The Coronavirus: We will survive because we care

Wednesday, May 13th 2020
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These are dark and uncertain times for businesses everywhere, in particular fashion. 

Who will care about their clothes if they’re at home the whole time? Who will spend large amounts of money on clothing when the economy is so uncertain? 

Two big companies in the US filed for bankruptcy last week: J Crew and Neiman Marcus. In Italy, analysis from Boston Consulting Group put fashion top of the list of suffering retailers, estimating the market as a whole would drop 50% this year. 

But I have to say, I’m not very worried. I think fast fashion will suffer, and seem increasingly frivolous. But quality clothing, looked after well, might seem even more relevant. 

People will buy less, certainly. But we’ve always said people should buy less anyway - it’s the clearest factor in making fashion more sustainable

Companies will also go through very hard times, and some will fail. But I truly believe the ones we cover on Permanent Style will be on safer ground.

Why? Because people care. 

We care deeply about the companies we patronise, the people that run them, and the products they produce. 

We care enough to spend hours and hours thinking and writing about them. We care enough to spend a disproportionate amount of our hard-earned money on them. And we care enough to look after them well: brushing, polishing, cleaning, darning and storing, with love.

I’ve been speaking to dozens of people in the industry over the past month, through public Instagram talks and in everyday business chats. And they nearly all echo this feeling. 

Every tailor has a story about a customer phoning up, to ask what they can do to help. Offering to pay the balance on their order, or pay for a new piece in full - just to keep the cash flowing. 

Edward Sexton certainly does. Dominic Sebag-Montefiore (above, centre) there told me: “We’ve had several customers ask what they can do, and send in cloth for us to work on even though the mills are closed. All the tailors are just working from home, so I’ve been spending my time zipping around on my scooter, dropping off and picking up work.”

Tailors are fortunate in this regard, in that most of them can work from home to an extent. Michael Browne, when I spoke to him, said the same thing: everyone is carrying on as best they can. It’s cloth and other raw materials that will be the problem eventually. 

Mills in Italy opened two weeks ago, and factories last week. But getting going again won’t be straightforward: “We’re working at about a third of capacity at the moment,” said one Italian mill manager. “It’s proving hard to get enough social distancing and protective equipment to get more capacity. Plus we need our raw materials from other parts of the world.”

This was something that struck me when speaking to the Scottish mills, such as Holland & Sherry: it's not understood how much harder it will be to open up than it was to close down. 

“The problem is how interconnected we all are,” said Lindsay Taylor of H&S. “We’re all dependent on WT Johnsons for finishing, for example, so until they’re up and running we can’t produce anything.

"That makes people cautious about bringing everyone back to work - the restart needs to happen at the same time across the industry.”

Down in Naples, Luca Avitabile’s shirt factory has been open for a week, and workers are keen to make up for lost time, many working weekends. Everyone is wearing masks and trying to stay further apart. 

“Italian regulation means every business has to have insurance, covering them for workers’ wages in situations like this,” says Luca (above). “But it doesn’t cover the full amount - it’s a basic level. So everyone is keen to start earning.”

“I think the bounce-back will be strong - customers are keen to keep purchasing and supporting us, which is lovely,” says Luca. “It makes a big difference that we’re in an international market as well, so we’re not just dependent on Italy, for example.”

Fabio Attanasio of The Bespoke Dudes, echoed those thoughts when I spoke to him for an Instagram interview: “The Italian artisans I’m in contact with are so happy with the support they’ve received from their customers, whether in Germany, China or Japan. It speaks to how tight this industry is.”

Over in Hong Kong, Mark Cho of The Armoury has been using his downtime to make an impressive quantity and quality of videos, all answering customer questions. They just launched a YouTube channel to host them all, here

He too has received messages of support: “It’s been so wonderful to see how customers have reacted,” he said. “We didn’t want to be commercial, to push any product at the moment - it just didn’t feel appropriate. But it’s been the customers who have been asking us to come in, or buy online.”

The Landmark branch of The Armoury has actually never closed, as shops in Hong Kong didn’t have to. “We weren’t told to work from home, everyone just started doing so as soon as the crisis started,” says Mark (below). “We’ve been through this before with SARS, and people know how it works.”

I found that very reassuring, on a personal level: there’s already a country in the world where this is routine, and so we know what the future looks like, to an extent. It’s always the unpredictability that’s scariest - and indeed, that makes industry most cautious. 

On the subject of being commercial, it’s been interesting how some brands have ramped up their selling emails (eg Sunspel), while others have contributed profits to charity (eg The Anthology, No Man Walks Alone) and some have positively told people not to buy (eg Rubato). 

Of course, not everyone has an easy choice: it might be a question of selling more or going out of business. But being ultra-commercial right now does have the potential for reputational damage. 

Up in Tokyo, Ethan Newton at Bryceland’s agrees: “It didn’t feel right to be talking about new clothes too much,” he says. “So we’ve just been hanging out, having the shop open by appointment.

'As to the impact of this thing more broadly, I think it's too early to say, but it would be nice if it meant people bought fewer cheap clothes from H&M. And perhaps the aesthetic of well-loved, worn-in clothes will have more of a resurgence. I don’t think showing off - whether in big brands or streetwear - is going to seem quite as acceptable in the future.”

Wei Koh, of The Rake, had similar thoughts when I spoke to him in Singapore. “If I was a hype-driven, growth-obsessed, narrow-margin retailer then I would be very worried right now,” he said. “All my supply chains will have broken down, and they might not be as cheap again for years.

