2023 meets 2024- how the big themes will continue… and evolve

Online’s ongoing struggles: E-tailers’ bleak 2023 many be followed by 2024 stabilisation, but we should’t expect too much good news. At the lower end of the price scale, Boohoo Group couldn’t seem to catch a break last year. But neither could mass-market e-tail giants that also sell higher-priced fashion, like ASOS and Zalando, both of which saw tough times to varying degrees. As for the highest end, 2023 brought Farfetch’s spectacular implosion and last-minute rescue by South Korea’s Coupang; it saw Matches, in desperate need of cash, being bought by Frasers Group for a fraction of the price it fetched back in the 2010s; and Richemont’s solution to offload Yoox Net-A-Porter falling apart as the expected new owner (Farfetch) faced its own survival fight. Will 2024 be any better? Perhaps not, and e-tailers have already managed expectations with warnings that turnarounds may take time. But many should be able to look forward to a more stable year as cost-savings, stock rationalisation and other key strategies begin to have an impact. As for those luxury sellers, Farfetch and Matches now have owners that know one thing – how to make money out of e-tail. And Richemont will clearly be keen to find a solution for YNAP, although there’s been no hint so far of what that solution might be.

Outlets rule! Outlet shopping continues to be one of the most buoyant segments of the fashion retail market. Names as varied as Bicester Village, London Designer Outlet, Outlet Shopping At The O2, and the large portfolios owned by McArthurglen and Via Outlets have shown that such villages/malls are as close to a license to print money as fashion retail gets. Consumers — both locals and tourists — continue to flock to them with a view to buying quality goods at a big discount and this is unlikely to change during 2024 as cost-of-living pressures persist and more big names sign up for space. In fact, outlet shopping is likely to become even bigger as new malls open, revamps are unveiled and more brands pile into the sector.

Retail space repurposed: 2023 was a year in which we reported on plenty of conversions of large retail spaces into leisure destinations. And the landlords didn’t hold back in telling us just how successful this strategy was. Liverpool One operator Grosvenor praised the arrival of entertainment business Gravity Max for attracting footfall and a broader spread of consumers. Now, Eldon Square in Newcastle is repurposing 200,000 sq ft of space left by shuttered Debenhams, Topshop and Dorothy Perkins stores to bring in a mix of food, socialising, art, culture music and sports features. And The Oracle in Reading has signed leisure business Hollywood Bowl. Meanwhile, the conversion of retail to office space also continues. Fenwick will vacate its Bond Street flagship in London this year and a big chunk of that will be turned into offices. And M&S is hoping its rejected plan to demolish its Marble Arch branch and build a new space that will also include offices might eventually get through.

Let’s get physical: Footfall to retail destinations continues to lag pre-pandemic figures, but the gap is closing and Christmas saw some flagship locations overtaking 2019’s performance. Those shoppers who were going to physical stores were also spending more. No surprise that physical stores overall really do seem to be bouncing back, Westfield’s owner hailed rising tenant sales in 2023 and companies that had previously shut stores – such as Monsoon and Jigsaw – were opening them again. And more new openings that are experience-focused, super-sized or statement-making (such as Sephora’s UK debut, Valentino’s new Paris home on Avenue Montaigne, HMV’s Oxford Street comeback, the many new stores to open at Battersea Power Station and more) underline the physical bounceback. The revival of London’s Oxford Street and West End generally is the poster child of that bounceback.

Pop-ups proliferate: It was both a symptom of the large amount of vacant space post-pandemic and a sign of the dynamism in the market but pop-ups seemed to be everywhere last year. Think Revolve in Aspen, Kenzo in Paris and Seoul, multiple Harrods pop-ups, ditto Liverpool One, plus Lone Design Club, Marc Jacobs in Covent Garden, Flannels with both brands and celebs, Max Mara for the Teddy coat, Moschino, Lacoste, Charity Super.Mkt, Zara for Barbie, and too many more to mention. Don’t expect the pop-up obsession to run out of steam any time this year, although as retail space is re-let and repurposed finding the right location could become more challenging for smaller brands and charities.

