Gieves & Hawkes’ new design director on Tom Ford, Savile Row and China

Mark Frost, promoted from within to lead the Hong Kong-owned British house, seeks to apply its bespoke tailoring know-how to ready-to-wear, and find the right selling points to expand China sales

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 September, 2016, 12:33pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 September, 2016, 5:15pm

Mark Frost, the latest in a string of designers hired by Trinity, the Hong Kong company that acquired bespoke men’s tailoring company Gieves & Hawkes in 2012, has one goal: to bring romanticism back to tailoring.

“Savile Row seems to have lost a bit of that, which is sad,” says Frost, the recently appointed design director of the British brand.

Like his predecessors before him, Frost has been tasked with modernising the British tailoring house while respecting its 245-year-old heritage. The difference this time is that Frost toiled behind the scenes for four years before being pushed into the spotlight, giving him a distinct advantage.

“Jason Basmajian [the previous creative director] and I worked closely together and had similar ideas for the brand and its aesthetics. I want to continue in this vein but add my own spin,” he says during the brand’s autumn/winter 2016 collection in Hong Kong.

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Gieves & Hawkes’ story is well known on London’s Savile Row, where it was formed from two previous businesses, Gieves, founded in 1785 and Hawkes, founded in 1771. For more than two centuries it has held royal warrants from the British monarchy and has dressed countless dignitaries and celebrities from Prince William and Winston Churchill to David Beckham.

Although the brand is now global, the company’s heart is still at its home address: 1 Savile Row, Mayfair, where you can find its ready-to-wear collections, private tailoring and bespoke services alongside the archives and military department.

“Our Savile Row roots are extremely important. I’m fascinated with our history during the 1960s and 1970s, which was Savile Row’s heyday. The heart and soul of our business may be bespoke tailoring but I want to bring an element of this to our ready-to-wear,” says Frost.

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Frost is in his early 30s, but he knows menswear inside and out. He grew up in Bristol, in southwest England, where he studied fashion design at the University of West England. During his studies he was lucky enough to secure an internship with Tom Ford in London and after graduation worked with the designer for a short period before ending up at menswear brand Hackett (also owned by Trinity).

“During my time with Ford I fell in love with the industry. That period was also super influential on my career. It was amazing to see the way [Ford] carried himself, considered every detail and pieced the collections together. He also took time to understand people and listen to people, to get the best out of them,” he says.

Although his time at Ford was inspirational, it was his stint at Gieves that instilled in him a love for British tailoring and its heritage, which he plans to draw upon in his upcoming collections.

“There’s something special about a British suit made in Savile Row. There are distinct style differences that still exist today when you compare it to say Italian tailoring. People joke that Savile Row suits are bulletproof but they kind of are. They are heavier, the shoulder is stronger and it really hugs the body. It is very powerful and this is something you cannot ignore,” he says.

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Another vital part of Frost’s new vision for the brand is drawing on Gieves’ strength in bespoke tailoring and applying it to its ready-to-wear collections. Although the house has been producing ready-made garments since the 1920s, the ready-to-wear category has become a major driver of business in the past few years, inspiring Frost to find ways to incorporate the house’s expertise in bespoke into its seasonal collections.

“More recently we’ve started working with the team from the bespoke department, and taking someone with Gieves’ bespoke background and bringing them to ready-to-wear. We take their skills and knowledge and apply it to every garment from suits to swimming trunks. What’s the point of having this advantage and not using it? Fundamentally it’s about how to make things fit better, work better and function better for the customer. The design is another element added on top of that,” he says.

One thing Frost isn’t too concerned about is changing the brand’s aesthetic, as evidenced from the current autumn-winter 2016 collection which he created with Basmajian. Like those before it, there is a sense of elegance and refinement in every look, although the details are definitely more sporty and casual. The styling is youth driven and fresh, but far from radical.

“Modernisation is about understanding who the modern version of your customer is – you can modernise a garment however you want, but if it doesn’t fit with a customer’s lifestyle and help them live it more effectively then what’s the point?

“I prefer simple garments put together in a stylish manner. Our customer doesn’t want fussy or complicated,” he says.

Frost starts each collection with a concept, and then works in colours, styles and fits. In the past few years they have approached the archives with caution and tend to only include pieces that integrate into the collection smoothly or that stand apart on their own, such as the house’s popular military jackets. New styles are then added to tell a story.

For autumn-winter 2016 for example, Frost envisaged a weekend warrior (which also happens to be the name of the collection).

“It’s our take on what a sophisticated guy would want to wear on a weekend walk. He’s not running up a mountain and will probably end up at a country house or pub,” he says.

Highlights include an elegant gilet in burnt-orange cashmere that has a waterproof backing so it’s technical and sophisticated. British woven camel cloth is cut into a pea coat and double-breasted overcoat, and worn with a chunky polo neck.

Old-school fabrics, that are soft to the touch, have been revisited. A two-piece suit comes in a smooth fabric that looks like tweed, developed exclusively for the brand in Scotland. Other unique fabrics include an exploded Prince of Wales check that features a multitude of colours up close and an exploded houndstooth.

For the evening, Frost has moved away from the brand’s more traditional ceremonial wear and has included an evening jacket made from bronze silk jacquard featuring a foliage pattern.

Interestingly, the majority of the fabrics are sourced or made in England. Moving forward, Frost hopes to highlight and incorporate more British manufacturing into his collections.

“I’m extremely passionate about British cloth. Every outfit from [the new collection] has an element that’s made in Britain or woven in Britain. Every style looks British or feels British,” he says.

While there is no denying that Frost wants to celebrate Gieves’ British roots, its future is global. Frost is looking to further expand the Chinese-owned brand’s customer base in Greater China, which makes up the largest portion of its business.

“China is our biggest market, so we have to be aware of that and really understand who they are. It’s also about translating our British heritage and style into products that are relevant to them. For example, we know a 350-gram flannel won’t work in China. We need to choose what will work and add our British spin to that.

“People come to us for this British styling, but hopefully the products are still wearable and make sense to their market. One thing that is different in China versus other markets is that there needs to be a selling point – customers are looking for something to sell the garment. Part of it is the brand, part of it is details, so we have to be conscious of that,” he says.