Brands need to talk about product

Friday, December 29th 2017
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There are several ways to define the menswear world we write about.

As classic style, for instance, or about quality and craft. Also as luxury, given such quality is expensive.

But one aspect that is rarely emphasised, and should be more in my opinion, is that it is about product.

Take Stoffa as an example, the casual-wear brand founded by Agyesh Madan. (Asymmetric jacket shown above.)

Every piece in the collection has been obsessed over, whether it's the shape of the zippers or the seam in the back of the jacket collars. The hats were roadtested for months, and meticulously documented on Instagram.

Get into a conversation with Agyesh (below), and his passion for the product becomes immediately apparent.

Just as important as caring about the product is communicating it well.

Drake's sells itself through articles about its products. There will be a whole post about a new length of shirt collar; another about the width of a tie.

Private White VC often takes a similar approach. So do new online brands like Luca Faloni.

For all of them, the product is central - what it is made of, how it is made, and why.

In some cases, this is a natural result of being manufacturers originally (as with Drake's and Private White).

But it's striking that others more orientated around design, such as Stoffa or Saman Amel (below), have this same approach.

These brands also talk about style, of course, and sell through imagery and illustration.

But designer brands do this to the exclusion of all else.

They just never talk about their product.

Buy something from a designer brand online, and there will be pretty much no information about why it's special or even it's basic functionality.

Visit a store and it's even worse, as you have to suffer the awkwardness of asking a sales assistant questions that they might not understand, let alone be able to answer.

Where brands produce in-house magazines, they include almost nothing on how and why their products are made. 

Even PRs can't help. Many times over the years I've asked PRs for information on a product I love, and either no one internally knows anything, or whatever is known cannot be made public.

There was a particularly good example on Permanent Style back in August, where it took a Ralph Lauren employee to comment anonymously for us to learn anything about the complex way a cardigan it was knitted.

Designer brands are having a hard time at the moment.

One of the reasons is certainly being behind the curve on several retail trends, such as e-commerce and social media.

I would argue that just as important is ignoring the importance of product.

Every new brand today launches by talking about its product - why it thinks the shirt, coat or trainer is better than everything else out there. Kickstarter is full of them.

Big brands need more of this. Information in stores; trained sales staff; buckets of it online where there is no excuse of cost or space.

Brands produce dozens of products every season that are beautifully made and extremely well thought-out.

I just wish they'd tell me about them.

Photography: Jamie Ferguson except knitwear above, Moeez Tali

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S

Simon,

In the article about tie width that you link to, it is claimed that the DoW popularised the Windsor know. While this strictly speaking is true of course, the man himself only wore the four-in-hand knot, preferring to get a bigger knot by having the blade made wider and the lining thicker. I am surprised that Aleks does not mention this well known fact, particularly in an article on tie width!

On that note, could you recommend any tie makers today that produce ties (in their RTW) with wider blades / lining that creates knots ala DoW?

S

Thanks Simon. I have the same experience. My only tie that has the sufficient blade width at the middle is a Tom Ford tie cirka 2009. Do you know if TF still makes this width?

Thanks,
S

Rob

S – I utilise Vanda fine clothing to make my ties. I prefer narrower ties with a wider blade, to give me a bigger knot. Their prices are not that far from RTW. I used to use Drakes but find Vanda more flexible.

Dino

I have also discovered that the taper of the tie more than anything defines the form of the knot, ie the size and mostly the ability to have an effortless dimple. So I am always looking for ties with decent width at mid length.

Sam Hober ties come by default with such taper, but they are not exactly RTW. However, all you have to do is find the fabric of interest, and order your max width and length, for the end product to be quite satisfactory.

The only RTW ties that I have found to be cut with such taper are Yellow Hook ties (can order online) and the house ties from AD56 Milano (can only get in the store).

Robin

You’ve got the nail perfectly on the head !
Try buying anything and getting a ‘sales person’ to tell you why product X is worth more , or is better, then product Y .
Whether it be a Hugo Boss v Armani suit or you’re shopping for a bathroom suite .