“But the bigger luxury companies are in a much better position. When I speak to the watch companies, or LVMH or Kering, they have the support internally to be able to weather this - and they’ve been securing their own raw materials by buying suppliers for years. It’s not surprising that some others, like department stores, are in trouble. That’s been coming for a while.”

When I spoke to Wei, he was dressed up in his Pitti finest: a white linen suit from Cifonelli, made with deliberately large amounts of shape and drape, and a Breton-stipe vest. “I thought I’d make the effort, given Pitti has been postponed until September,” he said. “Even then, we don’t know what it will be like. It’s hard to see the same events and feeling of togetherness.”

An Italian mill spoke in a similar way about industry shows like Milano Unica (above). “I’m not sure it will be logistically possible,” the manager said. “Social distancing will mean far fewer meetings will be possible - and we have to show the collection perhaps 800 times. They’re already talking about adding an extra day to make things easier.”

That mill, like many retailers, is turning to online solutions. A website is being put together to display all of the options from the new collection, and more swatches are being cut to send by mail. 

It has never been more crucial to have a good online presence - and manufacturers who have put it off have been telling me how much they now regret it. 

Although online can never make up for a shuttered shop. One London menswear store told me they had seen online business rise by 80% in the past month - but that still meant business overall was down by 60%. 

That downturn will likely have a lag that lasts the rest of the year. 

“What we’re seeing is luxury brands giving up on Spring/Summer 2020,” commented one Italian supplier. “They’ve lost too much selling time, and almost none of it has been seen in the shops. So they’re just shifting the whole collection to become Spring/Summer 2021. 

“For us, that means we will get very few orders in the Autumn, when we would normally be making for the following Spring.”

Shops have started to reopen: in Germany and (this past Monday) in France. It won’t be business as usual, but customers are keen. “So many customers have asked us when we will open again, so they can come back and support us,” says Jean-Manuel Moreau in Paris (below). 

It is this which makes me optimistic.

The fact is, no one cares whether their T-shirt is from H&M or Zara - as long as it looks good and is cheap. But we do care.

Andreas Weinas in Stockholm: “Although Sweden has been more relaxed about the lockdown, the streets have been very quiet. But I agree with you Simon, I am optimistic: this is a very tight industry, with passionate customers. Very few other industries have that.”

Frankly, it would be extraordinary if someone had such a personal feeling about the car they drive, or the computer they use. Those purchases are all about design and functionality. 

But I would be personally distraught if some of the shops or artisans I love were to go under. 

I would not only buy from them more - I would be willing to put my own time and money into them, to stop that happening. 

It is this feeling - this passion - that I think will keep us going.

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Matrix

Simon, a note on Italy. There is no “insurance” as noted in the article by Avitabile, but rather it is the INPS, the equivalent to Social Security, that pays a portion of the wages ranging from 50/60% up to 80% depending on the amount. Of course additional insurance can be bought always from every such company, but this is very likely not the case for a shirtmaker or any artisanal business in Italy for nearly sure.

Leo

And many tailors work for cash in the black market, and as a result have no protection.
I work for a tailor in Milan without contract and have been without work with no income protection since two months.

I am lucky to be able to live on limited saved money, but otherwise would be in a bad situation, as many people are.

James

Presumably you’ve saved from the tax you would otherwise be paying.. – so seems fair enough to me

Leo

I don’t know if you know these industries, but many tailors, whether they like it or not, work without contracts. It is not my choice, and my current wage would not even reach the taxable threshold. This is a precarity shared by many working in the artisanal industries, which has been well documented.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2018/09/20/fashion/italy-luxury-shadow-economy.amp.html

James

Thanks very much Leo. I misunderstood what you meant by black market. Thanks also for the very informative article – I stand corrected (and apologies for the earlier tone… I am a fan of paying taxes and the benefits they bring). I’ve certainly learned something. Best of luck to you

Leo

And thank you James,
I wasn’t sufficiently clear in my first comment. I appreciate your gracious response.
I too firmly believe in the importance of taxation as part of a fair society and do not aim to be in my current situation very long, hopefully.

<3<3<3

Anonymous

Well the UK has National Insurance which in theory pays things like unemployment benefit, statutory sick pay etc, the difference is the values are significantly lower as in the UK the values are fixed whereas in Italy it is partially based on contributions. Both are taken out of salary and have an employer component too.,

Gus

It is far too early to tell. Despite the optimistic PR above, I think many people are underestimating the permanent economic effects of this crisis. The economic landscape, for individuals and companies, is going to be very different place in 12 months time. Apocalyptic tone aside, vintage stores will thrive.

Martin

Why do you think that vintage stores will thrive? Do you mean the fashionable — expensive — kind or cheap ones?

Gus

Both. How many more new shirts/suits/sports jackets do you actually need? Do you have to buy the same, seasonal navy Boglioli jacket from Trunk? Do you really wish to aspire to a Kraftian lifestyle drowning in Cifonelli?

Maybe you have the sartorial bug and, as Gauthier Borsarello said recently, are “f**ked”, but there is an absurd amount of clothing which can be discovered in vintage stores, cheap or expensive. It is all about how you wear them.

Perhaps consumerism behaviour will change following this crisis, perhaps not. But at the end of the day, the commitment to buying new quality and buying less seems mildly questionable. Is it just an evolution of marketing in this tight industry?

