Gieves & Hawkes widens its appeal while keeping its Savile Row traditions

Jason Basmajian is widening the appeal of Gieves & Hawkes while keeping its Savile Row traditions, says Jing Zhang

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 12:50pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 12:50pm

"This new store on Ice House Street is important as it represents a new direction for the brand," says Gieves & Hawkes' dapper creative director, Jason Basmajian, sitting comfortably on a plush leather couch during his latest visit to Hong Kong.

The British men's tailoring brand that boasts "No. 1 Savile Row" as its address has been here for a long time. But since Hong Kong menswear company Trinity Ltd. (which is under the Fung Group umbrella) went from licensing the brand in Asia to buying it outright, huge efforts have been made to bolster this heritage house.

We've dressed every crowned monarch of England since George V
Jason basmajian

All creative design and direction has been consolidated in London, and a move to elevate the product and a quietly confident strategy to modernise the image has been evident since Basmajian's appointment earlier this year.

"I've definitely lightened up the collection and the aesthetic," he says. "I've loosened up the suits, by pairing them with chambray and denim shirts, and showing knitwear. It's about bringing in that kind of ease, and also bringing back traditional British fabrics, which I love."

"I'm from Boston, which is about as English as you get in the United States, so I've always had an attachment to English aesthetics and sensibilities. I love Scottish cashmeres and Harris Tweed, but here I'm giving it a little bit more glamour and style."

The brand has been hosting impressive presentations at London Collections: Men since February, and is moving itself further into the fashion industry framework - even though Basmajian says, "this is a brand that's about style, quality and cut", rather than fleeting trends.

The new street-level store, which opened on October 31, is the only shop outside of Savile Row to carry their top-end ready-to-wear range, the Royal Line capsule collection, their "Handmade in England" line.

Available for the first time outside of Britain, the modern day silhouettes come with pared down luxurious fabrics like black cashmere, urban tweeds and graphic Shetlands. Eveningwear features items such as midnight blue velvet dinner jackets and patent dress slippers. Shirtsleeves are left unfinished so that bespoke buttonholes can be added for each customer.

"It's completely inspired by bespoke, but it's a ready-to-wear line," Basmajian says. "This is a prototype of how we will move forward with the store and the product in future. Although it's not a big store, it's significant on many levels."

Basmajian's updated fits and cuts are meant to create a more international language while "retaining the English accent" of the label. "We are a quintessential British brand with 240 years of history, and an amazing archive. The trick is balancing history and heritage with something modern."

The brand's extensive and rich archive can be a blessing and a curse, the designer admits. Being housed in the same building as the Royal Geographical Society means that they have dressed many great travellers and historical figures like Lord Nelson and Winston Churchill.

There is a famous picture of a young Queen Elizabeth II wearing a cape that Basmajian is fond of. "I thought we'd made it for her, but it was something that she just adopted. It made me think about women adopting a man's wardrobe, like Coco Chanel did.

"Here you see Queen Elizabeth as a visionary young woman with a great sense of style. She put an elegant man's boat cape over her dress and created an iconic image," he says.

"I think we've dressed every crowned monarch of England since George V, and with that comes great responsibility. But I've always tried to take inspiration from the archive without redoing the archive."

Gieves & Hawkes' "tradition of military, civilisation and exploration dress" continues with a touch of military structuring in today's clothes. But Basmajian insists that it's not about remaking anything. "We have to keep it from being too costume-like or too literal. The archive gives you some authority, but it's about how you take that forward and balance it."

It's ironic that it has fallen to an American to update a label that holds three enviable Royal Warrants. The talented designer lived in New York (while working at Donna Karan and Calvin Klein menswear) and then Paris. He worked in Italy and Asia, starting up S.T. Dupont's apparel line, and then heading famed Italian men's label Brioni. Basmajian brings a timely international approach to Gieves & Hawkes, and he seems to feel at home there.

Basmajian's aim is to create a cross-generational brand that will appeal to father, grandfather and son: "I want it to attract the 25-year-old without alienating the 65-year-old," he says. He has also launched some initiatives to transform and update how the label relates to the consumer.

Short films and campaigns, shot by acclaimed British director Mike Figgis with a music score composed by artist Rosey Chan, have put the clothes in context, giving a fresh yet classic vision of the label. The latest is a rendition of the dapper Englishman on tour, on banks of Italy's Lake Como.

"It was a way to make the clothes live," says Basmajian, "and a way to give them a much more modern, dynamic image".

It's quite a turnaround for a storied heritage brand that had become a bit dusty. Trinity's brand-building expertise, coupled with Basmajian's skill at constructing a grand narrative, is changing Gieves & Hawkes from a highly traditional tailoring company into a lifestyle brand.

"We've added a shoe line, all made in England, as well as sportswear, outerwear and knitwear. In January, we'll launch leather goods and eyewear, too. So it's been about bringing a more complete collection that we didn't have before," he adds.

This wider outlook is paired with a local focus, and that makes the equation more difficult. Basmajian is proud of bringing much of the company's top-end manufacturing back to Britain.

The Royal Line capsule collection, for example, is all hand-cut in Britain, right down to the buttonholes; the shirts and shoes are all made there, and the fabrics are mostly traditional British. Next season, all Made in England knitwear and outerwear will appear, too.

"Menswear is growing faster than womenswear, and regardless of whether they are in Hong Kong, the mainland, or somewhere else in the world, men are spending more time and money on their image."

Basmajian aims to give these men a lot more quality wardrobe choices rather than just following trends. Whether it's tailoring, or suits, or the new sportswear he's launched, everything will be based on the time-honoured principles of Savile Row.

Jason Basmajian's wardrobe essentials for the modern man:

You need a wardrobe that goes from beach to boardroom.

A great trench coat.
A pair of flannel trousers.
A beautiful pair of leather lace-up shoes.
A nice dinner jacket or beautiful tuxedo. This is something you'll have forever. We've seen a lot of young people come in who want to invest in formal wear. My advice to men is to buy the best quality you can afford, and to buy less.
A beautifully cut suit. Nothing looks better on men, so take the time and spend the extra money to have it tailored. A grey flannel suit for men is almost like the little black dress for women. And you can't go wrong with a great three-piece suit.