Location, location, location: Apart from snapping up the best store sites, brands were keen to be seen where their customers would be last year and this will continue in 2024. That could mean repeats for spectacular events like Valentino’s couture show at the Château de Chantilly, Chanel’s trip to Manchester for its Métiers d’Art show, or Kenzo showing in Shanghai. But it’s not just about shows, of course. Brands went on tour too in 2023, adding to the aforementioned pop-up fever with grander choices that took over entire locations. Burberry’s Streets initiative was seen in London, Seoul, New York and Shanghai, while its winter pop-ups opened in Switzerland, Italy and France; Giorgio Armani Mare launched a takeover tour of various sunshine resorts; the Hugo and Boss brands, as well as Paul & Shark, launched ski report takeovers; Jacquemus opened a pop-up store and ice-skating rink in Courchevel; America’s Fifth Avenue Club went on a resort tour; Harrods opened its first ever private members’ club in Shanghai; and luxury online retailer Mytheresa and lifestyle brand Flamingo Estate teamed up on a holiday pop-up experience on the US West Coast. Expect even more spectacular show locations this year (especially for couture and pre-season shows), as well as plenty of fashion week city takeovers and even more branded resort takeovers for swim and ski seasons.

Turnaround triumphs, turnaround troubles: A succession of results reports and store openings by Spanish fashion giant Mango in the past few years underlined the success of the turnaround at the company and in 2023, the resurgent firm was in full-on expansion mode. But some turnarounds are taking much longer than hoped for. Two examples of this were Superdry and John Lewis. Both seemed to be in an endless turnaround loop during the year and it’s unlikely that 2024 will prove that much stronger for them. However, another turnaround that does seem to have succeeded should give them some hope. M&S also spent years trying to get back on top but somehow seemed to miss out. However, 2023 was M&S’s year as the past few years of intensive work meant it seemed to do everything right. It also saw its share price rising, allowing it to rejoin the elite FTSE 100 share index. It proved that even a business many had written off as yesterday’s fallen idol can fight back. 

The strong get stronger… and buy up the weak: The past 12 months have seen a number of major names hitting the acquisition trail with a vengeance with the two biggest names in this area being America’s Authentic Brands Group and Frasers Group in the UK. The former bought Rockport and Hunter Boot and finalised it Vince buy, as well as inking deals with companies globally to handle earlier acquisitions such as Ted Baker, Reebok, Forever 21, Boardriders, Geoffrey Beene and more.  Meanwhile Frasers Group bought a number of businesses, including Matches, John Anthony, and The Mall, plus stakes in Boohoo, ASOS, and N Brown. That followed an equally acquisitive 2022 for both groups. Other big-hitters such as Next (think Fatface and Cath Kidston) and China’s Biem.L.Fdlkk Garment (which bought Cerruti 1881 and Kent & Curwen) have also been buying or consolidating purchases. And none of this activity is likely to slow. The early weeks and months of this year should see a number of businesses either in distress or going under and it’s clear the big buyers will be ready to pounce.

Eco everywhere: Perhaps the biggest story of last year was the sustainability revolution (although this was tempered by greenwashing probes, a little bit of back-pedalling to avoid falling foul of stricter rules and consumers signalling their disapproval). But in general, eco continued to battle its way to the forefront. That meant Mango launching a circular denim capsule, Valentino diving deeper into creative circularity with La Réserve des Arts, Copenhagen Fashion Week/Zalando’s Sustainability Award, brands like Filippa K using new “game-changing recycled materials, and H&M plunging into garment recycling via its Looper initiative. Pre-owned became ever more important, whether that was eBay focusing on it as Love Island’s top sponsor or Vestiaire Collective trying to make pre-owned as a category fast-fashion-free by banning more labels from its platform. A Trove report pointed to huge growth potential for resale, but said the sector remains a work-in-progress, while a Vinted report claimed big CO₂ savings for secondhand compared to buying new. Rental got bigger too, with specialist names like Hurr signing multiple deals. Coperni, Mango and Net-A-Porter entered rental for the first time. Repair was also key with Cos and Patagonia becoming more repair-focused. And Puma even launched a ‘biodegradable’ experimental shoe project. Don’t expect any of these initiatives to cool in 2024. Some may not work, but if anything we’re more likely to see even more such launches and partnerships. 

Collaborations count: Barely a day went by in 2023 without a new collaboration announcement. Think Yoshitomo Nara x Stella McCartney, Rains x Zellerfel, Ellesse x Keith Haring, H&M x Mugler, Nensi Dojaka x Mytheresa, Christian Cowan’s x Teletubbies, Mr Porter x Arket, Cos x Linda Farrow, Mulberry x Axel Arigato, Balmain x Evian, the Rolling Stones x Skechers, Clarks Originals x Aleali May, and Peter Do x Banana Republic. Those are just a few of the link-ups that made headlines in 2023 and they show just how varied (in terms of price, positioning and overall style) collaborations were. And in a challenging year (as 2024 is expected to be), it’s likely that collaboration fever will ramp up even further as brands and stores look for that extra something to put their products in the public eye.

