By SUZY MENKES in New York Times Published: January 11, 2010 arda Tano Mr. Hackett, now 56, above, created in the stores a blue-chip image for himself.
Bringing this London style to the Pitti Uomo menswear show, which was to open in Florence on Tuesday, whets the appetite of international buyers — even if the Mayfair gentlemen of the early 1960s now exist only as a romantic memory in the mind of Jeremy Hackett. Mr. Hackett, the self-styled “Mr. Classic” who has published a book of whimsical comments on the British male’s sartorial habits, is the prime example of the latest trend in menswear: inventing heritage. “Most people think the business was built by my grandfather or father,” he says. “For heritage, people believe you had to be around for 100 years.” Hackett, the purveyor of stylish men’s clothes designed not to frighten the horses, upset a boss or alarm a bank manager, was founded in 1983 by Jeremy Hackett and Ashley Lloyd-Jennings, whose day jobs were as salesmen in Savile Row, London’s tailoring mecca. Together the young entrepreneurs would trawl the Portobello antiques market and second-hand shops, buying up the clothes of a generation whose sons had discarded the classics in favor of the styles of the “swinging ’60s.” Or as Mr. Hackett puts it, his “profitable weekend hobby” was fueled by the fact that “gentleman from the ’50s to early ’60s changed radically.” “It all started when we were both in Paris at Clignancourt [flea market] and we met a man who was selling everything British — hunting and shooting — second-hand,” says Mr. Hackett. “And he said, ‘Why don’t you buy stuff for me?”’ When Hackett, the brand, was born in a modest shop “at the wrong end” of hip and happening Kings Road, in London’s Chelsea district, it sold only used clothes. But the eye of the owner, who had been brought up alongside his father’s business in interior decoration fabrics, could winkle out the best of the past. “In a rail of old suits, I could spot a decent one, handmade in Savile Row, for five pounds,” says Mr. Hackett, referring to the inexpensive vintage pieces that he would sell to another lover of British style, Ralph Lauren. “I think of us as old England and Ralph as New England — we both draw from an old culture,” says Mr. Hackett, remembering the days when he would give the American designer bin liners, or garbage bags, to fill with old clothes. In fact, Mr. Hackett knows (and quotes in his book, “Mr. Classic”), as the poet Edward Fitzgerald wrote in 1840, “say as you will, there is not and never was such a country as Old England.” Yet that dream world of rus-in-urbis, or country meets city, is there on the stand at Pitti or in the townhouse store on Sloane Street — Mr. Hackett’s favorite of the nine London stores, because he can walk there with his two dogs from his home in South London. The customers for tweedy suits, mildly dandy with four-button cuffs, modest moleskin pants or vivid-colored corduroy trousers and solid sweaters are known by class-conscious Brits as “Sloanes” or “Sloane Rangers.” But Mr. Hackett insists that this local species, with its giveaway posh accents, is not typical of visitors to Hackett’s 61 stores worldwide. Despite the bowler-and-umbrella logo, Hackett clothes are often more military and sporty than urban. The company’s polo shirts have been worn by Prince William, future heir to the British throne, for the British Army Polo team that Hackett sponsors; and by less desirable football hooligans who then, apparently, moved on to Burberry. The fact that Hackett could seem comparable to Burberry, with its impeccable 19th-century heritage, is a testament to the savvy implanting of the 1980s brand. In 1992, the Richemont luxury group embraced Hackett, although it was ultimately sold in 2005 to the Spanish investment company Torreal. Mr. Hackett sees this as having quickened the pace of expansion, even though annual revenues are still small. Turnover for 2009 was approximately €72 million, about $100 million, according to the company’s managing director. Since 1997, when Hackett launched its wholesale business in Britain, it says its customer base has expanded rapidly. Its stores and outlets today span much of Europe. It has had a presence in Spain since 1994, and it opened a second Paris store on the Boulevard des Capucines last year. The shops focus not just on tailoring but on the upper-crust masculine world of polo and car racing, through Hackett’s Aston Martin sponsorship. America is still considered virgin territory for growth. What is the appeal of the officer-and-gentleman world that was always a