Es­sen­tials of style

Jeremy Hack­ett

Esquire (Singapore) - - Contents -

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

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