The whole industry is based on buying in ignorance and not allowing any reasonable time to think.
You almost feel like they hate it if you take too long trying stuff on !

Jeff from Chicago

Excellent piece. I read an interview once with Hugo Jacomet, where he states that clothes, as they are, are boring. The interest lies (and development of personal style) with an understanding of the process of how a particular piece was made, the skill needed, the how’s and why’s a fabric was chosen – and so on.

Simon’s piece this morning sparked this thought process and has me thinking about it again.

Emir

Hi Simon

Love the blog. Besides a swedish blog called Manolo this is the only other i actually read on a regular basis.

I was just wondering when you will post a article on the jacket and knitsweater you ordered thrue Saman. I am interested in ordering a suit from them since i live in Stockholm but im waiting to read your post before i decide and order one.

Daniel

What is the fabric of suit you are wearing/and the maker? Would it make well for a full suit

Javohir

I agree, although for a slightly different reasoning.

I have a pair of bespoke trousers, however I am unable to tell whether it is made to last and won’t fall apart, based solely on the virtue of its make.

Sure, I can see the hours that were poured into them, when I turn them inside out. But frankly, in some areas I am not even sure what I am looking at?

Even the brands that talk about the product nowadays are more likely to describe how it is made with scant few words, only to attract reader’s attention with glamorous close-up shots.

So far, the only brand I know that uses a bit more than few words is SEH Kelly, but still less than needed to enlighten me.

This brings to memory how Parisian bespoke shoemaker Dimitri Gomez admitted in an interview that the most important labor that goes into a bespoke shoe is not even visible to the eye..

John

Hi Simon,
Thanks for this very important post! You have raised an issue with high stakes and far reaching consequences. PS readers must be experiencing on a daily basis how frustrating it is to read products descriptions by most brands and shops. Yet overall, the British are better off in that regard, presumably benefiting from the wealth of the English vocabulary related to menswear!
But big changes are to occur! Personally, I expect poor descriptions – such as the ones we still see to day – to be out in the future!
John

Ben

Absolutely.

I hypothesize that the practice is a holdover from female fashion marketing, where image drives consumption. The bespoke tradition in menswear, along with other industries that advocate for durability and permanence (watch, jewelry (esp. diamonds), firearm (in the US)), seeded and has preserved these values among male consumers. But the menswear segment is only recently starting to gain marketshare, and marketers have been slow to respond.

Not to say that they’re not beginning to catch up. To use your RL example, those little blurbs they put on the website for their RRL and Purple Label stuff is a maybe three-year-old invention. Just this year, they’ve also put up much more precise measurements, another gripe I’ve had with large fashion houses. As for those who have yet to move in this direction, I suspect much is due to the difficulty they have spinning luxury narratives out of mediocre products. I very much delight in the opening this provides for smaller brands like those you’ve featured.

David

Frankly, I don’t want the mega brands to talk about product. I want the niche player and the independents to prosper – they deserve it.
The last time menswear was this interesting was between ‘67 & ‘77 when you had great, stylish entrepreneurs like Marcus Price, Mr Fish, Dougie Hayward and Tommy Nutter doing their thing. They all propagated deeply individual style. Much of which is thankfully, proving to be very influential today.
The supposed ‘mega brands’ have little to bring to the party and happily, I can’t remember the last time I was in a Zegna, RL or Armani. They seem to have become the domain of the chintz set.

Carl

Great article. I am more and more inclined in only ordering from specialists. Trousers from Incotex, underwear from Zimmerli etc. Or by brands that are very involved in the production (like Saman or Stoffa). To pay twice as much for a Zegna suit just because its branded by Tom Ford seems ridiculous.

Gonzague

May I disagree? I buy TF suits and would never buy Z suits, because I think the former is a style masterpiece, and the latter has no interest. Plus bear in mind that TF suits are made by Z Couture, not Z and probably with better standards than Z Couture suits.

Carl

I am not an expert in the details. I really like the style of the Tom Ford suits but I dont think that the price difference is based on objective quality. I havent bought TF suits but have examined them. I dont see a difference in handiwork or cloth when I compare with EZ or producers like Belvest, just in style and price.

