April 27, 2015
Alice Made This has teamed up with Drake's to showcase their shared love of British manufacturing. We interview Michael Hill, Creative Direction of Drake's, about their venture into shirts, as well as pairing their product with our cufflinks and lapel pins.
Michael Hill, Creative Director of Drake’s, has called me just as an ice cream van is pulling up directly beneath our office window. It’s the first day that it really feels like springtime in London so being serenaded by the chimes of ‘Greensleeves’ seems only fitting. We laugh off the poor timing and soon, as Michael begins telling me about Drake’s move into shirts, my craving for a Mr. Whippy is all but forgotten.
“We are really excited to be offering an English handmade shirt, while still staying true to the Drake’s styling and patterns” Michael says. “We’ve just bought a wonderful old shirt factory, Cleeve of London, and are working on the border between casual and formal, offering both a button down and a semi spread collar.”
The factory really is wonderful. Sitting in the sleepy countryside of Somerset, Cleeve of London has been making English shirts for nearly 50 years. Amongst the rolling hills, Drake’s has managed to revive the manufacturing business while staying true to its aesthetic. Fabrics such as Oxford cloth and chambray, which Michael tops to be the big trend for summer, are chosen for a modern interpretation of a formal dress shirt. They are “slim but not too slim” and, featuring shirttail hems, side-seam gussets and back pleating, aren’t dissimilar from Drake’s ties in the way that they bring a classic formal look right back up to date.
“We’re making shirts that our friends want to wear”, he says. “Men are starting to dress formally, not because they have to, but because they want to. Yes, there are rules when it comes to classic menswear, but customers come in now who aren’t afraid to bend them or break them. They want a bit of embellishment here or a detail there. They’re having fun and experimenting and we want to be a part of that.”
Drake’s playfulness is obvious, not just in the designs of its shirts and pocket squares for example, but also in the way its runs its store at 3 Clifford Street. “The slate comes from Heathrow terminal 3”, he says laughing, “honestly it does, and we have a cabinet from the Natural History Museum in there too.” This isn’t the stuffy gentleman’s retailer of years gone by. “We’re very fortunate. We work with artists and we collaborate and we get inspired and then we get to put them on the wall!”
For inspiration, Drake’s also has an impressive archive of its 30-year history. Old designs can be tweaked and recoloured while weaves, prints and motifs can be redeveloped, always digging out and adapting old favourites. “We’re constantly evolving”, Michael says warmly. “Classic menswear can move very slowly, and I’m certainly not trying to make drastic changes from season to season, but I want to create a story that reflects the fashion of today while still being very much a part of our history. This involves working closely with the mills, many of whom we’ve worked with for thirty years.”
The more I talk to Michael, the clearer it becomes that Drake’s is a family unit. It has a history, generations, plenty of stories to tell over a glass or two and continues to welcome more branches. Its mills sit ahead of its design processes and Cleeve of London has been bought in like a long lost relative.
“We’re made in Britain because of British style, but mainly so that we can really own something and be involved with the manufacturing process,” Michael says echoing the values that we hold here at Alice Made This. “It’s not Drake’s unless it comes from our workshop. Our staff are the heart, soul and bones of Drake’s, so for us there has to be a direct line. If we made our products anywhere else, no matter what the label may say, it wouldn’t be Drake’s”.
As we moved from ‘Greensleeves’ to shirt sleeves, I felt content hearing about another British brand that values its production methods, carefully selects its raw materials and wouldn’t want to be any more than a couple of hours away from its factory families. “Have I sold you one yet?” jokes Michael, in reference to the shirts. You know what? You may very well have done.
Visit Drake's hereProduct photography by Dominic Roszkowski (Rosko & Wallis Photography)Interview by Amelia Ebdon