The godfather of British fashion
Jeremy Hackett knows a thing or two about style. After spending the seventies working in a Savile Row tailors, he founded his eponymous shop, which grew from a second-hand outfitters to the classic British brand we know today.
We caught up with the man for a wide-ranging chat while watching the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix...
ESQUIRE: So when did you arrive in Abu Dhabi?
Jeremy Hackett: Thursday night. Funnily enough, this is my first F1 Grand Prix. I’ve never been to one before.
Really? Have you enjoyed it so far?
Yes, it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve had a good lunch, and it’s all very social.
We love it; we just interviewed Daniel Ricciardo yesterday.
Oh yes, he’s going to be here this evening, he’s a Red Bull driver isn’t he? Christian Horner (Team Principal of Red Bull Racing) is a big fan of Hackett. He shops with us all the time.
Do you give them free clothes?
No, no. I’m not a charity.
They get the VIP service though?
Well, yes, we look after them, of course, but we don’t give it to them.
Are you a car fan yourself?
I wouldn’t say I’m a petrolhead. I only have one car back home.
A Range Rover, because I’ve got dogs and I can’t put them in an Aston Martin [with whom Hackett has a partnership]. I keep telling them to make a shooting version and I’ll buy one straight away.
What breed of dog have you got?
They’re big gun dogs. The breed is Sussex Spaniels and they are very popular on my Instagram.
Are they the stars of the show?
Well, yes, much more popular than I am!
Will we see a Hackett dog range soon?
Well, there have been a few things we have done already. We recently made these cushions for dog beds. They were made out of Hackett tweed and very exclusive, but only actually limited edition because we didn’t have enough tweed to make any more. People loved them.
So where are the key markets for Hackett?
Abu Dhabi, of course! No, in all seriousness, the Middle East in general is very good for us. We’ve been here for nearly seven years.
Combined with your 1979 start date, you have quite the heritage.
It was 1983. I don’t know where 1979 came from. [1979 is the date he met Ashley Lloyd-Jennings, with whom he would start Hackett in ’83]
Really? You should change it to 1962 and just keep making it older to give yourself more heritage.
Well, it seems everyone does that these days anyway. I mean look at Donald Trump. What does truth have to do with it anymore?
How are you feeling about his presidency?
It is dreadful; it’s just like a reality show. I think he’ll do his term and then he’ll be out. And that’s if he manages four years. I’d be surprised if he lasts that long.
So anyway, apologies... 1983 was the date you started. How do you approach the challenge of keeping it fresh each season?
I don’t really think that it’s a challenge. You want to move things along, but you can’t do it too quickly because your customers won’t understand or appreciate it. So it’s a sort of gentle figuring out of the product. If you try to be too fashion forward then you lose them. It’s keeping pace with them and being one step ahead, not three.
Do you do a lot of market research on the Hackett customer, and do you feel like you know him after all these years?
To be honest, I’ve never done any market research in my life. It’s far more about putting across a point of view. Market research is irrelevant to me; you have to feel it for yourself.
Do you meet your customers often, either in-store or at events?
I do. I’m often in either [London’s] Sloane Street, Regent Street or Jermyn Street stores and I like it because that’s where I started, working behind the counter [His first store opened in Parsons Green, London in 1983]. I love meeting customers, and they tell you the truth. What is extraordinary is that we have an incredibly loyal customer base. With fashion brands, people move on all the time, but I remember students who first came into the store, and now they are successful lawyers or working in the City and they still buy our bespoke Hackett suits. That’s very special to me, and I am proud of that loyalty.
So at your level now [Hackett is chairman, after selling the firm in 1992], which bits are you still heavily involved in?
I sort of dip into a lot of things, mainly the business side. With Japan they want me to tell them what it’s all about, so I’m very involved there. We’ve got great designers but sometimes I’ll give advice if I feel something needs changing. I’m constantly sending pictures of stuff that I’ve seen on Instagram that I love, for inspiration.
What inspires you each season?
I’m working on a range at the moment which I’m doing for Japan next spring. It’s sort of smart-casual but I didn’t want to call it that, so I called it ‘at ease’ and I thought it was a much nicer way of expressing what we do. ‘Casual’ sounds so naff.
Who knows what ‘casual’ means today?
It’s a middle-of-the-road expression. I thought ‘at ease’ had a relevance to where we come from and the inspiration is purely based around those words. We’ve introduced wider-leg trousers and white canvas materials. We try and keep our products relevant to what the customer wants and needs today.
When is that collection dropping?
And just in Japan?
I think Japan to start with because it’s a very appreciative market. Maybe we’ll put it somewhere else afterwards because it’s an idea that has legs.
Changing the subject, is there a men’s style icon who you currently admire?
David Hockney is someone that I have always admired and I’ve met him a few times. He’s such a great guy and he wears clothes that are beyond fashion. It’s got nothing to do with fashion, but he always looks so stylish with that colour-blocking thing he does. He’s certainly at ease with himself and I think that’s brilliant. I also like Bill Nighy. I’ve seen him on the street a few times and always thought that he looks really good.
There’s a level of effortless confidence with him, for sure.
It’s about owning your clothes, you know, not just putting them on. There is a very big difference between getting dressed and dressing up. The former is where you just wear it, the latter is always glitzy.
So obviously you’re a Hackett man, but are there any other brands you rely on for staples?
To be honest, I don’t do other brands.
I’ve heard your Hackett polo is the bestselling item. Do you ever want that to change?
It has been for years and if it works, why change it?
Exactly, be grateful.
We introduced the polo in 1986 and there is a certain level of credibility to it. We sponsor polo and the British Army polo, we sponsor British Polo Day, so we have a reason to put our name on it and the numbers. And to be honest, ever since 1986 everybody else has copied us with numbers on the polos. It wasn’t really happening back in the day, but I can’t complain about that.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
I suppose so, yes.
You partnered with Yas Marina Circuit to produce the ‘UAE 45’ polo shirt and cap. How did it come about?
They were good customers anyway and I think they had seen our connection with motor racing, so it seemed like a natural fit. They are really good people so we’re very pleased to be working with them and we put together a small range this year. I was with them yesterday and I gave them quite a few ideas about what we could do for next year and I think it’s a great opportunity to do lots more in future.
So it’s going to be part of an ongoing partnership?
Oh yeah, definitely! I mean, I don’t like doing things where you just do it for one season. I think you have to build up and work with these relationships and establish something more solid. It isn’t about one season and then just dropping it, because that’s just a waste of time. It takes a while for men to click into things, so if you just do something for a season and then it’s gone, they won’t even realise it ever existed. I think you need around three seasons for people to go, Ok, that’s nice, I’m going to buy it six or nine months down the line. You have to stick with it.
I heard you talking earlier about using social media channels. Are you a big fan of social media?
Did I talk about social media?
Yeah I’ve noticed it a couple of times today where you’ve said, “I haven’t put it on Instagram yet”.
Oh yes, I love it. I mean, that’s what I do. I love taking pictures.
So Instagram is your platform of choice?
For me, yes, it’s nothing to do with the business, I just do it for my own enjoyment. I love taking pictures and seeing people’s reactions. It’s funny when you do something slightly arty or cool, you don’t get any likes, and if you do something really commercial you get the likes. It’s very interesting. I posted some pictures of [F1 drivers] Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa the other day, and they are doing quite well — I noticed I got six followers from it. They get me the followers!
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