Penrose

Great post, yet I don’t see those designer brands will do as such in the near future.

Many designer brands, in my opinion of course, are advertisement companies driven by marketing strategies. By no means they are genuinely trying to impress customers with their products. In fact, this might be the last thing they are willing to do. If we conduct an in-depth comparison between garments from different labels, stitch by stitch, inch by inch, then it is no surprise that a lot chic brands will be so embarrassed because of every casually made details they are covering with invisible yet powerful marketing psychology.

This is unwise to deny all fashion brands in terms of quality and there surely are a number of designers that pay a great attention to their actual outcomes. Yet a sad thing to believe is that in such a competitive environment a new brand is more inclined to fabricate an attractive halo around their brand, studio, concept, art, whatever you call it. Since this boosts the sale and catches most people.

L

Maybe a bit off topic but I’m looking for a fabric for a navy DB blazer that will be worn almost the whole year around (but perhaps not the warmest summer days). It will be worn quite regulary so the fabric will have to be durable (and of course prefarably ”last a lifetime”).

I was thinking about a heavier hopsack, but I’m really not sure… Any suggestions?

Joseph

I fully agree with your thoughts in this excellent article, Simon. Perhaps it can become a New Year’s resolution for brands?

I do have a hypothesis: a number of brands simply can’t tell us more about their product, because there is virtually nothing to tell. Your post “The Importance of Fit” dated 2nd January this year comes to mind, specifically the section about walking into H&M and finding a sad excuse for a coat. (And no, I won’t ask why you were there.)

Cheers for the New Year!

Kyrill

Dear Simon,
off-topic question: the cloth of a much-loved bespoke navy suit is starting to develop a sheen. Can anything be done to alleviate this? Going forward, can I adopt any additional care measures to prevent cloth from becoming shiny?

Juanito

Thank you for this entry. The advertisements for brands are embarrassing. Great photography of a handsome dude who would look great whatever he wore. Often cannot see product clearly. I would love brands to “talk about product”! and materials, provenance… for example an advertisement of a shoe manufacturer showing the same make both new and after five years of use. Or photography that allows appreciation of cloth, stitching, design. How much do we love when a shop assistant knows what he/she is talking about? should respond well to questions like: will it shrink or stretch? is it warm? does it make sense for somebody with my body proportions? what is great in this store? why?

Vegard

The reason why many designer brands don’t talk about why their products are worth the price is simple; most of them are not.
$80 for a beanie that’s made of 40 % viscose? $150 for a pair of jeans made in Bangladesh? $300 for a pair of boots with cemented soles?
Sure, there are exceptions (for example Hermes), but most designer brands produce overpriced garbage and all you’re paying for is the logo.

Vegard

Well, my main point was, that the quality is often not there. I don’t have an issue with paying a premium price for a premium product, but I won’t pay it for an average or even below average product. Here’s an example:
Reiss Jodhpur boots, cemented soles, 360 EUR:
https://www.reiss.com/eu/p/leather-jodhpur-boots-mens-barnell-in-black/
Scarosso Jodhpur boots, Blake construction, 265 EUR:
https://www.scarosso.com/en/men/shoes/boots/libero-nero-black-calf-LIBEROJODHBLACALF.html?cgid=men-shoes-ankle-boots#page=2&start=39
Meermin Jodhpur boots, Goodyear construction, 230 EUR:
https://www.meermin.es/en/10149910190000he-19-101499-black-calf-e-negro.html
It seems that the most famous brand offers the lowest quality for the highest price. And considering that all three boots look the same, the only reason, why would anyone buy the boots from Reiss, is the brand itself.

Loro Piana fabrics and products are indeed exquisite, but personally I wouldn’t call them a designer brand; if you asked an average Joe whether he wants a suit from Armani or Loro Piana, he’d probably say Armani because he’s never heard about Loro Piana. Zegna would be somewhere inbetween, Ralph Lauren Purple Label is something I’ve never seen in a shop.