CJ

Could I just make the observation that, if on the one hand we are factually aware that consumers have in recent years been buying less quality and more mass production, then where exactly do we see the supply of quality vintage coming from on the other?

Joseph

That was a much-needed dose of optimism about the industry. Thanks for the well-written and uplifting piece, Simon.

(As a small note, some of the photos of people you refer to in the paragraphs might be missing or may not have been added yet.)

Misbah

Simon

Good piece on the current state of the industry. Acknowledge your point on companies being ultra commercial at this time but feel its unfair to suggest Sunspel is doing that.
Sunspel is a business which we wish to see remain a going concern. It has employees that it wishes to retain and will have given thought to how it’s brand reputation is effected during this time.

These are strange times, so if they go a shade beyond what they would normally offer during a mid season sale, bearing in mind that a lot more of us are lounging around at home, and the customer benefits, then i don’t have an issue with that.

I’ve not received excessive communication from them and have always considered them to produce quality sustainable garments.

Ralph Cunningham

Hi Simon,

I think this situation shows the different effects it has having on different people. We’re talking about some of the finest things in life, while others are struggling to feed their families. Speaking personally, it makes me feel uncomfortable. No one should feel they have to apologise -– if that’s even the right word – but it’s difficult to reconcile the two. By the way, I don’t suppose any Chinese officials read you, but they get very upset with anyone calling Hong Kong a country.

All the best,

Ralph

Z S

Dear Simon, thanks for the great article as always. It is great to have these information about the businesses we care during this time.
I think the time consuming nature of quality craft, no matter if it is bespoke, MTM, MTO or quality RTW, is also a great advantage for the artisans in the business. The much longer turnaround time comparing with many other businesses means when ordering from them during the last few weeks, I can feel that my contribution will help, unlike trying to support my local restaurants, even if they are open for delivery or collection and I order from them every day, I still feel like many of them will go bust before things go back to normal.

Lucas S

Hi Simon
As someone with a mostly bespoke wardrobe (shoes, shirts, suits, hats, eyewear), I share many of your views, but not your concluding ones.
I do not enjoy the shopping experience at Zara or H&M, but to dismiss them is crossing a line. They directly employ 400k people around the world (cant imagine how many indirect jobs they create). One can argue about their sustainability and environmental impact, but they do feed a lot of people (perhaps even more than all of the bespoke ateliers we patronise – combined). And they provide a levelled playing field for many people that aim to have fashionable designer clothes but just can’t afford high end retailers. Its no wonder as soon as Paris went back online on May 11th, there were lines in a bunch of Zara’s that went around several blocks.
My point it is, whilst these brands have a lot of controversies around them, we can also look at the positive side of them. And the social impact of these two going bust is something that would have more profound economic consequences for our world vs. the bespoke world going bust.

Unemployed

“But it’s never accurate to say those people couldn’t find work otherwise. ”

Really? Then why is there massive youth unemployment in Europe?

Mark

Simon, you need oil to take your flights to Pitti in Florence and all the other international trips you do. If you were really serious about this subject you could do these meetings on Zoom…

chief

Simon, you state that the companies that PS covers and the like are likely to survive, even thrive. But we’ve seen that much milder (albeit idiosyncratic) issues have taken down d’Avenza and Partenopea in recent years. I’m not so sure we won’t see more perish, in particular the garment manufacturers in Italy rather than big brands themselves.

Kenny

Simon, you have not commented in your article on how Covid-19 will affect trunk shows, a key aspect of the industry. If the British government’s 14 day quarantine for airline passengers last for months, tailors and artisans will not be able to service clients in London for a long time. There will could be additional measures to stop, e.g. Italians, travelling via France or Ireland to avoid quarantine.

Most artisans will not be able to afford to self-isolate in the UK for two weeks before meeting clients. Client relationships could be become very strained if bespoke commissions are delayed significantly. Covid-19 could be a great opportunity for British and French brands and makers to gain British clients from competitors in other countries. Any thoughts?

Otto

Hi Simon, thanks for another good article.

Do you think that as a result of the current situation some of these shops, brands, mills and factories will see a change in ownership? Through that I suppose there could be a change in direction in terms of style, quality etc. Interested to hear your thought on this.

Best,
Otto

Kenny

Otto makes a very good point. The Covid-19 crisis is one that that will exploited mercilessly by the conglomerates such as LVMH, Chinese investors and hedge funds. They have plenty of cash and will be looking to buy or take stakes in luxury brands at bargain prices.

Anonymous

Have you thought about an auction for your surplus goods for charity?

Jan

Anonymous, are you selling your personal belongings for charity?

Stephen

I have to agree with the points well made by Lucas S. In your response Simon you mention the people could work elsewhere- sorry I have to say that to me appears a little naive or overly simplistic under any circumstances (especially in the factories), let alone the unique current situation. The slow move from blue collar to tech jobs is an example.
My view is that fashion is a broad church and we should accept that even if one doesn’t necessarily like it.
If nothing else the current crisis has demonstrated the dire implications of taking the sustainability and related world view to extremes. I’m not sure it’s a price people are willing to pay. Also bearing in mind people who can afford to spend in the bespoke market place may be share – holders in the less sustainable industries.
Yes we should do better, however let’s also look to technological innovation to support the transition.
On balance, I found much of the rest of the article heartening and I wish all the best to the artisans, some of whom I also personally support.
Please accept this comment in the spirit of an alternative view.
Please all stay safe and KBO.

