your armani or your life

In Manchester, label fever has turned ugly. Gangs are holding fashion shops to ransom - but it's not money they're after. Oliver Swanton reports

Sly, a 19-year-old from Manchester's Moss Side, wears dark blue jeans by Armani (pounds 100), shirt by Versace (pounds 80) and boots by Rockport (pounds l25). His whole outfit was stolen by an "acquaintance" and cost him only pounds 100. He doesn't think there's anything immoral about it. "There's nothing wrong with a little bit of taxation," he says. "These shops take loads and never put anything back. Sometimes you just gotta take it back."

It's open season on Manchester's designer emporia: a fashion crime wave has left few of the city's clothes shops untouched.

Alex Ghelichi opened his exclusive menswear store, Marklynn on Deansgate, in mid-June. At 2am on 11 July it was ram raided by four men in two stolen cars. They left with bootfuls of Italian designer menswear. Three weeks later in the middle of a bright and sunny Friday afternoon a stocky red- haired white youth and a taller slim black youth strolled into his newly refurbished shop. They tried on several different pairs of Armani jeans, casually inquiring about any further stock "out back".

Finally they decided on the six pairs they preferred and had them neatly wrapped and bagged, before announcing they had no intention of paying. Ghelichi ran to the door, confronted them and managed to grab one of the two bags back. Because he put up a fight they came back first thing the next morning with three friends and threatened him with a knife. They only left (with another six pairs of jeans) when he dived over his counter and hit the panic button, wired to the local police station.

The day Ghelichi's shop was "taxed", the same two men stole 15 pairs of Armani jeans from another city centre store. The month before, a gang of youths raided another and walked away with pounds 4,000 worth of clothes.

This "trend" began last Christmas, when Manchester's notorious gang the Gooch Massive arrived en masse at a local designer menswear store. There was a jungle dance the following weekend and they wanted to make an impression. They dropped over pounds 5,000 in used notes, kitting themselves out in Armani, Versace and Valentino. Two weeks later the Gooch went shopping again. This time they wanted a 10 per cent discount. When the manager declined they purchased a couple of jumpers and left. Later that day members of the gang returned to clear the shelves. They could afford to pay for their designer labels but that wasn't the point: they had been shown disrespect.

Annabel works on the front line, in a clothes shop. Two months ago the shop was "taxed". She hasn't felt safe since. "I've never known anything like it. You're at work, in the middle of the day, in a shop for god's sake." She says she feels angry, frustrated and frightened. "They know where you work and they can come back for you anytime."

The police and local council are acutely aware they have a problem. Detective Sergeant Mike Rawlings, from the Bootle Street's crime management unit says that the police try to keep in touch with the fashion scene, in order to pre-empt raids. "What I'm always very worried about is the period when new styles change in the shops. We try to jack up our operations when we know that's going to happen." He says that targeted policing, fortified grills, and regular visits from well-briefed crime prevention officers have helped.

On the mean streets of Moss Side, three-figure designer casuals are not status symbols in the conventional sense. Malcolm, an extremely label- conscious young man explains: "It's about closing the gap. It's about saying 'Boy, we're doing it, we can afford this shit, it ain't nuffin'. We're just saying 'What you [the establishment] regard as heaven and earth are just garments, just material. We wear them, take 'em off at night and fling 'em down on the floor, it ain't nuffin' big.

"When you check someone from head to toe you can immediately see where they're at," says Malcolm. Armani and Versace and Rockport and Valentino is serious street wear. Dolce e Gabbana on the other hand tends to be favoured by middle-class wannabes. For the proper bad boyz, though, Tommy Hilfiger is still the man - he dresses gangsta rappers like Snoop Doggy Dog, 2 Pac and Coolio. "But sometimes you gotta look beyond the labels and read the attitude," adds Malcolm. "Man can do his research and buy all the right names, but if he ain't got the attitude you're gonna spot him."

Back on Deansgate, Alex Ghelichi keeps his store locked and alarmed during the day, vetting people closely before opening the door. The good news is that he may be spared any more visits this year: Valentino and Hilfiger are two labels which he has decided not to stock.

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders