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Unsuited to new era? Fate of formal fashion hangs by a thread By Reuters

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© Reuters. Cravats and bow ties are displayed for sale in the Dege & Skinner tailors on Savile Row, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London

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By Silvia Aloisi, Jonathan Barrett and Martinne Geller

MILAN/SYDNEY/LONDON (Reuters) – Italian luxury designer Brunello Cucinelli makes men’s suits that sell for up to 7,000 euros ($8,200). But even he – like most people across the globe – hasn’t worn a suit for months, let alone bought one.

“We’ve all been locked away at home, so this is the first jacket I have put on since March,” Cucinelli told Reuters in Milan as he presented his latest collection in September, wearing a light grey blazer.

Most people in “white-collar” jobs are working from home, with a newfound love of sweatpants, a trend that some experts expect to outlive the pandemic. And few, if any, weddings or parties are taking place.

This seismic shift in behaviour is having profound repercussions across the supply chain for suits and formal wear, upending a sartorial sector spanning every continent.

In Australia, the world’s biggest producer of merino wool, prices have been in freefall, hitting decade lows. Many sheep farmers are in dire straits, storing wool in every available shed in the hope of a rebound.

In northern Italy, the wool mills that buy from the farmers and weave the fabric for high-end suits have seen their own orders from retailers nosedive.

In the United States and Europe, several retail chains specialising in business attire such as Men’s Wearhouse, Brooks Brothers and TM Lewin have closed stores or filed for bankruptcy over the past few months, and more could follow.

Players at all levels told Reuters they were being forced to adapt to survive, from farmers turning to other forms of agriculture to mills making stretchier fabrics for a new breed of suits that don’t crease easily and are more resistant to stains.

“People want to be more comfortable and are less inclined to wear a formal suit,” said Silvio Botto Poala, managing director of Lanificio Botto Giuseppe, a wool mill in Italy’s textile hub of Biella which counts Armani, Max Mara, Ralph Lauren (NYSE:) and Hermes among its customers.

“With Zoom conferences and smart working, you’ll see men wearing a shirt, perhaps even a tie, but not many suits.”

MERINO FARMERS CLING ON

Fine wool prices in Australia have more than halved during a tumultuous 18-month period, as usually healthy purchases of merino wool from Italian mills have almost ground to a halt.

The benchmark price for merino wool fell to A$8.58 ($6.1) per kg in early September, auction results show, down from A$20.16 in early 2019. It has since partly recovered to just over A$10.

Andrew Blanch, managing director of New England Wool in New South Wales, which sources wool from farms for Italian textile makers, said many buyers now had excess supplies.      

“They’ve all got wool to get rid of before they even come back to the market here,” said Blanch, speaking on the phone from wool auctions in Sydney’s western suburbs.      

“If the shops aren’t open, everything just backs up. A lot of the orders we had bought wool against just got cancelled by their clients in the U.S. and around Europe.”

He said that China, which alongside Italy purchases most of Australia’s more than A$3 billion in annual wool exports, was now “the only show in town” even though Chinese buyers were also acquiring less wool.

Many merino sheep farmers are storing their wool in sheds or storage facilities; though some who are still emerging from a three-year drought are selling their bales into the weak market to stay financially afloat.

“Not everyone is big enough to hold on to their wool clip and wait for the price to change,” said Dave Young, a farmer near the New South Wales town of Yass. “We are in the position where we have to meet the market within a relatively short time after shearing.”

Young, who has about 4,500 sheep on his property, said he had re-focused some operations to provide lamb meat instead.

WOOL WEAVERS’ GLOOM

A jump up the food chain to northern Italy, and Botto Poala expects his mill’s sales to fall by 25% from 63 million euros last year and that they will take 2-3 years to recover.

However his business is insulated to a degree because it mostly makes womenswear fabric; others are more pessimistic.

“For some businesses, we are talking a 50%-80% plunge in sales,” said Ettore Piacenza, general manager of the Fratelli Piacenza wool mill, a centuries-old family business with an annual turnover of 52 million euros. He also heads the wool mills department of the local business association.

Botto Poala said more than 50% of his mill’s turnover now comes from wool that has been made stretchier by treating in a particular way or having lycra added to it.

This is because whatever demand is left for suits, it is more likely to be for fabrics that are more resistant to stains and don’t crease easily, while such cloth can also be used for casual wear, wool mills say.

Italian luxury label Etro, for example, has just launched a “24-hour jacket” made of jersey and mixing wool and cotton.

‘MY CLIENTS ARE IN PJs’

A gradual move towards casual wear has been going on for years. In 2019, even Goldman Sachs (NYSE:) – a bastion of bespoke suits – relaxed the dress code for its staff. Not to mention the rise of the Silicon Valley hipster crowd.

But COVID has turbocharged that shift – boosting sales of comfort clothing and sportswear at the expense of business attire.

In the second quarter of this year, when much of the world was in lockdown, Nike (NYSE:) was the hottest brand according to Lyst, a global fashion search platform that analyses the behaviour of more than nine million online shoppers a month.

It was the first time since the Lyst Index began that a luxury fashion brand did not take the top spot.

