Fashion in Hong Kong and China

Brooklyn wears my stuff nearly every day, says David Beckham at Kent & Curwen’s Shanghai launch, explaining label’s appeal

Soccer legend, in Shanghai with British menswear label’s creative director Daniel Kearns for its autumn-winter 2017 collection launch, talks about their goal of giving the brand multigenerational appeal

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 May, 2017, 5:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 May, 2017, 5:59pm

If any man can draw a crowd, it’s soccer legend and men’s style icon David Beckham. He didn’t disappoint in Shanghai last week, when he flew in for the global autumn-winter 2017 launch of heritage British menswear label Kent & Curwen, whose creative direction is led by Irish designer Daniel Kearns and Beckham.

There was heavy security at the doors as the fashion crowd (camera phones out) rushed in to see the star, who was presenting on stage with Chinese actor and all-round heartthrob Hu Bing. Later that evening, Beckham would charm his way through a 50-person VIP dinner, speaking to each guest and taking endless photos. Witnessing his star power up close flustered even some Chinese celebrities.

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With menswear changing so much in the last 10 to 15 years, and Asia such an important segment of the market, Beckham and Kearns’ vision for the label appears to be for it to appeal to the younger end of the market. Looking at their collection, there’s sportiness, bold hues and fresh cuts – meaning that a casual bomber jacket and tee might pair with a knife-sharp pleat on a formal, cropped khaki pant.

But as Kearns argues, “it’s not about age, but more about attitude”. Beckham echoes this sentiment, saying that he wants Kent & Curwen “to be the multigenerational brand that it can be”.

“My Kent & Curwen outfits often get stolen at home,” Beckham says. “[My 18-year-old son] Brooklyn will take my stuff and wear it almost every day, and now even Harper, who’s only seven, is at it, she takes a T-shirt and wears it as a nightdress, which is kind of cute.”

Over dinner, he says: “Kent & Curwen has such an amazing history and heritage, but what we’re trying to do with Daniel and the team is take it to a different level and improve certain aspects of the business. We’re keeping the traditions alive but adding a new, modern part. We’re very proud to have the support and passion of the Fung family.”

The brand is owned by Trinity Group, part of Hong Kong-based multinational Fung Group. Beckham joined the brand in 2015, Kearns in 2016.

“David’s down-to-earth, easy-going and a fun guy to spend time with,” says Kearns. “Every time we meet, we discuss what’s working and what’s not – so far there’s not been too much of the latter, thankfully.”

“I’ve been in China on and off for the past 22 years. At times if feels like coming back to a second home,” says the soccer superstar. He has been an especially frequent visitor in recent years since partnering with Hong Kong-based billionaire Bruce Rockowitz under their Seven Global company.

Since Kent & Curwen has a majority of its stores in China (a total of 80 to date, with 11 more in Hong Kong), a large part of Beckham and Kearns’ mission is exporting their distinctive vision of British style to men in China, hence a new Shanghai Club capsule collection of limited-edition blazers, polo shirts and bullion sweatshirts at a Lane Crawford Shanghai pop-up shop.

Kent & Curwen, founded in 1926, is a men’s brand with royal warrants and Savile Row credentials, known for its quintessentially English tailoring and knack for gentlemen’s sporting outfits. Though it was known more for chunky cricket sweaters and rugby shirts than soccer kits, the athletic connection resonates with Beckham.

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It’s a brand that’s dressed the country’s military and political leaders and, more recently, rock stars such as Mick Jagger, the band Joy Division and Paul Weller, who lent the label a more rebellious slant. It’s from this era that both Beckham and Kearns take much inspiration for their modern reboot.

By taking traditional garments and subverting them a bit, “like Mick Jagger wearing those regatta jackets or a cricket sweater”, says Kearns, “we want to reinterpret or reappropriate pieces in a way that gives them a pull factor in modern dress”.

It’s a playful attitude – rebellious but nevertheless nodding to establishment styles, which is something of a British signature.

“Britain is quite unique in the sense that it gave birth to some very established ways of dressing [etiquette] but [was] just as quick to take these codes apart if you look at how rock stars like the [Rolling] Stones dressed,” says Kearns.

Some pieces in the collection are inspired by an archive that includes handwritten notebooks by founder Eric Kent, with pages dedicated to different British regiments around the world, the Houses of Parliament, gentlemen’s clubs in London, Eton, Cambridge and Oxford, and rowing teams at Henley Regatta, for whom he was commissioned to make clothing. Imagining all these people in their heritage outfits, and tying it to modern fashion subculture might be a concise way of describing the new vision for Kent & Curwen.

There are preppy jackets made punky, with multiple archive badges sewn on them, a nod to heroism. There’s also a more dressed down, sporty attitude, with the tailoring more casual. Irving Penn’s pictures of blue-collar working men provide another point of reference. And with innovative fabrications, they try to recreate the feel of an authentic aged piece.

With Beckham on board, the brand is gaining major traction in China and globally. Kearns has also impressed as design director. And although Kent & Curwen targets many different markets, and there’s some differences between how Chinese and British men dress, Kearns says he’s been most surprised by the similarities. “A new generation of men everywhere are more edgy and relaxed and able to mix and match in certain ways,” he says.