From football fans to Prince William, the founder of classic menswear brand Hackett has set the style agenda for a diverse mix of customers and is now an international phenomenon
At 16 years of age, having failed his school exams in his native Bristol, the young Jeremy Hackett was told by his father: “If you don’t pull your socks up you’ll end up working in a shop.”
The irony of this threat soon became apparent. Hackett was already working in a men’s store in his home town and decided that was indeed what he wanted to do. He moved to London and secured a job in legendary menswear retailer Village Gate on the King’s Road in Chelsea, west London.
Hackett’s decision to ignore his father’s advice has led to the retail empire that bears his name. It encompasses 16 Hackett shops (nine in the UK), 36 concessions and outlets and 626 stockists (91 in the UK).
According to figures posted at Companies House, the brand’s turnover to March 31 2008 was £37.17 million, up from £28.52m the previous year. The company’s loss for the year of £747,000 was significantly down from the £5.29m loss posted in 2007. Companies House figures relate to Hackett’s UK business. According to figures supplied by the company, its global turnover for the year to March 31 2009 was £62m. Profit for the year is not disclosed.
When Drapers catches up with the man himself, Hackett is in the 5,500sq ft Sloane Street flagship store in west London, making demands of the bespoke tie department. “I’m getting them to take the blade in and I want the dots between my initials in a contrasting colour to the monogram itself,” he explains, before ushering Drapers into a winged leather chair on the shop floor. “I know they can do it but it’s good to keep pushing them,” he confides, with an air of conspiratorial good humour.
It is an attitude he maintains as the discussion quickly turns to the brand’s schizophrenic UK following, which one London menswear indie puts into context: “It has two customers - one is the real laddish chav with the beer belly. The other is the posh banker - they dress it right up and it looks great.”
The terrace-based following was precipitated by the brand’s patriotic-looking polo shirts, which included St George’s Cross-clad versions. “In retrospect, perhaps it was a little too successful,” says Hackett. “It got bad press. You’d turn the TV on and there would be a [football] hooligan bashing someone and wearing Hackett.”
Astonishingly, these polos were only introduced as a promotional exercise, following Hackett’s sponsorship of the England polo team. Hackett says: “We got 50 of the sponsorship polos and put them in the store; they flew out in one day.” As he speaks, Hackett points to a screen above, on which a looped video shows Prince William walking on screen wearing a red polo shirt, with Hackett’s name in bold across the middle. That must be a thrill to see. Hackett is coy. “It’s great for the brand that it is seen all over the world, and this is the image we want to project,” he says.
Image projection is something Hackett understands. After his tenure at Village Gate he joined tailor John Michael on Savile Row, where he gleaned a powerful lesson in branding. “Everything that came into the shop had to have his name on. If it didn’t, he’d go into a tantrum.”
It is easy to see the effect this had on Hackett, who confesses he follows a similar regime. Is there a touch of vanity in this? Hackett counters with the story of the brand name. Prior to launching what became the Hackett brand, he ran a wholesale footwear company called Lloyd Jennings with Ashley Lloyd Jennings, who left Hackett in 1999 to work at Dunhill. When the pair set up what was to become Hackett, they decided it was Hackett’s turn to have his name used. “There wasn’t even a name at first. The only reason it got the name it did was that it was my turn,” he says.
In between his time at John Michael and the Hackett brand launch, Hackett enjoyed several lucrative years as a vintage clothing buyer, selling traditional English garments to a Parisian dealer. The vintage market scouring goes on. “I am very good at spotting a good suit. As a vintage buyer I could pick one out from a rail of 50 or 60 - there would be a Marks & Spencer one next to a Huntsman one and both would be £5. But to the right customer, the Huntsman could go for £150. There was a lot of money to be made,” he says. But other dealers cottoned on and the competition drove prices down. Hackett moved on.
Nowadays his vision operates on a more global level. Back in 1992, Hackett - the brand - was acquired by Swiss luxury brand house Richemont. In June 2005 it was sold to Spanish investment company Torreal and gained a huge shot in the arm. Every season since the takeover the brand’s stand at menswear trade show Pitti Uomo in Florence has had the single most imposing presence.
Now the quintessentially English but Spanish-owned brand has a charismatic American creative director in Michael Sondag, who joined Hackett from Tommy Hilfiger in 2005. Sondag says focus is the brand’s watchword: “The challenge is to condense the collection to fewer options. The trick for any business now is to have a tighter-run ship. When you consider the cost savings a brand can make on samples and showroom space, it’s important.”
Hackett is less involved in the strategic side of the business but remains a lynchpin of the brand’s DNA. He says: “We’re still scratching the surface - look at Tommy [Hilfiger] and Ralph [Lauren], and what they’ve done.” And it is with the US in mind that Drapers prompts Hackett on its expansion. “Yes, we looked at the US and got very close to opening on Madison [Avenue, New York] last autumn but we decided the time was not quite right,” he says.
To rival these massive brands, Hackett will surely have to look at womenswear. “We have looked at it,” Hackett says, “but it is a different way of working, which we would need to pin down. Our male customers like the fact that we really focus on them.”
- 2005 Hackett acquired by Torreal for £15m; begins sponsorship of Aston Martin racing team
- 1999 Starts wholesaling Hackett
- 1997 Hackett sponsors the England rugby team
- 1995 The brand launches kidswear
- 1992 Hackett acquired by Richemont
- 1983 Opens first Hackett shop
- 1979 Starts a business with Ashley Lloyd Jennings on a stall in Portobello Road
Who in fashion do you most admire and why? I learned a lot at Village Gate and at John Michael where I was immersed in tailoring. I still pick up bits everywhere - in this business you never stop looking and learning.
What is your favourite shop? An antiques shop in St John’s Wood [north London], called Andrew Nebbett. It’s got a nice mix of Georgian and 1960s pieces.
What has been the best-selling product you have worked on? I’d like to be able to say it was a grey flannel suit but unit-wise it’s the Hackett polo shirt. It’s still a huge seller today.
What has been your proudest achievement? I was quite proud of my book Mr Classic [which focuses on Hackett’s perception of male style]. To write that and get it published was something I never thought I’d do.
What would be your dream job, apart from your current position? Well, what I do now isn’t really a job. It’s what I do. But I think I would have quite liked to be a journalist.
What do you get asked most on your “Ask Jeremy” portal on the Hackett website? The questions are invariably about people wanting to dress properly, so it proves there is an appetite for the traditional rules of fashion. They ask me about the correct ways to dress for certain occasions like weddings or dinner parties. Many of the questions are things I take for granted, but in fairness it would be like me asking an expert about computers - something I have no idea about.