Robin

At times like this wouldn’t tailors just reduce their rates in order to keep going and have cash going in ?
Such a scenario would certainly encourage me to spend . Even give me the opportunity to consider tailoring previously beyond my reach.

I’m always surprised that sometimes businesses would rather fold then take a lower cut or lower their own salary .
I’ve seen nothing of this recently in businesses big or small .

Scott

Good point. That’s because so many business people don’t understand the concept of marginal analysis. If a business cuts prices and can cover its fixed costs , rent for example,, but not the variable costs it’s still better off to stay open with the opportunity to get back to profitability. The common response is well we’re not making money so we’ll close.

Nick Inkster

Nicely put together piece Simon.

Long retired, I’m watching the industry that gave me my career (Leisure and Tourism) take an absolute pasting; it will take many years to recover and a lot of operators will disappear. They are all burning cash, their assets will be firesale cheap, and new names will step in to replace them.

In the main, though, the artisans referred to here have two things to sustain them; their skills and their orderbook. No matter what, hopefully the former will always feed the latter, even if they have to work in different ways.

On the point, though, about cheaper shorter life clothing I don’t think the current crisis will change behaviour very much in the medium term. I know plenty of people with great wealth who have no interest in expensive cars, or bespoke clothing, but to whom being able to go sailing as often as possible, or going to the Opera, is almost a fixation. At the other end of the scale, people who have had little money to spend on clothes are likely to have even less in the short term, and so buying clothes, even cheap ones, will be of lower priority for them.

Dr Peter

Simon, thank you for an excellent and timely blog post on a very relevant subject. You put things in perspective and that is important for all of us. Here’s my two cents’ worth on the matter:

High-quality, timeless vintage clothing can always be picked up at thrift shops and antique or second-hand shops for a song. Or on eBay and similar sites. This was true until the virus hit us, and once the shops open, it will still be true. If one isn’t concerned about the vagaries of fashion, and if one cannot afford to spend a fortune on bespoke items, then the vintage clothing route is the sensible way to go. Having been retired for a number of years, I rarely buy new clothing. Since I have plenty of clothes acquired over decades that still fit me, I really do not need anything, new or old. But if I do, or if I simply want something, I know where I will be looking for such an item.

Jason

An interesting article and attendant conversation.
The six million dollar question will be the consumer reaction. Will their core values change or will they revert to type ?
Personally I think we will see a change the like of which my generation (I’m 67) have never experienced before. I say this not just because of the virus. I say it because three forces have conspired to create what could be called the perfect storm or a virtuous circle – depending on your perspective.
I’m talking about health, the environment and the economy.
Maintaining good health and keeping you and yours alive changes perspectives and renders the frivolous irrelevant.
The environment is inextricably linked to health and world pollution poses a risk that makes Covid19 look like a walk in the park. It’s will mean that we will have to abandon globalisation in favour of a new form of internationalism.
Lastly, turbo charged, uncontrolled capitalism has lead to world domination by multi-nationals. Many of whom are now more powerful than many countries yet, when the proverbial hits the fan, our bacon has only been partially saved by a level of state intervention – the like of which we haven’t seen since the Second World War. The tax exiled airline owner that had the chutzpah to ask for a state handout didn’t get a warm reception.
Yes sir, we have a whole new deal !
What will that deal mean to us flaneurs and our fournisseurs ?
Well folks, it will all be about sustainability and frivolous will be demode in a massive way.
Of course we’ll still want to look good but we will want to buy much less, will want it to last much longer and will be exigent in the extreme about quality and the length of the supply chain. The fiasco around PPE and virus testing has shown the fragility of long, politically interruptible supply chains to strategically important services. Many manufacturers will also be feeling the pain.
Folk will want their stuff to be manufactured much closer to home. Companies like ‘Private White’ are in a really good place in that regard.
The first two industries to feel the brunt of all of this are car and international travel. Car sales haven’t just fallen, they’ve more than halved. But the two best selling cars in the U.K. last month were two luxury models – Tesla and the Jaguar ipace – because they are perceived as being environmentally sustainable.
The air lines are laying people off in the thousands and ‘The Sage of Omaha ‘ has sold his stocks. We knew we couldn’t travel like we were and this has just precipitated a crisis we knew we had anyway. Folks, there won’t be a third runway at Heathrow and Gatwick will be lucky to retain a third of its business.
People will want quality with an environmental provenance that is ethical and sustainable so if your career depends a pair of £3000 bespoke shoes around the world – get another job.
Of course, many of the brands I know and love will survive but for those that don’t recognise and respond to their customers psychological shift it will be a veritable storm of merde.

Joshua Murray-Nevill

It’s been interesting to watch how consumers have reacted to the crisis. Speaking anecdotally, I know several friends who have made efforts to purchase products from regional suppliers and craft makers with consideration to how much difference it can make.
Speaking for myself, I’m clearly on no-where near as much money as many people in this comments section but I have ordered a hand made bridle belt from a small British producer, a shirt from Anglo-Italian, an RTW jacket from Gieves & Hawkes and plenty of basics from Patrick Grant’s Community Clothing initiative. These are all quality products, but there’s also a sense that the money is going towards keeping something good going rather than simply paying another round of shareholder divideds.

Anonymous

Joshua

Worth noting that Gieves are owned by a conglomerate called Trinity………based in Hong Kong.

