The British designer tells Ian Wright about his previous life in basketball and why he won’t offer a bespoke service.
You represented your country at basketball - didn’t you fancy hanging around for the Olympics?
I played for England until the age of 19 but it stopped being fun and I realised I’d been putting the rest of my life on hold. Entering the art and fashion scene allowed me to fully explore my creativity, but for the first time I was playing catch-up. It took a lot of determination to fully understand new people, a new culture, a new lifestyle … but I loved it.
I haven’t looked back.
What’s your take on off-the-peg versus made-to-measure versus bespoke tailoring?
As a fashion house, we’ve focused on made-to-measure rather than bespoke as it allows us to establish a signature silhouette that we work with to suit our clients’ needs. I want to create something iconic, rather than offering a bespoke service in which the client can have whatever they want - the good, the bad and the ugly.
There’s nothing wrong with buying off-the-peg if the suit fits perfectly, or can do with minor alterations. But a lot of my clients opt for our made-to-measure service as it ensures perfect fit every time.
How’s spring 14 coming along?
A designer never shows and tells but be prepared for a few surprises. In terms of categories, I’m developing leather accessories, which we’ll be launching in the next few weeks, plus shoes and eyewear. I’m working with a factory in Italy to develop the shoes. I won’t be producing these until I know we’ve got it right. With prints I’ve got several ideas in production - we’ll be moving away from previous prints but hope to sustain a tension between playfulness and darkness.
We hear the wholesale business is growing - is there an ideal number of stockists you have in mind?
I’m more interested in quality than quantity. I’m really happy with the relationships we’ve already built but I’m hoping to expand more globally, season by season. The autumn 13 collection was picked up by stockists in Europe, the US and Asia, which I’m really pleased about. But the Asian market seems a particular stronghold
for us at the moment - I’m hoping to reach out further to this market in future.
What plans do you have for womenswear?
We’re only producing our menswear for women on a made-to-measure basis though we are developing the range seasonally. Ready-to-wear tailoring pieces are available at The Shop at Bluebird and Moda Operandi and we’ll be stocking the collection ourselves in the near future. I’m working hard to establish a range of classic pieces, in the same way I first developed the menswear range.
How do you switch off after a hard day designing?
Your brand started off with tailoring – what do you think makes the perfect suit?
Fit, cloth and elegance. Above all, a man has to feel comfortable in a suit.
When you’re designing do you have a man (or woman) in mind? If so, how would you describe them?
Call me an egotist but it’s always myself. I’d wear every piece in my collections and the designs often come from a moment of inspiration where I move from thinking, ‘Why don’t I have this in my wardrobe? Where can I get this?’ to ‘Why shouldn’t I have this in my wardrobe? How do I make it?’
Do you start the design process with fabric or do you source it once you’ve established a design?
There’s actually a bit of both going on – the cloth has to suit the cut and the cut has to be right for the cloth. We often develop ideas together as cloth is given equal emphasis to design from start. Print in particular has always been very important to us.
Last spring the prints and more casual pieces felt like a concerted move to create a more rounded brand. What were the challenges of moving from being known as more of a smart specialist to introducing new, more casual categories?
As the brand ethos has always been ‘Dress Easy’ it made sense to start introducing casual separates to compliment our range of tailoring. The main challenges were finding suppliers to work with who understood the quality we were trying to achieve, and trying to integrate casual looks with the ‘smart specialism’ we’re known for – this is something we worked particularly hard on for the AW13 collection, which you’ll see from the lookbook.
What was the inspiration behind the AW13 collection?
The starting point for this collection was the works of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. There are references to 1970s graffiti art, Neo-expressionism and Pop Art and the pieces take their inspiration from Basquiat’s ‘heroic figures’ – athletes, prophets, warriors, musicians, kings, and the artist himself.
We hear the jersey pieces in the collection are going really well – are you finding the customers and stockists are buying across categories more now?
Definitely. The greater range you offer the more there is something for everyone. We have stockists who have just picked jersey pieces this season, others who have exclusively selected suiting, and some who have gone for both.
And fragrance? There’s got to be a deal to do with Dior for Eau Sauvage?
If there is I’m obviously not in the loop. But why not? Everyman wants to wear Sauvage…
Where do you think you find the best dressed men and women?
London – fashion is much less prescribed here than it is in Paris or Milan. But anyone can be a style icon to me if they look good and believe in what they wear. My photography focuses on Natives – from my home country Ghana, for example, or the courts of Venice Beach. These are people who work it.
I understand the e-commerce website you launched has performed really well. Did you have any fears about selling such a luxury product online?
I’m a man with few fears so I really went into e-commerce with few expectations, or doubts. The online store has performed really well and is becoming the ‘destination’ I hoped it would be. It did teach me, however, how important it is for a luxury brand to offer accessible products as well as luxury pieces, particularly online – this is something I’ve learnt, have developed and will continue to do so.
Your flagship is close to its 1 year anniversary. How has the world of retail been treating you?
The retail climate is obviously tough at the moment but I’ve found that as long as you understand your market you can survive anything. We’ve built up a strong base of clients and fans and this has been really important to us.
Any new plans for other stores?
We’ve expanded so quickly in the last few years that I haven’t had a chance to think about opening other stores. But in the future I’d like to have stores in New York, Miami and Hong Kong… to start off with.
My day usually begins with…
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
Samuel L. Jackson.
What would be on the soundtrack of that movie?
Whose personal style do you admire?