Celeb power: 2023 was a big year for celebrity ambassador signings and many showed just how important the Asian market is to luxury brands. For instance, Valentino named Suga from BTS as brand ambassador, while Loewe named K-Pop’s Taeyong to the same role. Korean and Chinese celebs were a big feature of the front row during fashion weeks and several reports showed that they were among the biggest brand value generators for labels during those events. Elsewhere, we saw key new faces for beauty brands too with Chanel naming Whitney Peak the new face of Coco Mademoiselle, and Timothée Chalamet as its new Bleu de Chanel ambassador, while Bella Hadid became the new Charlotte Tilbury muse. But celebs were more than just faces. New Adidas ambassador Jenna Ortega fronted its new Sportswear label and lived the brand, while Moncler Genius chose celeb collaborators (Alicia Keys, Pharrell Williams) to create as well pose, and Bally announced a major Adrien Brody link-up with the actor to design a series of capsules. It’s a trend that will run and run in 2024 too with existing celebrity link-ups likely to prove attention grabbers this year, as will new ones yet to be announced. Also prepare for new hot-ticket sports stars post-Olympics, a new wave of self-made influencers we may not have even heard of yet, and more Chinese/Korean celeb signings by Western luxury labels. And who will sign new 16-year-old world Darts sensation Luke Littler to a collab?

Tech-tastic: It may have been the year of AI but 2023’s sometimes-blue-sky AI obsession could seem small-scale as AI becomes of more practical importance in 2024. Already in 2023, Zalando launched a ChatGPT assistant, while BNPL giant Klarna added AI features, Google Shopping launched a new AI try-on tool for fashion and Shopify added a suite of AI enhancements. This year we should probably expect more individual brands to embrace artificial intelligence. But labels will want it to show its worth via a better webstore experience, improved customer service, and supply chain help if it’s to be more than 2023’s fad that will only be revisited once its benefits have been better proved. And what about 2022s big tech trends? NFTs? The Metaverse? They seemed to take something of a backseat in 2023 and probably won’t be quite such a talking point in 2024 either. That said, last year Puma, Ralph Lauren, Clarks Originals, Boss and more expanded their metaverse offers and Adidas launched big range on Roblox only in December. And brands were still launching NFTs. But what might join AI in overtaking NFTs and the metaverse? Digital passports are likely to be hot. Last year, brands from Nobody’s Child to Tod’s created digital passports and many more brands are set to sign up for these pieces of tech that help burnish their green credentials in 2024.

Power brands: We can never predict major mis-steps, but assuming such things don’t happen, it’s likely that the biggest names of 2024 will be those that made an impact in 2023. Prada topped the Lyst Index for first time and still seems to be on a roll, as does Saint Laurent, whose bag was one of Lyst’s top products. Loewe also headed the index for the first time and its designer Jonathan Anderson seems to be able to do no wrong at present. Meanwhile, power sports brands Castore and On continued their rise to prominence, signing partnership deals, opening stores and seeing sales surging. But these brands must watch their step. The world is increasingly less forgiving of supply chain scandals, a ‘same-old’ product offer, or just an ill-judged comment on social media. Such things can turn today’s power brand into tomorrow’s lame duck and there’s every chance that 2024 may see a currently-on-top label stumbling into murky waters.

What will we wear? And of course, we can’t ignore fashion trends. Barbie was big last year and there was still plenty of maximalism to be seen. But the year belonged to quiet luxury. Now, it’s easy to assume that this will be a temporary trend with consumers who are paying big bucks for their luxury goods perhaps wanting them to be a bit higher-profile than the average quiet luxury piece. But we shouldn’t write it off too soon. Wholesale platform JOOR confirmed not that long ago that its data was showing quiet luxury to have ongoing appeal that will impact the spring/summer season this year at least. Not that it’s all about luxury. We know that sports will continue strongly with a Laced report towards the end of the year showing that sneakers topped wishlists for Christmas. And plenty of reports have shown that consumers want to cut their fashion spend even if they don’t want to cut down on the number of items they buy. That underlined the validity of another report in November showing that the appeal of own-brand fashion is likely to grow in 2024. So it looks like whatever consumers are wearing, it may be more likely this year to carry a label from a supermarket or other mass-market retailer than it ever has done.

Oh… and Happy New Year! 

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