Matthew V

Great article, very poignant and summarises some of the insightful comments from your recent video interviews.

I have to admit buying from Sunspel recently, their clothes are suited to the enforced downtime! However, I am trying to support other stores and brands where I can and I where I want to see them in person again ‘on the other side’.

I will certainly appreciate the times when I can wear my favourite suits, jackets, ties, trousers, shoes etc etc out in the real world, and (one day) my shorts, t shirts, espadrilles etc on holiday.

I am sure we will not take so much for granted in future. Even a trip to one of our favourite shops and interaction with the people who run them.

Ben

Couldn’t have articulated any better what you say in the last three paragraphs.

(Incidentally, I feel the same way about restaurants – but they are undoubtedly in an even more impossible position.)

Separately, I was chatting with Nicholas Templeman today about a handful of projects we’re working on, and I asked why you’ve never done a proper writeup of his work. Would love such a piece!

E L

I’m more pessimistic than you are Simon. We all have a tendency to make predictions about the consequences of COVID that conform to our priors and I’m afraid this might be that.

I think this will hit the economy harder than most people realize. It will be hard for a lot of businesses to stay open when a significant portion of their customers can longer afford their products. Besides, many classic menswear stores were already struggling before any of this started.

After all this, expensive tailoring and clothing may seem entirely out of touch in most places (more so than it already does). People may not want to go out and buy nice suits.

Sure, many people may not be loyal to stores like Zara, but people will likely still want cheap clothing after this all is over–perhaps then more than ever before.

Also, while there are a few stores I like to support, probably most of the stores I buy from, I buy from out of convenience. I feel like most people are similar. That being said, there are a few brands, stores, and artisans that I genuinely want to see thrive and would be upset if they had to permanently close–brands, stores, and artisans where I know the people, or genuinely think the product is different and interesting.

DE

Hi Simon, another interesting article. I broadly agree with your assessment although not your reasoning. I don’t believe the quality of product will have anything to do with the survival of these businesses – it will purely be down to the financial strength of each individual company. High levels of liquidity will be required, not only to survive the inevitable drop off in business, but as raw materials will be in short supply as manufacturers begin to work again, prices will almost certainly rise. I have to say that while I think the clothing industry as a whole is particularly vulnerable, some of the businesses covered by PS have ‘sugar daddy’ owners who will be prepared to keep funding them. And finally, if we do end up in a ‘significant recession’ (as predicted by the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer today), it will not only be the ability of customers to pay for a £5,000 SR suit that will affect these businesses, but the moral and ethical implications of buying one.

Dan

One thing that may come out of this crisis is that certain tailors and clothing brands will be more realistic about their prices. There are certain tailors, who I won’t name, that charge an arm and a leg and I am not sorry at all if they are experiencing a downturn. On the flip side, I do appreciate certain brands efforts, such as Mark Cho at The Armoury. It may not be a big deal, but I noticed Mark took the time to respond to comments and messages on Instagram. I sent a message to him asking him to do a video on Orazio Luciano. A few days later the video was posted. Further, Mark came across in his videos as just a passionate about menswear guy. He was not selling anything in a manner of speaking, but establishing goodwill during the CV-19 crisis. As for me, I am likely to exit the menswear and tailoring world as there are more important things for my money than clothing. Plus, it just seems so elitist now. I do not think things will be the same in the bespoke clothing world. This is my own opinion, and I am not judging others who continue to seek such clothing.

DE

I couldn’t agree more with your and Simon’s positive comments about Mark Cho. His knowledge, enthusiasm and natural charm all shine through in his videos – I hope they have and will continue to boost Armoury sales during this difficult time.

WES WP

Simon-

Just curious about you personally — since you left your steady employment in publishing/marketing (I believe) to do this blog full-time, have you had any regrets about leaving behind the regular paycheck of a corporate job (since Covid-19 hit Europe)? In-so-much as you are suddenly in an industry that’s contracting – you can’t currently leave your flat to visit tailors or shops – and advertising dollars are less plentiful than they were in December or January of the recent past? Have you thought about going back to your previous job, given the uncertainties of the industry you’ve (now) entirely given your livelihood over to?

If Google has cancelled all of its 2021 events, and Twitter now allows all of its employees to work from home (permanently), then what does that say about the likelihood of success for a lifestyle blog about the clothes you wear to “go out” (whether the office, a restaurant, or a party)?

Is it possible – because of work at home measures – that “every day” will be “casual Friday” and – at the very least – you would need to focus more on merchants like Sunspel (for example)?

I would imagine you were not low man on the totem pole at your previous job – that you wouldn’t have been made redundant by now – so – how have you made sense of this given that you support a family?

Thanks for letting me live vicariously through your answer.

Wes

Nicolas Stromback

Agreed on all points. I find that now in these times I have spent more on clothing, supporting my favorite artisans and haberdashers, but in real life and via online shopping. It seems to me that the future of clothing will put and end to the giants of fast fashion, simply because people dont care about these businesses and their ideas. Consummerism quickly went away here in Sweden when the lockdown came. But those businesses I favor haven’t suffered as much, from what I heard anyway, due to clever ideas and true customers.

