This year’s Drapers Lifetime Achievement Award winner has done it all, from a sell-out 1960s store to his own TV show.
Jeff Banks is trading cycling stories with his local window cleaner, another bike nut, between takes on his photo shoot for Drapers. The conversation begins when Banks spots the sponge man’s two wheeler – a quality vehicle, apparently.
Banks is no weekend cyclist. He has completed 1,000km rides and, at the age of 64, spent his one day off on a recent work trip to Australia cycling 80km in the driving rain on Melbourne’s infamous coastal road. He agrees with the window cleaner’s assertion that it is the feeling of freedom when out on the road that is one of cycling’s biggest attractions.
Freedom to do and say what he wants has been a characteristic of Banks’ career. Always outspoken, he has been self-employed for almost all of his working life and notes that he was probably only unhappy in the short time that he spent as an employee – shortly after Warehouse, the chain he founded with brothers Maurice and Michael Bennett, was bought out by Sears.
“I think people who have worked with me would agree that you don’t get the benefit of what I can do for you by nailing one of my feet to the floor,” he says.
When Drapers rang Banks to ask if he would accept our Lifetime Achievement Award, he was genuinely surprised and delighted. Drapers pressed him about that surprise during this interview, and his reply was characteristically frank. “I tend to speak my mind and when something annoys me I say so. It is that which understandably can ruffle people’s feathers,” he says wryly.
The launch of Kate Moss’s collection at Topshop was an example of Banks making his feelings known when he questioned the supermodel’s level of input to the range.
“Philip [Green] called me. He wasn’t very happy. But I speak as I find,” he says.
Banks has not always gone for the popular vote. But this man has been an independent retailer, he has run his own international label, founded high street chain Warehouse and launched the ground-breaking fashion mail-order operation Bymail, as well as raising the profile of British fashion and designers by hosting fashion TV phenomenon The Clothes Show.