A bespoke suit at the age of 10 gave Penrose London’s flamboyant founder a taste for fashion, he tells Khabi Mirza
How did you wind up in menswear? My grandfather was a tailor in both the East End of London and Westcliff-on-Sea in Essex, where I grew up. I was 10 when I had my first bespoke suit. After succumbing to the lure of 1960s London, I enrolled in pattern-cutting courses before joining Jeff Kwintner’s legendary King’s Road store Village Gate.
What was your first foray into buying? When I joined Village Gate in the early 1970s Jeff asked me why shirt sales were down. I told him the look was moving on from the French collars we were then stocking and we needed round collars and florals. The new shirts worked and I became shirt buyer.
How has the market changed? Jeff taught me to follow my instincts and to never do anything for the money. Back then menswear hadn’t congealed into a single look and buyers were
more independently minded. The soul, spark and flavour has gone now because everyone goes to the same shows and has the same brands. It’s taken some of the innovation out
And then you fell into design? Quite literally. A friend of Jeff’s came into the store one day and said “You look fantastic. Can you design?” He was setting up a mod-inspired collection in New York. Two weeks later I was in downtown New York. It was a dynamic, energetic, dangerous city, and from my perspective it was part-adventure, part-fabulous catastrophe.
How did you establish the contacts with buyers that would prove so important when you launched premium accessories brand Duchamp? When I returned from New York I nearly killed myself when I crashed a motorcycle. That was it, I left and went travelling. The 1970s was an interesting but miasmic time.
I was buying rugs and carvings in Afghanistan and selling them to buyers from Munich to Los Angeles.
How will this recession affect the fashion industry? There was a post-war ethos when we climbed out of the gloom that anything was possible. The UK was a land peppered with small engineering and manufacturing companies creating amazing things, like Triumph’s Bonneville and the Austin Healey. It’s more difficult now to realise an idea, produce it, merchandise it and sell it. But clothes will always be an essential tool to expressionism. A bit of anarchy and self-expression is healthy. This recession presents a time when through the cracks we will produce some phoenix-like ideas. That’s why Penrose London came about.
Tell us more about Penrose London? Penrose is shirts, ties, scarves, mufflers, cravats and, of course, cufflinks, but it has a distinct personality compared to may other brands available at the moment. It’s more refined and appropriate for now. These are quieter and more contemplative times and that will be reflected in the way men dress.
What is your favourite record? There are so many, but the best is Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. God was in the room when that was recorded.
What is your first fashion memory? French Henry. There used to be this coffee bar I would go
to in Westcliff-On-Sea. Upstairs was middle class, downstairs was a hub
for modern jazz. I still remember French Henry in his charcoal grey flannel suits and imported US loafers. He had the best of everything.
Who is your fashion icon? I love Bob Geldof’s dishevelled look, and David Niven had something that was unmistakeably cool.
- Mitchell Jacobs is the founder of men’s premium accessories brand Penrose London