When you think of men's casual wear, mass-market American labels such as J. Crew and Abercrombie & Fitch spring to mind. Hong Kong-based clothing manufacturer Peter Georgiou wants to change that with a new clothing line called Grayers, which focuses on artisanal pieces inspired by tried-and-tested menswear classics.
Grayers was conceived in Hong Kong, although its aesthetic is firmly rooted in American and European traditions. The idea for the line came from a popular clothing movement in Britain during the 1950s which saw men swapping three-piece suits for more leisurely grey flannel trousers, commonly known as Grayers.
"In the past few years we've really seen this heritage trend in menswear where old brands have reinvented themselves or come back to life. There is this movement towards iconic things that we understand and believe in. This coupled with so much over-designed products, or inaccessible lines meant that there was a gap in the market. There are a lot of menswear brands based in Brooklyn or Kansas City, so why not Kwun Tong?" says Georgiou, CEO and founder of Grayers.
And who better to take the plunge than him? The Columbia University graduate boasts a successful fashion career including a 10-year stint at Ralph Lauren where he held senior positions including head of global manufacturing. In 2004 he moved to Hong Kong and founded a sourcing and manufacturing business making men's and women's apparel.
It was only last year that he began working on Grayers, with the first collection launching in time for the spring-summer 2012 season. It was an immediate hit with retailers like Bloomingdales in the US and John Lewis in Britain, thanks to its simple formula: beautifully made heritage pieces infused with a functional, modern twist. Naturally Georgiou's expertise in manufacturing was an advantage and helped differentiate the line thanks to its handmade details and quality.
"It's not just a matter of let's make some shirts. It's about taking the classics, and using a base cloth that is a bit different. Rewriting the classics is a big part of how we're building these lines," says Georgiou.
To further bring his vision to life, Georgiou enlisted the talents of former Ralph Lauren colleague Kenny Thomas as design director.
"We want you to recognise the heritage and history behind each item, while at the same time be pleasantly surprised at how we have evolved it into a relevant garment," says Carolina-based Thomas.
"A few pieces in a particular season address a trend but the collection is always immensely wearable and practical. Men want smart and easy-to-wear clothes so we are about versatility and functionality."
The current autumn-winter collection, featuring about 35 styles, was inspired by a vintage plaid quilt from Scotland. The result is a collection of jackets, sweaters, shirts and trousers that have strong ties to British and US work and military wear. The real beauty of the line lies in the details that appear handcrafted despite the fact most items are mass produced.
"For example, for autumn we took a black two-button peak lapel dinner jacket and made it into a chic peak lapel cardigan sweater. The yarn is a super-soft lambswool with a touch of nylon for shape retention making it fashion forward and classic at the same time," says Thomas.
As the line is built around the idea of wardrobe staples, the biggest challenge is creating something new each season. This however does not faze Georgiou, who is currently working on the spring-summer 2013 collection inspired by watercolours.
"For every category each season things will change whether it's through the colour story, the fabric we're using, the detailing or the fit. You'll have a reason to buy it because it's accessible, practical and doesn't require a lot of thinking. We've put it together to make sense," he says.
And while the line is finding success in the US and Europe, Georgiou says that there are plans to find distribution in Asia, while working on an accessories collection.
"It's an easy thing to layer into menswear and then we can move onto categories such as formal wear and so forth.
"We want to be really good at what we do now which is the casual sportswear side of the business."
Looks (above) from Grayers's AW12 collection.
“This is our most fashion forward product. It’s made from a knitted fabric, like a sweater, but cut and sewn like a jacket.
“Our updated version of this classic shirt is lightweight and easy to layer. Each shirt is trimmed with fine cotton muslin.”
HAND-KNIT FISHERMAN SWEATER
“It’s a hand-knit sweater made from wool and linen for a much softer feel. This turtleneck version is a classic.”
THE RAGLAN TRENCH
“This style was created for Lord Raglan and has been worn by men ever since. It’s an iconic staple from the 1960s and is made from a cotton nylon coated fabric.”
THE 5-POCKET CORDUROY PANT
“This fits beautifully as the fabric is enzyme washed for a soft, weathered, lived-in feel. The cloth is garment dyed so the colours are really rich.”