product more of cinema than of reality? Mr. Hackett believes that men feel most comfortable shopping in a store dedicated just to them, where fathers often bring sons for “first interview” clothes. Although children’s clothes have been offered since 1996, women are not on the Hackett agenda. “Men on the whole are quite scared of fashion,” says the founder. He is himself quirky-sleek in a green and blue check tweed jacket with narrow rounded cuffs and red stitches on the button, worn with a navy-and-white spotted necktie. His professional search for the perfect English gentleman is also personal. An adopted child, he recently was reunited with his birth mother in Australia and found in her the refined English elegance that he had searched for in his adult life. Although he left school at 16, with his father’s prophetic warning, “If you don’t pull your socks up you’ll end up working in a shop,” Mr. Hackett, now 56, created in the stores a blue-chip image for himself. There are colored socks “going back to school days and house colors”; the “formal kit” of top hat and tails taken from Eton college; and sports clothes as for the Oxford versus Cambridge boat race that Hackett sponsors. And there are the city suits and bowlers symbolic of London’s financial district before Margaret Thatcher opened it up to international traders. The secret of success is to walk a fine line between heritage (real or reconstructed) and nostalgia. Loyal clients (who, the owner says, “don’t buy Prada one day and Hackett the next”) also find subtle updates from the seven-member design team lead by American designer Michael Sondag, who joined Hackett from Tommy Hilfiger in 2005. Yet the brand is essentially Mr. Hackett himself, with his two spaniels who can be seen leaping, panting or faithfully sitting in many of the promotional pictures and whose names, Charley and Browney, are on their owner’s personalized cuffs links. And with each decade that passes, Hackett becomes increasingly venerable. Or, as the founder puts it: “We are a British brand with a little bit of heritage.”
Mr Classic by Jeremy Hackett, Photographs by Garda Tang Thames & Hudson, May 2008 200 pages/hardcover/136 photographs Jeremy Hackett is Mr Classic. Having a clothing label for decades plus writing a column for the U.K.’s The Independent on Sunday are excellent platforms for influencing men’s fashion. But what decidedly earns Hackett this moniker is his talented facility for reviving the proper styles once worn by Britain’s aristocracy with modern practicality. For his book, Mr Classic, London-based photographer Garda Tang shoots Hackett’s models with fitting technique. Every bow tie, every just-so lifted chin neatly accentuates Hackett’s vision of gentlemanly chic. The looks are respectable and refreshing, not stuffy or stagnant. Mr Classic explains the nods and shakes over every outfit detail from shoe polish and floral prints to wearing “serious” cufflinks. Tang stages athletic, social, business, casual and seasonal occasions. He blends an original mix of old and new in his photographic coverage. A lad playing near a tire rubbish heap wears a navy blue newsboy cap, white button-down shirt and tan cuffed trousers that match both the Band-Aid on his hand and the tips of his slip-on sneakers. The shot is propped with a vintage model racing coupe in red, the color of his suspenders. Among Tang’s black-and-white shots, a swimmer demonstrates how goggles pair nicely with belted shorts and no shirt; a pinstripe-suited businessman in a bus stop shelter wears his bowler smartly tipped while tapping on his laptop.
Tang’s flair for capturing the mood of each topic for Mr Classic is spot-on. When Hackett clarifies that a man’s pajamas are no giggling matter, Tang responds with an appealing interpretation. A yawning man with bedhead revealing a touch of his bare belly, appears perfectly fine in wrinkled PJs made of shirt linen fabric. Shown at his front door, he holds a metal basket with bottled milk and biscuits; opposite, a cat enjoys her morning meal from the window ledge. Cat-in-the-sill lace curtains crown the scene. The photo’s effect is a grin just short of a snigger.
With Mr Classic, Hackett’s amusing narrative and Tang’s spotless photographs seamlessly combine to create a rallying cry for the Sharp Dressed Man. The book eloquently hints that certain attire—such as those pilled, ankle-gathered sweatpants—will no longer do. Don’t be surprised if after undertaking this study, there is a compulsion to dust off the holiday tasseled loafers and go for a stroll. Maybe add a striped shirt for sport.