James

Another good article thanks Simon. I strongly endorse your sentiment about buy less, buy quality and promote sustainability. A reduction in fast fashion would be welcome silver lining of the pandemic. I would make one exception for children’s clothing, which granted isn’t the focus of Permanent Style. As a father of young children, I appreciate companies, such as H&M, that manufacture children’s clothes in a more ethical fashion. For example, I admire the efforts H&M have made to improve the sustainability and transparency of their supply chain. My point really is that we shouldn’t be disparaging of companies like H&M and Zara, I just hope that in future the balance of wardrobes will be skewed towards fewer, higher quality, longer lasting clothes, and other ethical companies like H&M make up the balance rather than the more unscrupulous Primarks and the like.

Michael

Glad to see others have noticed the commercialism as of late. I was particularly disgusted by The Rake, and Wei Koh’s personal magazine sponsored soap-boxing about Alexander Kraft (heir to the macaroni and cheese fortune by the way), and his unachievable, frankly tasteless lifestyle. Videos of a rich man prancing around a neoclassical marble mass of a home, showing off his vintage cars, gold watches, and Cifonelli suits struck me as incredibly out of touch, especially when espousing quality, and selling a line cheaper than a SuitSupply collection.

Between watches, cars, overpriced identical sportcoats and an overall lack of creativity, it seems as though we’ve reached a point of excess not too dissimilar from the 1980’s. I hope that this crisis will put an end to that. But, some suffering will come of that to everyone. A lot of us in the tailoring industry have been out of work for months. My company in New York was the largest buyer of Holland and Sherry cloth in the Northeast US last month; we purchased 16 yards. Shocking and devastating are the words that come to mind. As others have said, it is far too early to tell what kind of impact this will have. A V shaped recovery is more likely to be a W shaped one, and the effects of this will last for years to come. Let’s just hope we all make it out alive.

Gus

Interesting comparison with the heady 80s but this is an economic crisis combined with a social one.

Correct me if I am mistaken but Krafty is primarily a German estate agent. The self aggrandisement and his lack of authenticity online is distasteful. There is something quite sad about it all really.

Peter

Michael, I couldn’t agree more. The last ten years have been an orgy of celebrity and excess more deserving of the ‘greed is good’ description than the eighties ever could aspire to. Giant watches, vintage car collections with skyrocketing values, trophy real estate, celebrities indulging in ludicrous pea-cockery. Wealth is revered to the point where it completely overrides the most blatant character defects. Vogue Living and Belle interiors feature ever more bizarre showcases of ostentatious excess and their infantile self-obsessed owners. All of this vacuous consumption has been at the expense of the entire planet’s ecosystem, not to mention billions of factory farmed animals.

This kind of excess and exploitation can’t go on without creating a movie style dystopia for ourselves within our own lifetimes.

WES WP

Unfortunately, we know that a good many of us will not make it out alive, as (for instance) Cesar Quirumbay at Leonard Logsdail, a custom tailor in Manhattan, has succumbed to the virus – and there will be others in the industry.

As for Kraft, I think he has some good qualities – he’s a reader, he’s a self-made lawyer, he’s definitely not heir to the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese fortune (perhaps that was a joke, not sure), and he is a man of distinction. It’s easy to “hate on” Kraft.

My one concern about Kraft’s line for The Rake, is that it (sort of) turns Kraft into an action figure: he’s got 4 interchangeable outfits, and you can wear them too (said in an announcer’s voice)! Be like Kraft! That aspect of it seems corny. His line is definitely not cheaper than Suit Supply (it’s about 20 – 30% more).

As for Wei Koh, he just hasn’t taken Covid-19 seriously in his social media posts. Only recently has he started to “talk sensibly” about self-quarantines and social distancing. Quite frankly, he’d been reckless not just in his behaviors (having tapas, shoulder-to-shoulder in crowded restaurants, despite the rising deaths), but also in his philosophy — he’s got a fetish for Negronis (even more than Kraft), and called the drink his “vaccine” (again – more than Kraft). Koh’s sudden about-face has made him a hero on Instagram. His followers praising his “wisdom” (for seeing what experts had seen for months, literally), each comment and like probably feeding his giant ego.

Kraft, by comparison, seems to have gotten the memo on social distancing much earlier than Koh, and he’d sequestered himself at his country home as a result, closing down his bed and breakfast, and conducting business by phone and Zoom.

This period of international lockdown and business closures is absolutely horrible, but is necessary in places like America where there is zero coordination, scarcity of tests, a pipe-dream of contact tracing, and a willfulness of the people. That’s a recipe for disaster – and Italy has suffered a similar fate (and could have been a warning to the US, but wasn’t).

Kraft represents the elite in terms of lifestyle and dress. I think he’s watering down his brand by collaborating with The Rake and releasing “affording” RTW.

Koh is a social media influencer who has espoused (in some cases) a “devil may care” attitude about Covid-19 that is dangerous, and suggests an arrogance and a naivete that is rare to find in someone so worldly and informed.

The tailoring industry has had its own “W” shaped curve over the years – long before the pandemic – and (unlike Simon), I’m not so sanguine about the likelihood of its survival. I can’t tell you how many tailors I’ve spoken to over the years (I have a LOT of clothes) who have told me, “I just can’t find anyone to train who has the discipline, or the passion for this business” (or some variation on that theme). You can’t really “do tailoring from home,” in a vacuum; fittings can’t (really) be done remotely (as Simon has attested to in myriad ways); tailors need to have close, intimate contact with their clients. And that’s something that will happen just as soon as we get a viable vaccine; to the extent that it happens before that time is either utter folly, or the parties involved are wearing Hazmat suits.

