Essentials of style
When Jeremy Hackett opened his first shop at the ‘wrong end’ of London’s King’s Road in 1979, no one expected much. Rent was GBP60 per week and the previous tenant had been the interior designer Nicky Haslam. “My bank manager told me it was a retail graveyard,” he says. “I thought, ‘Thanks: that’s optimistic’.” Even the new shopkeeper set his sights low. “It was really for fun. And it was good fun. The first week we took about GBP1,000 and thought, ‘This is brilliant!’ And then it absolutely took off.”
In three years, Hackett had five shops within 50m of each other and cab drivers started to refer to the area as Hackett Cross. Ralph Lauren was an early customer. “That was a good day,” Hackett says, “He spent big.” Today, there are 131 Hackett stores across 16 countries and the firm made GBP50 million in the last financial quarter. That’s good going in a retail climate clothing brands euphemistically refer to as ‘challenging’.
It’s tempting to see Hackett as a ‘rags to riches’ story except that Jeremy Hackett never sold rags. Having been in clothing “all my life”—his first job was in Horace Davis, a menswear outfitters in Bristol, where he’s from, “very Are You Being Served?”— Hackett originally stocked secondhand British tailoring, good-as-new Savile Row suits he’d discovered sifting through unwanted stock. Sitting in his office at the company HQ near Tower Bridge today, typically resplendent in cheesecloth suit and two-tone shoes, hair greased and parted, he produces a black and white photo from
back in the day, in which a younger—though, impressively, barely so—Hackett beams out from behind his counter. He is surrounded by racks of ties and accessories and the kind of knick-knacks that used to characterise independent men’s retail outlets: the sort of place you’d pop into for some trousers and come out with three pairs of socks and a Zippo lighter, too.
“I remember a lady turning up at the door one morning with the little Louis Vuitton picnic set, a beautiful thing, and she said, ‘Would you like to buy this?’ And I said, ‘Oh, well, maybe’, being all nonchalant, when of course I was really excited.” He offered her GBP175—she threw in two more suitcases and two more trunks— and before he’d even got it into the shop someone had pulled up and paid GBP3,500 for the lot, whisking it off to Hollywood where he was a props buyer.
“I wanted to keep some of the things that came in but in the early days I had to sell it,” Hackett says, a little sadly. “So it was tough.”
Demand was outstripping supply so Hackett started making his own stuff. The brand prides itself on ‘essential British kit’ (Hackett’s phrase), a sort of timeless, gentlemanly wardrobe that includes Prince of Wales check suiting, made-to-measure shirts and polo jerseys, intended to be layered in a preppy style that early customer Lauren would certainly recognise. It has sponsored British sports and events like polo and The Boat Race, collaborated with Aston Martin and Beefeater and featured Pierce Brosnan and Jonny Wilkinson in its advertising. “There’s [model] James Paterson before he became famous… and Matthew Goode,” chortles Hackett, leafing through old catalogues.
When it comes to sport, Hackett describes himself as “a good spectator”. “At Henley [Royal Regatta], I think I spent the whole time in hospitality with a Pimm’s. I like the rigmarole surrounding those events. The one time everyone in England makes an effort is when they’re going somewhere. It’s why I like Goodwood Revival. The Brits really know how to put on an occasion. When you go abroad nobody makes an effort with dress code.”
He has just decked out an Aston Martin Rapide S in Prince of Wales check—it’s his favourite car, and in a limited edition of five—“very refined and understated and it still looks like a twodoor, so you can take the dogs.”
Ah, the dogs. Muffin and Harry, Hackett’s Sussex spaniels, have become almost as representative of the brand’s ethos as himself: featuring prominently in promotional material and on his blog and Instagram. He’s still smarting from a recent trip down Jermyn Street where a fan identified them, not him. Though these days Hackett is largely designed by “some 20-year-olds, who are supposedly more hip than I am”, Jeremy Hackett is the brand—his social media characterised by endearingly groansome puns that are as vintage-ly British as his Fox Brothers & Co charcoal chalk stripe. (“We call this the Hacketteria,” he says, leading me through the staff canteen, though you suspect by “we” he really means “I”).
On the one hand all this timelessness makes Hackett’s innovation for his latest collection—the tautological Hackett Archive Re-Editions line—a bit of a puzzle: it looks like the stuff it’s been doing for years. On the other, it’s a smart move: rugby shirts, corduroy suits and preppy style are everywhere, so why not remind people that you were doing all that, early doors?
And so Hackett’s revamped polos, rugby shirts and jumpers are replicas of archive pieces found in brochures dating back to the noughties, as worn by the British Army polo team since the early 1990s. They have a flat knit top and bottom placket, last used in the 1980s, while the original graphics have been reinvented, with a washed pique introduced to tee-up the heritage feel. They’re new but they feel old. “This season has been a bit of a test,” Hackett says, though independent accounts suggest the experiment, particularly the rugby shirts with the old H box logo, have been flying. “We’ll probably bring in more.”
Peer inside any of these new, old polos and there’s a piece of Herringbone tape branded with the Essential British Kit motif. Having just celebrated its 35th year, it’s a claim history can do little to argue against.
Original red cotton polo shirt, *SGD181.
Grey/red Number 1 wool crew-neck sweater, *SGD336.
Grey/blue Prince of Wales check wool suit, *SGD1,596. hackett.com