Can you tell us a little about the early days, from working in a men’s fashion shop in Bristol before the bold move to set up shop in London?
There were few options open to me when I left school at the age of 17. I hadn’t done well academically and I remember my father telling me that, “If you don’t pull your socks up, you will end up working in a shop!” Fortunately, that was exactly what happened! I was into Mod fashion then and spent most of my time riding a Lambretta scooter around Bristol, skipping classes and dancing to Tamla Motown. Working in a local boutique seemed the only thing I showed any aptitude for at the time. I helped with the buying and tried to encourage the owners to buy clothes from London that nobody else stocked in Bristol. So, I frequently travelled to London on buying trips and quickly realised that, in order to get on, I would need to move there – which I did, a couple of years later.
You were only 19 when you moved to London. How different was the scene then from now?
For a 19-year-old, London was incredibly exciting. I started work in the fashionable King’s Road with a well-paid job and a tiny bedsit in Kensington. I was permanently broke as I spent all my salary on clothes and going out. In those days, nobody spoke of brands. You just opened a little shop and sold your clothes. Now, of course, it’s all about brands and investment. I think it was more fun at that time or, perhaps, I’m seeing it through rose-tinted glasses.
You mentioned growing Hackett as a brand organically, without a business or marketing plan. What have been the most important business lessons you’ve picked up along the way?
I learnt a very expensive lesson in trying to expand the business in the early days without a proper structure in place, with insufficient funds and management, in terms of a financial director.
For a relatively young brand, Hackett’s looks tend to veer towards the classic, built on heritage. Your thoughts?
It has served us pretty well, so far. There are men the world over who appreciate the ‘classic’ look and it’s something Britain has a good reputation for. We are a country steeped in heritage and you only have to see the effect of dramas like Downton Abbey to notice the effect that the past way of British life holds for people.
Your British-influenced vision of menswear has certainly won a legion of followers.
When men around the world become successful, they often look to Britain for their sartorial needs, be it a tailored suit from Savile Row or shoes and shirts from Jermyn Street. There is still the sense that, to be a gentleman, it is necessary to dress in the British fashion. It is a romantic notion that many men aspire to, which I think is no bad thing, really.
So, who’s the Hackett man then?
The Hackett man is one who appreciates quality and style.
Tell us a little about the inspiration behind your new S/S 2015 Gentleman’s Sport collection.
The main inspiration is Britain’s great summer sporting events. We’ve split the collections into Summer Sailing, Polo Picnic and Queen’s Tennis.
Which events will you personally attend then?
There are so many great sporting events in Britain, so it’s difficult to choose but I shall probably be attending Royal Ascot as it gives me the perfect opportunity to be kitted out in full morning dress! Also the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race as Hackett is one of the sponsors. The weather is usually still cold so I shall be wearing a navy flannel blazer with grey flannel trousers and a woolen scarf in the colours of both universities as it would be unsporting as a sponsor to be seen supporting one team over the other.
I shall also probably attend the British Grand Prix and it will be my first time doing so, now that we are the sponsors of the F1 Williams team and I also now have the opportunity to watch from the inside track. Similarly, I will be decked out in the kit we provide to all members of the Williams team. Fortunately, their colours are made up of the pleasing combination of white, pale blue, navy and red. I shall be fully logo-ed up!
Tennis is also one of the few sports I have played so, naturally, I am thrilled we are sponsoring tennis at The Queen’s Club. For that event, I shall wear a lightweight navy blazer with knitted white tennis shirt and white cotton drill trouser with plimsolls for a sort of retro tennis look. Hackett has also been a long-term sponsor of British Army Polo and one of my favourite events of the season is The Rundle Cup, where the Army play against the Navy. I shall wear a khaki cotton suit with a white double-cuff shirt and striped woven tie, paired with well-polished tan brogues. Because who knows? Prince William or Prince Harry may be playing for Hackett and I must ensure I am well turned out. With all these great events to attend, I don’t know how I will find time to do my day job!
Malaysia’s humid weather makes looking smart a bit of a challenge sometimes. What basic items should a well-dressed gent in the tropics always have in his wardrobe, something that can take him from scorching day to air-conditioning in comfort and style?
Now that I travel frequently to hot countries, I always take a seersucker blazer and trouser with me as I find them to be the coolest clothes to wear. There is also the misconception that wool is too warm but a 190g lightweight cloth breathes well and can often work better than cotton. It is also a good idea to wear jackets that are not lined as most linings are made of synthetic fabrics. There are now available some extremely fine knitted cotton polo shirts that are refined enough to wear with a suit or blazer. I have learnt also to always have a light cotton slip on hand to wear over in an air-conditioned environment, where you can be suddenly plunged into sub-zero temperatures. I also always carry a linen handkerchief to mop my brow, which I seem to do incessantly.
What was your original ambition in life, though?
I wanted to be an actor. As a teenager, I belonged to a youth theatre group but it was not to be. Although, it must be said, the fashion business is, in itself, a theatrical production with many dramas along the way.
So, when did you realise fashion was your calling?
I have always been interested in fashion. My father was in the fabric business and my mother was a seamstress. I was constantly surrounded by cloth samples and clothing patterns so it was inevitable rather than an epiphany.
You also regularly dispense advice on the Ask Jeremy portal through the Hackett website. What have been some of the most memorable questions ever asked?
I find men are often panic-stricken when it comes to choosing an outfit for a formal occasion because the last thing they want is to get the dress code wrong and appear foolish at an important event. One of the questions I am frequently asked is: “I am getting married in the morning and the dress code is Morning Dress. What do I wear?” What I find astonishing is how they’ve left it to the very last minute, whereas his fiancée would have agonised over her dress for months. Another is “How do I tie a bow-tie?”, to which I reply: “It’s easy – it’s more or less the same as tying your shoelaces. So, think of that and don’t look in the mirror.” I was also asked once what to wear for a beach wedding, to which I replied: “Very little!”