines of these weeks about everybody cancelling not only mid seasons but also seasons themselves, allow me to react in a skeptical way.
As fashion operators know very well, not only is not that easy to change a 30 years old business model (which will have to be drastically changed anyway, in order to survive), but you cannot change the product proposal, if you do not change also the relative time of presentation to the market and, above all, if you do not include in the process also the press, which normally is the one who has more problems in shifting seasons, due to editorial and shooting productions mandatory times.
In addition, all brands, more or less, since a while, already cancelled the seasons: the plan of introducing a cruise collection, or a pre-collection, or a set of capsules, is, in actual facts, already diluting the impact of a single season, in order to offer the customers the highest possible number of “buy-now-wear-now” items.
But the issue has to be considered from two different angles: one is for sure linked to fast changing climate, which often imposes us to wear light clothes also in the mid of the winter or raincoats in the middle of the summer. This of course together with the weather differences from country to country within the same season: with seasons increasingly out of kilter, brands have to guarantee a constant differentiated offer of clothing tailored for specific temperatures.
The second angle of view to be considered is the business. Fashion business is designed nowadays to make you feel “out of trend” after a couple of weeks. It started with fast fashion chains, where Zara or H&M are able to deliver on a weekly basis always different styles and proposals, pushing the consumer to eat more, digest quickly and buy soon again, no matter the season. If now also designers start to cancel the seasons and deliver at least 12 small capsules a year, tailored for each temperature moment, for sure this will increase the number of visits of faithful customers in the online and off line stores, generating a more constant consumer flow and a more stable seasonal income, cancelling dead retail moments such as those weeks right before “sales” when customers do not show up and wait.
All of this supported by the fact that, as recently appeared in The Guardian, to an increasingly show-literate audience of shoppers who have vogue-runway in their bookmarks bar and get access to behind-the-scenes snaps from fashion insiders on Instagram, the collection in store starts to look a bit stale earlier than it used to. We have all seen the new range on the runway – even if we can’t buy it yet. In a world where you can get a movie instantly, or download a song in seconds, our patience for waiting for season-led content might get very thin.
If this new “seasons cancelling” movement is not an umpteenth marketing action, but it is finally a serious intention to revise the intere fashion supply chain, by creating a real “trans-seasonal” product offer, allowing you to have something to wear when ever and where ever you travel in our planet, then statements and involvements of the big names are more than welcome. But probably this will have a negative impact on sustainability and healthy sources of raw materials, as the whole fashion system will turn into a global luxury Zara. Are you ready for it?
Alessandro Maria Ferreri is the CEO of The Style Gate
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