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Sebastian Dollinger

Swedish shirtmaker Eton’s head of design tells Ian Wright about the company’s new UK home and bespoke shirt bloopers.

You’ve just moved into a new UK retail and wholesale HQ on South Molton Street - how are you settling in?

Fine thanks. It’s funny but the building is almost like it was made for us: an amazing Georgian design built in the 19th century. It enables us to showcase both our full collection and our Eton retail concept. It’s crucial [to combine wholesale and retail] as it makes us more linked with actual floor sales and gives wholesale clients the full Eton story.

Bespoke shirt options will be expanded to include every combination possible for autumn 13. Are you worried the customers will create some real monstrosities?

It’s quite funny actually to think about what you can do with all the options. But one must not forget to let people decide for themselves. If they want to create the most atrocious thing you will ever lay your eyes on, I say let them do it. It’s so dull when fashion houses dictate what people should wear - I prefer it when people just go for it. I feel that we have become overly conservative recently but at the same time I see some trends out there where people are beginning to play around a bit more than in recent years.

Did you always want to be a designer?

No, it was never my plan at all; it just happened. I started in the stockrooms and have worked my way up. I’m really competitive and always want to be the best version of me that I can. I wanted to be an astronomer or physicist. Perhaps one day I will change careers.

What was the idea behind creating the new luxury DnA line?

It was important to keep making shirts in Sweden, but the problem is that it’s damn hard to get hold of good seamstresses, especially if you are in the middle of nowhere. But we believe in our heritage and taking care of it - and it made the most sense to try to push ourselves at home to create one of the best shirts out there. I think shirt connoisseurs will be ready to shell out for a true piece of art. At the end of the day we are one of only a few shirt specialists left out there, and we dare to make more things than just in blue and white.

Are there any limitations when designing for a shirt brand as opposed to full collection brands?

There are so many things you can do; basically it’s endless.

Some of my mates think this must be the easiest job on earth because, in their minds, shirts never change. But I can attest that they change all the time.

Who do you think dresses well?

I really like Björk. She looks otherworldly; she always amazes me.

Who do you have in mind when designing?

I generally think about it like building a puzzle, since it’s probably the biggest shirt, tie and pocket square collection in the world and it’s about getting the patterns right. It’s never easy but I think the secret is to view it as a game you play against yourself and after playing for a while it all starts taking shape and you think to yourself, “oh I think I might have just done it again”.

What’s next for the brand? What other categories are you expanding into?

At the moment we’re focusing on growing and developing our Green Ribbon collection which is aimed towards a more sartorial way of wearing shirts; that means it’s not a casual shirt per se, we use traditionally casual fabrics such as light flannels, Oxfords and linens but instead of making them casual we dress them up with full cutaway collars and double cuffs. I think there are lots of men out there that really love to wear a tailored look but don’t want to wear the more common business qualities.

My day usually begins with…

If I’m at home I go to a small Italian coffee place where I have my breakfast. Abroad I usually sleep till it’s so late that I have to run straight into the shower in order to make my meeting in time. I’m more of a night person than morning person.

How do you switch off after a hard day designing?

Mysteriously as soon as I go out of the doors of my office I check out. There are so many things in life that are interesting and somehow I never get stuck in my job. I love my job, sincerely. But I don’t take my job too seriously. There is an undertone of loss and tragedy in that word. I think if we were just sincere with things and not serious, then we might wake up and realise it’s all just play.

Who would play you in the movie of your life?

Resurrect Aldous Huxley and that would be my dream. Quite strange I know. If the person had to be alive today I’d say Eddie Izzard, because that would be really weird.

What would be on the soundtrack of that movie?
Creedence Clearwater Revival - Fortunate Son.

Whose personal style do you admire?

Most women over the age of 75 dress more daring, colourful and quirky than those in the age of 18 to 40. Picking just one cool lady is easy – Vivienne Westwood. No competition.

What do you start with when you’re designing? Fabric? Design?

I always start by deciding the colours of the season, then I move on to the fabric followed by the styling. Always!

Your bespoke service offers customers a smorgasbord of shirt options. What would you go for if you had the choice?

I would probably make a white shirt with our new tab collar, choice of cuff would be double cuff, since I don’t have many and I would add +3cm on the sleeve as I need it.

Why do so many men find shirt and tie etiquette so difficult to grasp? (Knots too big or too small for cutaway collars in particular)

Perhaps because they don’t really care about it and got more important things in mind rather than to look what society think is in the box, quite refreshing. But I’m happy that some people care about quality and style, otherwise i would be without a job! In the end of the day I think we all want to look our best. Some of us just spend more time on it than others. Clothing rules are stupid but there are some easy and handy tips if you want some help. For example if you got a round face you should go for a pointed collar as it lengthens your face, and if you have a long face like I have its better to use a cutaway collar because it broadens your face.

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