Brand-new attitude

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 April, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 April, 1998, 12:00am

Ashley Lloyd-Jennings had received stern instructions from his secretary on the morning of the first showing of his new line: refrain from wearing jeans that day. So, during the round of media interviews that preceded the evening presentation, the newly ensconced creative director of Alfred Dunhill was elegant in navy suit, crisp shirt, contrasting tie and pocket handkerchief.

But at the show that evening at his company's Jermyn Street flagship store, he greeted his guests still clad in his navy jacket - and wearing a pair of blue denim jeans.

That is the brand of subtle irreverence Mr Lloyd-Jennings, a fashion specialist of Portuguese-German-English parentage, is bringing to the venerable house of Alfred Dunhill.

The new creative head is not so much bucking tradition (Alfred Dunhill has been around for more than a century), as gently redefining it. When he was approached to take on the position, which he accepted late last year, he was lured with promises of growth and transformation.

'People have before paid lip service to change. But the company brought in a new financial director, managing director and marketing head at the same time. I was convinced they were sincere,' he said.

Mr Lloyd-Jennings was given a brief to 'revitalise' the brand. Not that, he admits, it needed any work; as he said, his initial reaction was 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The company is bringing in an amazing amount of money anyway'.

But his recognition of changing market demands and evolving tastes led to his first big project for Alfred Dunhill: a younger line.

In a slightly belated nod to what almost every major fashion brand is doing - creating diffusion lines to canvas a greater market share - Alfred Dunhill recently showed its first collection of 'dunhill'.

So if the main line generates super-fine suits, suede vests and plush cashmere sweaters, 'dunhill' is all about parkas, corduroy trousers and cotton flannel shirts - in short, modern clothes for the 20-something sons of the original customers for the signature Alfred Dunhill line.

'There is still the cashmere-silk-linen look of the main line. But the new dunhill collection is more relevant to a younger customer.

'The difference is in how narrow the trousers are, how wide the lapels. It's a much younger interpretation of traditional English tailoring,' he said.

Mr Lloyd-Jennings has been grappling with various notions of 'traditional English tailoring' throughout his 20-year career. He co-founded Hackett, one of Britain's most successful menswear stores, in 1983 with Jeremy Hackett.

He harbours a penchant for classic cars, collects antique pens, watches and lighters ('what a great opportunity to come and work with a company that makes this great stuff'), flies his own plane. He is a fan of polo, golf, cricket and automobile racing. His sense of humour is twig-dry, his outlook sober but with a dash of eccentricity.

'Everyone thinks of English clothes as those dreadful Harris tweed jackets and silly hats,' he said.

'People often see it as dull and dowdy, too low key, terribly fuddy-duddy. We want British menswear to be thought of as fashionable, but we can't do it overnight.' Mr Lloyd-Jennings is among a clique of style specialists assigned the task of rejuvenating British retail brands; last year, Rose Marie Bravo, formerly president of Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, was seconded to the British house of Burberry's and was assigned much the same task as Mr Lloyd-Jennings. Burberry's new spring/summer 1998 advertising campaign features supermodel Stella Tennant photographed by Mario Testino, in a revolutionary break from its traditional promotional strategy.

And there is talk of similar image-updating at equally seasoned labels like Daks and Aquascutum. And it is not just British brands that are undergoing transformation; German menswear empire Hugo Boss recently launched a woman's collection.

But like those other enduring British names, Mr Lloyd-Jennings believes that 'Alfred Dunhill is more about good quality and good styling, a style brand rather than a fashion brand'.

On his side is the prestige generally given to English men's suits. 'At a certain level in the business world, people like to say that their suits are from Savile Row.

'There is a particular cut to English suits that even fashion houses outside England are doing. Now, we're taking it back.' Mr Lloyd-Jennings is also hoping to encourage men to experiment more. 'We have shelves of blue shirts, and more shelves of a fine yellow or pink, something fun. But they come in for another blue shirt. It's what they feel comfortable with.

'Men are generally not that interested in fashion anyway. It's their wives and girlfriends who get them into it.' He has high hopes for the new line, and predicts that British menswear overall 'will have a bit more attitude'.

There is talk of an edgy new advertising campaign, and merchandising that is 'appealing and fun and done with a different pair of eyes'.

'If anyone says to me 'you can't do that', I say 'why not?' ' What else does he have up his sharply tailored sleeve that might raise the blood pressure of stalwarts of the British menswear establishment? 'Watch this space,' he said.