I wanted to definitely do something more sartorial this time; something that would feel like a total look. And the idea was to look at the way that one of our founders – Eric Kent – dressed. There are so many stories about his style, so I started researching, trying to find images of him, but in the end there was only one I could find of him and his brother. They are in long greatcoats coming back from World War I with big smiles on their faces.
I imagined them returning to London in that era, and speculated about what the mood of the time might have been. They were coming back to a new world, and in the photo look like they had a nonchalance about them; it was a time for breaking down codes, living a different type of life. Within that atmosphere it’s really interesting to look at the sartorial way Eric Kent interpreted a new type of social freedom: he was known for wearing red socks and also cricket sweaters; he spent time over in Hollywood in the early 30s, mixing with Errol Flynn and bringing a lot of that influence back, walking around with a tan in Mayfair!
So I was thinking about that and contextualising it for today. And let’s not forget his business partner, Dorothy Curwen. She was as important to the business as Eric, if not more so, because she kept all the books. Funnily enough, I was watching Phantom Thread for the second time over Christmas; you look at the dynamic between those two and I could imagine Eric Kent and Dorothy Curwen being a bit similar. Women of that era were adapting pieces of the masculine wardrobe, including pieces with a military feel or from the sporting wardrobe. It’s fascinating to me that we’re seeing something similar today: there are a lot of women on social media posting pictures of themselves wearing our sweatshirts or wearing our cricket sweaters, and I think that’s a lovely evolution for us. We are, after all, a lifestyle brand and we want to be inclusive of everybody. So while we’re not saying we’re now doing womenswear, I want to include women in our story – which is why I have dressed some women in menswear pieces for this fashion show. As for key pieces for autumn/winter 2019-20, I really like a single-breasted tweed coat we have, because it reminds me of that classic picture of the Duke of Windsor where he’s wearing riding jodhpurs and he’s got this tweed coat on with a Peaky Blinders type of cap. And then, just by adding some embroidery on the back, we’ve created a modern “street” feel. And there’s another look in the eveningwear that also feels very contemporary to me: we have a cricket sweater with a military long coat and a cap, like a jockey’s cap. In a way it summed up this whole idea that Eric Kent pioneered – in such a modern way, a whole century ago: that idea of mixing a wardrobe together. Eric obviously came back from the war with the military uniform, but he was into the races, he was into tennis, he was into cricket (in fact he kind of invented the cricket sweater) – so I wanted all that mixed together.
Then we have a great duffle coat – the style has become one of our regulars. When you see that famous image of Jean Cocteau wearing one, you feel like it’s a reference to old England… Europe’s interpretation of England. I like that.
Finally, I should mention a new collaboration we are doing that will launch in October. I referenced Peaky Blinders earlier, and to coincide with the new series out later this year, we’ll be making a capsule collection inspired by the wardrobe the characters wear. It’s a great fit – if we’re talking about Eric Kent coming back from World War I, well, in the series the gang run by Thomas Shelby is also made up of guys coming back to Birmingham having fought in that war. Therefore, if you disregard the criminal element, of course, there’s this nice synergy with the origin of Kent & Curwen and the origin of the series.
So we’ve done a small collection of pieces inspired by the look of the show’s characters. It’s a great opportunity – up to now, the modern-day Kent & Curwen hasn’t been that well known for tailoring, it’s been more about the sporting heritage pieces like the sweatshirts and knitwear. But now we need to show people that tailoring is part of the story too. There are nice woollen coats and trousers here – a particularly lovely grey marled woollen coat with satin under the lapels – as well as the peaked caps from which the Peaky Blinders gang-name comes from, of course. But we’ve mixed it up, as ever, so we’ve got our sweatshirt in there as a tweed-printed design.
The project has got a new badge too, a black and white photographic treatment of the Kent & Curwen rose, and the collection is labelled as being made by Garrison Tailors, which uses the name of the pub (“The Garrison”) owned by Thomas Shelby in the TV series, and as ‘By Order of the Peaky Blinders’.
One interesting fact is that [K&C co-owner] David Beckham’s penchant for wearing the “Baker Boy” cap actually comes from his grandfather, who wore one, rather than from the TV series, of which we are both big fans. David wore his granddad’s when he was a kid, which I like, as it says a lot about our love of authenticity at Kent & Curwen.