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Shopwatch: Hilditch & Key, London

Its revamped store brings shirtmaker Hilditch & Key into the 21st century without losing sight of its heritage.

Even since before the Regency days of Beau Brummell, who has a statue there, Mayfair’s Jermyn Street has long been a hot spot for the sartorially discerning male celebrity. Today’s visitors are likely to catch a glimpse of David Beckham, Jude Law or Stephen Fry, among others, with the latter seen sauntering down the street on the day Drapers came to visit the revamped Hilditch & Key store.

The luxury shirtmaker occupies a prominent 1,800 sq ft corner unit at number 73, opposite Wiltons oyster bar and next door to the Taylor of Old Bond Street barbers on the left and shirtmaking rival Turnbull & Asser to the right.

The flagship shut for 10 weeks from September 15 to November 10 last year for the seven-figure refurbishment, which also involved moving Hilditch & Key-owned hatter Bates from a shop-in-shop to a standalone store at number 37, which opened on August 1. Bates’ relocation freed up space for Hilditch & Key to introduce a bespoke shirtmaking area. Conveniently, the Hilditch & Key flagship is also just metres away from its new 950 sq ft wholesale showroom at number 88, which opened on January 5.

The flagship reopened on November 10 with new branding, reversing the previous colours from a sky blue background with navy lettering to a navy backdrop with sky blue lettering. The door has been moved from the centre of the building to the right, and a white marble step added, creating a wide, inviting entrance.

The first set of front-facing windows form two displays of bespoke cuff-and-collar varieties (16 of each) mounted on two black suede boards. A gap between the boards gives a view into the store to the workstation of master pattern cutter David Gale, who joined the six-strong Hilditch & Key flagship team in October, while further back can be glimpsed the new bespoke shirtmaking area.

Emphasising quality craftsmanship is at the heart of the redesign, says chief executive Steve Miller: “The refurbishment is intended to help promote our bespoke work and the quality of our shirtmaking. We have between 12 and 15 people every day passing by and taking a picture of David at work.”

Miller, who has been on a mission to rejuvenate the 116-year-old retailer since taking control 18 months ago, continues: “The whole idea has been about turning over a new leaf. I blitzed the product, changing our shirts from a more baggy, 1980s-style fit to a classic slim fit, and moved into lifestyle products. It is difficult to grow on the world stage if you just sell shirts.”

This lifestyle emphasis is reflected in the other front (facing Jermyn Street) window and side (facing Bury Street) windows, in which cashmere throws (£695) and navy leather briefcases (£495) are set among the autumn 14 clothing. Three groupings of three mannequins in each of these three windows showcase the ready-to-wear collection, designed in-house and made in Portugal. Grey flannel trousers (£250) are paired with quilted gilets (£245) and three-quarter single breasted jackets (£795). The mannequins are also dressed with accessories made exclusively for Hilditch & Key in the UK, including 100% silk ties (£95) and pocket squares (£55) woven in Sudbury, Suffolk, and cashmere, wool and silk-blend scarves knitted in Scotland (£195).

Inside, a large mahogany circular table occupies a central position covered with silk ties, mirroring a circular art deco-style light above. Across the oak flooring is a leather cash desk, where staff make sales on iPads that fold away into the desk.

This refined room is lined with original fittings, such as two oak and glass cabinets filled with lightweight scarves, leather gloves (£170 to £190) and braces (£115 to £125). Hilditch & Key’s luxury silk nightwear (£1,100) is on rails in the left corner, with towelling robes (£195) folded on shelves above.

Two rooms lead to the right and left. To the right, Miller has converted an old stockroom into a dedicated space for autumn 14 shirts (spring 15 stock arrives later this month). Grouped by neck size, more than 850 shirts are displayed on vertical white shelves lining the walls. Mirrors run down the shelving, illuminated by bright spotlights.

On the left is a lifestyle room lined with original mahogany shelving built into the wall and lit by a matching art deco light. Ready-to-wear is neatly folded on shelves, with jackets, knitwear (£205 to £225) and robes hanging on rails. Hooks are dotted around to highlight key items. Gale’s adjustable table is positioned in front of the window.

There are two changing rooms, one in the lifestyle room and one in the bespoke area. They are lined with sepia-toned flock wallpaper showing greyhounds, pipes and bowler hats from Blackburn-based wallpaper firm Opus Muras. There are no mirrors, encouraging customers to use the mirrored door or three-way mirror fixed to the wall outside so sales assistants can advise on the fit.

At the back of the store is the bespoke shirt-making area, previously taken up by Bates. The cream-carpeted room is lined with mahogany shelves fitted with rolls of Italian and Swiss cloth, a selection of the 1,200 different fabrics Hilditch & Key offers across seven different styles. Customers are encouraged to lay the fabric out on a torpedo-shaped glass-topped island in the centre of the room.

Mirroring the window display at the back of the room is a wall of bespoke shirt cuffs and collars, next to the concealed entrance of the second changing room. Customers will also find a floor-to-ceiling library ladder to reach the highest cupboards, while patterns for each bespoke shirt are filed in alphabetical order in easy-to-reach low-level cupboards.

The redesigned store successfully marks a new chapter in Hilditch & Key’s history, mixing bespoke skills with a modern lifestyle shoppingexperience.

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