…he’s a little bit cheeky and he’s probably not going to go home on his own’. Robbie Williams’ first fashion collaboration with creative director Ben Dickens has resulted in a cohesive collection of ‘real clothes for real guys’.
Don’t worry, he’s lovely,” assures a security guard, as I’m whisked in to meet the multimillion album selling singer that is Robbie Williams. To talk fashion.
As I begin, by asking how his menswear brand Farrell began, any fears about Williams taking a while to warm up are quickly quashed as he starts talking about his journey.
“Originally, the inspiration was boredom. Since I was 16 I’ve been on a treadmill of album, promo, tour, album, promo, tour – and was very fortunate to be very, very successful – but along the way I sort of burnt out and needed something else to do and of course, like everybody else does, I thought I’d do documentaries about UFOs,” he laughs, self-deprecatingly. “And then I found out that wasn’t my forte.” And there begins a refreshingly – and somewhat surprisingly – honest interview with a global superstar.
Sitting alongside Williams is Farrell’s creative director Ben Dickens, previously outerwear design director at Burberry, and it’s clear the duo have a close working relationship. Bouncing off one another throughout the interview, they often finish each other’s sentences with an abundance of mutual enthusiasm and excitement for the recently launched menswear brand. The brand team is made up of only six people, so Dickens is integral to overseeing all creative aspects of the business alongside Williams.
Launching in september 2011 exclusively in House of Fraser and online at Very.co.uk, Farrell has now moved into department store Selfridges for autumn 12. The collection consists of 50 pieces covering the spectrum of menswear from T-shirts and knitwear to denim and outerwear. When questioned on this move, Williams charms his way into Drapers’ heart.
“Well, much like Drapers, Selfridges has been going forever, it’s an iconic brand, the cachet of having your clothes here is paramount and the cachet of having the Farrell line in the store is awesome. They’re a trusted brand and that’s what we want to be.”
Dickens picks up on this point, explaining how the brand fits into the department store.
“Selfridges covers the breadth of brands, from super-expensive beautiful designer pieces to the part of the world that Farrell is in, which is much more accessible, but still beautiful,” he explains. “A lot of what they do sits comfortably with what we are trying to do as well.”
Reece Crisp, menswear buyer at Selfridges, says it is the brand’s ethos as well as its quality that encouraged Selfridges to buy into it.
“The Farrell brand has been on our radar for some time as we have a close relationship with Robbie and his team, and the addition of Ben Dickens to the brand has really taken it to another level. They have a really clear brand ethos which makes the collection very cohesive. They’re focused on the idea of ‘real clothes for real guys’ and have been absolutely true to that.”
Industry critics have cited Farrell as another short-term celebrity collaboration and some have questioned its USP. Oliver Tezcan, buying manager of menswear brands at Asos, said of Farrell, “It’s pitched at tricky price points going head-to-head with established heritage brands, so I’m not sure who it’s going to appeal to. Celebrity brands like Pretty Green worked initially because they are logoed brand-carriers; Farrell doesn’t have that hook so it will be interesting to see how it does.”
However, Emily Cowburn, assistant buyer for menswear fashion brands at House of Fraser, believes it offers another premium British heritage brand. “Farrell is built from a collection of great craftsmanship and impeccable design. With or without Robbie Williams, Farrell stands alone as a credible, commercial menswear brand,” she says.
Farrell is also taking baby steps into international markets, launching in department stores Brown Thomas in Ireland later this month and Coin in Italy in October. David Empson, managing director of Farrell, explains the reason for these locations is that both Brown Thomas and Coin are key retailers within each country that already stock brands that sit well with Farrell in a similar way to House of Fraser and Selfridges.
But who is buying the product? Williams and Dickens have a clear vision of who the Farrell man is and this originates from Williams’ initial inspiration for the brand – and the namesake behind it – his grandfather Jack Farrell. “Jack was built like an Irish navvy and was a big, big guy. He was in World War 2, worked down the pits, a working class Irish catholic who lived in a council house – an authentic man.” Again, Dickens elaborates on Williams’ point: “I think it’s about what he represents. From what Rob has told me, he dressed really well. He may have worked down the pit during the week, but at the weekends he was proud of how he presented himself.”
Bringing the image into the present, Dickens explains further: “Imagine 10 guys have gone out, they are sitting on the wall outside the pub. One of them looks just a bit different. He doesn’t dress like a twat. He wants to feel and look good. The Farrell guy is the one who has that glint in his eye, he’s a little bit cheeky and he looks handsome. And he’s probably not going to go home on his own.”
As I go on to ask how this vision translates practically into the clothes, Dickens jumps up to show me their favourite piece from the autumn 12 collection: Rob’s coat – a khaki double-breasted, belted military trench coat. With Williams modelling it, Dickens shows his passion by giving a thorough description of the style, material and detailing of the item, as well as the inspiration behind it. And Williams jokingly exclaims while putting the coat on: “There’s no stopping you in this – it feels like I could write another Angels.”
Crisp has already seen that it is outerwear that is selling in Selfridges. “We’re seeing sell-through on the trenches, pea coats and quilted jackets. The double-breasted camel overcoat, which the team developed exclusively for us, is my favourite piece from the line.”
Outerwear retail prices start at £150 and peak at £500 for a black, leather aviator jacket. While Williams admits that he wouldn’t know the cost of a pint of milk these days, he assures me his aim is to keep the price point of the brand accessible. “My tagline from the beginning has always been that, it’s Savile Row quality at high street prices,” he says.
Within Selfridges the brand sits in the contemporary menswear department alongside brands such as Folk and Oliver Spencer. As Crisp points out, “They’re real lifestyle collections – labels which guys return to again and again.”
As I finish off asking the pair to summarise the brand, both are, possibly for the first time throughout the interview, short and concise with their answers. Williams opts for, “It’s for the understated peacock”, while Dickens leaves with the single sentence, “It’s all about standing out quietly.”
And with a “thanks babe, nice to meet you – did I mention I’ve just released a new single?” Williams and Dickens are off – although if the initial enthusiasm and clearly successful working partnership are anything to go by, it looks like Farrell might be around for a while.