Englishmen In New York

Ahead of the Savile Row tailor’s new Autumn/Winter collection, we speak with Simon Kirby, Chester Barrie’s Creative Director to talk influences, rivals and his unpredictable day-to-day

 

Chester Barrie AW17 Collection Video


Founded in 1935, Chester Barrie’s founder Simon Ackerman was the man that brought semi-bespoke and ready-to-wear tailoring to Savile Row. Striving for a traditional British brand for New York buyers, he melded a moniker from the Roman-era city of Chester where he built his original factory and the writer J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan. Chester Barrie thus greeted both American and British buyers with an original name. By 1937, he was on the row and thriving.

During World War II, Ackerman’s tailoring shop designed uniforms for the US military in Europe and post-war, attracted the likes of Sir Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant. All were fans of the tailor for its quality fabrics and attention to detail. That historic era has passed, although Chester Barrie still deal in the luxury bespoke market to this day.

Harrods, Selfridges and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City all house the brand’s signature sharkskin suits and chambray shirts, whilst number nineteen remains an essential stop on Savile Row, the brand unmoved from their original flagship store and still innovating. Their newest collection that blends opulence, elegance and sophistication has landed. We chatted to Creative Director Simon Kirby about historical inspiration, fast-fashion and looking one’s best.

Summarise the inspirations for the new collection, fashion and non-fashion related.

When it comes to seasonal collections, I don’t like to have literal or obvious themes but I take inspiration from various sources. Ultimately the product has to be of now and not a historical document. Chester Barrie was founded in the 1930s so naturally that era is a point of reference: this season it has influenced our move to double breasted apparel. The standout piece is the flannel Prince of Wales check from Fox Bros which is stunning.

Dark blues and navy tones feature prominently in the collection, is there any motivation behind highlighting these colours?

The collection does feature blue tones strongly: classic navy, indigo and slate as well as softer blues for occasion dressing. To be frank, it is down to demand as much as anything – our customers like blue. But what is important is the quality of the cloth, there are some great mohairs including Dormeuil’s signature Tonik quality, as well as flannels from Vitale Barberis Canonico as well as Fox Bros.

What are some essential accessories or purchases to go with this collection?

For this Autumn/Winter we are strengthening our accessory offer. Scarves are particularly strong: from beautiful pure cashmere scarves in chalk stripe and windowpane to Escorial scarves in plum and olive. Silk, knitted ties are a versatile staple of the wardrobe that are both classic yet cool. We have also added more knitwear, socks, belts and gloves. We plan to launch a small British made leather goods selection soon.

What’s been the biggest change in your life and work since starting?

I always thought I worked hard throughout my working life but now is the hardest it has ever been – it’s relentless and not likely to slow down. Teams are leaner and everyone, especially designers, have to be more versatile, more organised and are working longer hours. The pace of recent change has been dramatic and all businesses have to adapt, take risks and move much faster in order to survive and grow.

What are you personally passionate about outside of fashion? Do those interests influence your direction?

Outside of work I am always looking at all aspects of design: fashion, interiors, cars, shop fits, websites, galleries. All have an influence on colour and textiles. And I’m always watching people and what they wear.

My personal obsession is classic cars and the style that goes with that. I currently have an E Type Jaguar with which I have a bit of a love-hate relationship. It’s stunning but temperamental and very expensive to look after. Some of my favourite days are driving down to Goodwood Revival with my son all dressed up.

I also love interiors, in particular vintage furniture and anything interesting and quirky. Claire my other half goes to vintage fairs and charity shops every week. Our house is overflowing with stuff from all ages, be it China dogs from the thirties, 1960’s glass, kitsch prints from the 1970s or Victorian oil paintings.

Talk about the role of a creative director in luxury men’s fashion. What’s the day-to-day for those unfamiliar?

My role as Creative Director is probably different to most others in a similar position as I oversee a number of brands, not just Chester Barrie, which gives me a very broad view of the market from luxurious cloths woven in Italy to high street fast-fashion. On Chester Barrie, I give direction and develop the vision of the brand. I do try to be a bit hands-on, especially with fabric selection which I love, but I work with a great team and they are more than capable.

There is not a typical day, I could be choosing cashmere scarves in the morning and working on fit sessions in the afternoon. I travel a lot, especially visiting factories and trade shows, and there are always many questions to be answered from production matters to shopfits and photo-shoots.

We work on three seasons at once; the current season being delivered, finalising the next season and planning and sourcing fabrics for a year ahead. We have recently restructured the design team in order to drive newness faster so I have been very hands on with Chester Barrie in formulating revisions to blocks and design direction going forward.

With roots as being an English brands suited to an American buyer, how does Chester Barrie reach both sides of the Atlantic?

Chester Barrie was started by Simon Ackerman to sell British style to the American market – and he was hugely successful. Sadly over the years Chester Barrie passed through several owners and the American business suffered but we are beginning to see it return. A lot of our online customers come from the States and we have some fans who have worn Chester Barrie on the red carpet.

With your flagship store famously found on Savile Row, what is the importance of staying loyal and consistent in the market?

Savile Row is very important to Chester Barrie and we will always have a presence here but we cannot be a slave to it. I do get frustrated by the attitude of some, the “you cannot do this or that on the Row” approach or the “that’s not the Savile Row look” stance. It will bring about the Row’s decline. We have to wake up, move forwards and be relevant.

Talk about the competition in your area. Is there much rivalry on the Row?

It is mostly friendly rivalry, I’m so busy I don’t get chance to wander around chatting to others. I know a few from other brands very well who I like very much and have total respect for them.

We differ in that we do not offer bespoke, though we do have a full proper made-to-measure service. Chester Barrie was an innovator, we introduced ready-to-wear on Savile Row and that remains our core.