I find most press releases about new menswear launches to be rather depressing. ‘Exciting’ they say. ‘Dynamic’ they boast. It is hardly surprising that the most rudimentary examination usually proves that they are neither. I was recently contacted about one of the new entrants into the London menswear market, Chinese firm Bosideng, who had just opened a three-storey flagship store on South Molton Street between Oxford Street and Brook Street. Impressed by the location – and the lack of cheap adjectives in the press release – I decided to take a look.
The story of Bosideng is rather charming. Gao Dekang, now Chairman and CEO of Bosideng, began making clothing for a village down in Shanjing, China. Believing that he would make a success on a bigger stage, he cycled all the way to Shanghai – some 80km – where he demonstrated his skill in making a pair of men’s trousers in 17 minutes.
‘Down apparel’ is how Bosideng describe themselves – just think of a Chinese Moncler. However, ‘down apparel’ is not what I was thinking as I swept past the racks of wool blazers, tweeds, suits and overcoats. Yes, the down clothing is there; that slick, James Bond-esque, charcoal-y stuff that looks frightfully expensive and has often been copied by high-street magpies like Zara and Reiss. However, it didn’t dominate and complemented the more formal collection of clothing; the opposite effect of a company that specialises in down apparel, perhaps?
The quality of the individual pieces is high; the wool is beautifully soft and thick – no corners have been cut on the materials – and the design is chic and minimalist, albeit slightly utilitarian and severe. Steely grey is clearly the mantra of the autumn/winter collection, so don’t expect much in the way of colour. Or pattern. This might be a Chinese company but the collection is very European (appropriate, as it is made there); think Zegna – if he lived in London and skied in Wengen.
However, it all seemed rather familiar. It wasn’t that the brand had copied and pasted another brand’s entire aesthetic, rather they’d magpied – much like Zara – from a number; “That’s a bit Hackett” I thought, looking at a tweed jacket; “Very RL Black Label” I smiled, looking at a quilted jacket. Nick Holland, known for his eccentric Holland Esquire label and for co-founding Pretty Green with Liam Gallagher, is one of the creative directors (along with Pretty Green designer, Ash Gangotra) but the rockstar touches that he is famous for are absent in the Bosideng collection.
However, this is no bad thing. Pretty Green now looks pretty dated. Luxury clothing has been redefined. Dotting their squeaky, sporty style amongst the flannel trousers, tweed and wool blazers, Bosideng have a formula that produces a brand that is greater than the sum of its parts; the quilted jacket and wool trousers don’t look half bad when mashed together, the sportier items lend the smarter items an attractive air of youth, whereas the sharp tailoring provides credibility to the not-inexpensive offer overall. Bosideng will find that high-end menswear is a congested market in London, and that being able to boast a store in the city can be a short-lived experience. An appealing but not exactly unique offer needs promotion. Let’s see if they can succeed where others have failed.