It’s cool to be a geek. Sitting at his desk, surrounded by 80,000 people, the Olympic stadium ablaze with flashing lights in celebration of his invention, Tim Berners-Lee was testament to the fact that the geek had finally arrived.
Once a negative term to describe a socially awkward or introverted young man, it has been empowered to mean men can now be anybody they want to be.
As the greetings card says, “Geek Is The New Sexy”; the modern geek is a symbol of how men can come in lots of different shapes, styles and personalities.
It started with Tom Ford, who, when launching his eponymous men’s line in 2005, made geek sexy. Adding thickly rimmed spectacles to handsome tuxedos, nobody could question that Ford’s geek wasn’t cool.
Celebrities such as Justin Timberlake and David Beckham have channelled their inner geek and recent musicals such as Loserville in London’s West End, which is about a group of kids trying to send the first e-mail, have celebrated everything geek-chic. Guys are going to night-clubs wearing Topman T-shirts emblazoned with ‘GEEK’ across the front and non-prescription spectacles.
There’s even a ‘geek’ porn star - James Deen. The complete opposite of the whey protein enhanced, pumped up stud; he’s a skinny boy, next-door type. (Deen complains that he gets hate mail from men – who frequently tell him he ‘needs to work out’.)
You only have to look at the Christmas jumper trend to see how the geek-chic look has permeated into wider society and what fun people are having with this newly liberated stereotype.
As we’re spending our lives on electronic devices communicating through social media, we are all becoming geeks by default. The modern geek has become cool thanks to companies like Google and Apple. No longer a niche, it has become a mainstream term.
Geeks know their stuff, but the geek trend isn’t just about thickly rimmed spectacles or tank-tops, it’s about a freedom of expression for men who no longer have to conform to perceived stereotypes of masculinity. The modern geek is descriptive of the man who is comfortable in his own skin and not afraid to celebrate his differences or idiosyncrasies.
The geek has become a hero of the ASOS generation or Generation Z and the modern symbol of new masculine self-expression.
A few years ago it wouldn't have been so easy or so free to read this article. The freedom of the internet has seen the reduction of paid for printed media and the flourishing of free information. The recent ABC magazine figures have been a mixed bag and most publishers are happy just to hold onto readers in this shrinking market. Hearst's men's title UK Esquire now stands at a paltry 54,702 down 6.0% year-on-year. If it wasn't a flagship title, to rival Condé Nast's GQ, it would no doubt be contemplating its future.
The free (mium) route has been taken by many titles but we are yet to see how sustainable this is as more people enter the market. Currently Shortlist, Sport, Stylist, The Evening Standard and now Time Out are given away in the hope of propelling numbers for the benefit of advertisers. It's a do or die attitude in a world where everything is now free; information, music, films, even porn and we are left wondering who is actually paying for anything anymore.
In this struggling economy, advertisers' budgets have been cut or have remained static. The expected flow of advertising cash onto the internet hasn't happened and isn't likely to until the economy starts to grow again. The advertisers now dominate the content of the magazines and they hold the whip hand with the publishers. The magazines are trying to do the same things on less money and cracks are starting to appear.
In the women's glossy market, publishers have started to reinterview people for their jobs and are retitling people, which is a bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. With the news that mega e-tailer Net-A-Porter is releasing a new glossy magazine, Hearst have told it's employees to no longer call items in or credit Net-A-Porter. This won't be another in-house magazine by the likes of Harrods or Selfridges but a magazine to rival Vogue and Elle. They have employed editor Lucy Yeomans, who was previously employed at Harper's Bazaar, who said on her appointment "I am thrilled to be joining the team at Net-A-Porter, after twelve years at the helm of Harper's Bazaar, and to be working with both Alison Loehnis and Natalie Massenet.
"The media landscape is evolving radically and Net-A-Porter has a global readership of over 3.5 million women who demand the very best edit of luxury fashion worldwide. Net-A-Porter has redefined the way women read about and consume fashion. I am looking forward to working with some of the very best talent in the industry and to creating truly inspiring content. Content that elevates the consumer experience and continues to build Net A-Porter as an authoritative voice to an unparalleled audience."
The new publisher model is e-tailer sustained editorial. This Net-A-Porter title could run on no advertising as it is subsidised by the huge e-tailing machine of Net-A-Porter. Some could say that it would be yet another boring in-house magazine but the same could be said of the rest of the magazine market who only feature their advertisers; the content is always dictated by someone. No doubt advertisers too will clamour to be seen on its new pages and the industry too is waiting to see what effect it has on their publications.
Before magazines were sustained by advertising, in the future they will be sustained by retail. America's GQ is testing the water with a tie-up with premium department store Nordstrom. Featured items from the current issues are available to buy in an online shop which is probably in the affiliate model of retail. GQ UK tried a similar thing but without the huge numbers it's not a money making solution.
We are in a transition period. The top-end glossy magazines will stay as they are but will be smaller in number, a new crop will be funded by retail and the internet will grow the news and reportage side of fashion and style. Where the advertising goes, nobody knows!
Andy Bond, the former Asda chief executive and chairman of Wiggle, the internet-based cycling retailer recently said in The Telegraph,
"People tend to describe retail in a binary way – bricks and mortar or online – but we're going to see a convergence. The costs of running an online business are increasing dramatically – whether through people or marketing costs – while the state of the economy and lower demand means the costs of bricks and mortar are going down.
"I think you'll see online retailers take the view that marketing brands through bricks and mortar becomes increasingly appealing. But it will be about using shops to create a brand, not just to sell product. In that context I can imagine Wiggle will have stores in the future."
There was an impression that if online brands opened retail stores it was going against everything they stood for. But as certain online brands have become dominant and people still want to shop offline, it makes sense to take your brand to them. While many people browse and are influenced online, the majority of purchases are still made in shops. People want to touch, see and try on.
Some online retailers have grown so big that their websites are daunting and time consuming to browse and a physical store would make this quicker and a more enjoyable experience. There are also retailers like ASOS where the product isn't done justice through pictures and video and the consumer needs to see it. Good product can lost easier online. There are rumours that ASOS are planning pop-up stores and we predict it won't be long before ASOS stores are all over the high-street. We predict online retailers like Figleaves & Very will open concessions or standalone stores on the high-street as rents and rates reduce.