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Harold Tillman

The British Fashion Council chairman looked back on a career spanning six decades.

What inspired you to start a career in fashion?

You have to have some feeling, some form of conviction as you’re going through the early years as to how you feel about the way you should dress, and the way other people should dress. Fortunately my mother was a milliner and my father was a tailor, so there was something there that was obviously indoctrinated into me from being a child.

How did you get to where you are today and what have been the most pivotal moments in your career?

My first job was quite challenging because I worked as an apprentice for a very classic, conservative men’s outfitter in central London called Lincroft Kilgour. They then gave me the opportunity to create my own range, and allowed me to take it to one or two of our customers to sell it to them. That was just as Carnaby Street was beginning to kick off in the 1960s, a time when fashion and music were changing a lot.

Who or what most inspired you at that time?

Savile Row would scorn at the fact that men were walking around in hipster trousers, and very low-rise trousers.

Edwardian style came back again – in those days you called it the teddy boy look – and then there were the mods. It was just a very exciting time.

What have you learnt that you could pass on to today’s attendees?

I would say stick to what you believe. If you want to become a designer, definitely become a designer. Feel good about what you do and be dedicated to that cause.

How did you first become involved with the British Fashion Council?

My companies [Jaeger and Aquascutum] have always been sponsors of the British Fashion Council (BFC). The previous chairman Sir Stuart Rose then invited me to take over from him. Taking on this role means effectively competing with, and at the same time working with, major [fashion] countries. New York, Paris and Milan have always led in terms of fashion and fashion weeks, and Great Britain had trailed behind.

So in order for me to take this on and dedicate myself to it, I needed to know that I could make a difference.

You’ve achieved a lot with London Fashion Week. What other moments in your career would you pick out as your proudest moments?

Hiring Sir Paul Smith as my first designer. A young man arrived for an interview and he walked in wearing black and white snakeskin boots, a suede coat with a fur collar and I couldn’t see where his hair finished and where his collar began. We’re going back to the time when my business was quite classic and quite conservative, but that was Paul Smith.

Who do you admire?

George Davies, who created Next. He had a vision. This man didn’t come from fashion. He sold Tupperware. And he knew there was a need in the British high street to turn what was then a fusty old retail business called Hepworth’s  into Next, and today its results and profits are quite a considerable achievement. He started it, and good management continued to develop it.

You were involved in the LFW reception hosted by the Prime Minister’s wife Samantha Cameron. How helpful has she been in promoting British fashion?

I think she’s brilliant. Her predecessor Sarah Brown was excellent as well, and opened up Downing Street to us. Sam in her own way loves clothes, she wears them well and I think she looked brilliant on her visit to America. She attends as many fashion shows as she possibly can. She’s very natural.

You’ve done so much in your career already. Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?

To edit Drapers! I just enjoy what I do and the thing about fashion is, even at this ripe old age, you wake up every day feeling 21. I will continue forever.

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