The Fashion Folk S01 ep12 : James Whishaw, Gieves Hawks Fashion, [London]
Interview with James Whishaw
There is an excentricity about English people - there is a cultural sort of roll up the sleeves kind of feeling about it. I'll do it myself, kind of cottage industry thing which depending on how it is nurtured, goes into artisan or becomes a very creative, specific talent. But as soon as it becomes commerical we are out of it. We get hand picked because essentially if it is too difficulty for someone else to do it - we want to do it.
In 1785 Gieves Ltd set up down in Portsmouth essentially supplying the
Military. Our first customers were Admiral Lord Nelson, Lord Livingston,
pioneers. We were essentially people who would make expensive clothing,
hand made clothing for people who wanted to get out there. We supplied the
military essentially the Navy and Gieves only joined Hawkes in 1970 and at
which time it became a public company.
Robert Gieves works in the business, he is a non executive director. Fifth
generation Giever, we call him and he is exactly how you would expect him, he
has got all the tradition and the half moon glasses but luckily he doesn't design
the products any more.
We still run a hand made bespoke business with all those people with the half
moon glasses down stairs and it is the most protected and most beautiful part
of our business, it is the pinnacle, it is the top bit, it is the bespoke service. You
can buy hand made suits, hand made
KM: Here on the premises?
.. down stairs and we still have three royal warrants.
We have a bit of a problem now, where we have modernised the business and
there is a little bit of a line at the front, at the threshold and stepping over that
there is a bit of relief when you get in, "Thank god it is not quite as stuffy as I
thought it might be".
KM: Why are you here?
I trained in a degree level in menswear design.
KM: Where was this?
At Kingston in London, Kingston Polytechnic which was probably "the" fashion
school in the late 70’s and 80's , that and St, Martins. My first jobs were with
Gian Franco Ferre and Calvin Klein in America.
No I didn't come in as Credit Director I came in as Merchandising Director
KM: What does that mean.
It was a business that was void of much creativity and it means that I basically
joined a business that would have extremely high profile selling expensive
products and they needed to merchandise or purchase, or the procurement of
those items needed to be pushed through the business in a more realistic
economical, slightly sharper in an image sense way. I had to generally take
hold of the thing by the scruff of the neck and shake it out and make it work a
bit better in the sense that it currently was.
The unique thing about hand made is that it is couture and I have Lords and
Ladies and the Ladies are getting more and more into it.
KM: What do you produce for them - Suits.
Yeah sure, I quote James “I can't buy beautiful suits at Chanel any more. I am
not 19 and all the stuff there doesn't work for me"
KM: Oh I see
They don't do it anymore
KM: For mature women?
Yeah it is the 30 - 45 year old women. Sometimes they come with a Dolce and
Gabbana suit and they say "this is the best suit just copy it for me."
KM: What is it about a British designer that makes him different to an Italian or
Sort of like an individual characteristic. It is usually a simple thing.
KM: What do you mean?
Well um, Paul Smith I know he didn't come from design college but he is such
a character. There are not so many other people - I mean he would be sitting
here with plastic ducks and you know toys at 2 pounds a penny from odd
shops in Tokyo. It is .. there is an eccentricity about English people - there is a
cultural sort of roll up the sleeves kind of feeling about it. I'll do it myself, kind
of cottage industry thing which soon depending on how it is nurtured goes into
artisan or a very creative specific talent.
As soon as it becomes commercial we are out of it, that is basically what
English creators are like and that is why we get hand picked because
essentially if someone else has done it or if it is too difficult for someone else
to do it - I want to do it. If someone else has done it - I don't want to do it. Say
for example we are talking about this latent vitality in any English brand that is
beautiful and you are saying why hasn't it gone women’s, why hasn't it gone to
America, why ...maybe they don't want it too. Maybe the latent vitality gets
washed down so much, gets diluted that by the time it comes to everybody,
you may have sold out your soul creatively. English people have a bigger
harder heart, they have a better soul.
KM: No body really knows what to look for in a really good tailored suit . What
are the telltale signs?
We do the road test for sure, but basically the bigger, the stronger the chassis
is inside the suit ( that also the amount of hand work gone into the chassis of
it), or into a ready made suit, the better the chassis. The heavier, the stronger
the cloth, the longer the suit will last so those English thorn proof suits that get
handed down from generation to generation are no surprise to me. It is ... I
think people want different things right now from suits and they don't
necessarily want longevity past 2 or 3 year because as you say things are
moving a bit faster
KM: Why do people need these things?
I don't know. When the world becomes so fast, and so crazy, and so repetitive
and so commodity based I think that sometimes you know if you spend the
right amount of money and there is only one of them, it doesn't really matter.
We've got bespoke suits out there that have hand diamante pin stripes out
KM: You're kidding
Of course not , you know you've got ties this season which have got
rhinestones on them.
KM: What is it like when you are dealing with the modern pop icon.
They love us, in this store right in this room.
Because they can't have enough of it - because it is so special, because it is
so particular - because we haven't sold out because it isn't commodity.
That is what I am saying - if it was everywhere then they wouldn't be here.
10 years ago 8 years ago we had a dictator having a bespoke fitting right here
in this room and the guy he was at war with, the other dictator was in the other
KM: Did they now?
KM: You’re kidding.
I am speaking to a guy called I don't know, Colonial Watson Smyth and he is
on a stick and I should have put a ramp in the front door for him and he wants
another pair of cavalry trousers and a tweed jacket. And the next guy who
comes through the store is Robbie Williams or Liam Gallagher or Patsy Kensit
or I don't know, so many people I have spoken to …. Sting. They are always,
always, always in here, in the one on one tailor thing : If you could record
some of those moments.
KM: Must be interesting
Yeah it is.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: James Whishaw, Gieves Hawks Fashion, London