the brand national

Categories: GQ, News, Opinion


My son has a game called Snail Race in which you roll a multi-coloured dice and six different coloured snails move up a course towards the finish line. Weirdly, it seems that the green one always wins and I have no idea why.

It reminds me of the great “up-and-coming-brands” race that continues season after season on the High Street battlefield. But here, unlike with the snails, it’s very difficult to predict who will win.

Let me explain. In menswear right now there are a number of hot brands jostling for position in the race for eternal demand. Some will achieve it, but many more will fade and wither away, eventually to be bought by a big, dull “brand house” or worse still, disappear altogether.

Examples of the runners and riders for you to consider putting your money on are Albam, YMC, Norse Projects, Folk, Garbstore and E Tautz. They are all lovely brands, run by creative, clever people, and all have great respect in the trade. However, by the law of averages only one, maybe two, will still enjoy the same reputation five years from now. So how can we tell who is most likely to make it?

Obviously you can shorten your odds as a brand if you have more than your fair share of cash. But that normally means that you have sidled up to someone who makes their decisions on a calculator. Also, you have a better than average chance if you have a truly unique product. But, to be honest, there are very few Coco Chanels in the world. So what is it, apart from luck, which makes a brand succeed?

For most of these brands it’s getting to the time where they need to move out of the greenhouse and into the garden, but this stage is the most dangerous and it’s where many of them ultimately flounder.

What really makes a difference in my view is the tireless drive of the people or person who runs the business. Energy and enthusiasm is a finite resource in most people’s cases and it tends to run out when they realise that the race is a marathon not a sprint. It’s the people with mental stamina who ultimately win because they keep producing ideas which keep their brand fresh many years after their competitors have run dry.

The king of this is Paul Smith, who never ever stops the endless flow of ideas for his brand, and he therefore keeps it as interesting for a 25-year-old today as it was for a 25-year-old 25 years ago. His energy is boundless, his mind never stops and therefore his brand has stayed fresh. I wonder who his close rivals were when he started out?

So why do I care about all of this? Well I’m riding in the 2.30pm at Kempton on my horse Grenson and I’m truly worried about lasting the course. But luckily I have a team of jockeys who are younger and fitter than me and they are more than capable of riding to the line. Giddy-up.

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