The Fashion Folk S02 ep1 : James Gieves, Gieves & Hawks, [State]
Interview with James Gieves
The Story of James Gieve begins with ‘Old Mel’ Melchisedek Meredith’ who owned a tailors shop in the busy waterfront town of Portsmouth. The centre of the seafaring world at that moment, Old Mel drew naval clientele and became the destination for maritime uniforms. Many historical uniforms passed through the shop, with Meredith tailoring the uniform which Admiral Lord Nelson wore when killed in action aboard HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. The Portsmouth business was sold to Joseph Galt in 1841 after Old Mel passed away with James Gieve joining as a partner in 1852. The emergence of the Crimean War saw the pair sail to Crimea to continue to trade when most naval officers were posted abroad. Developing the prototype Sea Chest, Galt & Gieve equipped supply ships & serviced troops during the war. James Gieve bought out Galt in 1887 to establish Gieves & Co and following his death in 1888 Gieve’s two sons, James W Gieve & John Gieve, took over the business. In 1900, at a time where 52% of the worlds shipping was controlled by Britain, Gieves became tailor by appointment to the Royal Navy. As best friend to the Naval Officer, being dressed by ‘the man from Gieves’ became an integral part of Naval Cadet training which saw 98% of cadets from the Royal Naval College decked in Gieves. Receiving a personal warrant in 1911 of Royal Appointment as the Royal Naval Outfitter to HM King George V, Gieves has already dressed HM King Edward VII and his sons as naval cadets. Gieves went on to dress King Edward VIII, King George VI as the sons of King George V were enrolled at Naval College.
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,
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 French
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
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
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 there
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 room.
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 Gieves, Gieves & Hawkes, State