Dan

I get what you mean. Not to bash anyone, but yes, I also am turned off by Kraft and his lifestyle in photos. I mean, his photos are cheesy especially with the dogs, his vests and riding on horses. Gazman70K is another one. On his IG account, which I unfollowed, he made the most obnoxious comments regarding Covid-19. We have a word in the USA to describe these types and it starts with a D and ends with a G. But remember, there are decent guys as well. Mark Cho, Urban Composition and Simon. These guys write about clothing because they are passionate about it. It isn’t a status symbol to them or an avenue for bragging or trying to show how worldly they are.

Jason

I always find it slightly hilarious when us flaneurs decide to disparage each other.
Here again we have poor old Wei and his good friend Alexander getting it in the neck for no apparent reason.
Personally I enjoyed Mr. Kraft’s videos. They were highly amusing and I don’t find too much disposable about his life style. He has some beautiful old stuff that he has restored, is curating and which he clearly loves. What’s more, any man who loves his dog like that has to be a nice guy.
OK, he’s a bit of a poseur but aren’t we all otherwise we wouldn’t be haunting this hallowed cyber Hall.
Doubtless we’ll all be throttling back a bit after this. It’s just that some will be doing it from a higher base.

Triskel

Simon, I wonder whether thorough you I could ask DE, or anyone else, to comment on the ‘moral and ethical’ aspects of buying a SR suit now. For those who can afford it, what has changed? If the argument is that lots of these suits are unnecessary, that is no different from the position 8 weeks ago. If the argument is that one shouldn’t consume frivolities whilst others are suffering that is persuasive only if:

(a) one gives the money one would otherwise have spent on the frivolity (suit) to the needy (however we define them); and
(b) doesn’t spend on other frivolities (and who is to be the judge of what is a frivolity? Isn’t it usually something I don’t want to spend my money on?) Or do we say any not absolutely essential spending is ‘morally and ethically’ questionable – the expensive car or wine, the redecoration of the house, the newly landscaped garden? And, after all, spending on these (and on SR, and other, suits) will help get the economy going again and keep (some) people in jobs. It might be said that simply sitting on our money, when spending some of it could help the economy, is ‘morally and ethically’ questionable too.

Roger

Hey Jason, I couldn’t have said it any better, I have 66 years old, never owned a 3000.BP ( $5000.- cdn. dollars ) suit, but I can say I have the best life, and traveled the world.
Those tailors who charges those prices have been around for some time, and if they haven’t learned from past down turns, as everyone else has, I think they should just do as we say over here ” turn the lights off.”

Warren

Why the bash on the British Oil & Gas industry that provides essential products for are society to run as it does with huge populations? The workers in this sector are well paid ( and taxed ) not like the textile industry that the government let die in the Seventies. Without the huge taxes the government receives from the industry then everyone’s taxes would increase dramatically, in your case you will be taxed until the pips squeak!

Samir

The fact of the matter is that the whole world has taken a hit , I am into jewellery and I know that for some time it’s going to be the lowest priority item on peoples list . Bottom line is everyone has taken a hit on their capital and so will these bespoke makers . The survival I guess will depend on their client list and their ability to adapt to future changes

Stanford Chiou

It’s posts like these where your previous life as a business journalist really sets you apart from other menswear writers.

Rainald

Rubato encourages potential customers to not buy their jumpers? Did they say for how long? Until the whole world has been vaccinated? And since you seem to agree with this call for abstinence wouldn’t it be sensible to skip your tempting post about their frivolous wares?

ANM

Simon,

It is funny how the general “weight” of things can push an inevitability of things, that seems to come about all at once.

Such as the need for an article like this…

The regular press (The NYT, etc.) are awash with articles (mostly from the women’s side) all with the theme “now that we don’t see anyone, why do we have to dress up?”…

I am glad, you have addressed it from the men’s side, and your points about quality, will always ring true….well done, and thank you.

Arye Reifer

Hi Simon,
Thanks for another great article.
Which Shop is the one with the long line of people?

Arye

Anonymous
Carl

Great article and true in many ways,

Economic downturns has historically led to more conservative dressing in the business sector as people wants to be taken more seriously. But even if conservative dressing usually is more expensive its not as expensive as the most extravagant things from the big fashion houses. So I think traditional tailoring will survive.

I think that some companies will be more careful about their supply chains and some of them will try to have the production closer to the market. Especially if Trumps bombasts leads to more of a trade war between China och the US.

And yes, we care! I have visited some retail shops that I care about to buy some staples that I dont really need for the moments (underwear, socks, t-shirts etc) to help them with the cash-flow. And I also ordered six (instead of the planned 2-3) new shirts from Luca. I have no fortune but a safe job with a good income so I try to do what I can. (And I must confess that I also ordered some Sunspel loungewear during their sale).

All the best!

Rune

I think the most important thing that comes out of this pandemic is that we come to live healthier lives.
Every fourth virus-related death in the UK had diabetes as well.
I think the pandemic is helping to raise awareness about health.
There are both big social economic and personal benefits of beeing healthy
There is a link between health and pollution as well. In this way the pandemic is opening up to the green shift.
All of these changes, we must say, are positive and are helping to develop society in a positive direction. It’s just such a shame that a pandemic of this kind had to happen.
I live in Norway and we have a total number of deaths related to the Corona virus equal to 238.

Rune

Or rather the benefit of less health spending as a result of healthier people. It certainly make sense.

James

Brief obligatory call out to the Type 1 diabetics who haven’t caused anything through their lifestyle!