Gap’s Athleta unit, which sells tights, jogging pants, sweats and workout tops, was its best-performing fashion line in the three months to Aug. 1. Sales rose 6%, compared with a 52% fall at Banana Republic, known for dressier attire.

Suits ranked among the highest-discounted and lowest-selling items in France, Italy and Germany in September, according to data compiled by StyleSage, which combs prices on websites.

Cheaper to mid-market labels including Asos, Topman, Guess (NYSE:) and Hugo Boss had the steepest markdowns, at up to 50%.

The collapse in demand for office attire led storied U.S. retailers, also including Jos. A. Bank and J. Crew, to file for bankruptcy over the summer and many more retailers face an uncertain future.

Retail consultancy Coresight Research forecasts that 20,000 to 25,000 U.S. stores could close by year-end, compared with about 9,800 in 2019.

“I confess I have not purchased any office wear this year. I can tell you for a fact walking around the City, there are very few suits on display,” said James Whitaker, a partner at law firm Mayer Brown in London.

Indeed business has been “extremely slow” even since the end of lockdown for Jasper Littman, a tailor trained in Savile Row, the London street renowned for its bespoke tailoring for men.

Littman said his clients, mostly lawyers and bankers, “are sitting at home in their pyjamas”.

He usually makes about 200 suits a year, but has only made 63 so far in 2020.

Customers are reluctant to risk riding the train to pick up even the suits that are already made with a deposit paid.

“There’s no point in them doing that, because they’d be taking delivery of a suit they can’t wear.”





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Economy

Israeli blockchain accelerator Collider Labs raises $1m

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In the past two years the blockchain and cryptocurrency industry has shrunk considerably, and many companies have closed, but in the past couple of months there has been something of a revival in the formation of startups and in new investment in this field. This trend finds expression in Israel in the formation of a new accelerator, Collider Labs, launched this week by the founders of venture capital firm Collider Ventures.




An initial $1 million has been invested in setting up Collider Labs. The money was raised from dozens of investors, chief among them the three founding partners Ofer Rotem, Adam Benayoun, and Avishay Ovadia.

Collider says that the $1 million raised for the new accelerator is earmarked for investment in early-stage companies in pre-seed investment in amounts between $25,000 and $75,000 for each company. A first startup has already joined the accelerator – a company set up by Israeli entrepreneurs and operating from London. Collider has not so far released further details.

Ovadia, who is founding venture partner at Collider, is manager of the new accelerator. “Our model is different from that of most accelerators,” he told “Globes”. Generally, when an entrepreneur is accepted to an accelerator, he finds that he is expected to work according to a rigid work plan and a timetable dictated from above. With us, it’s quite different: we tailor a personal program for each entrepreneur, in accordance with the stage he is at, and don’t hesitate to change the program as necessary. The aim is to become genuine partners of the most talented entrepreneurs in the market, in the hope of continuing to accompany them as the ‘home investor’ even after they spread their wings and become sell-established blockchain companies.”

Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on October 22, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020




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Hapoalim shareholders elect Stanley Fischer to board

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At the conclusion of a stormy process, the shareholders of Bank Hapoalim (TASE: POLI) today elected Stanley Fischer and Israel Trau as “regular” directors of the bank, and Ronit Abramson-Rokach and Dalia Lev to continue as external directors. The shareholders were required to choose four out of six candidates recommended by the committee for the selection of directors in banks without a controlling core. Now that Fischer has, as expected, been elected a director of the bank, he may be tapped in the future for the role of chairman, a post currently held by Reuven Krupik.




In a statement released this evening, Fischer said, “I am pleased to join the Bank Hapoalim’s board of directors. I intend to study the bank and its activities in depth, as well as the competitive and regulatory environment , so that I can contribute from my experience to the bank and its growth.

“The Israeli banking system faces many challenges, not the least of them resulting from the coronavirus crisis. I believe that Bank Hapoalim’s management and staff will be able to meet these challenges as we move ahead in strengthening the bank for the future.”

Fischer was governor of the Bank of Israel from 2005 to 2013. During his tenure, he demanded, and ultimately obtained, the ousting of then Bank Hapoalim chairman Dan Dankner, against the wishes of Shari Arison, who was the controlling shareholder in the bank at the time and who appointed Dankner to the post. Dankner subsequently served a prison sentence after being convicted on various charges in connection with his chairmanship of Hapoalim.  Fischer is also a former chief economist of the World Bank and First Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, and he was vice chairman of the US Federal Reserve Board of Governors. From 2002 to 2005 he was an executive at Citigroup.

The election of Fischer as a director could mean a change in the balance of forces on Bank Hapoalim’s board and perhaps a change in its attitude to the bank’s management.

The shareholders also approved Bank Hapoalim’s last annual report and the reappointment of KPMG Somekh-Chaikin and BDO Ziv Haft as joint auditors until the bank’s next annual general meeting.

Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on October 22, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020




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China will improve yuan flexibility, central bank governor says By Reuters

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© Reuters. Chinese Yuan banknotes are seen in this illustration

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China will seek to improve the flexibility of its yuan currency and will reduce restrictions on cross-border use of the yuan, the country’s central bank governor Yi Gang said on Saturday.

Yi was speaking at the Bund Summit conference held in Shanghai.

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