Anonymous

Hi Simon, while you have made your views on the value and pricing of bespoke clear in the past, I wonder if you could describe how you think tailors will have to modify their pricing going forward, given that (i) we may well be facing a severe recession, and (ii) many tailors seem to have pushed their prices up rather aggressively in the past (though I acknowledge that, in some cases, this has been a response to a rising cost base). Thanks

Anonymous

I enjoy this blog and appreciate the artisans featured on it. That said, I think this post was a bit much.

I think it may be better to say “we can” than “we care”. After all, what is the medium income/wealth of a Ciffonelli customer vs. that of a Primark one? The reality is that the current economic crisis is disproportionately affecting those on the bottom end of the economic ladder; something made crystal clear with the recent hourly wage data in the US which saw a big spike as low-paid jobs are being eliminated far quicker than those of people in white collar occupations able to work from home.

The reality is that it is above all a great privilege to be able to be in a position to patronize any of the artisans featured on your site. I’m certainly not going to judge a Tesco clerk for his choice of buying from Primark, nor the recently unemployed waitress and single mother trying to make ends meet for going for the cheapest t-shirt she can find. I certainly don’t feel virtuous relative to them for being able to shell out GBP 400 on a pair of shoes or a shirt. Nor do I assume that those with lesser means would cherish and care for a Primark garment any less than readers of this blog would their latest MTM piece.

Lastly, I think it is very easy to dismiss the employment and foreign exchange earnings a lot of the larger clothing businesses create. There is a lot that can improve in working conditions, but the reality is that they have created jobs for people previously cut out of the global economy. One need only look at the strides Bangladesh made in recent decades thanks to the garment industry. They and other countries such as Turkey are now staring a massive balance of payments crisis that will drag millions into poverty and erode years of economic development.

Anonymous

Hi Simon,

I’m not disagreeing with you, but was hoping you could elaborate on that statistic – where does it come from and does it specify whether that piece of clothing is typically from a fast fashion brand?

Anonymous

I appreciate that the above is somewhat of a soundbite answer but it really is over simplistic.

For a start we all know that male and female fashion is fundamentally different (though maybe worryingly if there is a trend it is for men to move towards women). I can go to 10 black tie events and wear the same shirt, suit, shoes etc and be complimented at all of them. My wife however firstly would “receive comments” if she wore the same thing plus what she “should” wear to a party is different to a dinner despite the fact I can wear exactly the same to each.

Secondly there is a question of what volume of each item someone “should” own… buy a single pair of dress shoes, the best you can afford, and wear them mon-firday and they will fall a part almost as quickly as a cheap cemented pair does.

I learnt from here, and a few other places, about not wearing shoes two days in a row (longer in the wet season) etc and went from going through over 2 pairs of work shoes a year (that werent at the cheapest end) to still owning the same pair of shoes over 10 years later, It wasnt long before the value of quality combined with care made sense on a number of levels,

I do fully agree the majority do need to change their/our buying habits, but I am not convinced that soundbite responses will achieve it or really help the cause. For men at least, learning how to care for, use and mix things is almost as important. I didnt stop buying £100 M&S shoes because I could afford more when expecting 4-5 months life but because when learning to care I learned the £350 (at the time) C&J could last a decade or more with the right care

Nick

Hi, Simon, there was an article on the FT on 14 May titled ‘J Crew, Brooks Brothers and the decline of American prep style’. It’s very poorly written and lacks direction – the conclusion that prep is making a comeback, contrary to what the title and the majority of the article says, but perhaps several interesting points hidden away in it.

It mentions several things that really, really pi** me off, mainly the hypocrisy of those who despair at the state of the environment and working conditions and buy cheap disposable clothing. It also says that the young don’t like the prep look because it stands for values that are alien to them, mainly privilege and whiteness. I am 26, think I can speak for the younger generation, and somehow when someone is wearing a trendy canada goose, mentioned in the article (I own one and like it so there is no attack on the brand here) that doesn’t shout of egalitarian principles to me – they are bloody expensive and few people can afford them. The same with the Nike Colin Kaepernick ad, the fact that that was well received is sad because it shows that people did not see that the brand was taking an issue that is complex and very personal to so many people and turned it into a commercial opportunity.

I really hope the tide shifts and people who dedicate their lives to producing top quality, long lasting and made-to-be-worn, not make-a-political-statement products thrive! Sorry for the rant!

Anthony

Great and cheerful article, like many great artisanal houses of different bearings in the past who have survived centuries of wars, upheavals and revolutions through the patronage of kings, courts and of course from many great men and women throughout history, many of these businesses will still retain the special relationship with their patrons, perhaps like the last financial crisis they might gain more exposure and attract more men and women towards them, as the old saying goes the word Crisis in Chinese is written with a combination of both Danger and Opportunity, it is only through crisis societies fundamentally changes, and whatever the brave new world will be, those of whom are strong, prepared and ready will continue to flourish and perhaps in a better shape.

Misbah

Article in the FT(paywall) on overseas suppliers not being paid.

https://www.ft.com/content/62dc687e-d15f-46e7-96df-ed7d00f8ca55

Frank Shattuck

To the tailors reading this interesting post , I will strongly suggest doing Skype fittings to get you through this period. Your loyal customers will work with you to save your business. I lowered my price by a good bit and I have gained three new Skype customers. Id be happy to give some pointers as have been doing this for three years and have worked out some of the problems.